While working on a client-server app, it’s common for developers to have to choose between GraphQL and REST API. Picking one over another can have far-reaching consequences for the application’s speed, scalability, and maintainability.
For years, The Rest API has been a preferred option for many developers. REST API has a well-defined structure that makes it simple to use and comprehend. Thus, it enables developers to easily construct sophisticated applications.
However, GraphQL has become a strong rival with a more effective and adaptable querying mechanism. By utilizing it, developers can simply retrieve the information they really require. Moreover, the data model of GraphQL enables simple customization.
Both GraphQL and REST API offers distinctive benefits and capabilities. So, picking the best one for the project will have a big influence on its success. In this article, we will present both GraphQL and REST API, their features & benefits, use cases, and key differences.
What is GraphQL?
GraphQL is a robust query language for API developed by Meta. It provides a better way to build APIS and improve the RESTful API calls.
With GraphQL, developers can utilize a single endpoint to get exactly the data they want. This makes it easier to manage data dependencies and avoid over-fetching. Whereas REST API requires multiple endpoints to obtain a variety of resources.
However, there are still some misconceptions about what GraphQL is not. So, let’s clear the clutter with the following points:
- It’s not a database language or ORM but a tool for querying API
- It’s not intended to replace REST API but an alternative that can coexist in the same project.
- It’s not overwhelming, not difficult, making it easy to learn and implement.
GrapphQL was made available as an open-source project in 2015. Since then, companies like GitHub, Yelp, and Shopify have all adopted it as it has grown in popularity. GraphQL is evolving into a crucial ability for developers to master as a result of the increasing demand for more effective APIs.
How GraphQL Works
GraphQL is built on a schema that describes the sorts of data that can be queried as well as their relationships. By acting as a link between the client and the server, this schema makes sure that both parties are aware of the data that can be requested. Also, it determines how the data will be represented.
Let’s consider a blog application that uses GraphQL API. The API’s schema can be described as follows:
The post and comment types are defined in this schema, along with a Query type. It enables us to get individual posts by ID. The fields that each type possesses reflect the data that can be obtained.
Using this schema, we can use the code below to create a GraphQL query to get a post and its comments:
The outcome of this query will include the title, body, author, and ID of the post. It will also return as the body and author of any comment related to that post.
Instead of sending several queries to various endpoints, we can get all the required data using GraphQL with only one API call. As a result, overhead goes down, and the functionality of the API goes up.
What Is Rest API
REST API is a website service architecture. It enables communication through HTTP protocols between many systems. It is a set of architectural principles which aids in developing scalable, efficient, and versatile web services.
However, it’s a popular option among developers since it employs common HTTP methods such as:
GET: This command retrieves resources
POST: To create a resource
PUT: Alters the state or updates a resource that can be an object, file or block
DELETE: To eliminate the resource
The foundation of REST API is the idea of resources, which are recognized by distinctive URLs (Uniform Resource Locator). Based on the request from the client, each resource can have a different representation like the following:
- XML (Extensible Markup Language),
- and HTML (Hyper Text Markup Language)
RESTPful API utilizes these resources to retrieve data, create a record, update a record, or delete it.
How REST API Works
The REST API operates by enabling users to submit HTTP requests to servers that portray resources via URLs. After processing the request, the server sends back the information in the specified format (JSON or XML)
For instance, think of a web application that enables users to access a piece of book-related information. Using the RESTful API, clients can get details about a single book or a selection of books.
To get information on a particular book, the client submits an HTTP GET request using the resources URL. The link could be the following:https://example.com/api/books/123. After processing the request and locating the book with ID “123,” the server delivers a response in the chosen format (JSON).
Likewise, to get a list of books, the client sends an HTTP GET request to the server with a URL such as “https://example.com/api/books”. Thus, the server responds back in the required format, such as JSON.
Features of GraphQL
GraphQL is a versatile and effective query language since it offers robust typing and hierarchical data retrieval. Here are some key features of GraphQL that made it popular with its users:
Strongly Typed: GraphQL offers a schema that includes several kinds of API-accessible data types, such as fields, objects, and links. To ensure legitimate data delivery, this schema is used to verify queries and replies.
Hierarchical Structure: GraphQL allows clients to specify the precise data they require. Thus, less redundant data is returned, which enhances the API’s speed.
More Effective: Clients can obtain numerous resources with a single request thanks to GraphQL. It utilizes only one endpoint for all the queries allowing caching and batch requests.
Client-focused: GraphQL allows the client to control the data that is fetched, which decreases the number of calls made to the server.
Agnostic: Since GraphQL is independent of the underlying database and technological stack, it can be integrated with any backend technology.
Introspective: Comes with an introspection system that enables clients to learn about their accessible data, data types, and links.
Subscription Model: The subscription model allows users to get real-time data updates. Clients can subscribe to changes in certain data and get updates when it changes.
Now that you know the features of GraphQL, let’s explore what REST API has to offer to its clients.
Features of REST API
REST API places a strong emphasis on following a set of standards that makes API highly accessible, adaptable, and readily scalable:
Stateless: RESTful API includes all the necessary data in each request. Thus, it’s stateless, scalable, and easy to manage.
Client-Server Architecture: Client-server architecture where clients request data from the server, and it is returned. Hence, the front-end and back-end systems can be built and maintained separately.
Resource-Based: Accessible data are represented by resources. For retrieval or modification, each resource has a specific URL.
CRUD Operations: REST API manages resources via CRUD (Create, Retrieve, Update, and Delete) actions.
Consistent Interface: Offers a uniform interface for interacting with resources, simplifying API architecture and maintenance.
Cacheable: It’s caching enabled, which reduces the number of queries to the server and improves efficiency.
Layered Structure: Supports a layered structure that includes a proxy server which increases flexibility and scalability.
Benefits of GraphQL
After learning about the features of GraphQL, let’s explore the benefits that make it stand out
Better Performance: With GraphQL improves performance by minimizing minimizes the quantity of data sent over the network.
Simplified API Development: API development becomes easier with a single encompassing schema. Hence, it streamlines the development process and reduces the chances of errors.
Increased Flexibility: Developers can precisely describe the data they need and how it should be organized. Therefore, it can accommodate multiple sorts of clients, such as mobile and web apps.
Improved Developer Experience: Offers frameworks and tools that simplify the creation, testing, and debugging of APIs.
Better documentation: With self-documenting schema, it becomes easier to understand and utilize the API.
Quicker Iteration: The updates to the schema can be made without impacting the current clients. So it is easy to improve the API and add new features to it.
Simpler Data Aggregation: Users can integrate information from several APIs and sources into a single query. Hence, data aggregation can be made simpler with less complicated backend code.
Benefits of GraphQL
REST API offers various perks that make it a popular option for developers and businesses. Some of the major advantages of REST API are listed below:
Flexibility: XML, JSON, and HTML are just a few of the many programming languages and data formats that can be used with REST API.
Scalability: REST API can handle enormous amounts of traffic and data, making it ideal for distributed systems.
Statelessness: REST API is stateless, making it easy for developers to create APIs that can serve many clients.
Enhanced Performance: With the caching feature, servers handle fewer requests enhancing the overall performance.
Easy to Implement: It’s easy to implement with its user-friendly HTTP methods for getting, creating, updating, and removing resources.
Applications & Use Cases: GraphQL
When it comes to building and utilizing APIs, GraphQL provides a unique solution. It can be the perfect tool for the use cases indicated below when utilized as intended:
GraphQL is commonly used to develop APIs that provide a quicker method of accessing and retrieving data. It helps developers to specify the precise fields and structure of the data they wish to query, making the API lighter and quicker.
When it comes to a headless CMS, GraphQL can be utilized as a data layer. It provides a way to decouple the content from the display layer. Besides, headless cms allow developers to retrieve and manage content effectively and flexibly.
Mobile App Development
Since mobile app often includes limited bandwidth, quick data retrieval becomes essential. This is where GraphQL becomes an ideal tool for developing mobile apps. Also, it makes it simpler for developers to implement features like offline support and caching.
The subscription feature of GraphQL is essential for applications that need user participation and real-time data changes. Thus, clients can subscribe to updates and receive immediate transmissions from the server.
With a microservices architecture, services typically demand communication with one other and have distinct data requirements. GraphQL lowers this complexity by offering a single interface to retrieve data from various services.
GraphQL’s versatility and efficiency in retrieving and managing product data can improve e-commerce websites and applications. This allows for functions like dynamically updating product availability, user-specific buying guides, and special offers.
GraphQL’s flexible and powerful data retrieval and analysis capabilities make it a viable technology for data science applications. It makes it easier for developers to do advanced analysis and modeling on data from a wide variety of sources.
With GraphQL, programmers may query for and manipulate user information, blog articles, and other content. This allows for dynamic updates to user feeds and a more personalized experience for the end user.
Applications & Use Cases: REST API
Here are some of the key applications and use cases of REST API:
REST API is a great option for developing backend services for mobile apps. It simply retrieves data from multiple sources. For example, databases, cloud storage, online mobile-based services, etc.
REST APIs are optimal for creating web apps that require data access from numerous sources. It offers a uniform method for accessing and manipulating data, minimizing the complexity of web apps.
Internet of Things (IoT)
You can utilize RESTful API to link Internet of Things (IoT) devices with cloud-based software. For instance, a smart thermostat can interact with a cloud-based service that regulates a home’s temperature using a REST API.
To conduct transactions and connections with third-party services, e-commerce websites frequently employ RESTful APIs. For example, an online store may use a RESTful API to obtain To get shipping data from a logistics provider or to accept payment through a payment gateway.
Social Media Platforms
RESTful APIs play a crucial role in facilitating social media networks’ ability to provide organized access to their data. Using It, programmers can access user data from sites like Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn to create bespoke social media management systems or native apps.
GraphQL vs. REST API
Let’s get a quick overview of the differences between GraphQL and REST API:
|Data Retrieval||Clients can query and retrieve only the required data in various formats||Clients can query and receive every data in a predetermined format.|
|Data Request & response||Can handle complex data and return it from multiple sources using a single request.||Several queries for numerous resources are required|
|Data Query Flexibility||Allows adaptable queries that can be tailored based on the specific requirements of the client.||Modification possibilities for queries are relatively constrained.|
|Caching Feature||Caching-enabled, which enhances performance. Hence, no need to reprocess the queries.||Due to the predefined return style, caching can be more difficult.|
|Overall Performance||Effective for high-frequency data retrieval.||Less efficient for high-frequency data|
|Versioning Condition||Because updates to a schema are cumulative, versioning is unnecessary.||It can cause bandwidth wastage and deferred response times.|
|Learning curve||A steeper learning curve, so the user must grasp the schema and query method||With a simplified request and response style, it’s easier to learn and use|
|Documentation||Decent amount of tools, documentation, and IDE integration||limited tools, documentation, and IDE support|
|Tooling||Supporting programs, tooling, and libraries are expanding||Well-established & robust set of tooling and resources are available|
GraphQL allows clients to get exactly the data they require in a single request. It is an excellent choice for apps with complicated data demands or high-frequency data retrieval.
On the other hand, REST API offers a more robust ecosystem of supporting software and is simpler to utilize. It is a suitable match for simpler apps that require ease of use. Besides, it includes a well-established ecosystem of tools and libraries.
As you can see, both GraphQL and REST APIs are clearly distinguishable with their advantages and disadvantages. In general, picking between GraphQL and REST API is a matter of developer preference and the application’s requirements.
You may also explore some frequently asked REST API interview questions and answers.