Hypermedia in RESTful APIs: Exploring the Concept and Its Benefits in API Design


Amana Samsudeen

17 January,2024 • 9 mins read

Representational State Transfer (REST) has become the dominant architectural style for designing networked applications and web services. RESTful Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) have gained popularity due to their simplicity and scalability. We will delve into the world of hypermedia in RESTful APIs, exploring what it is, why it matters, and how it can benefit your API design.

APIs interact with clients by facilitating the exchange of data and operations between software systems. In RESTful APIs, this interaction is characterized by a stateless, client-server architecture, where clients initiate communication through standard HTTP methods. Each API endpoint represents a specific resource or functionality, and clients navigate through these endpoints to perform actions or retrieve information.

Hypermedia plays a crucial role in enhancing this interaction by embedding links and navigational information within API responses. Unlike traditional APIs where clients rely on prior knowledge of endpoints, hypermedia-driven APIs dynamically guide clients by providing links to related resources and actions. Clients can discover and navigate the API's capabilities by following these links, resulting in a more flexible and adaptable interaction model. This approach fosters decoupling between clients and servers, allowing APIs to evolve independently without breaking client functionality. In essence, the combination of RESTful principles and hypermedia enables a more dynamic and self-discoverable interaction between APIs and clients, promoting a more resilient and scalable architecture. Let’s delve into about hypermedia and its benefits

What is Hypermedia?

When referring to RESTful APIs, the term "hypermedia" describes the use of hyperlinks to direct clients on how to continue interacting with the API. Clients can dynamically move across the API resources by clicking on the hyperlinks that are incorporated in the API representations.

Hypermedia Controls

The links provided in hypermedia are known as hypermedia controls or hypermedia elements. These controls can take various forms, such as:

  • Links
    Links in hypermedia controls are hyperlinks embedded in API responses that guide clients to related resources or actions.
    • Format Consistency: To ensure easy parsing by clients, it's crucial to maintain a consistent format for links. This consistency helps clients understand the structure of URLs and navigate the API effectively.
    • Example: In a RESTful API response, a link might be represented as follows
      "name": "John Doe",
      "links": [
      { "rel": "self", "href": "/users/123" },
      { "rel": "friends", "href": "/users/123/friends" }

  • Actions
    Hypermedia controls can include forms or templates that allow clients to create or update resources. These actions are often defined using media types such as HTML forms or JSON schemas.
    • Media Types: Different media types define how actions are represented. For example, HTML forms may use <form> elements, while JSON-based APIs might use a specific schema for representing actions.
    • Example : In a JSON-based API, an action might be represented as follows
      "name": "John Doe",
      "actions": [
      { "method": "POST", "href": "/users", "fields": [{ "name": "newName", "type": "text" }] }

  • State Information:
    Hypermedia controls convey valuable information about the current state of an API resource, including the possible transitions or operations that can be performed in the corresponding state
    • Dynamic State Transitions: Clients can dynamically adapt to the state of the API by interpreting the provided state information. This allows them to understand what actions are permissible based on the current state.
    • Example: A stateful representation in an API response as follows
      "status": "active",
      "state_info": {
      "transitions": [
      { "action": "deactivate", "href": "/users/123/deactivate" }

    Article Image Several hypermedia formats are commonly used in RESTful APIs.: Let’s explore them next!

Common Hypermedia Formats

  • Hypertext Application Language (HAL)

    HAL is a simple JSON-based hypermedia format that provides a standardized way to include hypermedia controls in API responses. It introduces conventions for representing links and embedded resources within JSON documents.

    • Links: HAL uses a _links property to represent links to related resources, enabling clients to discover and navigate the API's capabilities.
    • Embedded Resources: The _links property allows including related resources directly within the response, reducing the need for additional requests.
  • JSON for Linking Data (JSON-LD):

    JSON-LD extends JSON to support linked data, making it suitable for representing complex relationships between resources in a machine-readable format.

    • Provides a framework for expressing linked data and context information.
    • Enables the representation of relationships and relationships between resources.
  • ATOM

    ATOM is a format commonly used for syndicating content, such as blogs and news feeds. It can also be used in hypermedia APIs, particularly for paginated data.

    • Defines a standardized XML-based format for representing entries, feeds, and metadata.
    • Supports pagination through links, making it suitable for scenarios where data is distributed across multiple pages.
    • Enables clients to follow links to access additional pages of data.
    Let's explore the benefits they provide for RESTful API design!


  • Discoverability: Clients can use hypermedia to dynamically find the actions and resources available within an API. For clients to understand how to use the API, they do not need to rely on out-of-band documentation.
  • Decoupling: By providing hypermedia controls, API designers can decouple the client from the server's URI structure and resource endpoints. This enhances the flexibility to change the API's structure without breaking existing clients.
  • Flexibility: Hypermedia decouples the client from the server's URI structure. This means that the server can change its resource URLs without breaking existing clients. Clients can adapt to changes by following links, making the API more robust and adaptable to evolving requirements.
  • Enhanced API Documentation: Hypermedia acts as built-in documentation. Clients can inspect API responses to understand available resources and actions, reducing the need for separate documentation. This simplifies onboarding for developers using the API.
  • HATEOAS Compliance: Hypermedia as the Engine of Application State (HATEOAS) is a key constraint of REST. By incorporating hypermedia controls, your API becomes HATEOAS-compliant, aligning it with REST principles.


So, Hypermedia is a powerful but often overlooked aspect of RESTful API design. By embracing hypermedia controls, you can create APIs that are more discoverable, flexible, and adaptable to change. While hypermedia may introduce some complexity to your API design, the long-term benefits it offers in terms of scalability and maintainability are well worth the investment. In a world where APIs play a pivotal role in modern application development, understanding and harnessing hypermedia can set your API apart as truly RESTful and developer friendly.


Amana Samsudeen

Software Engineer at X-Venture