April 9, 2024

Five Years of Apollo Federation: the Standard for Enterprise API Platforms

Jeff Auriemma

Jeff Auriemma

GraphQL federation has emerged as the industry consensus for composing APIs at scale. Organizations such as Netflix, Expedia, and Wayfair quickly adopted this architecture to abstract API complexity and further adoption is on the rise. Gartner predicts that “By 2027, 30% of enterprises using GraphQL will use GraphQL federation, up from less than 5% in 2024.”1 This pattern didn’t emerge by accident; it was created and refined here at Apollo GraphQL. The first lines of Federation code were published five years ago, so it’s the right moment to take a step back and examine the past, present, and future of this transformative technology.

GraphQL federation enables a platform strategy

Data storage and retrieval needs exploded decades ago, so SQL emerged. Container usage exploded years ago, so Kubernetes emerged. API development is exploding, so GraphQL federation has arrived. It’s declarative, composable, and self-service. Federation isn’t just an idea anymore: it’s a solution that has been proven, at scale, time and again. And according to Gartner, “Federation enables centralized governance, team autonomy (teams can own their own subgraphs), composability, and adaptability to evolving requirements at different speeds.”1  

We at Apollo GraphQL believe GraphQL federation is now synonymous with GraphQL at enterprise scale. Companies such as Zillow, Square, Priceline.com, and Booking.com rely on Apollo Federation to power their API platforms. Read more about how Federation powers Major League Baseball’s API strategy and how Intuit handled their busiest time of year with Apollo Router.

These brands chose GraphQL to serve their product and platform goals, allowing them to ship better user experiences faster and without the overhead that legacy API architectures incentivize. Federation is:

  • Unified. Federation preserves the GraphQL experience client teams love by making this data accessible via a single endpoint.
  • Modular. Federation makes it easier to break up a monolithic architecture. This enables teams to contribute to the graph independently at scale.
  • Iterative. Teams can evolve their graph with confidence, surfacing backwards compatibility concerns early in the process thanks to robust composition rules.

Whether you have one service or one thousand, they can all be composed into a single entry point without compromising their existing service boundaries. GraphQL is declarative, flexible, and supported by an open specification. Even if you have a small number of services (as few as one!), Federation can enrich your systems with new features out of the box. This piece isn’t a primer on how to use Apollo Federation, though – we highly recommend our course catalog in Odyssey for that.

Image portrays three visuals. The first visual is on GraphQL architecture and includes text that reads build a unified but modular graph of your data and services. The second visual showcases GraphQL infrastructure and includes text that reads Secure, scale, and govern the graph across any number of applications. The third visual showcases GraphQL workflows and includes text that reads enable teams to contribute to and consume the graph in a self-service way.

How we got here

Federation wasn’t built overnight. Here’s a timeline of milestones we reached along the way:


Initial Apollo Federation commits published. After years of design and months of implementation and building on the vision Martijn Walraven spoke about at GraphQL Summit 2018, our first lines of Federation code became complete enough to publish. Shortly afterwards we released Apollo Federation and Apollo Gateway, creating the GraphQL federation category. At GraphQL Summit 2019, Jeff Hampton and Matt DeBergalis dove deep into the use case for GraphQL federation, how it works, and what solutions it offers


More expressive graphs. As developers embraced Federation and our tooling matured, we converged on a more elegant and complete set of directives for creating federated graphs. Concepts like entities, owners, and required input data were fully fleshed out with feedback from our enterprise design partners and refined over time.


Apollo Federation 2.0 released. This version of Federation was created in close collaboration with the excellent engineers at Netflix. Apollo Federation 2 helps organizations operate even better across teams, leveraging shared types and the ability to migrate parts of a federated schema from one owner to another.


Apollo Router became generally available. Apollo Router has since become the standard-bearer for enterprise GraphQL at scale and is an indispensable part of the stack for a growing number of organizations.


Federated subscriptions shipped. This enabled realtime data from anywhere in your infrastructure to all your clients, all made possible by protocol innovations and made available with a polished full-stack developer experience.

What’s next

Apollo is proud to be a founding member of the GraphQL Foundation and to be represented on the GraphQL Specification’s Technical Steering Committee and GraphQL Working Group. Since the composition and execution behaviors in Apollo Federation are becoming increasingly adopted by a wide array of users and toolmakers, there is a clear benefit for developing a common standard focused specifically on this domain.

Contributors from Apollo are working with others in the community to collaborate on a proposal for a common specification within the GraphQL Working Group. We are beyond excited at the innovation that this effort will unlock, and thrilled that the community is moving towards a common understanding of the importance of this technology category.

A universe of possibilities

Apollo is the leading GraphQL platform in the industry, serving the highest-volume, most demanding production workloads of today while developing the software that will power tomorrow’s use cases. In a rapidly changing world, enterprise organizations can count on the creators of Apollo Federation to continue to invest in solutions that meet and exceed the needs of the world’s largest platforms, all while empowering a robust and open GraphQL community.

  1. Gartner, When to Use GraphQL to Accelerate API Delivery, By Shameen Pillai, et al, March 7, 2024. GARTNER is a registered trademark and service mark of Gartner, Inc. and/or its affiliates in the U.S. and internationally and is used herein with permission. All rights reserved. ↩︎

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Jeff Auriemma

Jeff Auriemma

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