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Frequently Asked Questions

Common questions asked at each stage of GraphQL adoption

Everyone has questions about how to properly set up a GraphQL schema, but not all questions are alike. In different stages of development, different things matter. This guide answers questions that people commonly have at every step along the journey to GraphQL in production.

Learning GraphQL

You are just beginning to learn GraphQL. You're learning about syntax, running queries, schemas, and how to connect your existing services to your GraphQL layer.

What is GraphQL?

GraphQL is a language for querying data. With GraphQL, your existing services describe the data that they have, and clients describe the data they need. This is possible because of a strongly-typed schema (type definitions).

Why use GraphQL?

GraphQL can make a difference in nearly every area of development: from improving developer experience with quality tooling to improving client performance by reducing bundle sizes. Read more about the benefits of GraphQL here.

Where can I learn GraphQL?

There are a number of resources available to learn GraphQL. If you're looking to get started learning the basics, check out GraphQL.org.

The simplest way to get started with implementing GraphQL is with the Apollo platform. The Apollo platform includes all the tools needed to get started, including a production-ready GraphQL server (apollo-server), a fully-featured schema management and monitoring tool (Apollo Studio), and a client that manages local and remote data in your apps (apollo-client).

To get started, read the getting started guides for Apollo Server, Apollo Studio, and Apollo Client.

This site and the Apollo blog are also great places to learn and keep up with the latest developments in GraphQL and Apollo.

How can I host my schema online?

A great tool for learning and building small projects is Glitch. Glitch allows development of a schema in the browser, and even supports cloning from and pushing to GitHub. Glitch provides a public endpoint that projects can query against. To get started with building a GraphQL schema, try using and remixing the Apollo Launchpad project.

GraphQL schemas written with apollo-server can be deployed anywhere that other Node.js projects can be deployed. apollo-server even has variants to support serverless deployment with AWS Lambda.

There are deployment guides available for Heroku, Lambda, and Azure Functions.

How do I connect my client app to my schema?

The Apollo platform has tools available to connect almost any kind of client to your schema: Apollo Client for JavaScript clients, Apollo iOS for native iOS clients, and Apollo Android for native Android clients.

For Apollo Client projects, there are also many view-layer integrations, to make querying GraphQL schemas easier in React, Vue, and Angular.

Building a proof of concept

You understand how GraphQL works and what benefits it offers. You are trying to create a proof of concept for your projects or company to test GraphQL's viability in production.

Should I use Node.js for schema development?

There are GraphQL server tools available for most popular languages, but we recommend using apollo-server (Node.js) because of the ecosystem of tools developed for GraphQL in JavaScript. Node servers can also be run nearly anywhere, including on the edge.

How do I wrap existing APIs?

One of the best things about GraphQL is that it works excellently with existing APIs. It's possible to connect any number of existing services to your schema.

The most common source is a REST API. The RESTDataSource is a tool that integrates with apollo-server to simplify fetching and caching for existing REST APIs.

Other DataSources are under development, but even without the DataSource API, it's possible to connect any backend to a schema. Resolvers can do anything, including fetch data from an SDK or ORM.

How do I design the schema?

Schemas should be designed with the needs of the client in mind. Rather than modeling queries and types after the underlying services, they should be designed to make querying as easy as possible. GraphQL's resolver structure makes it possible to allow this flexibility without many performance consequences. For more, read the schema design guide.

How do I discover and reproduce errors?

As with any service, it's important to track errors and their causes. There are many kinds of errors that can occur with a GraphQL Schema. Some of these include service errors, where the schema can't access underlying services, and user errors, where a user enters invalid information in a query or mutation.

GraphQL is resilient to some of these errors. Since the schema is strongly typed, the designer has the ability to restrict what type of data users can enter and what type the resolvers can return. This type system catches many errors and requires no manual checks.

For errors not prevented by the type system, it's helpful to know what exact queries were made, and with what variables. Apollo Studio is a tool that does exactly this. It can help discover and reproduce errors by showing the exact conditions in which the error occurred.

Moving a feature to GraphQL

You have decided to use GraphQL in production. You don't want to immediately refactor the APIs or apps. You want to move a single feature over to GraphQL to learn how to use it and monitor it in production.

How should the transition to GraphQL happen?

As with any large change, the adoption of GraphQL should be incremental. GraphQL allows teams to leave existing services as they are and build convenient gateways on top of them.

Who owns the schema design?

GraphQL schemas work best when their design is heavily influenced by the needs of the product developers. It's tempting to design a schema to resemble the underlying sources or databases, but this can be hurtful to the usefulness of GraphQL.

How do I set up authentication/authorization for my GraphQL schema?

Authentication and authorization are important topics to discuss with any API. GraphQL provides a very granular approach to handling these topics. But don't worry, if an API being consumed by GraphQL already has authorization built-in, it may be possible to ignore it completely.

How can I secure my schema from malicious or expensive queries?

Public APIs of any kind need some kind of safeguards against malicious queries. Since GraphQL allows for recursive queries, it wouldn't be hard to create a query that is overly complicated and acts as a DoS attack, even by accident. There are multiple ways to prevent something like this from happening, from complexity limiting to query depth limiting. Read the guide on security to learn more.

What kinds of cache should I set up?

GraphQL can be cached in multiple places.

On the client, caches can prevent multiple queries from being called when not necessary. Client caches for GraphQL differ from REST clients in one important way: cache can handle queries that have never been made. This is possible because of how a GraphQL response is normalized and stored. For example, if a client requests a list of movies, each movie is cached separately on the client. Later, if the client requests a single movie in a different query and the needed information is in the cache, the request doesn't have to be made. This normalized cache is a part of apollo-client by default.

Cache can also be set up at the schema level. Whole-query caching, partial-query caching, and cache backed by a CDN can all be used to lower response times and make a GraphQL schema as performant as possible.

Whole-query and CDN caches are most useful when an API receives many of the same queries. This commonly happens with public data, like content on pages of a site. Regardless of whether the API is used for public data or not, these caches almost always provide large performance benefits and are highly recommended. You can read more about how to set up whole-query and CDN caching with apollo-server 2.0 here.

Partial query caching can be achieved by caching the responses from underlying services with something like Redis or Memcache. With this strategy, even if two queries look completely different from one another, if there is any duplication of data fetched, those results can be shared, preventing unnecessary traffic. The RESTDataSource does this automatically if the appropriate cache-control headers are present in REST responses.

How can I monitor the health of my GraphQL schema?

Many apps and sites are powered almost completely by an API such as a GraphQL schema, so it's important to make sure the API is healthy at all times. Indicators of an unhealthy service include long response times, high resource usage, and unusual traffic patterns.

Apollo Studio is a great tool to track many of these things. It allows close inspection of fields to make it easy to see both total response times as well as how long each field took to execute.

Apollo Studio also has some integrations to make monitoring easier. The Slack Integration delivers daily reports to give teams a quick overview of the health of their schema. The Datadog integration) works with existing Datadog accounts, to help teams track schema performance.

Moving a product to GraphQL

You have a good understanding of how to write, deploy, and monitor GraphQL in production. You are looking to scale GraphQL features to your entire product line.

How do I organize schema code to scale for a larger project?

Keeping all schema code together makes sense for smaller projects, but once a project reaches a certain size, or has many people working on it, managing conflicts in the same file and code navigation can get difficult. Splitting types and resolvers up into smaller files can make this process much easier. Read this blog post to learn more.

How can I test my client?

react-apollo comes with everything needed to test a client app that makes queries to a GraphQL schema. Read the Testing React Components guide to learn more.

How can I safely make changes to the schema?

Schemas naturally evolve over time. GraphQL schemas are more resilient to change than other APIs, but there are still occasions where breaking changes will need to happen to support new functionality. The versioning guide explains in more detail what kinds of changes are safe to make, and what kinds could break existing clients.

Additionally, using the Apollo CLI with Apollo Studio provides the tools needed to validate schema changes over time. This makes collaboration easier and more transparent.

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