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Three Ways to Deploy a Serverless GraphQL API

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Last Updated:
GraphQL, Serverless, Lambda

Outline

All of this project’s code can be found in the First Look monorepo on my GitHub.

Introduction

There are a wide range of different options for GraphQL servers with varying deployment methods. Typical methods for hosting your server include virtual machines (AWS EC2, Digital Ocean Droplet) or containers (Cloud Run, AWS ECS). However, if your server does not need to persist state, then you can host it using a serverless function. This includes:

  • Bundling your application into a zip file
  • Storing that static file somewhere with blob storage like an S3 bucket
  • Serving that file using an API gateway and serverless function like an AWS Lambda

Pros and Cons

The benefits include removing large amounts of operations work such as managing the operating system of underlying VMs or creating optimized Dockerfiles. You also no longer need to worry about scaling your application or paying for idle time when your server is not being used.

Since the server state cannot be persisted, the drawbacks include removing the ability to use websockets or subscriptions. The functions will only work for basic GET and POST methods. You also need to write your code with the syntax of the underlying runtime which requires keeping in mind information such as the available Node version and compatible dependencies.

Deployment Providers

This article looks at three different methods of deploying two different GraphQL servers: Apollo Server and GraphQL Yoga. They will be deployed with Netlify Functions, Serverless Framework, and AWS Amplify. All three use the same underlying technology, AWS Lambda functions. They differ in terms of the conventions and abstractions around creating, developing, and deploying those functions.

Netlify Functions

Netlify Functions are scripts that you can write and deploy directly on Netlify. Netlify lets you deploy serverless Lambda functions without an AWS account, and with function management handled directly within Netlify. It requires the least amount of knowledge of AWS, but also gives you the least amount of control over the underlying infrastructure.

Lambda functions can be added to a project by creating a JavaScript file in a configured functions directory. The function endpoint is determined by its filename or the name of its dedicated parent directory. It exports a handler that receives an event object similar to what you would receive from AWS API Gateway.

Serverless Framework

The Serverless Framework is an open source framework for building applications on AWS Lambda. It provides a CLI for developing and deploying AWS Lambda functions, along with the AWS infrastructure resources they require.

The resources and functions are defined in a file called serverless.yml which includes:

  • The provider for the Node runtime and AWS region
  • The handler and events for your functions

Once the project is defined in code it can be deployed with the sls deploy command. This command creates a CloudFormation stack defining any necessary resources such as API gateways or S3 buckets.

Amplify

AWS Amplify is a set of tools and services to help frontend web and mobile developers build fullstack applications with AWS infrastructure. It includes a CLI for creating and deploying CloudFormation stacks along with a Console and Admin UI for managing frontend web apps, backend environments, CI/CD, and user data.

Amplify provides open source libraries in various languages including:

The amplify init command creates a boilerplate project that is setup for generating CloudFormation templates. amplify add api configures a Lambda handler and API gateway to serve the function. amplify push uploads the stack templates to an S3 bucket and calls the CloudFormation API to create or update resources in the cloud.

Serve Apollo Server Locally

Apollo Server is an open-source, spec-compliant GraphQL server. Apollo Server Core implements the core logic of Apollo Server.

Terminal window
mkdir apollo-server
cd apollo-server
yarn init -y
yarn add apollo-server graphql
touch index.js
echo 'node_modules\n.DS_Store' > .gitignore

ApolloServer

apollo-server exports a base version of the ApolloServer constructor which requires two parameters, typeDefs for a schema definition and resolvers for a set of resolvers. The listen method is used to launch the server.

index.js
const { ApolloServer, gql } = require('apollo-server')
const typeDefs = gql`type Query { hello: String }`
const resolvers = {
Query: { hello: () => "Hello from Apollo on Localhost!" }
}
const server = new ApolloServer({ typeDefs, resolvers })
server.listen().then(
({ url }) => { console.log(`Server ready at ${url}`) }
)

ApolloServer is usually imported either from a batteries-included apollo-server package or from integration packages like apollo-server-lambda.

Run test queries on Apollo Server Locally

Start the server with node index.js.

Terminal window
node index.js

Open localhost:4000 and run the hello query.

query HELLO_QUERY { hello }

01 - apollo-server-localhost-4000

Terminal window
curl --request POST \
--url http://localhost:4000/ \
--header 'content-type: application/json' \
--data '{"query":"{ hello }"}'

Apollo Server Final Project Structure

├── .gitignore
├── index.js
└── package.json

Deploy Apollo Server Lambda with Netlify

In Apollo Server 3, apollo-server-lambda is implemented as a wrapper around apollo-server-express and uses serverless-express to parse AWS Lambda events into Express requests. This will cause problems with Netlify Functions, so instead we will install v2.

Terminal window
mkdir -p apollo-server-netlify/netlify/functions
cd apollo-server-netlify
yarn init -y
yarn add apollo-server-lambda@2 graphql
touch netlify/functions/index.js
echo 'node_modules\n.DS_Store\n.netlify' > .gitignore

ApolloServer

Each JavaScript file to be deployed as a synchronous serverless Lambda function must export a handler method. Netlify provides the event and context parameters when the serverless function is invoked.

netlify/functions/index.js
const { ApolloServer, gql } = require('apollo-server-lambda')
const typeDefs = gql`type Query { hello: String }`
const resolvers = {
Query: { hello: () => "Hello from Apollo on Netlify!" }
}
const server = new ApolloServer({ typeDefs, resolvers })
exports.handler = server.createHandler()

Run test queries on Apollo Server Lambda Netlify Locally

Start the development server with netlify dev.

Terminal window
netlify dev

Open localhost:8888/.netlify/functions/index and run the hello query.

query HELLO_QUERY { hello }

02 - apollo-server-lambda-netlify-localhost-8888

Terminal window
curl --request POST \
--url http://localhost:8888/.netlify/functions/index \
--header 'content-type: application/json' \
--data '{"query":"{ hello }"}'

Create GitHub Repo and Connect to Netlify

Terminal window
git init
git add .
git commit -m "apollo server lambda netlify"
gh repo create ajcwebdev-apollo-server-netlify
git push -u origin main
netlify deploy --prod

Run test queries on Apollo Server Lambda Netlify

Open ajcwebdev-apollo-server-netlify.netlify.app/.netlify/functions/index and run the hello query.

query HELLO_QUERY { hello }

03 - apollo-server-lambda-netlify-function

Terminal window
curl --request POST \
--url https://ajcwebdev-apollo-server-netlify.netlify.app/.netlify/functions/index \
--header 'content-type: application/json' \
--data '{"query":"{ hello }"}'

Apollo Server Lambda Netlify Final Project Structure

├── .gitignore
├── netlify
│ └── functions
│ └── index.js
└── package.json

Deploy Apollo Server Lambda with Serverless Framework

Terminal window
mkdir apollo-server-serverless
cd apollo-server-serverless
yarn init -y
yarn add apollo-server-lambda graphql
touch index.js serverless.yml
echo 'node_modules\n.DS_Store\n.serverless' > .gitignore

ApolloServer

index.js
const { ApolloServer, gql } = require('apollo-server-lambda')
const typeDefs = gql`type Query { hello: String }`
const resolvers = {
Query: { hello: () => 'Hello from Apollo on Serverless Framework!' }
}
const server = new ApolloServer({ typeDefs, resolvers })
exports.handler = server.createHandler()

Serverless Framework Configuration

The handler is formatted as <FILENAME>.<HANDLER>. I have included us-west-1 for the region, feel free to enter the AWS region closest to your current location.

serverless.yml
service: ajcwebdev-apollo-server
provider:
name: aws
runtime: nodejs14.x
region: us-west-1
functions:
graphql:
handler: index.handler
events:
- http:
path: /
method: post
cors: true
- http:
path: /
method: get
cors: true

Upload to AWS with sls deploy

Terminal window
sls deploy
service: ajcwebdev-apollo-server
stage: dev
region: us-west-1
stack: ajcwebdev-apollo-server-dev
resources: 12
api keys:
None
endpoints:
POST - https://q6b9hu1h71.execute-api.us-west-1.amazonaws.com/dev/
GET - https://q6b9hu1h71.execute-api.us-west-1.amazonaws.com/dev/
functions:
graphql: ajcwebdev-apollo-server-dev-graphql
layers:
None

You can see all of your AWS resources in the various AWS consoles.

CloudFormation

04 - apollo-server-serverless-cloudformation

Lambda Function

05 - apollo-server-serverless-lambda-function

Lambda Application

06 - apollo-server-serverless-lambda-application

API Gateway

07 - apollo-server-serverless-api-gateway

Run test queries on Apollo Server Lambda Serverless

Open q6b9hu1h71.execute-api.us-west-1.amazonaws.com/dev/ and run the hello query.

query HELLO_QUERY { hello }

08 - apollo-server-lambda-serverless-framework

Terminal window
curl --request POST \
--url https://q6b9hu1h71.execute-api.us-west-1.amazonaws.com/dev/ \
--header 'content-type: application/json' \
--data '{"query":"{ hello }"}'

Apollo Server Lambda Serverless Final Project Structure

├── .gitignore
├── index.js
├── package.json
└── serverless.yml

Deploy Apollo Server Lambda with Amplify

Terminal window
mkdir apollo-server-amplify
cd apollo-server-amplify
amplify init
? Enter a name for the project ajcwebdevapollo
The following configuration will be applied:
Project information
| Name: ajcwebdevapollo
| Environment: dev
| Default editor: Visual Studio Code
| App type: javascript
| Javascript framework: none
| Source Directory Path: src
| Distribution Directory Path: dist
| Build Command: npm run-script build
| Start Command: npm run-script start
? Initialize the project with the above configuration? Yes
Using default provider awscloudformation
? Select the authentication method you want to use: AWS profile
For more information on AWS Profiles, see:
https://docs.aws.amazon.com/cli/latest/userguide/cli-configure-profiles.html
? Please choose the profile you want to use default

CloudFormation

09 - apollo-server-amplify-cloudformation

Create backend with amplify add api

Terminal window
amplify add api
? Please select from one of the below mentioned services: REST
? Provide a friendly name for your resource to be used as a label for this category in the project: ajcwebdevapollo
? Provide a path (e.g., /book/{isbn}): /graphql
? Choose a Lambda source Create a new Lambda function
? Provide an AWS Lambda function name: apolloserver
? Choose the runtime that you want to use: NodeJS
? Choose the function template that you want to use: Hello World
? Do you want to access other resources created in this project from your Lambda function? N
? Do you want to edit the local lambda function now? N
? Restrict API access: N
? Do you want to add another path? N
Terminal window
cd amplify/backend/function/apolloserver/src
yarn add apollo-server-lambda graphql
cd ../../../../../

ApolloServer

amplify/backend/function/apollofunction/src/index.js
const { ApolloServer, gql } = require('apollo-server-lambda')
const typeDefs = gql`type Query { hello: String }`
const resolvers = {
Query: { hello: () => 'Hello from Apollo on Amplify!' }
}
const server = new ApolloServer({
typeDefs,
resolvers,
context: ({ event, context }) => ({
headers: event.headers,
functionName: context.functionName,
event,
context,
}),
})
exports.handler = server.createHandler()

Upload to AWS with amplify push

Deploy the function containing the GraphQL API.

Terminal window
amplify push
✔ Successfully pulled backend environment dev from the cloud.
Current Environment: dev
┌──────────┬─────────────────┬───────────┬───────────────────┐
│ Category │ Resource name │ Operation │ Provider plugin │
├──────────┼─────────────────┼───────────┼───────────────────┤
│ Function │ apolloserver │ Create │ awscloudformation │
├──────────┼─────────────────┼───────────┼───────────────────┤
│ Api │ ajcwebdevapollo │ Create │ awscloudformation │
└──────────┴─────────────────┴───────────┴───────────────────┘
? Are you sure you want to continue? Yes
All resources are updated in the cloud
REST API endpoint: https://kl21tioy61.execute-api.us-east-1.amazonaws.com/dev

Lambda Function

10 - apollo-server-amplify-lambda-function

Lambda Application

11 - apollo-server-amplify-lambda-application

API Gateway

12 - apollo-server-amplify-api-gateway

Run test queries on Apollo Server Lambda Amplify

Open kl21tioy61.execute-api.us-east-1.amazonaws.com/dev/graphql and run the hello query.

query HELLO_QUERY { hello }

13 - apollo-server-lambda-amplify

Terminal window
curl --request POST \
--url https://kl21tioy61.execute-api.us-east-1.amazonaws.com/dev/graphql \
--header 'content-type: application/json' \
--data '{"query":"{ hello }"}'

Apollo Server Lambda Amplify Final Project Structure

├── .gitignore
└── amplify
└── backend
├── api
│ └── ajcwebdevapollo
│ ├── ajcwebdevapollo-cloudformation-template.json
│ ├── api-params.json
│ └── parameters.json
└── function
└── apolloserver
├── apolloserver-cloudformation-template.json
├── function-parameters.json
└── src
├── event.json
├── index.js
└── package.json

Serve GraphQL Yoga Locally

GraphQL Yoga is a fully-featured GraphQL Server with a focus on easy setup and performance. Originally created by Prisma, it is now maintained by Dotan and the Guild. It includes features aimed at providing a great developer experience including file uploading, GraphQL subscriptions support with WebSockets, and TypeScript typing.

graphql-yoga is built on other packages that provide functionality required for building a GraphQL server such as web server frameworks like express and apollo-server, GraphQL subscriptions with graphql-subscriptions and subscriptions-transport-ws, GraphQL engine & schema helpers including graphql.js and graphql-tools, and an interactive GraphQL IDE with graphql-playground.

Terminal window
mkdir graphql-yoga
cd graphql-yoga
yarn init -y
yarn add graphql-yoga
touch index.js
echo 'node_modules\n.DS_Store' > .gitignore

GraphQLServer

GraphQLServer is a constructor with a props argument that accepts a wide array of fields. We will only be using a handful including:

  • typeDefs - Contains GraphQL type definitions in SDL or file path to type definitions
  • resolvers- Contains resolvers for the fields specified in typeDefs
  • schema - An instance of GraphQLSchema
index.js
const { GraphQLServer } = require('graphql-yoga')
const typeDefs = `type Query { hello: String }`
const resolvers = {
Query: { hello: () => 'Hello from GraphQL Yoga on Localhost!' }
}
const server = new GraphQLServer({ typeDefs, resolvers })
server.start(
() => console.log('Server is running on localhost:4000')
)

If you provide typeDefs and resolvers but omit the schema, graphql-yoga will construct the GraphQLSchema instance using makeExecutableSchema from graphql-tools.

Run test queries on GraphQL Yoga Locally

Terminal window
node index.js

Open http://localhost:4000 and run the hello query.

query HELLO_QUERY { hello }

14 - graphql-yoga-localhost-4000

Terminal window
curl --request POST \
--url http://localhost:4000/ \
--header 'content-type: application/json' \
--data '{"query":"{ hello }"}'

GraphQL Yoga Final Project Structure

├── .gitignore
├── index.js
└── package.json

Deploy GraphQL Yoga with Netlify

Terminal window
mkdir -p graphql-yoga-netlify/netlify/functions
cd graphql-yoga-netlify
yarn init -y
yarn add graphql-yoga
touch netlify/functions/index.js
echo 'node_modules\n.DS_Store\n.netlify' > .gitignore

GraphQLServerLambda

netlify/functions/index.js
const { GraphQLServerLambda } = require('graphql-yoga')
const typeDefs = `type Query { hello: String }`
const resolvers = {
Query: { hello: () => 'Hello from GraphQL Yoga on Netlify!' }
}
const lambda = new GraphQLServerLambda({ typeDefs, resolvers })
exports.handler = lambda.handler

Run test queries on GraphQL Yoga Netlify Locally

Start the development server with netlify dev.

Terminal window
netlify dev

Open localhost:8888/.netlify/functions/index and run the hello query.

15 - graphql-yoga-netlify-localhost-8888

Terminal window
curl --request POST \
--url http://localhost:8888/.netlify/functions/index \
--header 'content-type: application/json' \
--data '{"query":"{ hello }"}'

Create GitHub Repo and Connect GraphQL Yoga to Netlify

Terminal window
git init
git add .
git commit -m "graphql yoga netlify"
gh repo create ajcwebdev-graphql-yoga-netlify
git push -u origin main
netlify deploy --prod

Run test queries on GraphQL Yoga Netlify

Open ajcwebdev-graphql-yoga-netlify.netlify.app/.netlify/functions/index and run the hello query.

query HELLO_QUERY { hello }

16 - graphql-yoga-netlify-function

Terminal window
curl --request POST \
--url https://ajcwebdev-graphql-yoga-netlify.netlify.app/.netlify/functions/index \
--header 'content-type: application/json' \
--data '{"query":"{ hello }"}'

GraphQL Yoga Netlify Final Project Structure

├── .gitignore
├── netlify
│ └── functions
│ └── index.js
└── package.json

Deploy GraphQL Yoga with Serverless Framework

Terminal window
mkdir graphql-yoga-serverless
cd graphql-yoga-serverless
yarn init -y
yarn add graphql-yoga
touch index.js serverless.yml
echo 'node_modules\n.DS_Store\n.serverless' > .gitignore

GraphQLServerLambda

index.js
const { GraphQLServerLambda } = require('graphql-yoga')
const typeDefs = `type Query { hello: String }`
const resolvers = {
Query: { hello: () => 'Hello from GraphQL Yoga on Serverless Framework!' }
}
const lambda = new GraphQLServerLambda({ typeDefs, resolvers })
exports.handler = lambda.graphqlHandler
exports.playground = lambda.playgroundHandler

Serverless Framework Configuration

serverless.yml
service: yoga-example
provider:
name: aws
runtime: nodejs14.x
region: us-west-1
functions:
graphql:
handler: index.handler
events:
- http:
path: /
method: post
cors: true
playground:
handler: index.playground
events:
- http:
path: /
method: get
cors: true

Upload to AWS with sls deploy

Terminal window
sls deploy
service: yoga-example
stage: dev
region: us-west-1
stack: yoga-example-dev
resources: 16
api keys:
None
endpoints:
POST - https://vptcz65b06.execute-api.us-west-1.amazonaws.com/dev/
GET - https://vptcz65b06.execute-api.us-west-1.amazonaws.com/dev/
functions:
graphql: yoga-example-dev-graphql
playground: yoga-example-dev-playground
layers:
None

Run test queries on GraphQL Yoga Serverless

Open vptcz65b06.execute-api.us-west-1.amazonaws.com/dev/ and run the hello query.

query HELLO_QUERY { hello }

17 - graphql-yoga-serverless-framework

Terminal window
curl --request POST \
--url https://vptcz65b06.execute-api.us-west-1.amazonaws.com/dev/ \
--header 'content-type: application/json' \
--data '{"query":"{ hello }"}'

GraphQL Yoga Serverless Final Project Structure

├── .gitignore
├── index.js
├── package.json
└── serverless.yml

Deploy GraphQL Yoga with Amplify

Terminal window
mkdir graphql-yoga-amplify
cd graphql-yoga-amplify
amplify init
? Enter a name for the project ajcwebdevgraphqlyoga
The following configuration will be applied:
Project information
| Name: ajcwebdevgraphqlyoga
| Environment: dev
| Default editor: Visual Studio Code
| App type: javascript
| Javascript framework: none
| Source Directory Path: src
| Distribution Directory Path: dist
| Build Command: npm run-script build
| Start Command: npm run-script start
? Initialize the project with the above configuration? Yes
Using default provider awscloudformation
? Select the authentication method you want to use: AWS profile
For more information on AWS Profiles, see:
https://docs.aws.amazon.com/cli/latest/userguide/cli-configure-profiles.html
? Please choose the profile you want to use default

Create backend with amplify add api

Terminal window
amplify add api
? Please select from one of the below mentioned services: REST
? Provide a friendly name for your resource to be used as a label for this category in the project: ajcwebdevyoga
? Provide a path (e.g., /book/{isbn}): /graphql
? Choose a Lambda source: Create a new Lambda function
? Provide the AWS Lambda function name: graphqlyoga
? Choose the function runtime that you want to use: NodeJS
? Choose the function template that you want to use: Hello World
? Do you want to access other resources created in this project from your Lambda function? N
? Do you want to edit the local lambda function now? N
? Restrict API access: N
? Do you want to add another path? N
Terminal window
cd amplify/backend/function/graphqlyoga/src
yarn add graphql-yoga
cd ../../../../../

GraphQLServerLambda

amplify/backend/function/graphqlyoga/src/index.js
const { GraphQLServerLambda } = require('graphql-yoga')
const typeDefs = `type Query { hello: String }`
const resolvers = {
Query: { hello: () => 'Hello from GraphQL Yoga on Amplify!' }
}
const lambda = new GraphQLServerLambda({ typeDefs, resolvers })
exports.handler = lambda.handler

Upload to AWS with amplify push

Deploy the function containing the GraphQL API.

Terminal window
amplify push
✔ Successfully pulled backend environment dev from the cloud.
Current Environment: dev
┌──────────┬───────────────┬───────────┬───────────────────┐
│ Category │ Resource name │ Operation │ Provider plugin │
├──────────┼───────────────┼───────────┼───────────────────┤
│ Function │ graphqlyoga │ Create │ awscloudformation │
├──────────┼───────────────┼───────────┼───────────────────┤
│ Api │ ajcwebdevyoga │ Create │ awscloudformation │
└──────────┴───────────────┴───────────┴───────────────────┘
? Are you sure you want to continue? Yes
All resources are updated in the cloud
REST API endpoint: https://zmvy0jw9dc.execute-api.us-east-1.amazonaws.com/dev

CloudFormation

18 - graphql-yoga-amplify-cloudformation

Lambda Function

19 - graphql-yoga-amplify-lambda-function

Lambda Application

20 - graphql-yoga-amplify-lambda-application

API Gateway

21 - graphql-yoga-amplify-api-gateway

Run test queries on GraphQL Yoga Amplify

Open zmvy0jw9dc.execute-api.us-east-1.amazonaws.com/dev/graphql and run the hello query.

query HELLO_QUERY { hello }

22 - graphql-yoga-amplify

Terminal window
curl --request POST \
--url https://zmvy0jw9dc.execute-api.us-east-1.amazonaws.com/dev/graphql \
--header 'content-type: application/json' \
--data '{"query":"{ hello }"}'

GraphQL Yoga Amplify Final Project Structure

├── .gitignore
└── amplify
└── backend
├── api
│ └── ajcwebdevyoga
│ ├── ajcwebdevyoga-cloudformation-template.json
│ ├── api-params.json
│ └── parameters.json
└── function
└── graphqlyoga
├── amplify.state
├── graphqlyoga-cloudformation-template.json
├── function-parameters.json
└── src
├── event.json
├── index.js
└── package.json

You’re still here? Wow, didn’t think anyone would actually make it to the end.