I'm looking to insert meta-data/ into issues that are not seen in the JIRA UI. Basically, via rest, set a simple key:value item in certain issues.
Users would never see the data (field), it would be for reporting purposes only. Is there a simple way to do this, or must all fields set be seen via the web facing part of JIRA ?
REST can be thought of as a machine-friendly way to represent the UI, so, no.
In order to be able to set the value of a field, the field needs to be on the create or edit screen for REST to be able to set it, which also means the users will see it there too. You could not put it on the view screen, but it will still be there on add/edit.
The only trick I can think of to do what I think you want is to move away from edit - place transitions in your workflow that can only be used by specific users (set this to the users who you log in as over REST), and have these transitions have the field(s) you want to protect on the transition screens. Then don't put the field(s) on add/edit screens.
Even if you do that, your users will still be able to see the contents of these fields if they try hard - it will be visible in search.
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