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When the vision of API came into being, developers had no choice but to put REST forward so that APIs can be designed. However, the continuously updated application requirements requested something refined. GraphQL was a part of an API technology revolution that took the world by storm.
GraphQL is a server-side technology while REST is an API designing technique. Now, you might ask:
These questions must be answered before one picks any one out of these two options. Let’s unfold the mystery together.
Explanation of REST
First introduced to the world by Roy Fielding, REST is the primal software architectural design that furnishes a quick overview of key principles clung to during web application development. It means Representational State Transfer and intends to provide files, hardware devices, and media module support for flawless web service development.
An API designed using this architecture pattern is known as REST API. The use of this variant of API allows a web application to be utterly adaptable and open for 3rd party integration.
REST API constituted entities like header, method, API endpoint, and data or body. Here, the header entails details about content type and authentication mode.
Methods are used by REST to call a REST API. Methods like GET, PUT, POST, and DELETE are compatible with REST. With endpoint, we meant the URL of the destination from where the API call request will be placed. Data is the message or text that API carries. REST backs various data formats. However, JSON is the industry’s standard as its readability is astronomically higher than any other format.
It features an unchanging interface. With this, we meant that the device type has no impact on the way communication is taking place
Scalability of higher grades is possible with REST as it can expand to fulfill needs of the client.
REST makes resource accessibility easy as one can search required entities by name
More than one server can be used to serve REST APIs
REST API endpoint makes database resource accessibility within an application possible
The architecture and the pattern of REST are straightforward
Data transmission from one point to another is easy with REST
REST makes in-memory data storage possible.
Explanation of GraphQL
Now that the meaning of REST is clear, let’s learn about the GraphQL basics. It’s the API-compatible query language. Using GraphQL, the client can forward HTTP-based requests and expect a fitting response.
Developed by Facebook, this server-side technology works at the application layer. What makes it a superior choice is its ability to effectively optimize REST APIs. It proffers a declarative way using which applications can update and fetch data exchanged. It’s not a complex resource and is suitable for budding developers as well.
Statically-typed technology that can easily use backend for frontend decoupling
No data fetching
Its’ HTTP agnostic
No GraphQL data documentation overheads
Performa API evolution without asking for API versioning
REST is an API designing format that guides developers during web application development while GraphQL is a server-side tool for query execution
REST is organized as endpoints while schema is what handles GraphQL management
REST slows down the application development while GraphQL speeds it up
REST is comfortable with any message format for mutation while GraphQL needs only a string for this task
REST doesn’t require metadata while GraphQL needs it for query verification
In REST, the object is defined by the endpoint linked to it. The object used in GraphQL is independent of the developer’s way of fetching it.
GraphQL and REST API Comparison
Have a look at this table for a deeper understanding of the prime differences between the two.
A comparative table
It provides a guideline of key API designing principles that are required for web application development
It is a technology that server uses to execute queries with a pre-present data
Based on the serve-driven architecture
Based on the client-driven architecture
Has earned a name and fame and have huge database
It’s a relatively new technology and will take time to come into mainstream
Development is a time-consuming process
Speeds up the development process
Not very tough to learn and offers various reference material
GraphQL is tough to learn and not much of community support is offered
Performance consistency isn’t offered across the platform
GraphQL is a highly quality-consistent technology
Strongly typed theology
Multiple API endpoints
Unified API endpoint
Object identity is associated with the endpoint
Object is independent
No need of metadata
Metadata is crucial for query verification
API scalability and updates is easy
Added efforts and technology are required for API upgrade and customization
REST vs GraphQL
When usability is concerned, these two are poles apart as the versioning and predictability of these two are entirely different. GraphQL is highly predictive and permits end-users to share the intent request to the aimed API. The outcome is predictable and lets the developer decide the use cases beforehand.
REST’s behavior predictability is only possible when the developer is aware of the URL and HTTP used. Despite that, it’s not possible to entirely provide a verdict on the response.
Now, let’s talk about Versioning. REST is highly flexible and lets developers decide on tools and technologies as per the will and requirements.
GraphQL is against the API versioning that makes its usage simple.
Here, we have to admit that GraphQL is better performing. The reason is, its flexibility. Talking about RESTful APIs, they are inclined towards under and over-fetching which might lead to redundant data accumulation.
The odds of making undesirable calls to fetch intended data are also high with REST. All these things make REST sluggish and de-accelerates its progress.
GraphQL is highly responsive and flexible at fetching the required data. Users can pick any approach and make endless calls using one API call. Once the structure is defined, it can be reused a couple of times eliminating extra or insufficient fetching of the data. Hence, GraphQL is fast.
Both the front and backend developers also think that it pacifies the development speed significantly.
The debate of RESTful API vs GraphQL goes in favor of REST when it’s related to digital safety and privacy. It’s utterly flexible and lets you implement various API security measures in one go. HTTP authentication, API authorization, OAuth 2.0, and many other security approaches are compatible with REST. One has the freedom to use one or many API security solutions together.
GraphQL is also security conscious. But, it has to come a long way to match what REST is offering. However, there is one front where GraphQL beats REST and its type safety. REST has no provision for this. But, the scheme that is part of GraphQL is proactive in spotting all sorts of type errors in frontend and backend development.
Time plays a crucial role in deciding the popularity of anything. REST has existed for a very long time. Hence, it has earned a great market presence. Almost every application developer has used it at least once. GraphQL is new and is firming its feet in the developer community slowly and steadily.
Recently, Smartbear’s 2020 Report on the state of APIs was presented and it helped us to have better clarity on RESTful vs GraphQL when popularity is concerned. It states, nearly 82% of API consumers have definitely tried REST at least once. GraphQL’s customer base is far insignificant in front of this.
Lastly, the debating point of REST API vs GraphQL is the data-capturing or fetching abilities of these two. REST adopts multiple approaches for it, allowing the data access via various endpoints and routesSo, the server has to make numerous trips back and forth to access needed data. It’s time and resource-consuming as multiple end-points have to be created.
If you need to fetch/discover the user ID then the endpoint would be user/ID. But, if you need to bring other particulars, you will have to traverse further and fetch the data of the related end-point instead. The server has to visit the same database repeatedly to fetch different information.
Data caching isn’t that tedious with GraphQL. You only need to send one query/request towards the server and it’ll fetch the needed data, as per the pre-defined needs. There is no under or over-data fetching. Also, as the query response will be offered in a JSON object, it will be decoded and processed quickly.
What is REST useful for?
Using REST will reap maximum benefits when the project deals in static data as the request-response model of REST is apt for this type of development. Also, REST is great when you need to have a non-existent HTTP caching mechanism. GraphQL fails big time to have a universal HTTP cache.
REST permits you to develop an API responses-based monitoring system, which is not possible with GraphQL. Applications that necessitate a portable UI can only come into being with the help of REST.
REST is an ideal choice when an application development asks for a layered system featuring hierarchical layers.
What is GraphQL good for?
GraphQL makes targeted data fetching possible. This makes it an ideal resource for mobile-based application development.
Using this query language, clients can only fetch required information. This also makes it an ideal technology that is highly viable to improve the mobile application’s performance.
In case you have complex APIs to handle, GraphQL can help you reduce the complexities. Try it for sure when you need an abstract to explain the at-work API to make the response obvious and aligned with end-users' needs.
Applications that require data aggregation from more than one place will be able to achieve this goal by using GraphQL.
Retrieving data using REST and GraphQL
Direct calls to web pages through the web browser are made when you fetch the data using REST API. For example:
GET https: //localhost:8881/api/v1/School('Library A')
If the web page or asset is password protected, even the credentials are passed using the API call. Once can only use the POST, PATCH, and DELETE methods except for the GET method. It considers the whole web page as one, and therefore, reveals a lot of data per request.
On the contrary, GraphQL fetches data as objects and lets you access a particular node/object in the whole page/database:
Schools (Library: "A" )
REST has been here for a very long time and is still popular. This popularity is not without reason. Users are bound to experience some notable benefits like:
Easy development of complex projects
Software/application scalability is possible
Customized API development is possible
Processing without asking for routing information
Data migration from one server to another is without any hassles
Despite the promising benefits, it comes with significant drawbacks that include:
No maintenance of client-server communication state
Separate API calls have to be made for retrieving data from different endpoints
Data searching facilities are not impressive
Guidance isn’t offered for using framework or tool
No query validation is possible
No changes in APIs are promoted
Advantages and disadvantages of GraphQL
Be ready to experience some of the notable benefits like:
Easy and viable caching and batching of query
Auto-documentation sync with API
Numerous data fetching with one API call
Query execution as per the system’s context
Multiple database handling
A query that is easy-to-understand
Freedom to decide compatible functions and predefining their functioning
However, it’s not always a lucrative deal as it features certain drawbacks such as:
Ineptitude to propose comfortable design patterns when complex app designing is concerned
Small application development becomes exhaustive
It’s not a viable option for using complicated queries
A single endpoint that makes API entry tedious.
No API versioning supported
Which is better than REST or GraphQL?
Honestly speaking, the answer to this question is subjective and depends on the project requirements.
REST is better than GraphQL when you need to use multiple API versions, shouldn’t be worried about the device and browser type used by the application, and have the help of a predetermined API designing pattern.
However, if your project designing requirements are modern and demand frequent data updates without making round trips to the database then nothing can beat what GraphQL will bring to the table.
The key here is to make their strengths work for your betterment and try to reduce the downside. To your surprise, these two get along well with each other and can be used simultaneously.
Regardless of the option you pick, there is one aspect that is non-negotiable and it’s API security. The end application tends to feature major security flaws that can harm the data it’s supposed to carry without adequate APIs security measures.
As security is a vast topic, taking the help of an API security platform is an ideal fix. With this solution, it’s easy to maintain and manage API usage at every stage.
APIs are driving the future of application development. What makes developers confused in picking the best API development resource. While REST is a conventional approach, GraphQL is here to assist modern application development. Slowly, GraphQL is firming its feet among developers. In this post, we tried to present the key difference between REST API and GraphQL.
Paying attention to the facts explained will help you have better clarity on which works best in which scenario.