How to build a basic REST API in Lua - Milua micro framework

How to build a basic REST API in Lua - Milua micro framework


3 min read


I recently started a new project, for which I wanted to build a REST API. Here are the alternatives I considered and why I rejected them:

  • Using a framework I'm more familiar with, in a different language, like Flask for Python. My project already required Lua and used a bunch of different technologies, so I'd prefer to keep it simple and not add a whole new language and framework to the list.

  • Using an existing framework in Lua, like Lapis. The problem here was that Lapis relies on third-party software, like Nginx, so the dependencies list would keep growing. This wouldn't be a problem in a more heavy project, but the API I need here is really small, so I would consider overkill anything more than a single technology for it.

Cover image by aloiswohlfahrt from Pixabay


I felt clear that what I really wanted was a pure Lua solution. After a bit of research I didn't find any de-facto standard (I might be wrong), but I did find an http library by duarnimator that provided an excellent set of functionalities to launch a simple server in a few lines.

So inspired by the experience of using Flask I made Milua.


I learned how the luarocks, a Lua package manager, works and published the first version, so you can install it with its dependencies only with:

luarocks install milua


Right after, you can try the example that comes in the repository.

local app = require "milua"

-- Basic example
        return "<h1>Welcome to the handsome server!</h1>"

-- Example capturing a path variable
    function (captures, query, headers)

        local username = captures[1]
        local times = query.times or 1
        return "The user " .. username .. " is" ..
               (" very"):rep(times) .. " handsome"



Launching this would just require you to execute the script after installing Milua. Then, you can test it with curl.

$ curl localhost:8800/
<h1>Welcome to the handsome server!</h1> 

$ curl localhost:8800/user/foo
The user foo is very handsome

$ curl localhost:8800/user/foo?times=3
The user foo is very very very handsome


For now, version 0.1 as I write, the milua module only offers two functions:

  • add_handler(method, pattern, handler) to associate a method and a path to a handler.

    • The handler function must accept the following arguments:

      • captures: An array with the variables fields of the path, specified with three dots (...) in the pattern string. In fact, this pattern is just a regular Lua pattern with some syntactic sugar, so you can capture anything you like in your path and be as specific as you want: /([0-9]+) would capture a path to a numeric value; /admin_... would capture the destination without the prefix admin_.

      • query: A table with the key-value pairs of the query in the URL (the options that come after the ?).

      • headers: The headers of the HTTP request.

      • body: The body of the HTTP request.

    • and must return the following values:

      • The body of the response.

      • (Optional) A table with the headers of the response.

  • start(config) where config contains the host and the port to run the application.


There is still room for a couple of modifications that would keep the complexity at the same level, like adding error handlers (to allow a 404.html page, for example) or specifying directories for static files. For example, it has no templating functionalities (maybe in the future), but you can require any of your preference and use it in your app. But for now it serves its purpose and it's compatible with anything you want to throw at it, thanks to its minimal nature.

I'm still learning about Lua and its tools and might write more about this language in the future. What's your experience with Lua? Have you used it before for web development? I'll be happy to read any comments you have!