AWS re:Invent 2017 Day 2: AWS AppSync – GraphQL as a Service

Day two at re:Invent 2017 was incredibly packed, crowded, and exciting. My favorite announcement so far is the new AWS AppSync, as it aligns with one of the most promising (yet somehow controversial) design principles adopted by the serverless community: GraphQL.

If you are not familiar with GraphQL, we recently explained how to write GraphQL Apps using AWS Lambda, and hosted a webinar about the Love Story between Serverless and GraphQL. Here’s a quick look at what you need to know about AWS AppSync.

Mobile and Web App Challenges

I attended the first deep dive session on AWS AppSync, which brilliantly summarized the main technical challenges faced by most mobile and web applications:

  • Authentication & user management
  • Efficient network usage
  • Multi-device support
  • Data synchronization between devices
  • Offline data access
  • Real-time data streams
  • Cloud data conflict detection & resolution
  • Running server-side code (without managing servers)

Each of these challenges could merit its own article, but I am assuming that everyone has experienced a really bad mobile UX, and at least once from the user perspective (any implicit reference to the AWS re:Invent app is clearly unintentional). Moreover, most of these challenges are a direct consequence of how we’ve been designing RESTful interfaces for web and mobile.
If you are a web or mobile developer, GraphQL can help you solve many of these challenges, especially the ones related to network optimization, thanks to dynamic queries, and real-time data streams, thanks to GraphQL subscriptions.

How is GraphQL better than REST?

GraphQL can alleviate the pain caused by many complex problems that are pretty much unsolvable with REST only. This includes API resource relationships, reduced or customized information in API responses, dynamic query support, advanced ordering and paging, push notifications, etc.
GraphQL is basically a query language for APIs, and it makes it very easy to add an abstraction layer on top of already existing data and APIs. Plus, it’s strongly typed and can act as a self-documenting contract between client and server.
Again, if you are not familiar with the concept of GraphQL Queries, Mutations, and Subscriptions, have a read here (it gets more technical from now on!).
MapTap with AWS AppSync

AWS AppSync Features & Gotchas

AWS AppSync allows you to focus on building apps instead of managing all the infrastructure needed to run GraphQL (either with or without servers).
AppSync will connect queries to AWS resources, and it provides built-in offline and real-time stream support via client-side libraries, which also come with different strategies for data conflict resolution (even custom Lambda-based implementations!). The service offers enterprise-level security features such as API keys, IAM, and Cognito User Pools support.
As with any GraphQL application, your development workflow would look like the following:

  1. Define your schema (queries, mutations, and subscriptions)
  2. Define resolvers (data sources)
  3. Use client tooling to fetch data via the GraphQL endpoint

AWS AppSync provides built-in support for three data sources:

  • DynamoDB
  • ElasticSearch
  • Lambda (for custom or generated fields)

The AppSync client library is available both for mobile and web clients (iOS, Android, JavaScript, and React Native). Offline support is pretty straightforward, and the client will automatically sync data when a network is available. Since GraphQL is an open standard, you are not forced to use the AppSync client. In fact, any open-source GraphQL client will work. Of course, AppSync endpoints can be used by servers, too.
Mutation Resolvers can be mapped into data sources via mapping templates (Velocity). As with API Gateway templates, they come with a few utilities such as JSON conversion, unique ID generation, etc., and ready-to-use sample templates. Based on the specific data source, templates will allow for complete customization of the backend query (e.g. DynamoDB PutItem, ElasticSearch geolocation queries, etc.).
Since you’ll spend most of the time working with the Schema Editor, I was quite happy to notice that it is quite user-friendly, and it comes with search and auto-complete capabilities.

AWS AppSync and AWS Lambda

You can use AWS Lambda to compute dynamic fields, eventually in a batch fashion. For example, imagine that your schema defines a “paid” field that needs to be fetched from a third-party payment system for each invoice. You would probably define a ComputePaid Function and a ComputePaidBatch Function.
The batch function will be automatically invoked to process the value of multiple records without incurring the N+1 problem. Of course, you could use the same Lambda Function for individual and batch processing.

AWS AppSync Pricing

AppSync will be charged based on the total number of operations and real-time updates. More detailed, real-time updates are charged based on the number of updates and the minutes of connection.
Here are the numbers:

  • $4 per million Query and Data Modification Operations
  • $2 per million Real-time Updates
  • $0.08 per million minutes of connection to the AWS AppSync service

Please note that data transfer is charged at the EC2 data transfer rate and that real-time updates are priced per 5kb payload of data delivered (prorated). While the service is completely free during the preview phase, it will come with a free tier once it is generally available.
Also note that AppSync has no minimum fees or mandatory service usage, compared to other similar offerings such as Graphcool.

Conclusions

I expect that AWS AppSync will be well received by the serverless community, and it will make GraphQL much easier to adopt for many use cases.
It will be a great option for applications that need to drastically optimize data delivery, or to transparently manage many data sources under the hood. Moreover, it will also allow developers to design self-documenting APIs powered by a strong type system and a powerful set of developer tools that will simplify API evolution.
Keep in mind that AWS AppSync is still in preview, but you can start playing with it by signing up here.
I’m looking forward to playing with it myself next week, and I can’t wait to share my first results with the community. If you already use GraphQL in production, let us know what you think of AWS AppSync in the comments below!

Avatar

Written by

Alex Casalboni

Alex is a Software Engineer with a great passion for music and web technologies. He's experienced in web development and software design, with a particular focus on frontend and UX.


Related Posts

Amanda Cross
Amanda Cross
— April 9, 2021

New Content: Platforms, Programming, and DevOps – Something for Everyone

This month our team of expert certification specialists released three new or updated learning paths, 16 courses, 13 hands-on labs, and four lab challenges! New content on Cloud Academy You can always visit our Content Roadmap to see what’s just released as well as what’s coming soon....

Read more
  • alibaba
  • AWS
  • Azure
  • DevOps
  • Google Cloud Platform
  • programming
  • Security
Luca Casartelli
Luca Casartelli
— March 31, 2021

Mastering AWS Organizations Service Control Policies

Service Control Policies (SCPs) are IAM-like policies to manage permissions in AWS Organizations. SCPs restrict the actions allowed for accounts within the organization making each one of them compliant with your guidelines. SCPs are not meant to grant permissions; you should consider ...

Read more
  • AWS
  • Organizations
  • SCP
Amanda Cross
Amanda Cross
— March 12, 2021

New Content: Focus on DevOps and Programming Content this Month

This month our team of expert certification specialists released 12 new or updated learning paths, 15 courses, 25 hands-on labs, and four lab challenges! New content on Cloud Academy You can always visit our Content Roadmap to see what’s just released as well as what’s coming soon. Ja...

Read more
  • alibaba
  • AWS
  • Azure
  • DevOps
  • Google Cloud Platform
  • programming
Amanda Cross
Amanda Cross
— February 12, 2021

New Content: Get Ready for the CISM Cert Exam & Learn About Alibaba, Plus All the AWS, GCP, and Azure Courses You Know You Can Count On

This month our team of intrepid certification specialists released five learning paths, seven courses, 19 hands-on labs, and three lab challenges!  One particularly interesting new learning path is Certified Information Security Manager (CISM) Foundations. After completing this learn...

Read more
  • alibaba
  • AWS
  • Azure
  • cism
  • DevOps
  • Google Cloud Platform
  • programming
Avatar
Cloud Academy Team
— January 31, 2021

Which Certifications Should I Get?

The old AWS slogan, “Cloud is the new normal” is indeed a reality today. Really, cloud has been the new normal for a while now and getting credentials has become an increasingly effective way to quickly showcase your abilities to recruiters and companies. With all that in mind, the s...

Read more
  • AWS
  • Azure
  • Certifications
  • Cloud Computing
  • Google Cloud Platform
Avatar
Andrew Larkin
— January 31, 2021

The 12 AWS Certifications: Which is Right for You and Your Team?

As companies increasingly shift workloads to the public cloud, cloud computing has moved from a nice-to-have to a core competency in the enterprise. This shift requires a new set of skills to design, deploy, and manage applications in cloud computing. As the market leader and most ma...

Read more
  • AWS
  • AWS Certifications
Avatar
Stuart Scott
— January 29, 2021

AWS Certified Solutions Architect Associate: A Study Guide

Want to take a really impactful step in your technical career? Explore the AWS Solutions Architect Associate certificate. Its new version (SAA-C02) was released on March 23, 2020. The AWS Solutions Architect - Associate Certification (or Sol Arch Associate for short) offers some ...

Read more
  • AWS
  • AWS Certifications
  • AWS Certified Solutions Architect Associate
Amanda Cross
Amanda Cross
— January 7, 2021

New Content: AWS Terraform, Java Programming Lab Challenges, Azure DP-900 & DP-300 Certification Exam Prep, Plus Plenty More Amazon, Google, Microsoft, and Big Data Courses

This month our Content Team continues building the catalog of courses for everyone learning about AWS, GCP, and Microsoft Azure. In addition, this month’s updates include several Java programming lab challenges and a couple of courses on big data. In total, we released five new learning...

Read more
  • AWS
  • Azure
  • DevOps
  • Google Cloud Platform
  • Machine Learning
  • programming
Avatar
Stuart Scott
— December 17, 2020

Where Should You Be Focusing Your AWS Security Efforts?

Another day, another re:Invent session! This time I listened to Stephen Schmidt’s session, “AWS Security: Where we've been, where we're going.” Amongst covering the highlights of AWS security during 2020, a number of newly added AWS features/services were discussed, including: AWS Audit...

Read more
  • AWS
  • AWS re:Invent
  • cloud security
Joe Nemer
Joe Nemer
— December 4, 2020

AWS re:Invent: 2020 Keynote Top Highlights and More

We’ve gotten through the first five days of the special all-virtual 2020 edition of AWS re:Invent. It’s always a really exciting time for practitioners in the field to see what features and services AWS has cooked up for the year ahead.  This year’s conference is a marathon and not a...

Read more
  • AWS
  • AWS Glue Elastic Views
  • AWS re:Invent
Bryony Harrower
Bryony Harrower
— November 6, 2020

WARNING: Great Cloud Content Ahead

At Cloud Academy, content is at the heart of what we do. We work with the world’s leading cloud and operations teams to develop video courses and learning paths that accelerate teams and drive digital transformation. First and foremost, we listen to our customers’ needs and we stay ahea...

Read more
  • AWS
  • Azure
  • content roadmap
  • GCP
Joe Nemer
Joe Nemer
— October 25, 2020

Excelling in AWS, Azure, and Beyond – How Danut Prisacaru Prepares for the Future

Meet Danut Prisacaru. Danut has been a Software Architect for the past 10 years and has been involved in Software Engineering for 30 years. He’s passionate about software and learning, and jokes that coding is basically the only thing he can do well (!). We think his enthusiasm shines t...

Read more
  • AWS
  • careers
  • champions
  • upskilling