Everything You Need to Know About GraphQL vs. REST APIs

The advantages, limitations, and differences between and GraphQL and REST API
Anthony Molzahn

Way back in the earlier days of the internet (the early to mid-90s, specifically), creating web pages and applications was as close as you could get to the Wild West. There was no established architecture or structure to building pages, and information was tough to come by. Remember, this is pre-Google internet we’re talking about here.

However, there needed to be a change, and structure needed to happen. Today, there are two major competitors in creating APIs: the monolithic beast that is REST and the relatively newer and faster GraphQL.

Each of these has pros and cons, such as REST’s rigid structure and GraphQL’s more refined query language. But what makes each one work, and why would you want to use one over the other? Understand the differences between REST vs GraphQL API, their advantages and limitations, and see how Devii is harnessing GraphQL for instant API development.

What is REST API?

Eventually, we saw a specification for building APIs on the web, known as Simple Object Access Protocol (SOAP). This would use data from XML envelopes to send and receive data from endpoints on a web server but came with a few downsides. The XML needed to function was very complex and verbose, making it difficult for developers to make changes or iterate quickly.

However, SOAP wouldn’t last long. A few years later, Representational State Transfer (REST) would quickly take over the web, boasting a less complex and more flexible way of using APIs. 

Today, REST has been the dominant architecture for most developers, currently hovering around 93% of developers using it.

Instead of a strict architecture, REST is defined by five guidelines that make an API “RESTful”:

  • Client-server architecture: Both the client-side and server-side should be independent, meaning what a client sees shouldn’t be directly tied to the database or server.
  • Statelessness: The server shouldn’t store any state about a client’s session, meaning that any requests made should only contain exactly what is needed to understand and process it.
  • Cacheability: Resources should be cached on either the client or server-side to help improve performance. Each response from an API should explicitly state whether or not it should be cached or not to prevent old data from being sent back from future responses.
  • Layered Systems: Clients shouldn’t be able to tell whether or not they’re connected to a server or a different application layer through normal means. This promotes security for your server and allows multiple servers or microservices to work together.
  • Uniform Interface: To maintain simplicity, a RESTful API needs to keep everything simple and consistent. This means that resources should have a logical endpoint to fetch and retrieve that data, and all responses should follow the same format.

With REST, APIs now had a simple way to send and request data, and it didn’t involve using the bulk of XML. Instead, it’s comprised of four parts:

  • An HTTP Method tells the API what to do with the data. There are four different methods: POST creates, GET retrieves, PUT updates, and DELETE does precisely what you’d think.
  • The header stores the information for the client and the server. Think of things like user authentication, the server IP, etc.
  • The body makes up the data being sent/received. In most applications these days, it’s in the form of a JSON object, but it can be used for plaintext if needed.
  • Finally, the endpoint contains the URI/URL that points the API call to a specific place.

What is GraphQL API?

REST may be the current giant of the tech world, but it’s not the only one out there. Fast-forwarding to the advent of smartphones and the dominance of web-based applications and native apps for mobile devices, REST APIs were starting to show signs of aging.

You see, RESTful APIs weren’t keeping up with the rapid adoption of smartphones. They couldn’t serve huge chunks of data quickly and effectively with the slow speeds of 3G. So the team at Facebook took a gamble and created an entirely new architecture for their APIs, one that would work across the different implementations of their platform without needing to create hundreds of endpoints or be limited by mobile network speeds.

GraphQL would be publicly released in 2015, boasting an entirely new concept for API architecture.

Instead of an application having a multitude of endpoints for every potential request, it provides developers with a single endpoint to perform any number of queries they need.

Plus, it comes with a language-agnostic query language that works with that API to deliver precisely what the client needs when they need it, without any fluff.

Unlike REST APIs, GraphQL offers less of a “guideline” on how an API should be built and instead gives you two parts that work in tandem to run your API:

  • A robust query language allows the client to send queries to the server. This language lets developers make complex requests to a single endpoint and eliminates the need to under or over fetch data.
  • A server-side runtime processes that query to fetch and return data and provides a schema to lay out how the data is structured.

Thanks to GraphQL, API development has become much easier, but it's still a growing technology. Adoption has been rising over the last few years and continues to grow as the technology matures.

Which is Better: GraphQL or REST? 

Naturally, there are individual pros and cons for each type of API. Otherwise, why would we be here talking about both?

For starters, REST is not one singular piece of tech. It’s a set of rules to follow to create an API, while GraphQL provides the tools to make the API from the ground up. Because of this, creating a GraphQL API can be much faster than a RESTful API.

The flip side is that GraphQL is more complex to write compared to REST, thanks to the needed inclusion of resolvers to return the correct data. This doesn’t mean it’s any slower to develop, but a learning curve is involved.

GraphQL also doesn’t require versioning and is very easy to update. Since there’s only one endpoint, developers only need to update the resolvers and leave the rest to the client side. REST APIs require a bit more work, as the endpoints need to be created, which may result in several fetches for the correct data (known as “overfetching”).

So why would you go with GraphQL over REST? It’s simple, and it’s fast. (No, really.)

The most crucial detail about GraphQL is its speed and simplicity, allowing developers to spend more time innovating and less time working on their API. The ability to fetch exactly what you need for each call from a single endpoint is a powerful feature that works within any tech stack.

Spend More Time Innovating & Less Time Developing APIs 

We ❤️ GraphQL, so much so that we came together to create a product that can help you spin up a working API from a days-long process to just minutes.

Devii is an application API server designed around making API development even more accessible, thanks to the power of GraphQL.

Our Instant API Engine helps teams spin up working GraphQL API and start fetching data in the same day. Automatically generate GraphQL schemas, using your existing database or hosting one with us, and get your data into the hands of whoever needs it. Spend more time innovating and less time dealing with backend development with Devii.

With our Auto Resolvers, you’ve got the power to get your API fetching and returning data in no time, cutting out the hassle that comes with coding individual resolvers. Instead of spending hours of development time making resolvers, Devii lets your team focus on the product.

Devii also utilizes a powerful security engine that harnesses Policy-Based Access Control (PBAC), giving user access control without role-based security threats. With PBAC, we eliminate the issue of a sea of entries that follow traditional security policies experience. Instead, teams can define access and enforce policies at the individual user level, or at the group level.

Jumpstart your API development with Devii’s Packages, out-of-the-box tools built directly into your API without writing a single line of code. Enable any number of capabilities with the press of a button. Extend your API beyond the traditional CRUD operations with standard:

✔️ Image and multimedia processing
✔️ Analytical queries and functions
✔️ Email and SMS notifications
✔️ PDF Reporting
✔️ And more!

Whether GraphQL or REST, we believe your ​​API should be a time saver, not a time suck. Stop burning through development resources and eliminate manual API development – make your API development time up to 27% faster per project with Devii.

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