Application Programming Interface (API) is a set of tools and protocols that allows different pieces of software or application to communicate with one another. They determine how you load data from the server. An API integrates easily with your web or mobile application and helps you realize your objectives. When it comes to API development, developers choose REST (Representational State Transfer) that has become the conventional standard for API creation.
However, REST comes with certain limitations like functionality issues on sloppy networks, and inflexibility or over-fetching data with various front-end frameworks and platforms that causes some latency. Hence, to overcome these constraints, Facebook developed GraphQL in 2012 and open-sourced it in 2015. The most distinctive feature that makes GraphQL the best alternative to REST is its declarative nature that facilitates clients to specify the exact data that is needed from the API. This helps in faster development, saving the time of developers.
When you desire to develop a cross-platform mobile app that is highly responsive with low latency, you should choose GraphQL that will provide optimum performance along with flexibility. On the other hand, when you are looking for a robust API development that comes with caching and monitoring system, you should use REST for the same.
When developing REST APIs, developers know well that the API must align to the six REST design principles or architectural constraints like Statelessness, Cacheability, Client-Server Decoupling, Uniform Interface, Layered System Architecture and Running Code On-demand. GraphQL being a query language for APIs doesn’t come with such constraints.
Unlike REST, GraphQL solves the problem of Over-fetching and Under-fetching and allows faster performance with more freedom and flexibility. In GraphQL, data is organized and sent in form of graph and objects follow a schema for structuring by nodes. With a single request, a user can transverse from the entry point to the related data in GraphQL while in REST, they would require calling several endpoints to fetch the required resources.
However, GraphQL is not perfect and it has some missing elements that can only be found in REST. A REST comes with an HTTP caching mechanism that ensures that resources from the clients or server side are cacheable, to enhance performance on the clients’ side and improve scalability on the server side. A user requires setting up his own cache on GraphQL.
REST provides the best error reporting and monitoring system that makes it easy for users to handle and monitor various error issues while in GraphQL, it is quite difficult to handle these error issues.