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The power of GraphQL for data management

Felipe SilbersteinMarch 11, 2022

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

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Do you know what GraphQL is?

Basically, it is a query language that tells the API how to display the requested data to the client on the backend. Although Facebook initially developed it in 2012 to address performance and reliability issues with its mobile apps on iOS and Android, in 2015, it was released as open-source software.

On Black Friday 2021, this headless CMS served 1.3 billion GraphQL API requests, which equals a 480% increase over 2020, and in November 2021, Contentful had a 550% growth in GraphQL requests compared to 2020.

GraphQL as a headless commerce catalyst

Almost any economic sector that uses websites or mobile applications to interact with its customers benefits from GraphQL. But it is mainly those companies that handle headless commerce that benefit.

To put this in context, Headless Commerce is a technology architecture where we separate the customer-facing interface from the core store functions and processes. In more technical words, we split the frontend from the backend in order to deliver new and better customer experiences faster and easier.

By having a decoupled architecture, we have the ability to deliver a consistent digital experience regardless of the type of device and interaction channel. Let's keep in mind that 80% of consumers use their smartphone to shop online, 41% use a laptop or desktop, and 24% use a tablet, and we want to provide the best experience across the board.

GraphQL is a language that facilitates headless commerce and also streamlines the frontend data retrieval process so that companies can create the experiences that customers demand today.

On the other hand, it is a highly compatible language, so it is not limited by the type of databases, frameworks, or programming languages. GraphQL APIs give applications continuous access to new features and encourage cleaner, more maintainable server-side code.

A real-world example we can look at is GitHub, which migrated from the REST protocol to GraphQL to obtain greater flexibility and make its customers' queries more efficient.

What are declarative queries and mutations?

Queries and mutations are two of GraphQL's main features, but we must first understand why they are declarative.

First of all, programming can be imperative or declarative. In imperative programming, we must specify step by step to a program what it must do, while in declarative programming, this is not the case; we simply tell the program what to do, but not how to do it.

Now, briefly, a query is a data projection that declares what you want to obtain, while a mutation is an operation used to make modifications.

A query is executed when we have a site or an application that requires data hosted on the server. This is how the client specifies its query parameters to the server to respond with the requested data. GraphQL is key in these operations because it shows only what the user needs.

On the other hand, mutations work in a very similar way to queries, with the big difference that it is not a data request operation but a modification operation. The parameter structure and data projection are identical in both cases. However, mutations are used to execute insertion, deletion, update, or any other operation that suggests a modification.

For example, suppose a brand updates its products in the new season section. In that case, it only has to modify the relationship in the data schema so that the platform understands it and does not change individual entries or delete content to publish a new one. All this is because GraphQL uses the same endpoint for all operations, i.e., it does not need to establish an endpoint for each entity or data source since everything was defined in the data schema.

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GraphQL and HTTP Request: bringing flexibility to the industry

HTTP is the most common choice for client-server protocols when using GraphQL, but this is because it is one of the most widely used forms of data communication.

Thus, this does not mean that we are obliged to use HTTP request protocols exclusively. GraphQL is independent of the transport method we use. So, as stated in the GraphQL FAQ, we can even use WebSockets for GraphQL subscriptions instead of HTTP to consume real-time data.

In conclusion, GraphQL is ideal for e-commerce because it specifies how information can be exchanged between the client and the server. This includes how the server can indicate what data and operations are available, how the client should enter requests, how the server should execute these queries, and what the client will receive in response.

GraphQL also is incredibly efficient for building modern web and mobile applications. We can define the data schema and relationships between entities in advance, optimizing the work between frontend and backend teams. The result is more efficient processes and high productivity.

At Reign, we are experts in GraphQL when it comes to headless technology, that is to say, open and flexible. But above all, to boost brands, we put all our attention to learning them, using them, and exploiting their potential to benefit from a modern digital environment.

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