What is GraphQL?
Over the last decade or so, REST has been considered by many as the standard for designing web APIs. While REST features some unique elements such as stateless servers and structured access, it has failed to keep up with the rapidly changing landscape when it comes to clients and server interactions. For this reason, a more efficient and flexible query language known as GraphQL was developed. This technology helps developers to bypass the inefficiencies and shortcomings they face when dealing with REST APIs.
GraphQL can be defined as a declarative query language, syntax, and a runtime that is used to request data on a server. It provides a comprehensive and understandable description of the data in your API, thereby providing clients with the ability to define and ask for exactly what they want and nothing more or less. With the power to make specific requests, it becomes easier for developers to evolve APIs over time and utilize more robust tools. GraphQL is agnostic to how your data is stored in the backend and it offers a collective type-safe layer of all the data sets in your server.
GraphQL has several notable characteristics:
- It allows the client to specify what they want and get exactly that
- It makes it possible to get many resources in a single request
- It uses a type system instead of endpoints to describe data
Origin of GraphQL
GraphQL was designed by Facebook in 2012 to solve a plethora of problems they were experiencing with their mobile applications. They needed a powerful data-fetching API enough to accommodate all Facebook’s data, yet easy to understand and utilize by product developers. At the time, Facebook employed a WEBKIT-based mobile application, which was inefficient and slow. They developed the GraphQL which progressed to become an integral part of their vast applications, including their main website and mobile apps. The new Facebook design, as presented at F82019, features a single webpage app powered by React, GraphQL, and Relay.
This query language has proven to be useful for developing modern web and mobile apps. This is because it provides developers and programmers with a flexible, intuitive technology for sourcing data that is more specific and less sprawling than in REST APIs. Today, GraphQL is used by other prominent applications such as Yelp and GitHub.
GraphQL vs. Rest
REST APIs need to have a particular endpoint or resource when making a call request to determine which block of data comes back in returning JSON response. On the other hand, GraphQL is established around schema, queries, and resolvers. It aims to improve the REST philosophy by permitting you to request a particular piece of data instead of receiving an entire block of information.
You don’t need to parse through an expansive stream of data — you will receive exactly what you asked for.
With GraphQL, you don’t need to make multiple round trips to fetch data. With a single round trip to the server, you can retrieve all the initial data. Whereas, to get the same results with a REST API, developers will need to introduce unstructured parameters and conditions, which are fundamentally challenging to scale and manage.
The greatest advantage of GraphQL over REST is that it sets apart data from the protocol. This allows API clients to select what data they should get when they make a particular API call.
Why Should You Use GraphQL?
Forget About Over-and-Under Fetching
One of the most significant problems with the REST API is over- and under fetching. This results from the fact that the only way for clients to request and download data is by adding endpoints that return fixed data structures. Overfetching means that you receive more information than is actually required, while under fetching refers to a situation where the parameter doesn’t provide enough information as needed.
With GraphQL, these problems are addressed. It allows users to make changes on the client-side without any effect on the server. Additionally, it will enable you to specify the exact data you need, and thus, you don’t receive more or less of what you asked for.
It Reduces Clients Over-Dependence on Servers
With GraphQL, clients are given the ability to use a request language that can bypass the need for a server to hardcore the size or shape of data. This means that users can manage and improves clients independently from the servers.
While GraphQL has some added advantages over REST, it is crucial to remember that these are two totally different things. While GraphQL is a language, syntax, and technology, REST is an architecture pattern. Therefore, regardless of its benefits, GraphQL should not be considered as a replacement for REST, but rather an additional API technique that can be deployed to improve efficiency and flexibility. However, if you determine that GraphQL APIs are more suited for your project than REST API, you can adopt them as long as you understand their underlying requirements and protocols.