Do You Need GraphQL?

As a popular alternative to REST APIs, GraphQL has transitioned from the cool new kid on the block to a solid, production-ready tool. While it has numerous benefits, it’s essential to consider its drawbacks before immediately jumping in to use it. I’ll also discuss an alternative to GraphQL.

Pros of Using GraphQL

Here are some of the many benefits of GraphQL.

Enhanced Flexibility and Efficiency in Data Retrieval

One of the main advantages of GraphQL is that it enables developers to request specific data from an API, rather than receiving all available information, or building out new API endpoints to enable new requests. This reduces the amount of data transferred over the network, leading to faster and more efficient data retrieval.

Streamlined API Design and Documentation

With a single endpoint for all data requests, GraphQL simplifies API design and documentation. A schema can include comments and documentation and can even be made public. Additionally, the schema is self-documenting, utilizing types as a contract for usage.

Superior Developer Experience with Strong Typing and Tooling

Thanks to its strongly typed schema, GraphQL allows for better tooling (such as type generation) and an exceptional developer experience. This not only makes it easier for developers to work with the API but also minimizes the risk of errors.

Request Caching

Many GraphQL libraries offer comprehensive caching strategies and invalidation resources, significantly improving client performance and reducing server load.

Cons of Using GraphQL

But, there are some downsides.

Increased Complexity in Server-side Implementation

Compared to REST APIs, GraphQL demands a more complex server-side implementation, which can be challenging for developers unfamiliar with the technology.

Steep Learning Curve

For those new to GraphQL, there’s a steep learning curve, which may necessitate additional training and resources.

Potential Pitfalls of Not Adhering to Idiomatic Principles

As a relatively new technology, failing to follow idiomatic principles when building the API can result in performance issues and other problems down the line. Without fully understanding the capabilities of a GraphQL API, it can be common for developers to fall into a “REST in GraphQL” mindset.

Limited Support for Specific Use Cases

Certain use cases, such as file uploads, have limited support in GraphQL. This can pose challenges for developers who need to accommodate these use cases and may require building additional infrastructure.

Alternative to GraphQL: tRPC

For full-stack TypeScript applications, tRPC is an attractive alternative to GraphQL, offering many similar benefits. As a TypeScript-first framework, tRPC provides a straightforward and efficient way to build APIs. It uses Zod to validate data, enabling strong types on both input and output of the API. This results in an excellent developer experience. The types are automatically inferred from the Zod schema, so that reduces overhead to use types, whereas GraphQL requires an additional type generation step. 

While tRPC is a fantastic option for full-stack TypeScript applications, it might be better suited for less complex projects. GraphQL excels in handling larger, more complex APIs over time, offering the flexibility and efficiency needed for intricate data queries or supporting multiple consuming applications. For smaller applications, however, tRPC delivers many of the same benefits as GraphQL without the added complexity.

GraphQL is an impressive technology with numerous advantages over traditional REST APIs. However, it’s essential to weigh its drawbacks before deciding to use it. For developers building full-stack TypeScript applications, tRPC is a fantastic alternative to GraphQL that offers many of the same benefits as GraphQL while being more accessible to those not familiar with the technology.


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