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Reference and extend types across subgraphs

In Apollo Federation, an entity is an object type that you define canonically in one subgraph and can then reference and extend in other subgraphs. Entities are the core building block of a federated graph.

Types besides object types (unions, interfaces, etc.) cannot be entities.


In a GraphQL schema, you can designate any object type as an entity by adding a @key directive to its definition, like so:

type Product @key(fields: "upc") {  upc: String!
  name: String!
  price: Int

The @key directive defines the entity's primary key, which consists of one or more of the type's fields. In the example above, the Product entity's primary key is its upc field. The gateway's query planner uses an entity's primary key to identify a given instance of the type.

An entity's @key cannot include fields that return a union or interface.

Defining multiple primary keys

If an entity can be uniquely identified by more than one combination of fields, you can define more than one primary key for that entity.

In the following example, a Product entity can be uniquely identified by either its upc or its sku:

type Product @key(fields: "upc") @key(fields: "sku") {  upc: String!
  sku: String!
  price: String

This pattern is helpful when different subgraphs interact with different fields of an entity. For example, a reviews subgraph might refer to products by their UPC, whereas an inventory subgraph might use SKUs.

Defining a compound primary key

A single primary key can consist of multiple fields, and even nested fields.

The following example shows a primary key that consists of both a user's id and the id of that user's associated organization:

type User @key(fields: "id organization { id }") {  id: ID!
  organization: Organization!

type Organization {
  id: ID!


After you define an entity in one subgraph, other subgraphs can then reference that entity. If a products subgraph defines the Product entity above, a reviews subgraph can then add a field of type Product to its Review type, like so:

type Review {
  product: Product

# This is a "stub" of the Product entity (see below)
extend type Product @key(fields: "upc") {
  upc: String! @external

Because the Product entity is defined in another subgraph, the reviews subgraph needs to define a stub of it to make its own schema valid. The stub includes just enough information for the subgraph to know how to interact with a Product:

  • The extend keyword indicates that Product is an entity that is defined in another subgraph (in this case, the products subgraph).
  • The @key directive indicates that Product uses the upc field as its primary key. This value must match the value of exactly one @key defined in the entity's originating subgraph, even if the entity defines multiple primary keys.
  • The upc field must be included in the stub because it is part of the specified @key. It also must be annotated with the @external directive to indicate that the field originates in another subgraph.

This explicit syntax has several benefits:

  • It is standard GraphQL grammar.
  • It enables you to run the reviews subgraph standalone with a valid schema, including a Product type with a single upc field.
  • It provides strong typing information that lets you catch mistakes at schema composition time.


In our example, the reviews subgraph needs to define its own resolver for the Product entity. The reviews subgraph doesn't know much about Products, but fortunately, it doesn't need to. All it needs to do is return enough information to uniquely identify a given Product, like so:

  Review: {
    product(review) {
      return { __typename: "Product", upc: review.upc };

This return value is a representation of a Product entity. Subgraphs use representations to reference entities from other subgraphs. A representation requires only an explicit __typename definition and values for the entity's primary key fields.

The gateway provides this representation to the entity's originating subgraph to fetch the full object. For this to work, the originating subgraph (in this case, products) must define a reference resolver for the Product entity:

  Product: {
    __resolveReference(reference) {      return fetchProductByUPC(reference.upc);    }  }

Reference resolvers are a special addition to Apollo Server that enable entities to be referenced by other subgraphs. They are called whenever a query references an entity across subgraph boundaries. To learn more about __resolveReference, see the API docs.

With this model, each implementing subgraph's schema represents a true subset of the complete graph. This prevents the need for defining foreign-key fields in individual schemas, and enables clients to transparently execute a query like the following, which hits both the products and reviews subgraphs:

  reviews {
    product {


A subgraph can add fields to an entity that's defined in another subgraph. This is called extending the entity.

When a subgraph extends an entity, the entity's originating subgraph is not aware of the added fields. Only the extending subgraph (along with the gateway) knows about these fields.

Each field of an entity should be defined in exactly one subgraph. Otherwise, a schema composition error will occur.

Example #1

Let's say we want to add a reviews field to the Product entity. This field will hold a list of reviews for the product. The Product entity originates in the products subgraph, but it makes much more sense for the reviews subgraph to resolve this particular field.

To handle this case, we can extend the Product entity in the reviews subgraph, like so:

extend type Product @key(fields: "upc") {
  upc: String! @external
  reviews: [Review]}

This definition is nearly identical to the stub we defined for the Product type in Referencing. All we've added is the reviews field. We don't include an @external directive, because this field does originate in the reviews subgraph.

Whenever a subgraph extends an entity with a new field, it is also responsible for resolving the field. The gateway is automatically aware of this responsibility. In our example, the generated query plan will fetch the upc field for each Product from the products subgraph and pass those to the reviews subgraph, where you can then access these fields on the object passed into your reviews resolver:

  Product: {
    reviews(product) {
      return fetchReviewsForProduct(product.upc);

Example #2

Let's say we want to be able to query for the inStock status of a product. That information lives in an inventory subgraph, so we'll add the type extension there:

extend type Product @key(fields: "upc") {
  upc: ID! @external
  inStock: Boolean}
  Product: {
    inStock(product): {
      return fetchInStockStatusForProduct(product.upc);

Similar to the reviews relationship example above, the gateway fetches the required upc field from the products subgraph and passes it to the inventory subgraph, even if the query didn't ask for the upc:

query GetTopProductAvailability {
  topProducts {

The Query and Mutation types

In Apollo Federation, the Query and Mutation base types originate in the graph composition itself and all of your subgraphs are automatically treated as extending these types to add the operations they support without explicitly adding the extends keyword.

For example, the products subgraph might extend the root Query type to add a topProducts query, like so:

type Query {
  topProducts(first: Int = 5): [Product]

Migrating entities and fields (advanced)

As your federated graph grows, you might decide that you want an entity (or a particular field of an entity) to originate in a different subgraph. Apollo Gateway helps you perform these migrations safely.

Entity migration

Let's say our payments subgraph defines a Bill entity. Then, we add a dedicated billing subgraph to our federated graph. It now makes sense for the Bill entity to originate in the billing subgraph instead.

We can perform this migration safely with the following steps:

  1. In the billing subgraph's schema, define the Bill entity just as it's defined in the payments subgraph (do not extend it). If you're using managed federation, register this schema change with Studio.

    Note that this is technically a composition error, because the Bill entity can't originate in more than one subgraph. However, this error is handled gracefully, as described below.

  2. In the billing subgraph, define resolvers for every field of Bill that currently originates in the payments subgraph. This subgraph should resolve those fields with the exact same outcome as the resolvers in the payments subgraph.
  3. Deploy the updated billing subgraph to your environment.

    Again, this technically deploys a composition error. However, this error is handled gracefully in one of two ways, depending on whether you are using managed federation:

    • If you are using managed federation, Apollo Studio does not publish an updated configuration, and the gateway continues to resolve the Bill entity in the payments subgraph.
    • If you are not using managed federation, your gateway starts resolving the Bill entity in whichever subgraph is listed last in your gateway's IntrospectAndCompose subgraphs list.
  4. In the payments subgraph's schema, remove the Bill entity. If you're using managed federation, register this schema change with Studio.

    This takes care of the composition error, regardless of whether you are using managed federation. The gateway will begin resolving the Bill entity in the billing subgraph.

  5. Remove the resolvers for Bill fields from the payments subgraph and deploy the updated subgraph to your environment.

    By removing the Bill entity from the payments schema before removing its associated resolvers, you guarantee that the gateway never attempts to resolve the entity in a subgraph that lacks resolvers for it.

Field migration

The steps for migrating an individual field are nearly identical in form to the steps for migrating an entire entity.

Let's say our products subgraph defines a Product entity, which includes the boolean field inStock. Then, we add an inventory subgraph to our federated graph. It now makes sense for the inStock field to originate in the inventory subgraph instead.

We can perform this migration safely with the following steps (additional commentary on each step is provided in Entity migration):

  1. In the inventory subgraph's schema, extend the Product entity to add the inStock field. If you're using managed federation, register this schema change with Studio.
  2. In the inventory subgraph, add a resolver for the inStock field. This subgraph should resolve the field with the exact same outcome as the resolver in the products subgraph.
  3. Deploy the updated inventory subgraph to your environment.
  4. In the products subgraph's schema, remove the inStock field. If you're using managed federation, register this schema change with Studio.
  5. Remove the resolver for inStock from the products subgraph and deploy the updated subgraph to your environment.

Extending an entity with computed fields (advanced)

When you extend an entity, you can define fields that depend on fields in the entity's originating subgraph. For example, a shipping subgraph might extend the Product entity with a shippingEstimate field, which is calculated based on the product's size and weight:

extend type Product @key(fields: "sku") {
  sku: ID! @external
  size: Int @external
  weight: Int @external
  shippingEstimate: String @requires(fields: "size weight")}

As shown, you use the @requires directive to indicate which fields (and subfields) from the entity's originating subgraph are required.

You cannot require fields that are defined in a subgraph besides the entity's originating subgraph.

In the above example, if a client requests a product's shippingEstimate, the gateway will first obtain the product's size and weight from the products subgraph, then pass those values to the shipping subgraph. This enables you to access those values directly from your resolver:

  Product: {
    shippingEstimate(product) {
      return computeShippingEstimate(product.sku, product.size, product.weight);    }

Using @requires with object subfields

If a computed field @requires a field that returns an object type, you also specify which subfields of that object are required. You list those subfields with the following syntax:

extend type Product @key(fields: "sku") {
  sku: ID! @external
  dimensions: ProductDimensions @external
  shippingEstimate: String @requires(fields: "dimensions { size weight }")}

In this modification of the previous example, size and weight are now subfields of a ProductDimensions object. Note that the ProductDimensions object must be defined in both the entity's extending subgraph and its originating subgraph, either as an entity or as a value type.

Resolving another subgraph's field (advanced)

Sometimes, multiple subgraphs are capable of resolving a particular field for an entity, because all of those subgraphs have access to a particular data store. For example, an inventory subgraph and a products subgraph might both have access to the database that stores all product-related data.

When you extend an entity in this case, you can specify that the extending subgraph @provides the field, like so:

type InStockCount {
  product: Product! @provides(fields: "name price")  quantity: Int!

extend type Product @key(fields: "sku") {
  sku: String! @external
  name: String @external  price: Int @external}

This is a completely optional optimization. When the gateway plans a query's execution, it looks at which fields are available from each subgraph. It can then attempt to optimize performance by executing the query across the fewest subgraphs needed to access all required fields.

Keep the following in mind when using the @provides directive:

  • Each subgraph that @provides a field must also define a resolver for that field. That resolver's behavior must match the behavior of the resolver in the field's originating subgraph.
  • When an entity's field can be fetched from multiple subgraphs, there is no guarantee as to which subgraph will resolve that field for a particular query.
  • If a subgraph @provides a field, it must still list that field as @external, because the field originates in another subgraph.
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