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graphql-webhooks-gRPC-REST

When to use GraphQL, gRPC, REST, and Webhooks

Mar 24th, 2022
When it comes to architecting an application, developers have a wide range of client-server communication protocols to choose from. It’s pretty popular across modern apps to use GraphQL, gRPC, REST, and Webhooks. Depending on the needs of your application, each protocol can offer different benefits.
In this blog, we will examine these protocols in a bit more detail, highlighting their advantages and disadvantages and explaining the best uses for using each protocol.

GraphQL

GraphQL is a query language used to interact with APIs. It allows users to fetch only the data their apps require from the server and nothing more. So every time you send a GraphQL query to your server API endpoint, you're guaranteed to get a predictable data response. GraphQL works as an abstraction layer over the API, requiring only a single endpoint to access data.
Advantages of using GraphQL:
  • Language agnostic: GraphQL uses its own schema definition language that can be incorporated into most servers, irrespective of the underlying languages or frameworks they use.
  • Single endpoint: Requests made with GraphQL query a single endpoint. These requests contain the shape of the data and the fields required, and the endpoints return exactly what the request needs. This makes GraphQL queries much more efficient than traditional REST queries, where multiple requests might be needed to get sufficient data.
  • Strongly typed: GraphQL has strongly-typed schemas. These schemas act as contracts between the client and the server, allowing API consumers to know the exact type of structure the data should have.
Disadvantages of using GraphQL:
  • Complexity in caching: Unlike REST APIs that support caching requests by default, setting up caching for GraphQL is a complex and challenging process.
  • Difficulty in error handling: GraphQL requests always return HTTP 200 (OK) status codes, even if there are errors in the GraphQL layer. When errors occur, they are placed in the “errors” key in the response while still returning the 200 status code. Hence, developers find it difficult to distinguish between successful and failed requests.

When to use GraphQL

Using GraphQL could be advantageous in the following situations:
  • Applications that are bandwidth-sensitive: GraphQL is more suitable for platforms such as smartphones or IoT devices, where it becomes critical to manage the amount of requested data. Using GraphQL to return the exact data required by applications hosted on these devices reduces bandwidth consumption.
  • Applications that use data from multiple data stores: GraphQL can build responses from multiple data sources. All the data can then be nested into a single response, making it useful for applications such as reporting dashboards.

gRPC

gRPC or Google Remote Procedure Call, an implementation of remote procedure calls developed by Google, is used to run operations on remote servers. Unlike GraphQL, where client requests rely on predefined schemas to receive data in a specific format, gRPC functions through contracts defined by the client and server.
Advantages of using gRPC:
  • Lightweight clients: gRPC allows clients to offload computations to remote servers, making them more lightweight.
  • High efficiency: gRPC uses protocol buffers (Protobufs) to communicate more efficiently between clients and servers than traditional REST APIs that use JSON objects. Protobufs are language and platform-neutral systems that are used to serialize data into binary, making the messages smaller in size and faster to transmit.
  • Open source: gRPC is an open-source protocol designed as a successor to HTTP. It aims at allowing developers to focus on the contracts between applications and servers, offloading features such as compression and stream prioritization to the underlying protocols.
Disadvantages of using gRPC:
  • Limited browser support: gRPC relies heavily on the HTTP/2 protocol, which most popular browsers still do not widely support.
  • Limited community support: gRPC has still not received as much community involvement as other protocols. GraphQL has slightly more than 17,000 discussion threads on Stack Overflow, while gRPC has less than 5,000.
  • Protobuf is not human readable: Files are compressed into a non-human readable format by Protobuf, unlike other protocols that use XML or JSON.

When to use gRPC

gRPC is helpful in the following situations:
  • Real-time streaming communication services: gRPC works well for real-time streaming communication services that require lightweight and efficient message communications.
  • Micro-service architecture: Protobufs in the gRPC framework allow developers to create services that can communicate with each other efficiently and independently using their preferred programming language.

REST

REST (Representational State Transfer) is an architectural style for developing web services. For services to be RESTful, they need to satisfy the following constraints:
  • Uniform interface
  • Client-server
  • Stateless
  • Cacheable
  • Layered
Advantages of using REST:
  • Well-established standard: REST has been a long-standing standard for web application development and has a large community of developers supporting it.
  • Simple, scalable, and predictable: Comprehensive documentation makes it simple to develop applications with REST. It uses standardized parameters with responses that have predictable structures and status codes. With REST, clients and servers can scale independently, making it very flexible to use.
  • Caching support: REST uses caching by default, allowing browsers to cache requests locally. Subsequent requests can validate whether the cached data is still valid before making another request to the server.
Disadvantages of using REST:
  • Overfetching: REST APIs tend to return more data than that requested by the clients.
  • Underfetching: When a server does not return enough information to any request, the client needs to make additional queries, making the process inefficient.

When to use REST

REST is useful in the following situations:
  • Developing public APIs: Since REST is highly standardized, it is better for developing public APIs that are going to be consumed by a large number of clients.
  • Developing simple applications: REST APIs are easy and quick to implement, making them a good option for simple applications.

Webhooks

For all the protocols discussed so far, clients explicitly request information from the server. With webhooks, servers listen for a provisioned resource to be updated and then push an HTTP POST request to a predefined client. Webhooks flip the traditional client-server relationship where the client passively receives requests from the server.
Advantages of working with Webhooks:
  • Easy updates: Webhooks are ideal for pushing data into applications where the client needs to be updated regularly. It is far more complex to cater to such requests using GraphQL or REST.
  • Simple setup: Webhooks are easy and straightforward to set up.
Disadvantages of using Webhooks:
  • Difficulty in complex operations: Webhooks only enable receiving data on the client-side, so they become difficult to use for more complex operations.

When to use Webhooks

Webhooks are helpful in the following situations:
  • Developing automation services: Webhooks make it easy to develop automation services that can be triggered by servers when required.
  • Notification services: Webhooks can post data to clients when triggered to update clients with notification messages.
Conclusion When building any application, it is crucial to select the right protocol to enable seamless communication between the client and server. Based on the advantages and disadvantages of each protocol discussed in this blog, you can choose the one best suited for your application. However, no matter which protocol you choose, it is still important to have a stateful database for your data.
Fauna is a serverless, developer-friendly transactional database delivered as a secure and scalable cloud API. You can maintain state and build your applications using your preferred communication protocol. It also comes with a Node.js driver, which you can easily integrate into your Node.js applications.
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