REST vs. gRPC vs. GraphQL: Key Differences Between the APIs

Nicholas Samuel • Last Modified: December 29th, 2022

gRPC Vs GraphQL- Featured Image

Every Organisation relies heavily on Data Sharing. Employees from various departments and different Organizations will wish to share information with one another. 

This data can be in the form of Text, Documents, Videos, etc. Users will also want to visit an organization’s website and request the data they are interested in. Thus, there should be a way to facilitate these Data Exchange Processes.

Traditional ways of exchanging data like the use of Physical Data Storage Devices may not be effective for this. The good news is that there are many Data Exchange Technologies (like APIs and Web Services) available for you.

The three most common API technologies are REST, gRPC, and GraphQL. These technologies can facilitate Data Exchange between your organization’s users and between your organization and other organizations. 

This article will discuss the key differences between REST vs. GraphQL vs. gRPC so that you can decide on the correct API for your use case.

Table of Contents

What is REST?

REST - Architecture
 Image Source: Javaguides

REST(representational state transfer) is one of the most widely used API technology among the three options. REST uses various HTTP verbs such as GET, POST, PUT, DELETE to retrieve, transfer, modify and erase the data respectively. 

It resends the requests if needed and the information necessary for the server to process that request thus in  REST API the server never stores the client state thus it is stateless.

HTTPs native caching headers are used for implementing caching as REST requires requests to be cacheable whenever possible.

REST(representational state transfer) is one of the most widely used API technology among the three options. REST uses various HTTP verbs such as GET, POST, PUT, DELETE to retrieve, transfer, modify and erase the data respectively. 

It resends the requests if needed and the information necessary for the server to process that request thus in  REST API the server never stores the client state thus it is stateless.

HTTPs native caching headers are used for implementing caching as REST requires requests to be cacheable whenever possible.

REST API Best Practices and Standards in 2022

  What is gRPC?

gRPC - Architecture
Source: gRPC

gRPC is a new version of an old method known as Remote Procedure Call (RPC). It was developed by Google and made Open-Source later. It works based on contracts and negotiations that are defined by the relationship between the Server and the Client rather than by the Architecture. 

gRPC is lightweight and requires few resources. This makes it a good solution even for low-powered situations. It uses Protocol Buffers (Protobuf) to serialize Structured Data and facilitate effective communication. gRPC is Open Source, hence, you can use it for free. 

gRPC is suitable where the Data Requester wants to preserve resources. It is mostly used in IoT devices like Smart Light Switches, Voice Controllers, Cameras, and Smoke Alarm Locks.

What is GraphQL?

GraphQL - Architecture
Image Source: Gridsome

GraphQL is a system for requesting data whose focus is on pinpointing requests and delivering what is required. It is a Client-driven approach that makes it unique from other APIs. Instead of using the normal Server to Client Model, it lets the Client decide how everything is handled. The Client decides the type of data that is wanted and the preferred format for the data. 

GraphQL doesn’t over fetch data, but it returns exactly what is requested by the Client. It is also Cross-platform, with the ability to support more than a dozen languages including Perl, PHP, Java, Python, and others. 

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Differences between REST, gRPC, and GraphQL

REST vs gRPC vs GraphQL: Architecture

REST  Architecture 

REST does not have a concrete API framework or specification due to which there is a lot of space left for interpretation we can say it has a broad architectural style. The ambiguity of not giving pre-defined answers to common questions has led the community to create frameworks like JSON: HAL, API, and OData. 

gRPC Architecture

gRPC’s Architecture is based on the concept of Contracts. In this architecture, negotiation is defined by the Client-Server Relationship instead of the Architecture itself. Much of the power and responsibility is given to the Client to execute. At the same time, much of the handling and computation work is offloaded to the Remote Server that hosts the resource. 

GraphQL Architecture

GraphQL has a unique approach to the Client-Server Relationship and it is like a reversal of the traditional model. It is the Client that determines the data they want as well as the format in which they want it. This approach reverses the classic Server to Client dictation and facilitates an extended functionality. 

REST vs gRPC vs GraphQL: Protocols and Verbs

REST Protocols and Verbs 

It uses the HTTP 1.1 protocol in which each component is a resource that is accessed by a common interface using HTTP standard methods. There are mainly four HTTP methods that are commonly used in REST-based architecture.

gRPC Protocols and Verbs

It uses the HTTP/2 Protocol which is capable of supporting Bidirectional and Multiplexing. It is an improvement of the HTTP/1 Protocol. It also uses a binary protocol rather than JSON. 

For more information on HTTP/2, visit Google’s Web Fundamentals Guide here

GraphQL Protocols and Verbs

It uses the HTTP Protocol. It can be accessed via a simple POST API or via the playground. It also offers different names such as Query and Mutation of CRUD operation. 

REST vs gRPC vs GraphQL: Speed

REST Speed 

HTTP 1.1 uses a request-response model of communication. Since there are multiple requests they are served one at a time which slows the entire process.  

gRPC Speed

gRPC has a great focus on performance through a Compact Data Format, through the use of HTTP/2 as the transport layer, and fast encoding and decoding of messages. 

Code generation on both the Client and the Server is done using Protocol Buffers (protobuf) definitions to save Developers from the need to write boilerplate code. It also gives them an opportunity to enjoy type safety. 

GraphQL Speed

GraphQL allows the Clients to request any number of Data Fields at a go. The response will be as fast as the speed of the slowest requested field. This means that users should optimize queries continuously based on usage patterns. 

Thus, GraphQL will be slower than gRPC in most cases. 

REST vs gRPC vs GraphQL: Supported Programming Languages

REST Supported Programming Languages 

Multiple programming languages are supported by REST which gives users the flexibility to choose between languages including JavaScript, Python, PHP, and GO.

gRPC Supported Programming Languages

gRPC has official libraries for most of the popular programming languages including Java, C#, C/C++, JavaScript, Go, PHP, Python, and Kotlin. This gives users the flexibility to choose the languages they are comfortable with. 

GraphQL Supported Programming Languages

GraphQL is also flexible when it comes to the supported programming languages. It supports more than a dozen languages including Perl, PHP, Java, Python, and others. Thus, users can also choose the programming language of choice. 

Pros Of REST vs. gRPC vs. GraphQL 

Pros Of REST 

  • It is a great fit if a domain can be easily described as a set of resources using standard HTTP protocol which enables CRUD operations.
  • If your API has stable usage patterns and has geographically distributed traffic then REST enables intermediate proxy caching.
  • It is intuitive for the consumer because it is directly built upon the semantics of HTTP. 

Pros Of gRPC

  • gRPC is mainly focused on performance which is mainly enabled by the usage of HTTP/2 as the transport layer. 
  • Collecting data from multiple low-resource agents such as cameras, sensors,  etc is done with ease.
  • It provides both unidirectional and bidirectional streaming based on HTTP/2 streaming.

Pros Of GraphQL 

  • GraphQL allows fetching and delivering data that is required by the client which reduces data transfer overhead.
  • One can easily deal with uncertainties because one can profile real queries to gradually build a picture according to the client’s requirements.
  • It is best for diverse data sets and easy-open querying can be done. 

Cons Of REST vs. GraphQL vs. gRPC

Cons Of REST

  • It is not fit for domains where mapping concepts to resources is hard and the scalability of REST is limited and bi-directional streaming isn’t possible at all. 
  • In the case of nested entities, you may need to make multiple requests.

Cons Of gRPC

  • You need an experienced developer to use gRPC.
  • gRPC requires HTTP/2 which is not supported by browsers because of which it is not a native solution for customer-facing web applications.

Cons Of GraphQL

  • Communication between services is very much limited.
  • GraphQL breaks intermediate proxy caching which matters if the client and server are geographically distant.

Real-Life Use Cases of REST, gRPC and GraphQL

Use cases of REST

  • REST API is by the most popular web and cloud companies Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, and Google as it allows us to connect, manage and interact with cloud services flexibly.
  • REST APIs can be accessed from a client-side web project, windows phone, an iOS app, etc since they are not tied to client-side technology. 

Use Cases Of gRPC

  •  gRPC is also a way to offer APIs over the internet for integrating applications with services from third-party providers. As an example, many of Google’s Cloud APIs are exposed via gRPC.
  • gRPC is also used for large-scale microservice communication, for example, Google designed gRPC which was based on an internal project Stubby for the internal framework.

Use Cases Of GraphQL

  •  eCommerce platforms with GraphQL API are no longer a new trend for example Saleor has a vibrant community and is surely an eCommerce engine of choice for many CTOs. The platform offers 100% GraphQL API coverage.
  • GraphQL is used for dashboards where an application fetches data from multiple sources such as logging services, backends for consumption stats, and third-party analytics tools to capture end-user interactions.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Is gRPC better than REST?

gRPC is usually 7 times faster while receiving data and 10 times faster than REST when sending data for this specific payload. This is mainly due to the tight packing of the Protocol Buffers and the use of HTTP/2 by gRPC.

Is gRPC bi-directional?

A gRPC call comprises a bidirectional stream of messages, initiated by the client. In the client-to-server direction, this stream begins with a mandatory Call Header, followed by optional Initial Metadata, followed by zero or more Payload Messages.

What’s the biggest difference between GraphQL and REST?

A REST API is an architectural concept for network-based software. GraphQL, on the other hand, is an application layer server-side technology that is used for executing queries with existing data. 

What companies use gRPC?

gRPC mainly relies on HTTP/2, protocol buffers, and other modern technology stacks to ensure maximum API security, performance, and scalability and thus many leading tech firms have adopted gRPC, such as Google, Netflix, Square, IBM, Cisco, & Dropbox.

Is GraphQL replacing REST? 

GraphQL solves many of the demerits and inefficiencies of REST API architecture. While REST has been (and still is) a popular way of exposing data to applications, the growing complexity and evolution of development have made it less viable in a range of scenarios.GraphQL offers a more efficient and flexible way for building APIs and scaling.

Is GraphQL NoSQL or SQL?

SQL(structured query language) is an older, more adopted language standard used specifically for tabular/relational database systems. GraphQL is a flexible query language that uses a type system to efficiently return data with dynamic queries. Hence we can consider GraphQL if API is to be built on a NoSQL database.


We discussed the fine differences between REST,  gRPC, and GraphQL. We also discussed concepts behind REST, gRPC & GraphQL and covered various key features like their architecture, protocols, verbs, speed, and supported programming languages.  

Each technology has both strong benefits and problems, hence your data needs to be served by the best combination of technologies.

GraphQL and gRPC address some of the limitations of REST. With the help of GraphQL, we can easily reduce data redundancy and gRPC is mainly used for fast transport, leveraging HTTP/2.  

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Now that you know about REST, GraphQL, and gRPC you can also read about SOAP vs. REST if you also decide to use SOAP.

Share your learning experience of REST vs gRPC vs GraphQL and the contrasts you found most useful. Let us know what you think in the comments below!

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