What is GraphQL and when you should use it

Mon Oct 04 2021

2 min read

When you are working on a large-scale application, it often happens that you would need to fetch large chunks of data. Sometimes, you need to perform multiple API calls to get the desired results using a REST API. It is called under-fetching.

Sometimes you need a small amount of data, but instead, you get a lot of unnecessary data with a single API call. This is called over-fetching.

GraphQL exists to help you with these problems. It is a query language that allows you to read and mutate data in APIs.

How does GraphQL work?

With GraphQL, you get precisely the data you request. No more, no else. You have a single entry point, i.e., /graphql, that you use to get the data.

On your backend, you define a schema that describes all the possible data that you may need to query in your application. The data is then later fetched using a syntax that replicates the data's return shape in JSON.

The schema is defined using the type keyword. The type can have multiple fields, and you can make a field required by putting an exclamation mark (!) in front of it. The type Query is the main entry point for the client, and this is where the client reads the data from and then uses it in the application.

There is also a type that exists to let you manipulate the data using GraphQL. It's called Mutation. Inside this type, you can put calls to different functions that later change your data.

When a user performs a data action from the frontend, the generated query is sent to the backend. There it gets validated against predefined schemas. So when GraphQL finds a schema against the query, it then executes the validated query.

When To Use GraphQL?

There are many scenarios where you can make use of GraphQL. Let's take a look at some of them:

  • In applications where problems of under-fetching and over-fetching exist, GraphQL can take care of it.
  • When you want to get precise data from the API using a single API, you can use GraphQL.
  • When you want to reduce the miscommunication between the client and the server, you can use GraphQL because of its strongly defined data types.
  • You can use GraphQL for applications that you know will be used by people with limited bandwidth.