Subscriptions are GraphQL operations that watch events emitted from Apollo Server. The native Apollo Server supports GraphQL subscriptions without additional configuration. All integrations that allow HTTP servers, such as express and Hapi, also provide GraphQL subscriptions.

Subscriptions Example

Subscriptions depend on use of a publish and subscribe primitive to generate the events that notify a subscription. PubSub is a factory that creates event generators that is provided by all supported packages. PubSub is an implementation of the PubSubEngine interface, which has been adopted by a variety of additional event-generating backends.

const { PubSub } = require('apollo-server');

const pubsub = new PubSub();

Subscriptions are another root level type, similar to Query and Mutation. To start, we need to add the Subscription type to our schema:

const typeDefs = gql`
type Subscription {
  postAdded: Post
type Query {
  posts: [Post]
type Mutation {
  addPost(author: String, comment: String): Post
type Post {
  author: String
  comment: String

Inside our resolver map, we add a Subscription resolver that returns an AsyncIterator, which listens to the events asynchronously. To generate events in the example, we notified the pubsub implementation inside of our Mutation resolver with publish. This publish call can occur outside of a resolver if required.


const resolvers = {
  Subscription: {
    postAdded: {
      // Additional event labels can be passed to asyncIterator creation
      subscribe: () => pubsub.asyncIterator([POST_ADDED]),
  Query: {
    posts(root: any, args: any, context: any) {
      return postController.posts();
  Mutation: {
    addPost(root: any, args: any, context: any) {
      pubsub.publish(POST_ADDED, { postAdded: args });
      return postController.addPost(args);

Context with Subscriptions

The function to create a context for subscriptions includes connection, while the function for Queries and Mutations contains the arguments for the integration, in express’s case req and res. This means that the context creation function needs to check the input. This is especially important, since the auth tokens are handled differently depending on the transport:

const server = new ApolloServer({
  context: async ({ req, connection }) => {
    if (connection) {
      // check connection for metadata
      return {};
    } else {
      // check from req
      const token = req.headers.authorization || "";

      return { token };

As you can see Apollo Server 2.0 allows realtime data without invasive changes to existing code. For a full working example please have a look to this repo provided by Daniele Zurico

Authentication Over WebSocket

To support an authenticated transport, Apollo Server provides lifecycle hooks, including onConnect to validate the connection.

On the client, SubscriptionsClient supports adding token information to connectionParams (example) that will be sent with the first WebSocket message. In the server, all GraphQL subscriptions are delayed until the connection has been fully authenticated and the onConnect callback returns a truthy value.

The connectionParams argument in the onConnect callback contains the information passed by the client and can be used to validate user credentials. The GraphQL context can also be extended with the authenticated user data to enable fine grain authorization.

const { ApolloServer } = require('apollo-server');
const { resolvers, typeDefs } = require('./schema');

const validateToken = authToken => {
  // ... validate token and return a Promise, rejects in case of an error

const findUser = authToken => {
  return tokenValidationResult => {
    // ... finds user by auth token and return a Promise, rejects in case of an error

const server = new ApolloServer({
  subscriptions: {
    onConnect: (connectionParams, webSocket) => {
      if (connectionParams.authToken) {
        return validateToken(connectionParams.authToken)
          .then(user => {
            return {
              currentUser: user,

      throw new Error('Missing auth token!');

server.listen().then(({ url, subscriptionsUrl }) => {
  console.log(`🚀 Server ready at ${url}`);
  console.log(`🚀 Subscriptions ready at ${subscriptionsUrl}`);

The example above validates the user’s token that is sent with the first initialization message on the transport, then it looks up the user and returns the user object as a Promise. The user object found will be available as context.currentUser in your GraphQL resolvers.

In case of an authentication error, the Promise will be rejected, which prevents the client’s connection.

Subscription Filters

Sometimes a client will want to filter out specific events based on context and arguments.

To do so, we can use the withFilter helper from the apollo-server or apollo-server-{integration} package to control each publication for each user. Inside of withFilter, the AsyncIterator created by PubSub is wrapped with a filter function.

Let’s see an example - for the commentAdded server-side subscription, the client want to subscribe only to comments added to a specific repo:

subscription($repoName: String!){
  commentAdded(repoFullName: $repoName) {

When using withFilter, provide a filter function. The filter is executed with the payload (a published value), variables, context and operation info. This function must return a boolean or Promise<boolean> indicating if the payload should be passed to the subscriber.

The following definition of the subscription resolver will filter out all of the commentAdded events that are not associated with the requested repository:

const { withFilter } = require('apollo-server');

const resolvers = {
    Query: () => { ... },
    Mutation: () => { ... },
    Subscription: {
        commentAdded: {
          subscribe: withFilter(
            () => pubsub.asyncIterator('COMMENT_ADDED'),
            (payload, variables) => {
             return payload.commentAdded.repository_name === variables.repoFullName;

Subscriptions with Additional Middleware

With an existing HTTP server (created with createServer), we can add subscriptions using the installSubscriptionHandlers. Additionally, the subscription-capable integrations export PubSub and other subscription functionality.

For example: with an Express server already running on port 4000 that accepts GraphQL HTTP connections (POST) we can expose the subscriptions:

const http = require('http');
const { ApolloServer } = require('apollo-server-express');
const express = require('express');

const PORT = 4000;
const app = express();
const server = new ApolloServer({ typeDefs, resolvers });


const httpServer = http.createServer(app);

// ⚠️ Pay attention to the fact that we are calling `listen` on the http server variable, and not on `app`.
httpServer.listen(PORT, () => {
  console.log(`🚀 Server ready at http://localhost:${PORT}${server.graphqlPath}`)
  console.log(`🚀 Subscriptions ready at ws://localhost:${PORT}${server.subscriptionsPath}`)

Lifecycle Events

ApolloServer exposes lifecycle hooks you can use to manage subscriptions and clients:

  • onConnect - called upon client connection, with the connectionParams passed to SubscriptionsClient - you can return a Promise and reject the connection by throwing an exception. The resolved return value will be appended to the GraphQL context of your subscriptions.
  • onDisconnect - called when the client disconnects.
const server = new ApolloServer(
  subscriptions: {
    onConnect: (connectionParams, webSocket, context) => {
      // ...
    onDisconnect: (webSocket, context) => {
      // ...

PubSub Implementations

The Apollo Server implementation of PubSub can be replaced by another implementations of PubSubEngine interface. The community has created the following integrations:

You can implement a PubSub of your own, using the exported PubSubEngine interface from apollo-server or another integration. If you want to set up a GraphQL server using the graphql-subscriptions package, follow this guide.

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