OpenRasta, an open source alternative for developing Restful services

OpenRasta (OR) is the name of a new open source framework for developing Restful applications (Web applications or services) created by Sebastien Lambla. As the ASP.NET MVC, this framework is also an implementation of the MVC pattern, which focus mainly on a good separation of concerns, and provide different extensibility points where the developer can plugging custom code at the moment of developing applications.

The framework is now on Beta 2 stage, Sebastien and other guys are currently working on improving the hosting infrastructure and public API. They are, of course, very open at this point to receive feedback or suggestions for new features, or improvements to existing ones. If you have some interest in participating of this project, you can start joining the mailing list.

In order to understand how OR works under the hood, I will start by describing some basic concepts that a developer should know to implement an application from scratch with this framework.


A “handler” is one of the main building blocks in OR. It represents the implementation of the service itself, and it is generally mapped to single resource through an URI. Therefore, any access to an URI will get resolved by OR to an specific handler.

From an implementation point of view, a handler is simple class that expose methods for handling different http verbs. By convention, a method should be called as the Http verb that supports, for example, Get or Post. However, nothing prevent you from giving more friendly names to the methods (or handler operations), there is an special custom attribute “HttpOperationAttribute” that you can use to associate the method with an http verb.

public class CustomerHandler


    public Customer Get(int customerId)


        return new Customer { FirstName = "foo", LastName = "bar" };


    public OperationResult Put(int id, Customer customer)


        return new OperationResult.Modified { ResponseResource = customer };



    public OperationResult MyFriendlyMethod(int id, Customer customer)


        return new OperationResult.Modified { ResponseResource = customer };



If you want to have a better control of the Http status code, as it is shown in the code above, you can also return an instance of OperationResult.


As you can see, the handlers have not been wired to any content type at this point. Serializing/Deserializing a resource instance into an specific representation is responsibility of the codecs. Some codecs are provided out of the box in OR, for example, Json, Xml, Html or Form-Url-Encoded data.

A codec generally implement two interfaces, IMediaTypeReader (for deserializing content) and IMediaTypeWriter(for serializing). The following code shows the implementation of the Json codec,

[MediaType("application/json;q=0.5", "json")]

public class JsonDataContractCodec : IMediaTypeReader, IMediaTypeWriter


    public object Configuration { get; set; }

    public object ReadFrom(IHttpEntity request, System.Type destinationType, string paramName)


        DataContractJsonSerializer serializer = new DataContractJsonSerializer(destinationType);

        return serializer.ReadObject(request.Stream);


    public void WriteTo(object entity, IHttpEntity response, string[] paramneters)


        if (entity == null)


        DataContractJsonSerializer serializer = new DataContractJsonSerializer(entity.GetType());

        serializer.WriteObject(response.Stream, entity);



Putting Handlers and Codecs together

By means of a fluent configuration, we can later wire up an URI with the corresponding handler and one or more codecs according to the content-types that the service should support.

ConfigureServer(() => ResourceSpace.Has.ResourcesOfType<Customer>()





This is one of the big differences with the ASP.NET MVC or the Web Programming Model in WCF.

In the MVC, the supported content types are inherently tied to the ActionResult returned by the controller action. Therefore, the action implementation must be modified in order to support new content types.  Or a more specialized implementation of an ActionResult is required, which has to be smart enough to accommodate these changes.

Same thing happens with WCF, you have to either decorate the service operation with the supported content-type (Only Json or Pox supported today) or return a Message/Stream instance from the operation and write the resource representation yourself in the operation implementation. As I said, only Json/Pox are supported today, and adding new content types is something complicated to do. You basically need to write a custom IDispatchMessageFormatter extension, and a custom WebServiceHost to replace the formatter provided out of the box. (This is the approach taken in the WCF REST Starter kit for supporting form-url-encoded data).

Pipeline Contributors

Let’s go back to OpenRasta for a moment, “Handlers” and “Codecs” are not the only supported extensibility points in this framework. All the processing of incoming/outgoing messages is performed in a pipeline that contains contributors or filters. A pipeline contributor perform simple tasks such as initializing the security context, routing the messages or processing exceptions to name a few. You can write your own contributors, or customize the pipeline to support different configurations or scenarios

More information about OpenRasta 

You can find more information about this framework in the Sebastien’s blog. The current project status is also available here.

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