5. API package best practices

Scott Chamberlain


The crul package documentation mostly documents how to work with any particular function or class, but does not detail how you would use the package in a more realistic context. This vignette outlines what we think of as best practices for using crul in scripts or an R package.

Importing crul

In most cases you’ll only need to import one thing from crul: HttpClient. Add crul to Imports in your DESCRIPTION file, and ad an entry like @importFrom crul HttpClient somewhere in your package documentation, for example:

#' Some function
#' @export
#' @importFrom crul HttpClient
#' ...

HTTP request function

If you have more than one function that needs to make an HTTP request it’s probably useful to have a function for doing HTTP requests. The following is an example of a function.

xGET <- function(url, path, args = list(), ...) {
  cli <- crul::HttpClient$new(url, opts = list(...))
  res <- cli$get(path = path, query = args)

There’s some features to note in the above function:

You can use the function like:

x <- xGET("https://httpbin.org", "get", args = list(foo = "bar"))
# parse the JSON to a list
# more parsing

Because we used an ellipsis, anyone can pass in curl options like:

xGET("https://xxx.org", args = list(foo = "bar"), verbose = TRUE)

Curl options are important for digging into the details of HTTP requests, and go a long way towards users being able to sort out their own problems, and help you diagnose problems as well.

Alternatively, you can just do the HTTP request in your xGET function and return the response object - and line by line, or with another function, parse results as needed.

Failing with fauxpas

fauxpas is in Suggests in this package. If you don’t have it installed, no worries, but if you do have it installed, we use fauxpas.

There is not much difference with the default raise_for_status() between using fauxpas and not using it.

However, you can construct your own replacement with fauxpas that gives you more flexibility in how you deal with HTTP status codes.

First, make an HTTP request:

con <- HttpClient$new("https://httpbin.org/status/404")
res <- con$get()

Then use fauxpas::find_error_class to get the correct R6 error class for the status code, in this case 404

x <- fauxpas::find_error_class(res$status_code)$new()
#> <HTTPNotFound>
#>  behavior: stop
#>  message_template: {{reason}} (HTTP {{status}})
#>  message_template_verbose: {{reason}} (HTTP {{status}}).\n - {{message}}

We can then do one of two things: use $do() or $do_verbose(). $do() is simpler and gives you thhe same thing $raise_for_status() gives, but allows you to change behavior (stop vs. warning vs. message), and how the message is formatted. By default we get:

#> Error: Not Found (HTTP 404)

We can change the template using whisker templating

x$do(res, template = "{{status}}\n  --> {{reason}}")
#> Error: 404
#>  --> Not Found

$do_verbose() gives you a lot more detail about the status code, possibly more than you want:

#> Error: Not Found (HTTP 404).
#>  - The server has not found anything matching the Request-URI. No indication
#>  is given of whether the condition is temporary or permanent. The 410 (Gone)
#>  status code SHOULD be used if the server knows, through some internally configurable
#>  mechanism, that an old resource is permanently unavailable and has no forwarding
#>  address. This status code is commonly used when the server does not wish to
#>  reveal exactly why the request has been refused, or when no other response
#> is applicable.

You can change behavior to either warning or message:

x$behavior <- "warning"
#> Warning message:
#> Not Found (HTTP 404)
x$behavior <- "message"
#> Not Found (HTTP 404)

Retrying requests

In some failure scenarios it may make sense to retry the same request. For example, if a 429 “Too many requests” http status is returned, you can retry the request after a certain amount of time (that time should be supplied by the server). We suggest using RETRY if you are in these scenarios. See HttpClient$retry() for more information.

Mocking with webmockr

webmockr is a package for stubbing and setting expectations on HTTP requests. It has support for working with two HTTP request packages: crul and httr.

There are a variety of use cases for webmockr.

See the book HTTP mocking and testing in R for more.

Testing with vcr

vcr records and replays HTTP requests. It’s main use case is for caching HTTP requests in test suites in R packages. It has support for working with two HTTP request packages: crul and httr.

To use vcr for testing the setup is pretty easy.

  1. Add vcr to Suggests in your DESCRIPTION file
  2. Make a file in your tests/testthat/ directory called helper-yourpackage.R (or skip if as similar file already exists). In that file use the following lines to setup your path for storing cassettes (change path to whatever you want):
  1. In your tests, for whichever tests you want to use vcr, wrap the tests in a vcr::use_cassette() call like:
test_that("my test", {
  vcr::use_cassette("rl_citation", {
    aa <- rl_citation()

    expect_is(aa, "character")
    expect_match(aa, "IUCN")
    expect_match(aa, "www.iucnredlist.org")

That’s it! Just run your tests are you normally would and any HTTP requests done by crul or httr will be cached on the first test run then the cached responses used every time thereafter.

See the book HTTP mocking and testing in R for more.

What else?

Let us know if there’s anything else you’d like to see in this document and/or if there’s anything that can be explained better.

Last, the httr package has a similar article on best practices, see https://httr.r-lib.org/articles/api-packages.html