API Architecture Style: Differences Between REST API and GraphQLby@eugenia-kuzmenko
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API Architecture Style: Differences Between REST API and GraphQL

by Evgenia KuzmenkoDecember 3rd, 2021
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The battle for the best API framework is a never-ending one. I will explain you the difference between two very popular and frequently used API frameworks.

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API Architecture Style: Differences Between REST API and GraphQL


In recent times, APIs (Application Programming Interface) are not just an option for convenience but has become an intricate part of web and application development. In a recent developer survey, only about 11% of developers currently do not use APIs. Limiting our findings to the expert world, about 93% of professional developers implement APIs in their jobs. And of course, various API architecture styles exist to aid developers in implementing APIs, and some are considered better than others.

The battle for the best API framework is a never-ending one. Over the years, developers and analysts have held varying opinions regarding what should be termed the best API architecture. Well, we are not here to take sides or lend our voice to any of the parties. We will simply show you the difference between two very popular and frequently used API frameworks; REST and GraphQL.

In a survey, REST and GraphQL were among the top 5 most used architectures. REST came out tops in that particular survey, with over 80% of respondents choosing it as their choice API architecture. Keep in mind, however, that each style has its perks and limitations. When choosing one, consider your use case, the user's expectations, and not just the popular debate of which is better.

REST Architecture Style

REST, which means Representational State Transfer, is an architectural approach for designing and enabling standards across computer systems on the web, allowing systems to interconnect and communicate more easily with one another. APIs that are made based on the REST framework style are often described as RESTful systems. They are distinguished by their statelessness and the independence of the systems.

For better understanding, an API is a connector or a channel system that allows two or more computers or web systems to communicate and exchange resources. That is, one system gains access to another through an API to gain access to its resources. Now REST  is a framework for designing APIs. There are other architectural styles.

RESTful systems usually consist of two parties termed; the server and the client and they adapt to the HTTP models and protocols

REST supports almost every coding language and allows a variety of data representations. The major restriction, however, is that RESTful APIs must conform to the REST design protocol, known as the architectural constraints

REST supports almost every coding language and allows a variety of data representations. The major restriction, however, is that RESTful APIs must conform to the REST design modalities, known as the architectural constraints:

Uniform Interface

This implies that every API execution for similar information should be uniform. There should be a standard means of connecting with a particular server at all times. Every resource should have its own distinct URI (Uniform Resource Identifier), which a client can access by asking the server.


With the REST framework, the client-side must provide all the information needed to execute a query. Server programs are not permitted to retain any data associated with a client request, so every request, notwithstanding its frequency, is treated as new.

Client-Server Independence

This implies that the client and server apps must function independently, notwithstanding both systems' communication needs and connections. The client should only know the URI of the desired information sought; it cannot communicate with the server system in any other way. Also, the server system should only provide the requested information and nothing else. It shouldn't store data or interact with the client in any way else.


The REST API demands that caching should be appropriately applied to resources. The purpose is to enhance the operations of the client and promote better adaptability on the server.

Tiered System

REST allows you to employ a tiered system design, which means that API communication between a server and client can pass through several layers. It is, however, designed so that a client cannot identify whether it is linked directly to the target server or through an intermediary.

Code on demand

REST APIs typically deliver static resources, but in some circumstances, responses may also include executable code. In these instances, the code should only be executed when needed. This requirement is, however, optional.

Pros of REST

  • Client and Server independence: the fact that systems within the REST framework can function independently and still communicate efficiently makes it a suitable architecture
  • Convenience and Adaptability: REST supports many data storage types and coding languages.
  • Cache-friendly. REST is the only framework that permits data caching. Caching functionality on any other style will necessitate configuring a separate cache subsystem.

Cons of REST

  • Over- and under-fetching issues: REST API sometimes has the problem of either over-fetching or under-fetching responses, which often leads to reinitiating the communication.
  • Lack of state: Most online applications necessitate the use of stateful techniques. But with the stateless feature of REST, the client bears the task of maintaining the state, making the system heavyweight and harder to manage.
  • Limited Security: REST does not mandate security in the same way that SOAP does. That is why it may not be best for sensitive data transmission between client and server.

GraphQL Architecture Style

Facebook created GraphQL in 2015 as an improvement to the REST framework. It attempts to address the shortcomings and inefficiencies of REST. For example, GraphQL permits the client to define the particular data that will be collected from the server., which is not possible with REST. GraphQL is both a data response language and an execution engine.

GraphQL interacts with APIs that act as the structure through which the client sends and receives HTTP requests. Just as the name, GraphQL structures data in the mode of a graph using its advanced query language for obtaining, extracting, and altering data.

With GraphQL, users can obtain data from multiple resources with a single request. This makes API communication easier and more convenient over the alternative method of sending multiple requests.

It is important to note that GraphQL is not necessarily a substitute for REST. You don't have to choose between the two. Both can simply be used in the same project.

Pros of GraphQL

  • Good choice for complicated systems: With GraphQL API, numerous and complex platforms can be interconnected.  The GraphQL server is also used to access information from already functional systems and present it in GraphQL output format.
  • There are no over-fetching or under-fetching issues: This is one of the vital issues GraphQL has corrected. While REST often contains too much or too little data, GraphQL is more efficient by retrieving the precise data requested.
  • Flexible permissions: GraphQL allows you to choose what data you want to expose while keeping sensitive information exclusive. REST design, on the other hand, does not divulge data in chunks. It either retrieves everything or nothing.
  • Speed: GraphQL is significantly faster than other API structures because it allows you to narrow your request by selecting only the areas you want to access.

Cons of GraphQL

  • Problems with performance: Having too many layered entries in a single request can cause system malfunction or compromise. REST may be a preferable choice for sophisticated requests.
  • Rate Limiting in GraphQL: Another issue with GraphQL is that it is rate-limited. In REST API, you can simply indicate the number of demands that should be executed in one day, But in GraphQL, it becomes difficult to make such specific indications.
  • Difficulty in Caching: Complexity caching. Because GraphQL does not reuse HTTP caching rules, it entails a specialized and, most times, complex caching approach.


Admittedly, REST and GraphQL architecture share some similarities because they are two different ways of addressing the same issue. But they differ in operability and performance.

Let us briefly discuss the differences between both frameworks.


REST and GraphQL API are completely different in how they operate, especially with versioning and transmitting query results.

GraphQL is popularly known to have a better predictability rate. With GraphQL, you can transmit a call to the API and receive only the results you require—nothing else. On the other hand, REST is prone to sending more data than requested or less data than needed.

REST lacks clear and defined principles when it comes to versioning. This means that each provider is allowed to choose their own method for versioning. GraphQL simply doesn't support versioning.

Available Features

REST is more like an industry standard and has been in existence for so many years. One of the benefits of its longevity is that it has many features that make it really convenient. Some of the features that REST has which GraphQL lacks include; stateless server, cache, layered system, load balancer, standard interface, etc.

Other differences will be highlighted in the table below.



Supports API versioning

Doesn’t allow versioning

Client-based architecture is used in GraphQL.

REST follows the server-based architecture

Caching can be done automatically

There is no automatic caching function.

REST is based on endpoints.

GraphQL has a graphical structure. In GraphQL, objects are represented by nodes.

REST handles errors easier due to its comprehensive features

Error handling is more complicated

Allows for different documentation options.

GraphQL uses one tool for documentation.


Deciding which API architecture style to adopt is discretionary as no one can be completely better than the other. Finally, you may have to consider your needs and the project's requirements before choosing a style to deploy.