From REST to Best: How GraphQL is Transforming API Integration


GraphQL offers efficiency, flexibility, and an enhanced developer experience making it a better choice for content management than REST API.

Many organizations rely on business-critical Intelligent Automation solutions to efficiently deliver their information for customer-facing applications such as retail banking statements, payer EOBs, and utility bill presentations. However, these Intelligent Automation solutions use content services that must integrate with various applications and services to ensure smooth operation. This integration is not an afterthought; it’s a critical component for enabling consistency, collaboration, and streamlining the entire data interaction process. And with ‘no code, low code’ themes in Robotic Process Automation (RPA) and Intelligent Automation product sets typically seen in modern content services applications, less is more to accelerate solution delivery.

IT developers can choose GraphQL and REST APIs for web client interfaces to accelerate delivery. Facebook developed GraphQL, now an open-source query language and runtime for APIs. By contrast, Representational State Transfer Application Programming Interface, or REST API, is an architectural style for network application design. But which one is better?

Is REST API The Best Option?

REST API is a set of rules that enable communication between different software applications over the Internet. It is widely used for web services and integration purposes. The software offers simplicity, scalability, and platform independence.

In the year 2000, standards were developed so that servers could communicate with each other, and Application Programming Interface (API) was born. Leveraging API code, Representational State Transfer (REST) was created. REST uses less bandwidth, making it more suitable for efficient internet usage. RESTful APIs can also be built with programming languages such as JavaScript or Python.

Salesforce was the first company to sell an API as part of its “Internet as a Service” package in 2000. Then eBay built a REST API, which expanded its market to any site that could access its API. Amazon then announced its API in 2002. Flickr launched its RESTful API in August 2004, enabling bloggers to embed images on their sites and social media feeds easily. Facebook and Twitter both released their APIs in 2006. When Amazon Web Services (AWS) helped launch the cloud in 2006, developers could access data space in minutes using AWS’s REST API, and the request for public APIs quickly escalated.

  • One of the main benefits of REST APIs is that they rely on the HTTP standard. This means they are format-agonistic, and you can use XML, JSON, HTML, etc. This makes REST APIs fast and lightweight, which is necessary for mobile app projects, Internet of Things devices, and more.
  • Another benefit of REST APIs is that the client and server are independent and transaction-stateless. In other words, the REST protocol separates the data storage and UI from the server. This means developers can work on different project areas independently and try out multiple developer environments as needed.
  • A third benefit of REST APIs is scalability and flexibility. REST APIs can be scaled quickly primarily due to the separation between client and server. Additionally, developers can easily integrate REST APIs without much added work.

Although REST APIs are considered the “backbone of the internet,” they have disadvantages and have widely shared grievances. Among these criticisms are:

Over-Fetching and Under-Fetching Data—The over-fetching limitation promotes wasted bandwidth and processing resources, while under-fetching causes additional data requests because all the requested information is unavailable in a single REST endpoint request.

Multiple Round Trips—Frequently, REST APIs require numerous trips to the server to retrieve data. The yo-yo activity increases latency, impacts response times, and hampers the efficiency of content retrieval operations.

Lack of Flexibility in Data Retrieval and Manipulation—Traditional APIs usually expose predefined endpoints and fixed data structures, limiting the flexibility for retrieving and manipulating content. This lack of flexibility poses challenges when specific data needs or transformations arise.

Architecture Limitations—There are no standards for implementing REST APIs. Traditional APIs are often built on monolithic architectures, where all functionalities and data access are tightly coupled. This restricts the ability to scale and evolve individual components independently, hindering agility and innovation.

See also: Benefits of Event-Driven Architectures to Complement Your REST APIs

GraphQL: The Better Option

Compared to REST APIs, GraphQL offers a more efficient approach to specifying and retrieving data without wasting network resources and bandwidth. At its core, GraphQL is a query language that fetches only the data that the client wants from the database.

In 2012, Apple focused all its resources on native mobile apps. This left Facebook with a dilemma: the mobile market was steadily outgrowing the desktop market. To keep pace, Facebook rewrote the Facebook iOS app. But they hit a roadblock; the original API returned data as HTML. So, they decided to translate this into a RESTful API. This introduced problems: the API couldn’t return all the data needed, so the client (iOS app) was forced to make multiple requests back and forth to different APIs. Changes to the API needed to be carefully carried over to the client code, or the app would fail and crash. There were maintenance issues with API docs, making them often out-of-date, and engineers faced tedious codes and processes.

With all those issues, Facebook decided to challenge the RESTful approach. This is where GraphQL started. And its benefits were clear:

Faster Speeds—Unlike RESTful, a GraphQL query only describes the client’s needs. Multiple requests to the server are not necessary; only one will suffice.

Robust Static Types—Let clients know the data type and when it’s available.

Empowering Client Evolution—Makes server-side code much simpler and easier to maintain. When you remove old fields from an API, they will be depreciated but continue to function. This gradual backward compatibility process eliminates the need for versioning. After so many years, Facebook is still at version 1 of its GraphQL API.

Empowering Developer Tools—Creates excellent developer tools such as code generators, API explorers, and IDE integration.

Documentation Is A First-Class Citizen—Documentation is automatically generated and always up-to-date.

Query Arbitrary Code—It’s adaptable; it’s not about databases. It can be adopted on top of an existing RESTful API and work with existing API management tools.

Some of the disadvantages of GraphQL include the flexibility of GraphQL queries leads to complex queries, propelling developers to carefully structure queries to maintain readability; transitioning from traditional RESTful APIs to GraphQL poses a learning curve for developers; and in some cases, GraphQL suffers from over-fetching. However,GraphicQL emerges as the better choice for these reasons:

Efficient And Precise Queries—The most noticeable difference between GraphQL and REST API is that GraphQL reduces the problem of over-fetching or under-fetching data. Clients can retrieve multiple resources and their associated fields in a single request.

Strong Typing System—GraphQL defines data structures and their relationships better than REST APIs. Using a type system that determines the API’s capabilities, GraphQL allows clients to validate the correctness of their queries, ensures that clients receive the expected data, and helps prevent runtime errors.

Single Endpoint—GraphQL typically exposes a single endpoint, meaning clients don’t need to make multiple requests to different endpoints for data searches. This simplifies the client-side implementation and reduces the number of network requests required to retrieve data.

Ecosystem And Tooling—Because it’s an open-source option, GraphQL has a growing ecosystem with various tools and libraries for different programming languages and frameworks. These tools provide developers with helpful features such as code generation, schema stitching, caching, and debugging.

GraphQL started as a tool in Facebook to fix issues with RESTful APIs. When it went open-source, it was used mainly by hobbyists; now, it is used in big corporations such as Netflix, Amazon, GitHub, and countless others. The community also grew; there are GraphQL meetups on every continent and major conferences in America, Europe, and Asia.

GraphQL has Changed the Landscape

Enterprise data and its associated relationships are getting more complex every day. The increased complexity means enterprise content management applications must improve data retrieval and performance and establish a seamless integration with other systems.

REST vs. GraphQL: The Consolidated Differences

  • REST is a set of rules that defines structured data exchange between a client and a server. GraphQL is a query language, architecture style, and tools for creating and manipulating APIs.
  • REST is suitable for simple data sources with well-defined resources, while GraphQL is suitable for large, complex, and interrelated data sources.
  • REST has multiple endpoints in the form of URLs to define resources. GraphQL has a single URL endpoint.
  • REST returns data in a fixed structure defined by the server. GraphQL returns data in a flexible structure defined by the client.
  • REST data is “weakly typed,” so the client must decide how to interpret the formatted data when returned. GraphQL data is “strongly typed,” and the client receives data in predetermined and mutually understood formats.
  • With REST, the client must check if the returned data is valid. With GraphQL, the schema structure typically rejects invalid requests, which results in an auto-generated error message.

In conclusion, GraphQL is a better choice for content management than REST API in a side-by-side comparison. GraphQL’s efficiency, flexibility, and enhanced developer experience demonstrate its advantages. GraphQL is the recommended development API for many content services platforms, such as IBM FileNet applications. When it comes to harnessing the complete capabilities of content systems, GraphQL gives a competitive edge in the content management landscape.

Brian DeWyer

About Brian DeWyer

Brian DeWyer is the CTO and Co-Founder of Reveille Software. With more than 25 years of experience in technology, Brian DeWyer provides product strategy and technical leadership in his role as Reveille CTO and board member. Brian leverages his extensive knowledge from his tenure as a senior IT leader at a large FSI and his previous role as a process consulting practice leader for IBM Services, delivering on-premises and cloud-based solution implementations for Fortune 1000 commercial and government clients. He has led process change efforts within large organizations, building on content-driven solutions for high-volume transaction processing applications. He is a past board member of the Association of Image and Information Management (AIIM) industry association. Brian graduated from Virginia Tech with a BSME and holds an MBA from Wake Forest University.

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