GraphQL vs. REST in 2023: A Data-Driven Comparison of the Top Advantages and Disadvantages

As an API developer in 2023, you may be wondering whether to use GraphQL or REST for your next project. Both architectures have their ardent supporters and detractors. To help you decide, I‘ll compare GraphQL and REST across a variety of factors, including performance, flexibility, complexity, and more. You‘ll see data and expert opinions that highlight the top advantages and disadvantages of each approach. My goal is to arm you with the information to make the best choice for your specific needs. Let‘s dive in!

What is the core difference between GraphQL and REST?

GraphQL and REST represent two different architectural approaches for building web APIs.

REST (Representational State Transfer) relies on standard HTTP methods like GET, POST, PUT, and DELETE to access and manipulate data resources at specific URL endpoints. Resources are represented in formats like JSON or XML.

In contrast, GraphQL exposes a single endpoint and allows clients to define precisely the data they need in the response. Instead of accessing different endpoints, clients can send a GraphQL query to the API describing the exact fields required.

This key difference leads to many of the relative pros and cons between REST and GraphQL.

GraphQL Adoption Trends

Although REST dominates the API landscape today, GraphQL is gaining steady adoption since its release by Facebook in 2015:

  • In 2017, just 8% of developers used GraphQL.[1]
  • By 2020, this rose to 19% of companies adopting GraphQL versus 82% using REST. [2]
  • High-profile companies using GraphQL include Facebook, GitHub, Twitch, and The New York Times.
  • By 2022, over 50% of developers were using or planning to use GraphQL. [3]

While REST remains more common, GraphQL represents a rising alternative for API developers. But what factors into this choice? Let‘s analyze the top advantages and disadvantages of each.

Top 4 Advantages of GraphQL over REST

1. Query Flexibility

One of GraphQL‘s biggest selling points is its flexible queries. Clients can request exactly the data they need, avoiding both underfetching and overfetching.

For example, consider a GET /books/id REST endpoint that returns all data about a book:

  "id": "1",
  "title": "GraphQL Guide", 
  "author": "John Doe",
  "pages": 120,
  "chapters": 15  

A client might only need the id and title. But the REST endpoint forces them to receive unneeded fields too.

With GraphQL, the client could send this query:

  book(id: "1") {

And receive back just those two fields. This granular control over responses avoids overfetching and network overhead.

Surveys show that over 80% of developers consider avoiding overfetching a top benefit of GraphQL.[4]

2. Faster and Less Network Usage

By letting clients specify exactly the data needed, GraphQL minimizes network requests and payloads. This can result in significant performance gains.

In a controlled study, GraphQL retrieved data 65% faster than equivalent REST requests, with 66% less network usage.[5]

Chart showing GraphQL's performance and network usage advantages over REST

These performance benefits come from:

  • Fewer round trips: GraphQL‘s single endpoint requires fewer network requests.
  • Smaller payloads: Fine-tuned queries return just the needed data.
  • No overfetching: There‘s no unwanted data bloating responses.
  • Caching: GraphQL encourages aggressive caching of data closer to clients.

So for applications where speed and network efficiency matter, GraphQL can deliver significant gains.

3. Standardized Spec and Tooling

GraphQL uses a formal specification maintained by the GraphQL Foundation. This governs everything from the GraphQL schema definition language to query semantics and validation rules.

Such a standardized spec enables shared tooling and best practices around GraphQL. Developers benefit from robust client libraries, schema builders, analytics, and other tools.

In contrast, REST is based on general design principles rather than a formal spec. This provides flexibility but less commonality in tooling.

4. Iterative and Rapid Development

With GraphQL‘s singular data access point, developers can rapidly iterate on API capabilities. Changing or adding fields doesn‘t require altering endpoints.

A schema-first development process also enables mocking data quickly before any backends exist. Frontend and backend teams can work in parallel.

These factors help accelerate development velocity, especially for rapid prototyping and experimentation.[6] Apps can evolve quickly in response to user feedback.

Top 4 Disadvantages of GraphQL vs. REST

1. Caching and Scaling Complexity

GraphQL‘s flexibility comes at the cost of increased caching complexity. REST APIs can leverage standard HTTP caching techniques like expiration times. Their URLs make reasonable cache keys.

But GraphQL queries are unpredictable, so endpoints can‘t easily cache responses. Instead, GraphQL servers must implement custom caching rules and purge caches when data changes.

This complexity extends to scaling GraphQL servers. The single endpoint often becomes a bottleneck requiring:

  • Fine-grained load balancing
  • Unique caching strategies
  • Query analysis and optimization

REST‘s separation of endpoints simplifies caching and horizontal scaling approaches.

2. Security Risks

Any query language opens attack vectors like resource exhaustion or data dumping that could crash or expose an API. GraphQL‘s flexibility magnifies these risks.

For example, a nested GraphQL query could overwhelm servers with load. Or a malicious query could attempt to extract sensitive fields not meant to be accessible.

REST APIs segmentation limits these risks and takes advantage of built-in HTTP authentication schemes. But GraphQL requires custom implementations for:

  • Queries analyzers
  • Query depth/complexity limiting
  • Authentication and role-based field authorization

This increases complexity and the chance of overlooking exploits.

3. Required Learning Curve

Adopting GraphQL imposes a learning curve for both API developers and consumers. Its query language and concepts like schemas, resolvers, and mutations take time to master.

REST leverages standard skills like HTTP, JSON, and URLs that most developers know already. More incremental learning is needed to use GraphQL effectively.

4. Immaturity and Uncertainty

Despite its growth, GraphQL is newer with fewer battle-tested large-scale deployments compared to REST. Long-term best practices are still emerging around aspects like:

  • Schema design
  • Managing endpoints vs. GraphQL servers
  • Tooling
  • Monitoring
  • Legacy system integration

Some developers hesitate to adopt GraphQL until these uncertainties resolve with time and experience. REST provides the comfort of maturity.

Integrating REST and GraphQL

Rather than a binary choice, REST and GraphQL can complement one another in some architectures.

For example, REST may suit simple CRUD operations, while GraphQL handles complex queries needing optimization. Or REST could expose legacy services with GraphQL wrapping it into a modernized API.[7]

If you adopt a hybrid approach, keep these guidelines in mind:

  • Use separate endpoints for REST and GraphQL to avoid collision.
  • Reuse business logic between REST controllers and GraphQL resolvers.
  • Manage versioning carefully across both.
  • Standardize error handling formats.
  • Apply equivalent security controls and testing.
  • Document each API‘s capabilities and limitations.
  • Expect added overhead for maintaining two architectures.

Key Takeaways: Choosing Between GraphQL and REST

Deciding between GraphQL and REST means weighing factors like:

GraphQL Pros

  • Flexible querying
  • Performance gains
  • Standardized specifications
  • Rapid iterative development

GraphQL Cons

  • Increased complexity
  • Security risks
  • Learning curve
  • Newer technology


  • Maturity and stability
  • Caching simplicity
  • Security maturity
  • Incremental adoption


  • Over and under fetching data
  • Multiple endpoints
  • No standard spec
  • Slower development

For greenfield APIs, GraphQL‘s flexibility offers appeal. For simple use cases on stable backends, REST may suffice. Evaluate your specific requirements, risks, and constraints before choosing.

And the two approaches aren‘t mutually exclusive. Employing both GraphQL and REST could yield benefits where each shines.

I hope mapping out these key technical trade-offs helps guide your API architecture decisions using the latest real-world data. This comparison only scratches the surface of everything impacting the GraphQL vs REST debate. But by understanding their core differences, you‘re equipped to make the best choice for your projects.


[1] Lyndsey Padget, "Grappling with GraphQL: The Pros and Cons of Facebook’s Rising Star." NordicAPIs. March 13, 2018.

[2] "REST vs. GraphQL: A Side-By-Side Comparison." NordicAPIs.

[3] The State of GraphQL 2022. Spectrum.

[4] The State of GraphQL 2019. Honeypot.

[5] Seabra, M., Nazário, M. F., & Pinto, G. (2019). REST or GraphQL? A Performance Comparative Study. In Proceedings of the XIII Brazilian Symposium on Software Components, Architectures, and Reuse (SBCARS ’19). Association for Computing Machinery, New York, NY, USA, 123–132.

[6] GraphQL in Production: The Pros, Cons, and How To‘s. Astronomer.

[7] REST vs GraphQL: Critical Look. Back4App.

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