PATCH Method

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HTTP PATCH Method: Comprehensive Guide

In the world of web development, having a deep understanding of HTTP request methods is crucial for designing and maintaining efficient, secure, and scalable APIs. One such method, the HTTP PATCH method, is the focus of this guide.

Throughout the article, we’ll include examples, tips, and analogies to help solidify your understanding and provide guidance on how to effectively implement the PATCH method in your own projects.

Understanding the HTTP PATCH Method

The HTTP PATCH request method is a request method used to partially update existing resources on a server. Unlike the PUT method, which replaces an entire resource, PATCH allows developers to modify specific parts of a resource without affecting the rest. This is particularly useful when dealing with large resources or when you need to save bandwidth and improve performance.

Imagine a document with multiple sections. With the PUT method, you would need to send the entire document to the server for any change, even if you only modified one section. However, with PATCH, you can send only the modified section, saving time and resources.

Partial Update Concept

The concept of partial updates revolves around making targeted changes to a resource without altering its entire structure. This is achieved by sending a patch document to the server, which describes the modifications to be applied. The patch document is typically in JSON or XML format and outlines specific operations like “add,” “remove,” or “replace” that the server should perform on the resource.

For instance, if you want to update the email address of a user, a JSON patch document might look like this:

    "op": "replace",
    "path": "/email",
    "value": ""

This patch document instructs the server to replace the current email address with the new one provided.

Applicability and Use Cases

The HTTP PATCH method is applicable in various scenarios, including:

  1. Large Resources: When dealing with large resources, sending the entire resource to the server for every modification can be resource-intensive. PATCH allows for efficient updates by sending only the changes.
  2. Bandwidth Optimization: For systems where bandwidth is limited, PATCH helps save data by reducing the amount of information transmitted between the client and server.
  3. Collaborative Environments: In situations where multiple users are working on the same resource simultaneously, PATCH can be used to apply individual changes without overwriting each other’s work.
  4. Real-time Applications: PATCH is useful for real-time applications that need to update specific attributes of a resource quickly without affecting its other parts.

Syntax and Structure of an HTTP PATCH Request

Request Line

An HTTP PATCH request begins with the request line, which consists of the PATCH method, the target URI (Uniform Resource Identifier), and the HTTP version. Here’s an example of a request line for a PATCH request:

PATCH /api/users/123 HTTP/1.1

This request line indicates that the PATCH method is being used to update the user resource with an ID of 123.


Headers provide additional information about the request. Some important headers to consider when using PATCH include:

1. Content-Type

The Content-Type header informs the server about the format of the patch document being sent. The most common formats are JSON and XML. For example:

Content-Type: application/json-patch+json

This header specifies that the request body contains a JSON patch document.

2. If-Match

The If-Match header is used for conditional requests to ensure that the resource on the server matches a specific version before applying the patch. This is useful for avoiding conflicts when multiple users are working on the same resource. The header value is an ETag (entity tag), which is a unique identifier for the resource version. For example:

If-Match: "686897696a7c876b7e"

If the server’s ETag doesn’t match the provided value, the request will fail, and an appropriate error response will be sent.

3. If-Unmodified-Since

The If-Unmodified-Since header is similar to If-Match but uses a timestamp instead of an ETag. The server will only apply the patch if the resource has not been modified since the specified date and time. For example:

If-Unmodified-Since: Wed, 21 Oct 2021 07:28:00 GMT

If the resource has been modified since the given timestamp, the server will reject the request.

Request Body

The request body contains the patch document, which describes the modifications to be made to the resource. There are various patch document formats, including JSON Patch, XML Patch, and others.

1. JSON Patch

JSON Patch is a popular format for representing changes to a JSON document. It uses an array of objects, each containing an operation, a path, and a value. Here’s an example JSON Patch document:

    "op": "replace",
    "path": "/email",
    "value": ""
    "op": "add",
    "path": "/phone",
    "value": "555-555-5555"

This patch document updates the email address and adds a new phone number to the resource.

2. XML Patch

XML Patch is similar to JSON Patch but is designed for XML documents. It uses a series of operations in XML format to describe the changes. Here’s an example XML Patch document:

  <replace sel="/user/email"></replace>
  <add sel="/user"> <phone>555-555-5555</phone> </add>

This patch document achieves the same result as the JSON Patch example but uses XML syntax.

Patch Document Formats

Different servers may accept different patch document formats, depending on their implementation. Common patch document formats include JSON Patch (as specified in RFC 6902), XML Patch (as specified in RFC 5261), and JSON Merge Patch (as specified in RFC 7396). When a client sends a PATCH request, it must specify the patch document format in the Content-Type header, allowing the server to process the request accordingly.

One way for servers to inform clients about supported patch document formats is by using the Accept-Patch response header. This header can be included in the response to a client’s OPTIONS or HEAD request, indicating the media types that the server is willing to accept for PATCH requests.

In some cases, clients may send an unsupported patch document format or a malformed patch document. When this occurs, the server should respond with a 415 Unsupported Media Type status code if the patch document format is unsupported, or a 400 Bad Request status code if the patch document is malformed. This helps clients understand the issue and take corrective action.

Implementing PATCH

The Server Side

1. Prerequisites and Setup

Before implementing the PATCH method on the server side, ensure you have a suitable server framework that supports handling PATCH requests. Some popular frameworks include Express for Node.js, Django for Python, and Ruby on Rails. Additionally, you may need libraries or modules that can parse and apply patch documents, such as fast-json-patch for Node.js or jsonpatch for Python.

2. Handling PATCH Requests

Once your framework and dependencies are in place, you can define a route to handle PATCH requests for a specific resource. For example, in an Express application, you might have a route like this:

app.patch('/api/users/:id', (req, res) => {
  // Handle the PATCH request here

This route will be triggered when a PATCH request is made to the /api/users/:id endpoint, where :id is a placeholder for the user ID.

3. Applying Patches to Resources

Inside your PATCH route, you’ll need to parse the incoming patch document, apply the changes to the resource, and send an appropriate response. This may involve fetching the resource from a database, applying the patch using a library or module, saving the updated resource, and returning a success status and the modified resource. Don’t forget to handle potential errors, such as invalid patch documents or conflicts with existing resource versions.

Client-Side Usage

1. Sending PATCH Requests with JavaScript

On the client side, you can use JavaScript to send PATCH requests using the Fetch API or other libraries like Axios. Here’s an example using the Fetch API:

const url = '';
const patchDocument = [
    op: 'replace',
    path: '/email',
    value: ''

fetch(url, {
  method: 'PATCH',
  headers: {
    'Content-Type': 'application/json-patch+json'
  body: JSON.stringify(patchDocument)
.then(response => response.json())
.then(data => console.log(data))
.catch(error => console.error(error));

This example sends a PATCH request to update a user’s email address and logs the updated resource or any errors that occur.

2. PATCH Requests Using Curl

You can also send PATCH requests using command-line tools like curl. Here’s an example:

curl -X PATCH -H "Content-Type: application/json-patch+json" -d '[{"op": "replace", "path": "/email", "value": ""}]'

This curl command sends a PATCH request to update a user’s email address on the specified endpoint.

Example Scenarios and Use Cases

  1. User Profile Updates: An application allows users to update their profiles with new information like email addresses, phone numbers, or profile pictures. Using PATCH, users can update specific fields without resending the entire profile.
  2. Collaborative Document Editing: In a document editing application, multiple users can make changes to different parts of the same document simultaneously. PATCH allows each user’s changes to be applied without overwriting others’ work.
  3. IoT Device Configuration: Internet of Things (IoT) devices can have many settings that need to be updated individually. Using PATCH, the devices can send updates for specific settings without having to resend the entire configuration.

Best Practices and Considerations

Idempotency and PATCH

Idempotency is an important concept in API design that refers to the ability of a request to produce the same result, regardless of how many times it is executed. While some HTTP methods, like GET and PUT, are idempotent by nature, PATCH is not guaranteed to be idempotent. This is because applying the same patch document multiple times may produce different results, depending on the operations and values it contains.

To ensure idempotency with PATCH, consider implementing mechanisms like conditional requests using the If-Match or If-Unmodified-Since headers. This can help prevent multiple identical requests from producing unintended side effects.

Error Handling and Response Codes

When working with PATCH, it’s essential to handle errors gracefully and provide meaningful response codes to the client. Some common HTTP response codes to consider when handling PATCH requests include:

  • 204 No Content: In our case is a successful patch response which indicates that the server has successfully applied the patch, and there’s no need to return the updated resource.
  • 400 Bad Request: The client has provided an invalid patch document or incorrect request format.
  • 409 Conflict: The server cannot apply the patch due to a conflict, such as when the resource has been modified by another user.
  • 412 Precondition Failed: The server cannot apply the patch because a precondition, like an If-Match header, has not been met.

Security Concerns and Mitigations

When implementing PATCH in your APIs, consider the following security concerns and mitigations:

  1. Access Control: Ensure that only authorized users can perform PATCH requests on specific resources. This can be achieved through authentication and authorization mechanisms like OAuth or JSON Web Tokens (JWT).
  2. Input Validation: Validate the patch document and its operations to prevent potential security risks, such as SQL injection or cross-site scripting (XSS) attacks.
  3. Rate Limiting: Implement rate limiting to prevent abuse of your API and protect your server resources from being overwhelmed by too many PATCH requests in a short period.
  4. Logging and Monitoring: Keep detailed logs of PATCH requests and monitor your API for unusual or suspicious activity. This can help detect potential security threats and respond to them promptly.

Performance Considerations

To optimize the performance of your PATCH implementation, consider the following:

  1. Minimize Database Calls: When applying patches to resources, try to minimize the number of database calls required. For example, fetch the resource and apply the patch in memory before saving it back to the database.
  2. Cache-Control: Utilize cache control mechanisms to minimize the impact of PATCH requests on server performance. For instance, use ETag or Last-Modified headers to help clients determine if a resource needs to be updated.
  3. Batch Updates: If your API supports multiple updates in a single request, consider allowing clients to send a batch of patch operations. This can help reduce the number of individual requests and improve overall performance.

Limitations of the HTTP PATCH Method

While the HTTP PATCH method offers several advantages, it’s essential to be aware of its limitations and potential issues when implementing it in your APIs.

Browser Compatibility Issues

One limitation of the PATCH method is that it may not be supported by all browsers or browser versions. Although most modern browsers support PATCH, older browsers or legacy systems may not. Before using PATCH in your web applications, ensure that your target audience’s browsers can handle this method.

Lack of Support in Some APIs and Frameworks

Another limitation is that some APIs, frameworks, or libraries may not support PATCH out-of-the-box. While many popular frameworks provide support for PATCH, others may require additional configuration or custom implementations to handle this method properly.

Before using PATCH in your application, verify that your chosen framework or library supports it, or be prepared to implement custom solutions to handle PATCH requests.

Alternatives to PATCH

In some cases, PATCH may not be the most suitable option for updating resources in your API. Here are a few alternatives to consider:

  1. PUT: The HTTP PUT method can be used to update a resource by replacing its entire representation with a new one. While PUT is idempotent, it may not be as efficient as PATCH for partial updates, as it requires the client to send the entire resource, even if only a small portion has changed.
  2. POST: The HTTP POST method can also be used for updating resources in some scenarios. However, it is generally not recommended for updates, as POST is designed for creating new resources rather than modifying existing ones. Additionally, POST is not idempotent, which can lead to unintended side effects if requests are duplicated or retried.
  3. Custom Update Actions: If neither PATCH nor PUT is suitable for your needs, you may consider implementing custom update actions in your API. This could involve creating specific endpoints for different update operations or using query parameters to specify which fields should be updated.

Tools and Libraries for PATCH Support

Several tools and libraries can help you implement PATCH in your APIs or work with PATCH requests more efficiently. Some examples include:

  1. fast-json-patch: A high-performance library for Node.js that provides support for JSON Patch (RFC 6902) and JSON Merge Patch (RFC 7396).
  2. jsonpatch: A Python library for applying JSON Patches to JSON documents, following the RFC 6902 specification.
  3. Postman: A popular API development and testing tool that allows you to send PATCH requests and test your API endpoints easily.

See Also

HTTP GET vs POST: Discover the Crucial Differences

HTTP POST vs PUT: Discover the Crucial Differences

HTTP GET vs CONNECT: Discover the Crucial Differences

HTTP PUT vs PATCH: Discover the Crucial Differences

HTTP POST VS HEAD: Discover the Crucial Differences