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Many newer application programmers are realizing the need to open their core functionality to a greater audience. Providing easy, unfettered access to your core API can help get your platform accepted, and allows for mashups and easy integration with other systems.

While other solutions exist, REST is a great way to provide easy access to the logic you’ve created in your application. It’s simple, usually XML-based (we’re talking simple XML, nothing like a SOAP envelope), and depends on HTTP headers for direction. Exposing an API via REST in CakePHP is simple.

The Simple Setup

The fastest way to get up and running with REST is to add a few lines to your routes.php file, found in app/Config. The Router object features a method called mapResources(), that is used to set up a number of default routes for REST access to your controllers. Make sure mapResources() comes before require CAKE . 'Config' . DS . 'routes.php'; and other routes which would override the routes. If we wanted to allow REST access to a recipe database, we’d do something like this:

//In app/Config/routes.php...


The first line sets up a number of default routes for easy REST access where method specifies the desired result format (e.g. xml, json, rss). These routes are HTTP Request Method sensitive.

HTTP format URL.format Controller action invoked
GET /recipes.format RecipesController::index()
GET /recipes/123.format RecipesController::view(123)
POST /recipes.format RecipesController::add()
PUT /recipes/123.format RecipesController::edit(123)
DELETE /recipes/123.format RecipesController::delete(123)
POST /recipes/123.format RecipesController::edit(123)

CakePHP’s Router class uses a number of different indicators to detect the HTTP method being used. Here they are in order of preference:

  1. The _method POST variable
  3. The REQUEST_METHOD header

The _method POST variable is helpful in using a browser as a REST client (or anything else that can do POST easily). Just set the value of _method to the name of the HTTP request method you wish to emulate.

Once the router has been set up to map REST requests to certain controller actions, we can move on to creating the logic in our controller actions. A basic controller might look something like this:

// Controller/RecipesController.php
class RecipesController extends AppController {

    public $components = array('RequestHandler');

    public function index() {
        $recipes = $this->Recipe->find('all');
            'recipes' => $recipes,
            '_serialize' => array('recipe')

    public function view($id) {
        $recipe = $this->Recipe->findById($id);
            'recipe' => $recipe,
            '_serialize' => array('recipe')

    public function edit($id) {
        $this->Recipe->id = $id;
        if ($this->Recipe->save($this->request->data)) {
            $message = 'Saved';
        } else {
            $message = 'Error';
            'message' => $message,
            '_serialize' => array('message')

    public function delete($id) {
        if ($this->Recipe->delete($id)) {
            $message = 'Deleted';
        } else {
            $message = 'Error';
            'message' => $message,
            '_serialize' => array('message')

Since we’ve added a call to Router::parseExtensions(), the CakePHP router is already primed to serve up different views based on different kinds of requests. Since we’re dealing with REST requests, we’ll be making XML views. You can also easily make JSON views using CakePHP’s built in JSON and XML views. By using the built in XmlView we can define a _serialize view variable. This special view variable is used to define which view variables XmlView should serialize into XML.

If we wanted to modify the data before it is converted into XML we should not define the _serialize view variable, and instead use view files. We place the REST views for our RecipesController inside app/View/recipes/xml. We can also use the Xml for quick-and-easy XML output in those views. Here’s what our index view might look like:

// app/View/Recipes/xml/index.ctp
// Do some formatting and manipulation on
// the $recipes array.
$xml = Xml::fromArray(array('response' => $recipes));
echo $xml->asXML();

When serving up a specific content type using parseExtensions(), CakePHP automatically looks for a view helper that matches the type. Since we’re using XML as the content type, there is no built-in helper, however if you were to create one it would automatically be loaded for our use in those views.

The rendered XML will end up looking something like this:

    <recipe id="234" created="2008-06-13" modified="2008-06-14">
        <author id="23423" first_name="Billy" last_name="Bob"></author>
        <comment id="245" body="Yummy yummmy"></comment>
    <recipe id="3247" created="2008-06-15" modified="2008-06-15">
        <author id="625" first_name="Nate" last_name="Johnson"></author>
        <comment id="654" body="This is a comment for this tasty dish."></comment>

Creating the logic for the edit action is a bit trickier, but not by much. Since you’re providing an API that outputs XML, it’s a natural choice to receive XML as input. Not to worry, the RequestHandler and Router classes make things much easier. If a POST or PUT request has an XML content-type, then the input is run through Cake’s Xml class, and the array representation of the data is assigned to $this->request->data. Because of this feature, handling XML and POST data in parallel is seamless: no changes are required to the controller or model code. Everything you need should end up in $this->request->data.

Accepting input in other formats

Typically REST applications not only output content in alternate data formats they also accept data in different formats. In CakePHP, the RequestHandlerComponent helps facilitate this. By default it will decode any incoming JSON/XML input data for POST/PUT requests and supply the array version of that data in $this->request->data. You can also wire in additional deserializers for alternate formats if you need them, using RequestHandler::addInputType()

Modifying the default REST routes

New in version 2.1.

If the default REST routes don’t work for your application, you can modify them using Router::resourceMap(). This method allows you to set the default routes that get set with Router::mapResources(). When using this method you need to set all the defaults you want to use:

    array('action' => 'index', 'method' => 'GET', 'id' => false),
    array('action' => 'view', 'method' => 'GET', 'id' => true),
    array('action' => 'add', 'method' => 'POST', 'id' => false),
    array('action' => 'edit', 'method' => 'PUT', 'id' => true),
    array('action' => 'delete', 'method' => 'DELETE', 'id' => true),
    array('action' => 'update', 'method' => 'POST', 'id' => true)

By overwriting the default resource map, future calls to mapResources() will use the new values.

Custom REST Routing

If the default routes created by Router::mapResources() don’t work for you, use the Router::connect() method to define a custom set of REST routes. The connect() method allows you to define a number of different options for a given URL. The first parameter is the URL itself, and the second parameter allows you to supply those options. The third parameter allows you to specify regex patterns to help CakePHP identify certain markers in the specified URL.

We’ll provide a simple example here, and allow you to tailor this route for your other RESTful purposes. Here’s what our edit REST route would look like, without using Router::mapResources():

    array("action" => "edit", "[method]" => "PUT"),
    array("id" => "[0-9]+")

Advanced routing techniques are covered elsewhere, so we’ll focus on the most important point for our purposes here: the [method] key of the options array in the second parameter. Once that key has been set, the specified route works only for that HTTP request method (which could also be GET, DELETE, etc.)