HTTP verbiage and its abuse

written: Tue Apr 2, 2019 | updated: Tue Apr 2, 2019 | 330 Words (2 minute read) | epistemics: believed | importance: 6

I’ve noticed a trend in my experience working on bigger server-side projects that, apart from being just plain annoying, is actually somewhat harmful - the chronic and repeated misuse of HTTP verbiage. I’m not exactly sure why, when server-side development is being taught, we’re not imprinting the importance of these semantics on students, at least as a whole. Time and time again I’ve seen GET requests misused to submit information and change state, POST requests used to retrieve information transparently, and in general a reluctance to change this habit. So what’s the problem with each practice?

GET as a statement with side effects

This is one of my biggest pet peeves as a whole, for one very, very crucial reason:

GET requests can and will be stored by browsers in order to retrieve content on the fly, especially for things like favourites.

This means that relying upon a GET request to change state is not only a annoying semantic mistake, it’s also potentially fraught with side effects. A somewhat famous tweet outlines a potential worst-case scenario come to life. GET requests should be free of side effects, because the standard expects them to be, and therefore you do not have control over what a browser vendor will do with that URL.

POST to retrieve data / stateless changes

The exact opposite effect is in play here: POST requests are made for POSTing information to a server - not to present said information. Retrieving information via a POST request means that you’re going to break user-interfacing functionality, like caching, bookmarking, etc. This is less common, but I’ve seen it done before, especially when it comes to database queries. Database queries for retrieving information should be considered stateless, and can fall under the banner of GET requests.


Don’t use POST for retrieval, and don’t use GET for posting information or records to a server. Both of these have implications beyond pure semantics, and can cause unintended consequences further down the line.