Application programming interfaces (APIs) provide a critical bridge between frontend user experiences and backend data and services. As applications continue to demand richer, more interactive experiences in 2024, the choice of API becomes even more important. Three leading options REST, GraphQL, and gRPC each take a different approach with distinct strengths and weaknesses. This article will compare the pros and cons of each to help guide API choices today and into the future.
What is REST?
REST (Representational State Transfer) has been the dominant API paradigm for over a decade. First introduced in 2000, REST relies on standard HTTP verbs like GET, POST, PUT, PATCH, and DELETE to enable clients to access and manipulate textual resources using URLs.
Some key advantages of REST include:
- Simplicity: Easy to understand and implement using straightforward HTTP
- Ubiquity: Supported by every web framework and language
- Cacheability: Responses can easily be cached to improve performance
However, as web and mobile applications continue to demand more complex, interactive experiences, REST has shown limitations in areas like mobile performance, overfetching data, and pushing updates.
What is GraphQL?
GraphQL is a query language for APIs introduced by Facebook in 2015 as an alternative to REST. GraphQL enables clients to request exactly the data they need from an API in a single round trip.
Key features of GraphQL include:
- No over or under fetching data: Clients can request specific fields/objects rather than entire resources
- Strong typing: GraphQL schemas provide interface contract between client and server
- Hierarchical: GraphQL models complex object relationships easily
- Real time updates: Supports pushing updated data to clients via subscriptions
However, GraphQL can also introduce complexity on the server to support flexibility on the client. It also relies on HTTP much like REST.
What is gRPC?
gRPC takes yet another approach optimized for high performance in modern infrastructure. Created by Google in 2015, gRPC utilizes HTTP/2 features like multiplexing, binary serialization, and full duplex communication to enable direct machine to machine interconnectivity.
Key advantages of gRPC include:
- Performance: Enables low latency, high throughput communication
- Efficiency: Leverages binary protobufs over JSON payload overhead
- Productivity: Interface definitions reduce boilerplate code
- Polyglot: Generates idiomatic client libraries across platforms/languages
However, gRPC introduces complexity, still lacks maturity in some languages, and administrators may need to enable HTTP/2 support on legacy infrastructure.
REST vs GraphQL vs gRPC in 2024
By 2024, which API paradigm reigns supreme? The answer is: it depends. Each has advantages that lend themselves to particular use cases. Here is a high level comparison:
|Traditional CRUD apps, public APIs
|Dynamic Web & Mobile UX
|Low latency inter services
For traditional CRUD applications and public APIs intended for a wide audience, REST remains a simple, universal option in 2024. The simplicity and maturity overcome any limitations around over fetching data or updates.
For modern web and mobile applications demanding dynamic, interactive experiences, GraphQL offers the flexibility for clients to request only the data they need. While GraphQL complexity can be a barrier to adoption, major frameworks like Apollo continue improving developer experience in 2024.
For low latency microservices like processing pipelines, gRPC provides unmatched performance. Languages like Java, Go, and Rust have excellent gRPC support to balance implementation complexity.
Of course, these APIs can also complement each other in a polyglot architecture. For example, a public REST or GraphQL API could front an internal gRPC microservice mesh. So REST, GraphQL, and gRPC all thrive in 2024 within their sweet spots.
Even as new paradigms emerge, REST remains ubiquitous in 2024. Trends include:
REST Will Dominate Public APIs
For public facing APIs intended for broad consumption, REST maintains dominance given simplicity, ubiquity, and cacheability.
Serverless & REST Grow Synergistically
With serverless platforms like AWS Lambda fully mainstream, REST continues excelling for event driven architectures.
WebSockets Complement REST
Where data is required, WebSockets fill gaps around REST polling and long lived HTTP connections.
OpenAPI Specification Matures
Standardization around OpenAPI continues improving developer experience and tooling around REST APIs.
Rise of REST Hybrids
As REST limitations grow acute for some modern UX, compromises like GraphQL begin emerging as complements.
While early hype led to some disillusionment around GraphQL complexity, GraphQL finds its niche enabling dynamic application frontends demanding flexible data access.
React Synergy Persists
Thanks to tight React integration, GraphQL retains momentum around component driven web application frontends.
Native Mobile Adoption Expands
On mobile, GraphQL allows apps to reduce chattiness while retaining versatility across iOS and Android.
Apollo Ecosystem Matures
Backed by its vibrant open source community, Apollo emerges as the de facto GraphQL platform simplifying adoption.
Incremental Adoption Reduces Risk
Rather than rewriting existing apps, most organizations tactically adopt GraphQL in high impact areas like mobile and PWAs.
Schema Challenges Addressed
Best practices, stronger tooling, and UI frameworks help tame schema complexity issues with GraphQL.
While gRPC adoption expands beyond Google, complexity and infrastructure requirements limit its audience outside of core niches.
Microservices Remain Core Use Case
For organizations leveraging modern microservices infrastructure, gRPC provides ideal machine to machine communication.
As cloud native development mainstreames, gRPC usage expands given alignment to containers & orchestrators like Kubernetes.
Polyglot Support Matures
With excellent support across ecosystems like Java, Go, and Rust, gRPC gains versatility beyond initial C++/Python strongholds.
IDE Tooling Lags
Unfortunately, developer experience with code generation and editor integration fails to match REST or GraphQL in 2024.
HTTP/2 Deployment Inconsistencies
Despite going final in 2015, HTTP/2 roll-out remains gradual, delaying gRPC feasibility in some environements.
The Bottom Line
In 2024, REST retains dominance for simplicity and reach, GraphQL enables flexible data access for dynamic UX, and gRPC connects high performance infrastructure. Rather than a single API holy grail, architects leverage strengths of each across polyglot architectures. With endpoints giving way to meshes and graphs, the future remains bright for all three API paradigms.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the best API for most web applications today?
For most traditional web applications, REST remains the best choice today given simplicity, maturity, and ubiquity. For web apps requiring more dynamic, interactive experiences, GraphQL has emerged as a compelling complement focused on flexible data fetching.
Should new mobile apps prefer GraphQL or REST?
For new mobile applications, GraphQL provides significant advantages over REST especially around minimizing chattiness and network requests for performance gains. However, REST remains simpler if mobile requirements align to basic CRUD operations.
Is GraphQL replacing REST?
While early hype suggested GraphQL could displace REST, they have emerged as complementary technologies. GraphQL solves specific REST pain points around over fetching data and providing flexible queries tailored to UI requirements. REST retains advantages around simplicity, caching, and public APIs.
Should I rewrite my REST API to GraphQL?
In most cases, no a wholesale rewrite brings unnecessary risk for marginal gains. However, incrementally adding GraphQL to complement existing REST endpoints can pay dividends for specific use cases like mobile apps or rich website experiences requiring granular data access control.
When is gRPC most appropriate over REST or GraphQL?
For public APIs and traditional applications, REST and GraphQL provide compelling advantages. gRPC shines for interconnectivity between high performance infrastructure like microservices, where low latency and process efficiency matter greatly. As cloud native architectures expand, so will niches where gRPC outperforms alternatives.
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