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Falcor vs. GraphQL: The differences that matter

While both essentially represent two approaches to a similar end goal, there are some key differences between GraphQL and Falcor that are worth understanding.

Falcor and GraphQL are both capable of simplifying API-based data access within a web or mobile application, but understanding the differences in the way Falcor and GraphQL function is crucial for choosing how either one should fit into your specific development project.

Let's break down the most important differences between Falcor and GraphQL web and mobile developers should know about.

What are Falcor and GraphQL?

Falcor is a JavaScript library designed for efficient data fetching. It was developed by Netflix to help support its streaming video platform before becoming an open source project in 2015. With Falcor, developers can represent data as a single virtual JSON graph, making it easier to create and maintain complex data-driven web and mobile applications.

GraphQL, which was developed by Facebook in 2012 and open-sourced in 2015, is a query language that enables developers to define the structure of the data they request from a server. It also enables efficient data fetching from multiple sources, making applications more efficient and secure.

Falcor and GraphQL both provide an efficient means of querying data for mobile and web apps. They share similarities from an operational standpoint, too, as they both do the following:

  • Use a declarative style of query language or syntax.
  • Use a single unified API endpoint for all queries.
  • Enable granular control of data requests.
  • Offer the ability to batch multiple requests into a single request.

Major differences between Falcor and GraphQL

Despite their common qualities, however, the functional differences between Falcor and GraphQL are important to understand. Some of these major differences revolve around their unique implementations, querying flexibility and performance efficiency.

Implementation approach

As a query language, GraphQL provides a set of rules to govern data query operations. This means that implementing GraphQL requires the use of libraries that conform with GraphQL guidelines. In contrast, since it is a JavaScript library, Falcor provides both a query model and a unique implementation of that model in JavaScript.

Practically speaking, this difference isn't immensely important: There are plenty of GraphQL libraries available for most popular programming languages, and JavaScript conforms with virtually all types of web and mobile applications. In most situations, it's easy enough for developers to use both Falcor and GraphQL side by side.

Still, their unique implementations do affect the specific libraries you need to call, and GraphQL provides many options that Falcor does not. Falcor queries are, arguably, simpler than GraphQL queries, making Falcor easier to learn and use -- provided you're familiar with JavaScript. But, if you don't like JavaScript, you probably won't like Falcor either.

Querying flexibility

GraphQL offers sophisticated levels of support for pattern matching, searching and filtering. Falcor, meanwhile, supports partially open-ended queries, such as ranges of numbers. Complex pattern matching is much more difficult in Falcor than in GraphQL.

In situations where you know the specific data you need to fetch, the flexibility of GraphQL's query types doesn't provide as significant a benefit. But, when unsure what the data may include, GraphQL makes it easier to filter out the information you need without knowing what it looks like ahead of time.

Query efficiency

In general, it's easier to implement highly efficient queries with GraphQL than with Falcor. This is because GraphQL provides a powerful engine that enables developers to write queries that fetch all the necessary data in a single request. With Falcor, you're more likely to have to run multiple queries to get the totality of data you need.

This difference is important in use cases where application efficiency and performance are a priority. The fewer requests you make, the less load you place on servers, clients and the network. This makes GraphQL the more efficient choice when faced with potentially unreliable networks or devices with minimal client-side resources. GraphQL's advantages in this area are less important in use cases where clients have highly capable devices, like full-fledged PCs, and where network bandwidth or latency isn't likely to be constrained.

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