Faraday: advanced HTTP requests made easy

Faraday is a library for making HTTP requests and to serve as a backbone for writing API wrapper libraries such as twitter. It has an interesting philosophy, but to really appreciate it you must first understand what problem it solves.

In the beginning, there was an ordinary HTTP request:

require 'net/http'
data = Net::HTTP.get URI.parse('https://api.github.com/repos/technoweenie/faraday')

Here we’re accessing repository information from the GitHub API. This one line of code should suffice for your simplest scripts, but it will never do for your production-ready apps. Just to list several features that are missing here:

  1. This request won’t work. GitHub API v3 is only accessible over encrypted SSL and we need to explicitly configure Net::HTTP for this.
  2. We don’t check the HTTP response code. The server could respond with a 302 (redirect), 401 (unauthorized) or 500 (server error).
  3. We should always supply a User-Agent header with information about what’s making these requests.
  4. The response payload is JSON, so it needs to be parsed before use.

To handle all of the above, one line of code is now far from enough:

require 'net/https'
require 'json'

url = URI.parse('https://api.github.com/repos/technoweenie/faraday')

response = Net::HTTP.start(url.host, use_ssl: true) do |http|
  http.get url.request_uri, 'User-Agent' => 'MyLib v1.2'

case response
when Net::HTTPRedirection
  # repeat the request using response['Location']
when Net::HTTPSuccess
  repo_info = JSON.parse response.body
  # response code isn't a 200; raise an exception

This is closer to what I would consider to be a minimal boilerplate code for proper requests.

But this still isn’t enough. Sooner or later, you might also need to to implement some of these more advanced concepts:

  1. Limit following redirects to prevent infinite loops
  2. Signing of requests with OAuth
  3. Caching responses locally for a specific amount of time
  4. HTTP caching with respect to Last-Modified and ETag header values
  5. Fetching multiple resources in parallel
  6. Parsing of response data with respect to Content-type
  7. Logging performed requests and the time they took
  8. Posting of JSON or XML payloads
  9. Uploading files

Imagine implementing any of these features on top of existing code, especially if it already shipped in form of an app or a reusable library. The above code will get bloated and unmanegeable really fast.

Turns out, the Ruby community already solved this issue of bloat while processing requests, only it happened in another field. The solution was Rack middleware, and the field was request/response cycle of a web application.

# Rack middleware stack of a Rails app (simplified)
use ActionDispatch::Static
use Rack::Lock
use Rack::Runtime
use Rails::Rack::Logger
use ActionDispatch::ShowExceptions
use ActionDispatch::RemoteIp
use Rack::Sendfile
use ActionDispatch::Callbacks
use ActionDispatch::Cookies
use ActionDispatch::Flash
use ActionDispatch::ParamsParser
use Rack::MethodOverride

However, the amount of processing involved with the request/response cycle isn’t very much different when we switch sides in this exchange. That’s why the idea of middleware still works great if your app is the one making requests instead of receiving them.

Faraday and the middleware paradigm

Faraday started out as an experiment by Rick Olson to reuse the middleware paradigm of Rack, only this time for performing requests instead of responding to them from a web app.

For example, this is how to setup a simple Faraday stack for basic use:

require 'faraday'

conn = Faraday.new(:url => 'http://sushi.com') do |c|
  c.use Faraday::Request::UrlEncoded  # encode request params as "www-form-urlencoded"
  c.use Faraday::Response::Logger     # log request & response to STDOUT
  c.use Faraday::Adapter::NetHttp     # perform requests with Net::HTTP

response = conn.get '/nigiri/sake.json'     # GET http://sushi.com/nigiri/sake.json

conn.post '/nigiri', { :name => 'Maguro' }  # POST "name=maguro" to http://sushi.com/nigiri

Features of this stack is that it encodes POST/PUT parameters, logs what’s happening and performs requests with Net::HTTP (adapters for other HTTP libraries are available).

Apart from logging, this basic stack doesn’t give us much extra over vanilla use of Net::HTTP. But the real beauty of Faraday is, even if you already laid out conn.get(), post() or other requests in your codebase, you can easily change how they are processed by adding or swapping middleware of the stack.

Faraday middleware is written mostly the same way as Rack middleware. Middleware is usually classes that define the call(env) method:

class MyMiddleware
  def initialize(app, options = {})
    @app = app
    @options = options

  def call(env)
    # information about the request is in the `env` hash
    $stderr.puts env[:url]
    # continue processing

# how to use it in a stack:
builder.use MyMiddleware, some_option: "value"

It’s important to remember that, altough the middleware paradigm is identical to Rack, the env hash is of another format. This is what prevents us from using middleware original written for Rack in Faraday.

With a combination of built-in middleware, ones from 3rd-party libraries and ones we write ourselves, we can easily create a stack that handles all our present needs. For instance, to revisit our initial GitHub API use-case:

require 'logger'
# we need a 3rd-party extension for some extra middleware:
require 'faraday_middleware'

conn = Faraday.new('https://api.github.com/') do |c|
  c.use FaradayMiddleware::ParseJson,       content_type: 'application/json'
  c.use Faraday::Response::Logger,          Logger.new('faraday.log')
  c.use FaradayMiddleware::FollowRedirects, limit: 3
  c.use Faraday::Response::RaiseError       # raise exceptions on 40x, 50x responses
  c.use Faraday::Adapter::NetHttp

conn.headers[:user_agent] = 'MyLib v1.2'

response = conn.get '/repos/technoweenie/faraday'
response.body['issues_count']  #=> 8

As you can see, we consumed this API method in a much flexible way that required much less code. Naturally, the custom middlewares still need to be implemented, but they can reside in separate files, be reused and get published as opensource.

With Faraday we can also easily switch from Net::HTTP to another HTTP library such as Typhoeus that allows us to perform many requests in parallel if that’s our requirement. This requires little to no changes to our existing code.

My favorite feature of Faraday is that if I’m using an opensource API wrapper library that’s implemented with Faraday, I can insert my own middleware in its stack to add features that were not originally present. For example, if I’m using a Twitter library I can add caching to avoid hitting their API request limits.

A collection of Faraday middleware already exists on GitHub: faraday_middleware. It provides classes to parse JSON, XML, sign OAuth requests, cache responses and more.

For the end, as an example of real-world Faraday use check out this simple Instagram client I wrote to implement just a couple of endpoints that I needed from the Instagram official API. Instagram already provides an official ruby library that’s also implemented with Farady, but I created my own to see how minimal I can go so it can serve as a good example of Faraday usage.

Consider Faraday next time when you find yourself consuming an API resource. Even if you immediately won’t have huge benefits in your particular case, in the long run it will allow you to plug into that request/response cycle later on and free you from significant code changes.