What is a RESTful way of monitoring a REST resource for changes?

If there is a REST resource that I want to monitor for changes or modifications from other clients, what is the best (and most RESTful) way of doing so?

One idea I've had for doing so is by providing specific resources that will keep the connection open rather than returning immediately if the resource does not (yet) exist. For example, given the resource:


a "GET" on this resource might tell me that it's my opponent's turn to move. Rather than continually polling this resource to find out when it's my turn to move, I might note the move number (say 5) and attempt to retrieve the next move:


In a "normal" REST model, it seems a GET request for this URL would return a 404 (not found) error. However, if instead, the server kept the connection open until my opponent played his move, i.e.:

PUT /game/17/move/5

then the server could return the contents that my opponent PUT into that resource. This would both provide me with the data I need, as well as a sort of notification for when my opponent has moved without requiring polling.

Is this sort of scheme RESTful? Or does it violate some sort of REST principle?


Your proposed solution sounds like long polling, which could work really well.

You would request /game/17/move/5 and the server will not send any data, until move 5 has been completed. If the connection drops, or you get a time-out, you simply reconnect until you get a valid response.

The benefit of this is it's very quick - as soon as the server has new data, the client will get it. It's also resilient to dropped connections, and works if the client is disconnected for a while (you could request /game/17/move/5 an hour after it's been moved and get the data instantly, then move onto move/6/ and so on)

The issue with long polling is each "poll" ties up a server thread, which quickly breaks servers like Apache (as it runs out of worker-threads, so can't accept other requests). You need a specialised web-server to serve the long-polling requests.. The Python module twisted (an "an event-driven networking engine") is great for this, but it's more work than regular polling..

In answer to your comment about Jetty/Tomcat, I don't have any experience with Java, but it seems they both use a similar pool-of-worker-threads system to Apache, so it will have that same problem. I did find this post which seems to address exactly this problem (for Tomcat)

I found this article proposing a new HTTP header, "When-Modified-After", that essentially does the same thing--the server waits and keeps the connection open until the resource is modified.

I prefer a version-based approach rather than a timestamp-based approach, since it's less prone to race conditions and gives you a little more information about what it is you're retrieving. Any thoughts to this approach?

I'd suggest a 404, if your intended client is a web browser, as keeping the connection open can actively block browser requests in the client to the same domain. It's up to the client how often to poll.

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