What is Apollo?
Who uses Apollo?
Why developers like Apollo?
Here are some stack decisions, common use cases and reviews by companies and developers who chose Apollo in their tech stack.
When I joined NYT there was already broad dissatisfaction with the LAMP (Linux Apache HTTP Server MySQL PHP) Stack and the front end framework, in particular. So, I wasn't passing judgment on it. I mean, LAMP's fine, you can do good work in LAMP. It's a little dated at this point, but it's not ... I didn't want to rip it out for its own sake, but everyone else was like, "We don't like this, it's really inflexible." And I remember from being outside the company when that was called MIT FIVE when it had launched. And been observing it from the outside, and I was like, you guys took so long to do that and you did it so carefully, and yet you're not happy with your decisions. Why is that? That was more the impetus. If we're going to do this again, how are we going to do it in a way that we're gonna get a better result?
So we're moving quickly away from LAMP, I would say. So, right now, the new front end is React based and using Apollo. And we've been in a long, protracted, gradual rollout of the core experiences.
React is now talking to GraphQL as a primary API. There's a Node.js back end, to the front end, which is mainly for server-side rendering, as well.
Behind there, the main repository for the GraphQL server is a big table repository, that we call Bodega because it's a convenience store. And that reads off of a Kafka pipeline.
At Airbnb we use GraphQL Unions for a "Backend-Driven UI." We have built a system where a very dynamic page is constructed based on a query that will return an array of some set of possible “sections.” These sections are responsive and define the UI completely.
The central file that manages this would be a generated file. Since the list of possible sections is quite large (~50 sections today for Search), it also presumes we have a sane mechanism for lazy-loading components with server rendering, which is a topic for another post. Suffice it to say, we do not need to package all possible sections in a massive bundle to account for everything up front.
Each section component defines its own query fragment, colocated with the section’s component code. This is the general idea of Backend-Driven UI at Airbnb. It’s used in a number of places, including Search, Trip Planner, Host tools, and various landing pages. We use this as our starting point, and then in the demo show how to (1) make and update to an existing section, and (2) add a new section.
While building your product, you want to be able to explore your schema, discovering field names and testing out potential queries on live development data. We achieve that today with GraphQL Playground, the work of our friends at #Prisma. The tools come standard with Apollo Server.
But wowza, things have changed. Tooling is just way, way better. I'm primarily web-oriented, and using React and Apollo together the past few years really opened my eyes to building rich apps. And I deeply apologize for using the phrase rich apps; I don't think I've ever said such Enterprisey words before.
But yeah, things are different now. I still love Rails, and still use it for a lot of apps I build. But it's that silly rich apps phrase that's the problem. Users have way more comprehensive expectations than they did even five years ago, and the JS community does a good job at building tools and tech that tackle the problems of making heavy, complicated UI and frontend work.
Earlier this year we decided to go "all-in" on GraphQL to provide our front-end API. We needed a stable client library to power our React app. We decided to use Apollo Client for a few reasons:
1) Stability 2) Maturity 3) Heaps of features 4) Great documentation (with use cases) 5) Support for server-side rendering 6) Allowed us to stop using Redux and Mobx
Overall we've had great success with this library, along with a few minor hiccups and work arounds, but no show stoppers. If you are coming from Redux.js land, it takes a bit of time to settle into a new way of thinking about how your data is fetched and flows through your React app. This part has been the biggest learning curve of anything to do with GraphQL.
One of the downsides to Apollo Client, once you build a larger application, (past the size of most of the documented use cases and sample apps) the state management tends to get distributed through various places; and not just components. Apollo Client has a state management feature that relies on a normalised local cache. Mastering the knowledge of how this works is key to getting the most out of the library and to architecting your component hierarchy properly.
One of the joys I wanted to demonstrate in a GraphQL Summit talk I did is having so many helpful tools at my fingertips while building our product at Airbnb. This includes access to Git in Visual Studio Code, as well as the integrated terminal and tasks for running frequently-needed commands.
Of course, we also had some fun stuff to show for GraphQL and Apollo! The part that most people had not seen was the new Apollo GraphQL VS Code Extension. There is no need for me to copy over all juicy features from their marketing site (there are many!), but I will elaborate on one feature: Schema Tags.
If you are going to lint your queries against the schema you are working on, you will invariably be presented with the decision of “which schema?” The default may be your production schema (“current,” by convention), but as we discuss in the demo, if you need to iterate and explore new ideas, you need the flexibility of targeting a provisional schema.
Since we are using Apollo Engine, publishing multiple schemas using tags allows us this flexibility, and multiple engineers can collaborate on a single proposed schema. Once proposed schema changes for a service are merged upstream and those changes are naturally flowing down in the current production schema, we can flip back to “current” in VS Code. Very cool.
I just finished a web app meant for a business that offers training programs for certain professional courses. I chose this stack to test out my skills in graphql and react. I used Node.js , GraphQL , MySQL for the #Backend utilizing Prisma as a database interface for MySQL to provide CRUD APIs and graphql-yoga as a server. For the #frontend I chose React, styled-components for styling, Next.js for routing and SSR and Apollo for data management. I really liked the outcome and I will definitely use this stack in future projects.