Websites and apps are now, often, one and the same. Traditional development methods for an online or downloadable app can take months, given the backend development aspects that need to be managed—infrastructure provisioning and management, security, scalability, consistency and more, particularly for companies that have users around the globe and potentially very high usage demands.
In addition, once the app is built, it can take several days to launch and ensure global availability. Once launched, the app can require ongoing maintenance and supervision to ensure availability and performance, as well as constant fine-tuning of the balance between over- and under-provisioning to manage costs.
Serverless computing, when combined with GraphQL APIs, is the Holy Grail of application development. These technologies make it possible for developers to build and launch apps lightning fast by removing server provisioning and management concerns. Developers need only worry about building a compelling app with usability features that optimize engagement. Additionally, with serverless and GraphQL, an app can essentially be launched to a global user base within hours or even minutes, rather than days, while avoiding the need to manage servers. Let’s take a look.
What is GraphQL?
GraphQL is an API standard for building modern, data-driven applications based on the widely known HTTP Protocol. First created by Facebook in 2012, GraphQL was key to the social media giant shifting its mobile app from HTML5 to a native mobile app. Based on its success, Facebook made GraphQL available to the public as an open-source project in 2015.
With GraphQL, you define an agnostic Domain Specific Language (DSL) around your data structure in terms of:
- The database engine you use. GraphQL is only concerned with having the data ready, rather than the source of the data and where it is coming from, so you have the freedom to implement a GraphQL API with almost all database engines.
What’s All the Fuss About Serverless?
Serverless represents a major paradigm shift in the way we create and run web services and apps. Serverless computing operates in the cloud, freeing developers from the burden of thinking about back-end tasks, such as managing infrastructure, scaling servers and provisioning capacity and resources.
Below, I’ve listed some specific benefits that serverless provides, looking specifically at serverless databases—many of these advantages are part of other serverless offerings as well. The overall impact is that with serverless technologies, developers only pay for what they use, or what the app uses depending on user demand. Developers can scale up to virtually infinite disk space and compute loads in seconds when traffic spikes hit, and scale back down when users go offline. The NoOps aspect of serverless means maintenance costs and burdens are removed. Additionally, global availability zones allow for replication between different locations and allow you to keep data where it’s needed—close to the user to minimize latency. Built-in encryption means developers can secure their apps with only basic security know-how.
- Consumption-based billing.
- No operations overhead.
- Global low latency.
- Secure by default.
When these benefits are combined with the advantages of GraphQL, one will notice a perfect synergy between the two technologies. Not only does the process become more automatic, the standard facilitates communication between internal teams and makes it easier for clients to integrate with your software, through:
- API discoverability and automatic documentation.
- Consolidation of data.
- Language and data source-agnostic.
- Type safety.
Serverless Plus GraphQL Equals Developer Nirvana
There are numerous examples of companies that have managed to build faster and cut costs with serverless. One of the most impressive demonstrations is when students in Australia managed to rebuild the census application and handle loads that the official $9 million system could not handle, at a fraction of the cost using serverless technology. GraphQL takes these advantages a step further.
Airbnb, a company already known for its serverless adoption, claims to be moving 10x faster thanks to GraphQL, while Coursera noticed that their frontend developers found it easier to discover and query new data as their API evolves. These benefits are not just limited to a developer’s own company. For example, GitHub clients can now fetch data more efficiently and more easily thanks to the GraphQL-based public-facing API. GraphQL is even competing with SQL—when databases such as FaunaDB offer a native GraphQL API, users move to GraphQL at a rapid rate.
Given the advantages of serverless in removing server provisioning and maintenance, and the freedom GraphQL gives developers when it comes to using programming languages and database engines, developers are essentially able to build and launch apps on a global scale as quickly as they think of them. And in the end, don’t we all want our customers to have a better experience?