But Can Your GraphQL Client Do This? — A Deep-Dive Into urql

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Let’s explore how the urql GraphQL client came to be and what makes it stand out. We will explore how various challenges were solved in new ways from first principles. Expect a look at future standard features such as Offline Support, an overview of small design choices that are baked into urql, and some features that are already standard and have first-party support such as authentication and file upload.

Kadi Kraman
Kadi Kraman
37 min
02 Jul, 2021

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Video Summary and Transcription

Urql is a GraphQL client for React, React Native, and other frameworks, with first-party support for Next.js, Preact, Svelte, and Vue. It offers flexibility and extensibility through exchanges, including dedupe, cache, and fetch exchanges. Caching, retrying, and authentication are also supported. Urql uses document caching by default but offers a graph cache for normalized caching. It has a small bundle size and a responsive community for support and collaboration.

Available in Español

1. Introduction to Urql

Short description:

Hello, friends! Today I'm going to talk about Urql. It's a GraphQL client for React, React Native, and others, built by Formidable. Urql stands out with its first-party support for framework bindings. It has built-in support for Next.js, Preact, Svelte, and Vue. Apollo Client and Relay rely on third-party libraries for framework support.

Hello, friends! Thank you so much for having me. So today I'm going to talk about Urql. In particular, I'm going to dig into some of core values and standout features.

So a quick intro just on me. My name is Kaddy. I'm currently an engineering manager at Mutable, where I'm spending most of my time building mobile apps, both in React Native and GraphQL. I've been partial to GraphQL even from before I started using React Native, but having used both REST and GraphQL in mobile applications, I can definitely see how many of the benefits of GraphQL can be particularly useful for mobile. And I really hope that one day, GraphQL will be the standard for native applications.

So why am I here talking about Urql? Well, Urql is a GraphQL client for React, React Native, and others, and it's an open source project built by Formidable, and that's a company I work for. So what is Urql? At Formidable, we invest a lot in open source. We're all standing on the shoulders of giants here, and I mean, this very conference wouldn't even exist if Facebook hadn't decided to open source GraphQL in the first place. At Formidable, we have various initiatives to encourage folks to contribute to open source both within formida sauce, but also to personal and community projects. Urql is one of the many open-source projects over the years, but currently I think it's the most exciting one. Originally, it was created by Ken, then rewritten by Phil and now with contributions from the community as well as many of my formidable colleagues. Even I myself have not not long ago contributed by adding an auth exchange for handling authentication and token exchange, but more on that later. With that in mind, should you use Urql? Well, there are several other GraphQL clients out there. Apollo Client and Relay in particular. Ultimately, the choice on what GraphQL client to use and or not to use should really depend on the features that you need on your project. For the rest of the talk, I'm going to go through some of the features of Urql that I think are especially cool and just talk a bit about the general philosophy and the thought process that has gone into designing them.

All right, one of the things that really stands out in Urql compared to others is the commitment to first-party support for framework bindings. So, outside of React, Urql has first-party built-in support for Next.js, Preact, Svelte, and Vue. Although there are no plans to add bindings to Angular, so if that's your jam, you might have to look elsewhere. Apollo Client and Relay don't provide any kind of first-party support for any framework bindings outside of React, and they rely fully on third-party libraries. This is completely fine. Those libraries were designed for React, after all, and it's the community that wanted to use them for other frameworks. However, this can have detrimental ripple effects. For example, when the library implements new features, or breaking changes and upgrades, all these take time to propagate into the third-party libraries. If you have first-party support, these changes are built into the bindings from day one. If you're interested in a more detailed comparison of these libraries, there is a whole section on the article docs where you can find a pretty honest feature comparison between Urql, Apollo Client, and Relay. However, for the remainder of this talk, I'm going to focus on Urql only.

2. Flexibility and Exchanges in Urql

Short description:

If there's one thing we know when it comes to tech is that things change fast and all the time. When creating Urql, one of the goals was to make sure that it's as flexible as possible, so it would be able to adapt to the changing tech landscape. Extensibility really is at the heart of Urql, which brings us to exchanges. Urql is built on exchanges. When you install Urql and execute a query, by default, Urql uses three exchanges. These come packaged into UrqlCore. So we have the dedupe, the cache, and the fetch exchanges. The dedupe exchange removes duplicate requests when the exact request is already in flight. The cache exchange returns the data from the cache if there is some. And finally, the fetch exchange does the actual network request and puts the result back into the output stream.

If there's one thing we know when it comes to tech is that things change fast and all the time. New language features come, libraries, conventions, the things that are cool change, and even business requirements crop up all the time.

When creating Urql, one of the goals was to make sure that it's as flexible as possible, so it would be able to adapt to the changing tech landscape. So in order to make Urql as adaptable as possible, it's built to be as extensible as possible.

Extensibility really is at the heart of Urql, which brings us to exchanges. Urql is built on exchanges. So if you have a think about what a GraphQL client does at its core, it takes a request, a query, or a mutation, and it gives the appropriate response, so a cache hit, a response from the API, or an error. So as a result, most GraphQL clients, including Urql, are built to be stream-based. So an exchange is just a plugin that allows you to inspect and modify both the incoming and outgoing streams.

Let me show you this, by example, because that will make it a whole lot clearer. When you install Urql and execute a query, by default, Urql uses three exchanges. These come packaged into UrqlCore. So we have the dedupe, the cache, and the fetch exchanges. All of these are completely replaceable, by the way, so you can swap out any of these for custom or alternate implementation.

So first, the dedupe exchange, it removes duplicate requests when the exact request is already in flight. So imagine a website with a header and a sidebar. And both of these want to display the user's name. Both of these will use a use query with exactly the same query. What the fetch exchange, the dedupe exchange does, is it makes sure that only one instance of that query is passed on to the next exchange, and therefore, removing the need for a duplicate API request.

Then the cache exchange returns the data from the cache if there is some. And finally, the fetch exchange, which will always be in the last exchange in the array, does the actual network request and puts the result back into the output stream. Then the result is passed from the network request exchange to the cache exchange, where it is stored for next time, and finally, it's passed back to the use query result.

Now, since you can literally add an unlimited amount of plugins, the only way to guarantee that they're all playing nice with each other is to make sure each plugin remains unopinionated. Let's have a look at an actual example of this in Exchanges. First, we have the fetch exchange that we already talked about. This is the default fetch exchange included in Urql Core. It fetches the data from the API and adds to the output stream. Now, a separate package add-on, you can install a separate add-on package for automatic persisted queries in a persistent fetch exchange. So, this exchange used the same fetch logic as the actual fetch exchange. But with automatic persisted queries, basically the way it works is that it allows server-side caching of GraphQL data.

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