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How GraphQL turned web development on its head

Web giants like Facebook and Google are setting a torrid pace to make life better for front-end developers. By creating new technologies like React, supported by frameworks like ​Vercel’s Next.js​ and Netlify, these companies free developers to focus on the logic of their new applications and services while abstracting away the back-end issues that have historically slowed developers.

Facebook rightly gets credit for its front-end work with open source React, but arguably it may deserve even more credit for open sourcing an emerging query language called GraphQL. In a new cloud native world of microservices, the number of endpoint APIs increases exponentially, which is proving a huge challenge for traditional SQL technologies.

GraphQL, however, can communicate across microservices and operate almost as a gateway to all of your services — a unifying source that provides a holistic view of all your systems. Turns out that’s a Very Good ThingTM.

To understand what is behind the meteoric rise of GraphQL, I spoke to Manish R. Jain, founder and CEO of ​Dgraph Labs​. His team created a database around GraphQL from scratch in Go, all available as open source.

Developer darling

Released as open source in 2015 and ​now under the guidance of the Linux Foundation, GraphQL is behind a surprising number of prominent websites including Facebook, Google, Airbnb, Pinterest, and more (current list​ ​here​). A 2019 survey of more than 20,000 JavaScript developers found​ ​GraphQL adoption exploding​. A year after its release, 36% of developers surveyed had never heard of GraphQL. By 2017 that number was cut in half to 17.9%. Today it’s 7.1%, with 62.5% of survey respondents saying they want to learn GraphQL.

Nor is GraphQL reserved for high-flying Internet companies. For example, Netflix recently shared its success with GraphQL on its​ ​developer blog​, finding that GraphQL on Node.js proved to “significantly increase our development velocity and overall page load performance.”

Copyright © 2020 IDG Communications, Inc.

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