Void() Mathieu De Coster

Creating a web API using Iron

The following is a word-for-word copy of a tutorial I wrote in November of 2016. The original tutorial can be found on my GitHub page.

In this tutorial, we will be looking at how to use Iron to create a web API.
We will be creating an API for a small public Twitter-like application, where anyone can create new posts, posts can be opened individually or shown in a feed chronologically.

This tutorial assumes familiarity with Rust, Rust macros and basic knowledge of how HTTP works.

This tutorial starts from a complete project and explains the different parts of the project. After finishing this tutorial, you should have a basic understanding of how an Iron application is constructed and how to create your own, more complicated, web applications.

Getting started

You should start now by creating a new binary project:

cargo new --bin mywebapi

Cargo dependencies

You should have following dependencies in your Cargo.toml file:

[dependencies]
iron = "0.4"
router = "0.4"
logger = "0.2"
env_logger = "0.3"
rustc-serialize = "0.3"
chrono = { version = "0.2", features = ["rustc-serialize"] }
uuid = { version = "0.2", features = ["v4", "rustc-serialize"] }

iron provides us with a web server. router helps with routing. logger and env_logger allow us to log requests. rustc-serialize allows us to serialize structs to JSON on Stable Rust. chrono provides us with an interface for date and time representations that works easily with rustc-serialize. Finally, we use uuid to be able to generate unique ids for posts.

Modeling our data

We will be modeling posts which have the following properties:

  • A summary or a short title
  • A longer content
  • An author handle
  • The date and time of posting in the UTC timezone
  • A unique identifier

Create a file called model.rs and add the following definitions.

use chrono::datetime::DateTime;
use chrono::offset::utc::UTC;
use uuid::Uuid;

#[derive(Clone, Debug, RustcEncodable, RustcDecodable)]
pub struct Post {
    summary: String,
    contents: String,
    author_handle: String,
    date_time: DateTime<UTC>,
    uuid: Uuid,
}

impl Post {
    pub fn new(summary: &str,
               contents: &str,
               author: &Author,
               date_time: DateTime<UTC>,
               uuid: Uuid)
               -> Post {
        Post {
            summary: summary.to_string(),
            contents: contents.to_string(),
            author_handle: author.handle.clone(),
            date_time: date_time,
            uuid: uuid,
        }
    }

    pub fn uuid(&self) -> &Uuid {
        &self.uuid
    }
}

#[derive(Clone, Debug, RustcEncodable, RustcDecodable)]
pub struct Author {
    handle: String,
}

impl Author {
    pub fn new(handle: &str) -> Author {
        Author { handle: handle.to_string() }
    }
}

The Author struct is not strictly necessary here, but I think it’s cleaner to reserve this for the future. Most of the above code should be fairly self explanatory. Deriving RustcEncodable and RustcDecodable allows us to have the rustc-serialize library automatically encode and decode objects to and from JSON.

Saving our data

For this tutorial, a real database would be out of scope. That’s why we are going to store everything in memory instead. Our database will be a simple Vec<Post> that is available in all of our web handlers. We will be able to add posts to this database, or get all the posts from the database.

Create a file called database.rs and add the following, self-explanatory code.

use model::Post;

#[derive(Clone, Debug)]
pub struct Database {
    posts: Vec<Post>,
}

impl Database {
    pub fn new() -> Database {
        Database { posts: vec![] }
    }

    pub fn add_post(&mut self, post: Post) {
        self.posts.push(post);
    }

    pub fn posts(&self) -> &Vec<Post> {
        &self.posts
    }
}

Handling HTTP requests

Now that we’ve defined our data and a simple in-memory data store, we will be looking at the meat of the application: handling the actual web requests.

Start by creating a file handlers.rs. We will need the following use statements:

use std::sync::{Arc, Mutex};
use std::io::Read;
use iron::{Handler, status, IronResult, Response, Request, AfterMiddleware};
use iron::headers::ContentType;
use rustc_serialize::json;
use database::Database;
use uuid::Uuid;
use router::Router;
use model::Post;
use std::error::Error;

Macros

A lot of code has to deal with JSON encoding and decoding, mutexes or getting parameters from an HTTP request. That is why we will be creating three macros:

  • A first macro that allows us to match a Result to get the inner value, or return an InternalServerError, or some other HTTP error. This macro is similar to the try macro from the Rust standard library.
  • A second macro that allows us to write lock!(mutex) instead of mutex.lock().unwrap(). We will be calling unwrap on all of the locked mutexes in this code for simplicity’s sake. I also haven’t figured out yet why one wouldn’t call unwrap, as I’m not sure it’s possible to recover from such an error. If you know why, please leave a comment.
  • A third macro to easily get a parameter from an HTTP GET request, or, if the parameter is not present, return BadRequest, or if something went wrong, return InternalServerError.
macro_rules! try_handler {
    ( $e:expr ) => {
        match $e {
            Ok(x) => x,
            Err(e) => return Ok(Response::with((status::InternalServerError, e.description())))
        }
    };
    ( $e:expr, $error:expr ) => {
        match $e {
            Ok(x) => x,
            Err(e) => return Ok(Response::with(($error, e.description())))
        }
    }
}

This first macro has two variants: the first returns an InternalServerError on failure, the second one an error that has been provided.

macro_rules! lock {
    ( $e:expr ) => { $e.lock().unwrap() }
}

This very simple macro is simply a syntactic replacement for .lock().unwrap().

macro_rules! get_http_param {
    ( $r:expr, $e:expr ) => {
        match $r.extensions.get::<Router>() {
            Some(router) => {
                match router.find($e) {
                    Some(val) => val,
                    None => return Ok(Response::with(status::BadRequest)),
                }
            }
            None => return Ok(Response::with(status::InternalServerError)),
        }
    }
}

This final macro allows us to obtain a parameter from an HTTP GET request. We first make sure that we can get our Router. If this is not possible, something terrible went wrong, so we return InternalServerError. If we cannot find the required parameter, the users have sent a BadRequest.

So far, this is all fairly simple. These macros will make our lives a lot easier when writing the actual request handlers.

Request handlers

Now, let’s have a look at the actual handlers. We will first create a struct that will contain all handlers:

pub struct Handlers {
    pub feed: FeedHandler,
    pub make_post: MakePostHandler,
    pub post: PostHandler,
}

impl Handlers {
    pub fn new(database: Database) -> Handlers {
        let database = Arc::new(Mutex::new(database));
        Handlers {
            feed: FeedHandler::new(database.clone()),
            make_post: MakePostHandler::new(database.clone()),
            post: PostHandler::new(database.clone()),
        }
    }
}

As you can see, each handler has access to our data store through an Arc<Mutex<Database>>. Why is this? Well, we need the following features for our data store:

  • We want it to be accessible in all handlers (this should make you think: & or Rc)
  • We want changes from one handler to be visible in other handlers immediately (this should make you think RefCell)
  • We need it to be thread safe. The thread safe equivalent of Rc<RefCell>> is Arc<Mutex>.

In case you don’t know what Arc or Mutex are, you should have a look at the excellent sections on them in the Rust documentation.

Feed handler

Let’s start with the easiest handler: the one that returns a list of all posts.

pub struct FeedHandler {
    database: Arc<Mutex<Database>>,
}

impl FeedHandler {
    fn new(database: Arc<Mutex<Database>>) -> FeedHandler {
        FeedHandler { database: database }
    }
}

impl Handler for FeedHandler {
    fn handle(&self, _: &mut Request) -> IronResult<Response> {
        let payload = try_handler!(json::encode(lock!(self.database).posts()));
        Ok(Response::with((status::Ok, payload)))
    }
}

The final impl block shows us how to implement iron::Handler: we handle a request and return a response. The response itself is wrapped in an IronResult, but the documentation on this is not very clear and as far as I know it’s okay to always return Ok, as long as you return the appropriate HTTP status code. Maybe if you’re doing something more fancy, you might need to return Err.

We immediately see two of our macros in action: try_handler and lock. We lock the database, obtain the posts, encode this as a JSON list and send this with HTTP 200 OK.

Without the macros, the code would look like this:

fn handle(&self, _: &mut Request) -> IronResult<Response> {
    let payload = match json::encode(self.database.lock().unwrap().posts()) {
        Ok(pl) => pl,
        Err(e) => return Ok(Response::with((status::InternalServerError, e.description()))),
    };
    Ok(Response::with((status::Ok, payload)))
}

As you can see, the macros do make this code a lot more clear.

Make post handler

Now let’s allow users to create posts.

pub struct MakePostHandler {
    database: Arc<Mutex<Database>>,
}

impl MakePostHandler {
    fn new(database: Arc<Mutex<Database>>) -> MakePostHandler {
        MakePostHandler { database: database }
    }
}

impl Handler for MakePostHandler {
    fn handle(&self, req: &mut Request) -> IronResult<Response> {
        let mut payload = String::new();
        try_handler!(req.body.read_to_string(&mut payload));

        let post = try_handler!(json::decode(&payload), status::BadRequest);

        lock!(self.database).add_post(post);

        Ok(Response::with((status::Created, payload)))
    }
}

The handle function is a bit more complicated now. First we obtain the payload from the request’s body: this is the data we are sending with the HTTP POST request. Then, we try to decode the payload into a Post object, returning a BadRequest if the JSON is malformed.

Next, we add the post to the database and return 201 Created along with the original payload.

Post handler

We also want to be able to view individual posts. For this, we need to have a URL parameter. The handler looks like this:

pub struct PostHandler {
    database: Arc<Mutex<Database>>,
}

impl PostHandler {
    fn new(database: Arc<Mutex<Database>>) -> PostHandler {
        PostHandler { database: database }
    }

    fn find_post(&self, id: &Uuid) -> Option<Post> {
        let locked = lock!(self.database);
        let mut iterator = locked.posts().iter();
        iterator.find(|post| post.uuid() == id).map(|post| post.clone())
    }
}

impl Handler for PostHandler {
    fn handle(&self, req: &mut Request) -> IronResult<Response> {
        let ref post_id = get_http_param!(req, "id");

        let id = try_handler!(Uuid::parse_str(post_id), status::BadRequest);

        if let Some(post) = self.find_post(&id) {
            let payload = try_handler!(json::encode(&post), status::InternalServerError);
            Ok(Response::with((status::Ok, payload)))
        } else {
            Ok(Response::with((status::NotFound)))
        }
    }
}

Our handler has a special function find_post that looks through the database for a post with a matching id. If we find one, we clone it and return it. Otherwise, we return None.

Note how we can call map on the Option resulting from find because Option implements the Iterator trait, which is really cool and useful!

The handler itself first attempts to find the id parameter using our macro. If it finds this, it tries to parse it to the UUID. If it is malformed, we return 400 Bad Request.

Finally, if we find a post, we encode it and return it with 200 OK. If we don’t find it, we return 404 Not Found.

Great! We have now defined all of our handlers. Only one thing remains to be done in this file.

Middleware

Iron uses middleware. Middleware can be either BeforeMiddleware, AroundMiddleware or AfterMiddleware.

BeforeMiddleware can modify requests before they are handled, AroundMiddleware before and after and AfterMiddleware after they are handled but before the response is sent.

In this case, we need an AfterMiddleware to make sure that our responses have the correct content type: application/json. This is really simple:

pub struct JsonAfterMiddleware;

impl AfterMiddleware for JsonAfterMiddleware {
    fn after(&self, _: &mut Request, mut res: Response) -> IronResult<Response> {
        res.headers.set(ContentType::json());
        Ok(res)
    }
}

We simply update the headers on the response, and we’re done.

Putting it all together

We have now defined all of the code that is needed for our data, data store and handlers.

Now it is time to put everything together and have a running web application.

We should start by defining all of the external crates, models, and adding our use statements.

extern crate iron;
extern crate router;
extern crate logger;
extern crate env_logger;
extern crate rustc_serialize;
extern crate chrono;
extern crate uuid;

mod model;
mod database;
mod handlers;

use model::*;
use database::Database;
use handlers::*;

use iron::prelude::Chain;
use iron::Iron;
use router::Router;
use logger::Logger;
use uuid::Uuid;

Now, in the main function, we will start by initialising our logger and creating a pair of BeforeMiddleware and AfterMiddleware that is required for the logger.

fn main() {
    env_logger::init().unwrap();
    let (logger_before, logger_after) = Logger::new(None);

    // ...

Now we create two first entries in our database to have something to show.

// ...
let mut database = Database::new();
let author = Author::new("Me");
let post = Post::new("First post",
                     "This is the first post ever",
                     &author,
                     chrono::offset::utc::UTC::now(),
                     Uuid::new_v4());
database.add_post(post);
let post = Post::new("My web app is now online",
                     "Today marks the day that this app is online!",
                     &author,
                     chrono::offset::utc::UTC::now(),
                     Uuid::new_v4());
database.add_post(post);
// ...

Note the construction of the posts: Uuid::new_v4() will generate a random UUID for each post. We also use chrono::offset::utc::UTC::now() to simulate that these posts were created just now.

Now we instantiate our handlers and middleware:

// ...
let handlers = Handlers::new(database);
let json_content_middleware = JsonAfterMiddleware;
// ...

And now we have to define our routes. We will map each route to its handler and a different path:

// ...
let mut router = Router::new();
router.get("/feed", handlers.feed, "feed");
router.post("/post", handlers.make_post, "make_post");
router.get("/post/:id", handlers.post, "post");
// ...

We also need to define a Chain for our middleware: we need to make sure the logger middlewares are the first and last (see the logger crate documentation), and we also need to add our JSON middleware.

// ...
let mut chain = Chain::new(router);
chain.link_before(logger_before); // Should be first!
chain.link_after(json_content_middleware);
chain.link_after(logger_after); // Should be last!
// ...

Finally, we can start our server!

    // ...
    Iron::new(chain).http("localhost:3000").unwrap();
}

We can run our server and see the logs by executing RUST_LOG=logger=info cargo run on the command line.

To try it out, you can use curl:

  • To look at the feed: curl -v localhost:3000/feed
  • To look at a specific post, find its id in the feed and then use curl -v localhost:3000/post/<id>
  • To create a new post, make sure you get the JSON syntax right and then use curl -v --data '<json>' localhost:3000/post

Where to go from here

You now have a working web application. It does not do much, however. Things you can do are:

  • Have a look at the libraries provided by the Iron team (Iron Common)
  • Implement authentication, registering and logging in
  • Implement a database using for example PostgreSQL
  • Implement updating or deleting posts

If you are getting any errors, you can check out the complete code here.