GraphQL vs. REST API: Which One to Use and When

5 min readSep 6, 2023

In the ever-evolving world of web development, choosing the right technology stack is paramount to building efficient and scalable applications. Two popular options that often stand at the forefront are GraphQL and REST API. Both have their merits, but which one should you use, and when? This article aims to shed light on this critical decision by delving into the intricacies of GraphQL and REST API. By the end, you’ll have a clear understanding of when to employ each technology in your projects.

GraphQL vs. REST API: A Head-to-Head Comparison

What is GraphQL?

GraphQL, a query language for your API, offers a more flexible and efficient approach to fetching data from your server. Unlike REST, where endpoints are fixed, GraphQL allows clients to request only the data they need. This minimizes over-fetching and under-fetching of data, making it a powerful choice for optimizing data transfer between client and server.

What is REST API?

REST (Representational State Transfer) API, on the other hand, relies on a predefined set of endpoints for data retrieval. It follows a stateless model, making it simpler to understand and implement. REST’s simplicity and maturity have made it a staple in web development for years.

When to Use GraphQL

Optimized Data Retrieval

When your application requires efficient data retrieval, especially for mobile devices or limited bandwidth, GraphQL shines. Its ability to tailor responses to the client’s specific needs minimizes data waste and improves performance.

Complex Data Structures

In scenarios where your application deals with complex data structures, GraphQL’s ability to traverse relationships in a single query simplifies development. This is particularly valuable for apps with intricate data dependencies.

Rapid Development

GraphQL’s flexibility allows frontend and backend teams to work independently. Frontend developers can request the data they need without waiting for backend changes, resulting in faster development cycles.

Real-time Applications

If your project involves real-time updates and notifications, GraphQL’s subscriptions feature makes it a suitable choice. It enables the server to push data to clients in real-time, a capability not readily achievable with REST.

Diverse Clients

When building for diverse clients, such as web, mobile, and IoT devices, GraphQL’s ability to serve different client needs from a single endpoint simplifies the architecture.

When to Use REST API

Well-Established Endpoints

For projects where well-defined endpoints already exist, REST API may be the pragmatic choice. It follows a conventional and predictable structure, making it easier to integrate into legacy systems.


If caching plays a significant role in your application’s performance, REST’s statelessness makes it more cache-friendly. This can lead to faster response times and reduced server load.


When your project requirements are straightforward, REST’s simplicity can be advantageous. It’s easier to learn and implement, making it suitable for smaller projects or rapid prototyping.


If your project needs to integrate with third-party APIs that are REST-based, sticking with REST can simplify the integration process and ensure compatibility.

Making the Right Choice for Your Project

Choosing between GraphQL and REST API is a decision that can significantly impact the success of your project. To help you make the right choice, let’s dive deeper into some practical considerations and use cases for each technology.

Practical Considerations

Project Complexity

Evaluate the complexity of your project. For smaller, straightforward applications, REST may be more than sufficient. However, for larger and more complex projects, where data relationships are intricate and constantly evolving, GraphQL’s flexibility can be a lifesaver.

Development Team Expertise

Consider the expertise of your development team. If your team is well-versed in REST API and has experience with it, transitioning to GraphQL may require additional training and resources. On the other hand, if you have the flexibility to learn and adapt, GraphQL can open new possibilities.

Ecosystem and Tooling

Explore the ecosystem and tooling available for each technology. GraphQL has a growing ecosystem with tools like Apollo and Relay, while REST API boasts mature frameworks like Express.js and Django REST framework. The availability of libraries and community support can greatly affect development speed and maintainability.

Use Cases

GraphQL Use Cases

Social Media Platforms

For social media platforms where data retrieval needs vary significantly from one user to another, GraphQL’s ability to tailor responses to individual needs is invaluable. Users can request only the information relevant to their feed, minimizing data transfer and improving performance.


E-commerce applications often deal with a wide range of data, from product listings to user reviews. GraphQL’s flexibility allows frontend teams to request precisely the data they need for a particular page or feature, optimizing the user experience.

IoT and Mobile Apps

In the world of IoT and mobile apps, bandwidth and battery life are critical considerations. GraphQL’s ability to minimize over-fetching and under-fetching makes it an excellent choice for optimizing data transfer in these contexts.

REST API Use Cases

Public APIs

When designing public APIs for third-party consumption, REST’s predictability can be an advantage. Developers using your API can quickly understand the endpoints and how to interact with them, reducing the learning curve.

Legacy Systems Integration

If your project involves integrating with legacy systems that follow RESTful principles, sticking with REST API can simplify the integration process and minimize compatibility issues.

Caching-Dependent Applications

Applications that heavily rely on caching for performance gains can benefit from REST’s statelessness. Stateless requests make it easier to cache responses, reducing the load on your server and improving response times.

The Power of Choice

Ultimately, the choice between GraphQL API and REST API is a powerful tool in the hands of a developer. It’s not a matter of one being superior to the other but rather which one aligns best with your project’s specific requirements and constraints. As technology continues to evolve, both GraphQL and REST API will remain valuable options in the developer’s toolkit.

In conclusion, GraphQL and REST API each have their strengths and weaknesses, and understanding when to use them is crucial for successful web development projects. Consider the project’s complexity, your development team’s expertise, and the specific use cases to make an informed decision. By doing so, you’ll be well-equipped to build efficient and scalable applications that meet your users’ needs.




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