Understanding the benefits and limitations of GraphQL versus REST API

5 minutes read
16 December 2020

Having the right connector running between your data sources and business applications can create a strong, resilient and extensible bond that can be leveraged and grow for years. Without the type of precision allowed by a flexible data connector, you run greater security risks as well as the chance to lose the integrity of your data systems. REST APIs have been used successfully for many years, as it offers great concepts such as structured access to information and stateless servers. However, recently the expanded difficulties of working with web-based applications have made room for another option for data transfer and manipulation: GraphQL.

Let’s dig into the differences between these two concepts and their applications. 


What is GraphQL?

As a relatively new architecture, GraphQL is rapidly becoming a great option for developers. GraphQL is known for having an extremely strongly-typed schema, providing developers with the information that they need to be successful in building new applications and transferring data points. The GraphQL schema identifies input arguments and possible responses quite clearly, reducing confusion and the rework often needed with other API models to ensure consistent results.


Key Use-Cases for GraphQL

GraphQL’s SDL (Schema Definition Language) offers a range of benefits for developers, such as allowing API documentation to be auto-generated. This is particularly useful for larger and more complex projects.
With GraphQL, developers are often able to accelerate timelines, making it easier for front-end developers to access robust client libraries and additional features such as real-time and optimistic UI updates. These tools can enhance the ability to quickly bring a new application to the testing phase without sacrificing the security or integrity of the application.


What is REST API?

First defined in 2000 by Roy Fielding, a REST API (REpresentational State Transfer) has several guiding constraints in order to identify an interface as RESTful. Any named document, image, collection of resources, or temporal object can be identified as a resource, allowing developers to access that information, translate it and disseminate it to additional applications. The guiding principles of REST include:

  • Client-Server: Interfaces can be scaled more effectively with simplified server components, allowing the UI to be addressed separately from the data storage capacity.
  • Stateless: Session states are entirely reliant on the client, with no reliance on stored context.
  • Cacheable: Responses to a request must be identified implicitly as non-cacheable or cacheable, allowing for the reuse of data for future calls.
  • Uniform Interface: Four key interface constraints are visible in REST, including manipulation of resources through representations, hypermedia as the engine of application state, identification of resources and self-descriptive messages. These help simplify the interface and speed development.
  • Layered System: Within REST API, the layered architecture doesn’t allow components to interact outside their immediate layer.
  • Code on Demand (Optional): Developers can simplify clients by extending code with scripts or applets.


Key Use-Cases for REST API

With simple, well-defined operations, REST API has become a de facto standard: it allows programmers to easily access resources – identified by URLs – and is intended to make interfaces more streamlined. Adding standardization to the way information is captured, REST API should not be confused with HTTP – even though this is the main protocol for the exchange between clients and servers.
REST APIs also lend themselves well to easy integrations, allowing developers to build new applications quickly by integrating existing technologies rather than spending valuable time redeveloping them from scratch. To do so, little information is required: you need minimal information to access and use a RESTful API in your application.

Over the years, REST APIs have become increasingly popular as they provide great flexibility, but may struggle to deliver the speed and vast volumes of information required for modern web-based and mobile applications.


Benefits and Limitations of GraphQL versus REST API

On the one hand, GraphQL may prove to be the more powerful of the two developer tools, as it provides a complete and understandable description of the data within a particular API, while there are significant challenges with REST API, due to the need to over- or under-request data based on a specific query. GraphQL allows developers to more directly target the data points needed to perform actions, while also allowing data from multiple sources to be consolidated into a single request.

Also, with clear and helpful error reporting and a seamless and intuitive interface, GraphQL is becoming a strong tool for developers working with high-volume or sensitive projects that require a rapid development cycle. GraphQL offers options for API testing right within your editor – providing developers with yet another way to streamline their workflow.


On the other hand, REST API is still the choice of many developers due to the flexibility that these APIs offer. REST provides the ability to handle a variety of different calls as it is not tied to specific methods or resources. The resilience extends further, allowing developers to request and cache large volumes of information while developing a uniform interface that is independent of the evolution of the application.

Another benefit of REST API is the ability to create a layered architecture, enhancing the options for modular applications that can quickly scale. REST APIs can return YAML, JSON or XML – or, in fact, any other format – potentially improving the usability of the protocol by reducing the risk of error due to improper parameter order or procedure names.


At Mia-Platform we don’t stand exclusively for one option or the other; regardless of your selection of REST API or GraphQL, you can be confident that you can utilize Mia-Platform’s set of tools to fully manage your API lifecycle and help speed valuable data points and information to a variety of locations.
Retake the ability to develop modern, cloud-native applications, improve the security and compliance standards for your IT operations and enhance the flexibility of digital offerings with Mia-Platform.

This article was written by Mia Liang. 

Back to start ↑
What is GraphQL?
What is REST API?
Benefits and Limitations of GraphQL versus REST API