The Power of GraphQL for Data Management

Thought Leadership

By Felipe Silberstein | March 11, 2022

GraphQL has grown in popularity for API communication with data repositories. It is modern, efficient, and easy to use. Why is it so popular? It all boils down to GraphQL's potential as a query language to create unique experiences through seamless data retrieval.

Let’s take a closer look at what GraphQL is, and how you can use it to your advantage.

What is GraphQL?

GraphQL is a query language that tells your APIs how to display requested data to the clientele that runs on the back-end. It was initially developed in 2012 by Facebook to address performance and reliability issues with their mobile apps on iOS and Android. In 2015, it was released as an open-source software.

The scale that GraphQL can operate at is quite vast. For example, on Black Friday 2021, GraphQL facilitated 1.3 billion API requests. This is a 480% increase in requests it processed when compared to 2020. And in November 2021, GraphQL supported a 550% increase in supporting Contentful’s API requests, when compared to 2020 numbers.

GraphQL augments headless commerce benefits

Almost any sector that uses websites or mobile applications to interact with its customers benefits from GraphQL. But it’s companies that use headless technologies who benefit the most.

To put things in context, headless architecture enables you to separate the customer-facing interface of your site from the core functions and processes operating in the back-end. This helps sites deliver better customer experiences faster and easier.

Using decoupled architecture like this means you can deliver a consistent digital experience across devices and content channels. GraphQL facilitates headless commerce to run seamlessly, by streamlining the data retrieval process between the front-end and the back-end and leading to a smoother customer experience.

GraphQL is also a highly compatible language that is not limited by the type of databases, frameworks, or programming languages you use. GraphQL APIs provide applications fluid access to other features and tools, encouraging cleaner server-side code that’s easier to maintain.

One real-world example we could look at is GitHub. GitHub migrated from using the REST protocol to GraphQL, to achieve greater operational flexibility and make customers' queries more efficient.

GraphQL features: declarative queries and mutations

Queries and mutations are two of GraphQL's main features. Let’s break down these elements to understand why they work.

First, it’s key to understand that programming can either be imperative, or declarative. In imperative programming, you must specify step by step what a program should do, and how to do it. In declarative programming, this is not the case. You can simply tell the program what to do, but not how to do it.

Also, it’s worth clarifying the difference between a query and a mutation. A query is a data projection that declares what information you want to obtain. On the other hand, a mutation is an operation that is used to make modifications in the system.

A query is executed when you have a site or an application requiring data that is hosted on the server. This could be for example how a customer specifies query parameters to the server, which requests specific data. GraphQL is central to these operations because it’s the mechanism that shows only what the user is searching for.

Mutations work in a very similar way to queries, but the big difference is that it’s not a data request operation but instead a modification operation. Mutations are used to execute operations like inserting, deleting, or updating content.

Suppose you’re a brand looking to update your products for the new season. In this case, you only have to modify the relationship in the data schema so that your platform understands the change, and does not adjust other entries or delete content. All this is possible because GraphQL uses the same endpoint for all operations. Meaning, it does not need to establish a unique endpoint for each entity or data source, since everything is defined in the data schema.

GraphQL and HTTP promote flexibility

HTTP is the most common choice for client-server protocols when using GraphQL. This is because it’s one of the most widely used approaches for data communication.

You are not obligated to use HTTP request protocols exclusively, as GraphQL is independent of the data transfer method you use. You’re even able to use WebSockets for GraphQL subscriptions instead of HTTP to consume real-time data.

In conclusion, GraphQL is ideal for eCommerce because it specifies how information can be exchanged between the customer and the server. This includes how the server indicates what data and operations need to be involved, how the customer enters requests, how the server executes the queries, and ultimately what the customer will receive in response.

GraphQL is incredibly efficient for building modern web and mobile applications. You can define the data schema and relationships between entities in advance, resulting in more efficient processes and team productivity.

At Apply Digital, we use GraphQL alongside headless technology architecture. This stack provides flexibility to build for a modern tech ecosystem. If you would like to explore how these technologies can work for you, reach out to someone on our team to see how we can help.