In the development of modern applications, APIs or web services to access data have become popular. The reasons are diverse, such as access to information independently of the front-end where the data is to be viewed, scalability, and the need to meet a vast number of requests with tight resources. Although REST API is the most widespread option for web services, GraphQL offers some additional advantages worth knowing and has made it one of the main trends in Web Development.
GraphQL is a query language used to access data through a server. It is independent of the front-end system and provides clients with access to information in an agile and versatile way.
It is developed by Facebook and released as open-source in 2015, although the Linux Foundation has managed it since 2018. Facebook uses it in many products, such as its web applications and, of course, the Android and iOS apps. Many other companies in the world also offer web services based on GraphQL, such as Pinterest or Github.
GraphQL is a query language for APIs and a runtime environment for executing the queries. GraphQL has been an open source project and an alternative to RESTful Web Services. Other large companies such as Twitter, Github, New York Times and Pinterest work with graphQL.
Providing a GraphQL interface on the server is just as easy and intuitive as creating queries. Essentially, the schema and resolve functions need to be defined. The schema defines the nodes and the relations of the graph that represents the actual data. GraphQL solves, among other things, the problem of over and under fetching in an intuitive and simple way.
Increase in performance: the number of requests required and the amount of data transferred can be reduced. This is a great advantage for the mobile sector.
The client can request several resources at the same time and receives all the necessary data with just one request. There is only one endpoint. The client decides which data is required and only receives this.
Developers benefit from the flexible query language and the typed schema. The API is well documented. More flexibility is guaranteed by decoupling frontend and backend development.
There are useful developer tools such as GraphiQL with autocomplete, validation, mocking and API documentation to graphql / GRAPHI on GitHub.
There are many advantages to GraphQL for the development of a web service. Most of the ones that we could highlight are common to more traditional alternatives like REST:
In relation to other alternatives such as SOAP or REST, it also offers very relevant advantages:
While REST is resource-oriented, GraphQL allows you to define what information you want to receive and in what format. With the GraphQL query language, when a request is made to the server, it is possible to define what data will be received in the said query and obtain a single resource with own certain data and other related resources.
This allows front-end development to be easier due to several factors:
It is more natural, since many times, you need to access two or more resources simultaneously, such as a list of comments with the data of the users who have made them. Or several articles with the categories where they are associated.
Since we can define the data we want to obtain as a response from the front-end, we also make sure that the server never gives us more data than is strictly necessary.
The speed of web service will depend on many factors, such as the language, the servers where it runs, etc. Thanks to the possibility of accessing an arbitrary set of data from the web service, we can gain in performance thanks to the decrease in the server number.
With GraphQL, we can benefit from greater ease during development. By reducing the number of requests to display complex data sets, the complexity of front-end programming is also reduced, resulting in fewer potential errors.
Another detail that in situations is difficult to manage in REST architectures is the versioning of the API. Thanks to the client's definition of the data set to be received as a result of the queries, it is irrelevant whether new data is added to the models or whether some are marked as obsolete. Therefore, in the server code, it is only necessary to manage one version of the API.
Using GraphQL is not exclusive. You could perfectly mix it with an already developed web service, which perhaps already implements REST, but you want to reduce specific requests' complexity.
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