We'll be launching a new Hygraph interface

GraphQL Mesh vs. Apollo Federation vs. Content Federation

Let's learn about three popular federation approaches: GraphQL Mesh, Apollo Federation, and Content Federation.
Joel Olawanle

Joel Olawanle

Aug 14, 2023
GraphQL Mesh vs. Apollo Federation vs. Content Federation

GraphQL has become a popular choice for building APIs due to its flexibility and efficiency in data fetching. But as projects grow in size and complexity, managing a monolithic GraphQL schema can quickly become overwhelming. Adopting a microservices architecture helps decentralize and handle complexity through modularization. However, ensuring efficient communication and coordination between services remains challenging. This is where federation comes into play.

Federation allows you to divide your schema into smaller, interconnected services, making it easier to develop, deploy, and scale your GraphQL architecture.

In this article, you will learn about three popular federation approaches: GraphQL Mesh, Apollo Federation, and Content Federation. You will learn their core concepts, benefits, and code implementations. By the end of this read, you'll have a crystal-clear understanding of each approach to select the perfect federation strategy for your project's success.

#What is GraphQL Mesh?

The GraphQL Mesh framework is used to shape and build an executable GraphQL schema from multiple data sources. It allows you to use GraphQL query language to access data in remote APIs that don't run GraphQL (and those that run GraphQL).

The key benefit of using GraphQL Mesh is the ability to aggregate data from multiple sources seamlessly. Whether you need to merge data from OpenAPI/Swagger, gRPC, REST APIs, databases, or other GraphQL services, GraphQL Mesh allows you to create a cohesive schema without tightly coupling your services. This modularity enhances maintainability and enables you to introduce new data sources effortlessly.

undefined

GraphQL Mesh also provides flexibility and customization options. You can modify and extend the merged schema using resolvers, transformations, and directives. This allows you to tailor the schema to your needs, implement business logic, and transform data as it flows through the federation.

Implementation of GraphQL Mesh

To get started with GraphQL Mesh, you'll need to set up a project and then install the necessary dependencies:

npm i graphql @graphql-mesh/runtime @graphql-mesh/cli @graphql-mesh/graphql

In the project root directory, create a file named .meshrc.yaml, which will serve as the configuration file for GraphQL Mesh. Open the file in your text editor and define the data sources you want to federate.

Here's an example of the .meshrc.yaml configuration file that includes a REST API and a GraphQL endpoint:

sources:
- name: MyRestAPI
handler:
rest:
url: https://api.example.com/rest
method: POST
headers:
Authorization: Bearer your-token-here
- name: MyGraphQLAPI
handler:
graphql:
endpoint: https://api.example.com/graphql

You can then add a run script to your package.json file:

"scripts": {
"dev": "mesh dev"
},

When you run npm run dev, it will start the mesh server, where you can query all federated APIs. You can also leverage various GraphQL Mesh plugins to add custom resolvers, transformations, and other features to your schema.

#What is Apollo Federation?

Apollo Federation is a framework that enables you to compose a federated schema by combining independent, self-contained GraphQL services (subgraphs). It follows a decentralized architecture, where each service has its schema and can be developed and deployed independently.

In a federated architecture, your individual GraphQL APIs are called subgraphs, and they're composed into a supergraph. Clients can fetch data from all your subgraphs with a single request by querying your supergraph's router.

undefined

One major advantage of Apollo Federation is that you can develop and scale services independently. This decentralized approach fosters team autonomy and accelerates development cycles. Each service can focus on its specific domain, and changes can be made without impacting other services.

Implementation of Apollo Federation

To demonstrate how Apollo Federation works, let's consider an example where you have two services: products and reviews. The products service provides information about products, and the reviews service manages customer reviews for those products. You'll create a federated graph that combines these services.

First, set up the product's service. Create a new file called products.js and add the following code:

const { ApolloServer, gql } = require('apollo-server');
const { buildSubgraphSchema } = require('@apollo/subgraph');
const typeDefs = gql`
type Product @key(fields: "id") {
id: ID!
name: String!
}
extend type Query {
products: [Product]
}
`;
const products = [
{ id: '1', name: 'Product 1' },
{ id: '2', name: 'Product 2' },
];
const resolvers = {
Query: {
products: () => products,
},
};
const server = new ApolloServer({
schema: buildSubgraphSchema([{ typeDefs, resolvers }]),
});
server.listen(4001).then(({ url }) => {
console.log(`Products service running at ${url}`);
});

This code defines a GraphQL type Product with an id and name field. You also extend the Query type to include a products field that returns an array of Product objects.

Next, set up the reviews service. Create a new file called reviews.js and add the following code:

const { ApolloServer, gql } = require('apollo-server');
const { buildSubgraphSchema } = require('@apollo/subgraph');
const typeDefs = gql`
type Review @key(fields: "id") {
id: ID!
productId: ID!
rating: Int!
comment: String!
}
extend type Product @key(fields: "id") {
id: ID! @external
reviews: [Review]
}
extend type Query {
reviews: [Review]
}
`;
const reviews = [
{ id: '1', productId: '1', rating: 5, comment: 'Great product!' },
{ id: '2', productId: '2', rating: 4, comment: 'Nice product.' },
];
const resolvers = {
Product: {
reviews: (parent) =>
reviews.filter((review) => review.productId === parent.id),
},
Query: {
reviews: () => reviews,
},
};
const server = new ApolloServer({
schema: buildSubgraphSchema([{ typeDefs, resolvers }]),
});
server.listen(4002).then(({ url }) => {
console.log(`Reviews service running at ${url}`);
});

This code defines a GraphQL type Review with fields id, productId, rating, and comment. You also extend the Product type to include a reviews field, representing the reviews associated with a particular product. The @external directive indicates that the id field is defined in another service. You also extend the Query type to include a reviews field that returns all reviews.

You need to create a gateway combining these services into a federated graph. Create an index.js file and add the following code:

const { ApolloServer } = require('apollo-server');
const { ApolloGateway, IntrospectAndCompose } = require('@apollo/gateway');
const gateway = new ApolloGateway({
supergraphSdl: new IntrospectAndCompose({
subgraphs: [
{ name: 'products', url: 'http://localhost:4001' },
{ name: 'reviews', url: 'http://localhost:4002' },
],
}),
});
const server = new ApolloServer({
gateway,
});
server.listen(4000).then(({ url }) => {
console.log(`Server ready at ${url}`);
});

This code sets up an Apollo gateway using the ApolloGateway class from the @apollo/gateway package. We define the subgraphs and supergraphSdl. Each service entry includes a name and a url indicating the location of the respective service.

To run the example, you add commands for each subgraph and the gateway in your package.json file:

"scripts": {
"server:products": "nodemon products.js",
"server:reviews": "nodemon reviews.js",
"server:graphql": "nodemon index.js"
},

When you run npm run server, the Apollo sandbox will open for you to test the federated GraphQL schemas.

#What is Content Federation?

Content Federation is the ability to bring data together from multiple sources and backends via API into a centralized data structure or API without migrating the data or having multiple versions of it. This allows for a single view (centralized) of the data.

undefined

Content Federation is especially useful when you have multiple data sources and want to merge them and allow content editors to utilize and enrich data and content without developer involvement. It allows you to aggregate content from diverse systems, apply transformations, and enrich it with additional data. This approach enables you to create powerful and tailored content APIs that client applications can easily consume.

One major player in the world of content federation is Hygraph — a federated content management platform.

Implementation of Content Federation with Hygraph

Hygraph is a federated content management platform that enables teams to provide content to any channel. If this is your first time exploring Hygraph, create a free-forever developer account via either GitHub or Mail.

Here are the steps you will follow to implement federation with Hygraph:

  1. Define the federated schema: To define the Federated Schema with Hygraph, you must create multiple smaller schemas for each service.

  2. Configure the services: Configure each service with its own schema, data types, and resolvers. With Hygraph, you can create custom content types, fields, and relationships for each service.

  3. Create a gateway: Create a Gateway to route queries to the appropriate services and aggregate the results into a single response. Hygraph provides a built-in Gateway that you can use to route queries to your services.

Once you have done this, you can send queries to your Gateway and receive responses. For this article, let’s combine the Cocktail API (an external API) into an Hygraph project and query for data with a single GraphQL query.

Step 1: Add a remote source

The first step is to add a remote source, specify the type of the API, name and paste the API address:

undefined

Step 2: Create a GraphQL remote field

Create a field for the data you will use to query for a particular cocktail. For this, I will create two fields, the "Best cocktail" field for you to submit the best cocktail of the author, and a slug field (Cocktail Slug) that will automatically convert the "Best cocktail" data to slug.

undefined

You can now create the GraphQL remote field to query for a particular cocktail with the slug value.

undefined

Step 3: Test the remote source

You have created a GraphQL remote field for the cocktail Info. Test it by adding the author's best cocktail, which would generate a slug value, and then you can use it to get the particular cocktail information.

undefined

At this point, you have successfully added and combined multiple remote sources into your Hygraph project. Create a GraphQL query to fetch the author's data, including the author's best cocktail, ingredients, and instructions for making it.

query AuthorsInfo {
authors {
firstName
lastName
bio
bestCocktail
cocktailInfo {
info
ingredients
instructions
}
}
}

This will return all the various values, including the ones from the remote sources, directly into this GraphQL query:

{
"data": {
"authors": [
{
"firstName": "John ",
"lastName": "Doe",
"bio": null,
"bestCocktail": "paloma",
"cocktailInfo": {
"info": "Alcoholic",
"ingredients": "Grape Soda Tequila",
"instructions": "Stir Together And Serve Over Ice."
}
}
]
}
}

You can explore more by reading the remote sources documentation and this article on How to run multiple GraphQL queries and combine multiple sources.

#GraphQL Mesh vs. Apollo Federation vs. Content Federation: comparison and considerations

After exploring GraphQL Mesh, Apollo Federation, and Content Federation, it's important to compare their differences and consider the factors that impact your project.

FactorsGraphQL MeshApollo FederationContent Federation
ArchitectureCombines multiple schemas into a federated schemaComposes independent services into a federated schemaComposes independent services into a federated schema accessible to developers and editors
Data SourcesSupports various data sources and APIsSupports GraphQL APIsSupports various data sources and APIs
FlexibilityAllows customization using resolvers, transformations, and pluginsOffers flexibility in service development and deploymentOffers flexibility in remote sources development and deployment
IndependenceCan operate without the need for a centralized gatewayServices can be developed and deployed independentlyRemote sources can be developed and deployed independently
GatewayNot requiredRequires a centralized gatewayHygraph is the gateway
ScalabilityCan handle scalability and performance considerationsProvides scalability through independent servicesProvides scalability through independent sources
Learning CurveModerateModerate to highModerate

#Conclusion

Choosing the right federation approach for your GraphQL architecture significantly impacts your system's scalability, flexibility, and maintainability. In this article, we explored GraphQL Mesh, Apollo Federation, and Content Federation, three popular federation approaches, and discussed their core concepts, benefits, and code implementations.

Before choosing the best approach for your project, consider the specific requirements and constraints, along with factors like data sources, scalability, and extensibility; then, you’ll be able to make a perfect decision.

By leveraging the power of federation, you can build robust and scalable GraphQL architectures that meet the evolving needs of your application.

Blog Author

Joel Olawanle

Joel Olawanle

Joel Olawanle is a Frontend Engineer and Technical writer based in Nigeria who is interested in making the web accessible to everyone by always looking for ways to give back to the tech community. He has a love for community building and open source.