REST stands for Representational State Transfer. It's an architectural style for web services offering a way for accessing resources remotely. The REST was originally described by Ron Fielding and inspired by the development of hypertext transfer protocol (HTTP).
Lots of bioinformatics resources are out there on web in a browser format, and Ensembl is no different. Browsers are pretty interactive and provide a graphical (and pretty) visualisation of genes, variants, alignments, regulatory information. However the utility of browsers can be compromised when/if users want to access a given resource systematically, or perhaps when/if they want to integrate those resources into a web portal or workbench application.
The Ensembl REST API has been available for over 2 years now and it was provided as a beta version, which has been recently retired. That's when Mag's blog post comes in: we welcome the new Ensembl REST, which is more robust than its beta version.
What can you do with the Ensembl REST API? You can:
1) get genomic (cDNA, CDS, protein) sequences
2) access the VEP (Variant Effect Predictor)
3) get homologies and gene trees
4) retrieve variation and regulation data
just to mention a few endpoints...
This data can be retrieved in JSON, XML and a variety of bioinformatic formats such as FASTA.
How can you access the Ensembl REST API?
Check Mag's blog post here
p.s let me know if you want more information and I can put you in touch with my colleagues in the Ensembl Core team! We can also come to your institution to teach about the Ensembl REST and Perl APIs.