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From REST to GraphQL: a different way to create an API (with Apollo & NodeJS)

Ready to make the jump to a GraphQL API? If you already have a MySQL database you have an excellent starting point for creating a scalable API. In this tutorial, we will cover how to create models based on your database create a NodeJS GraphQL API that reads the data from the database, and learn how to make relations in your GraphQL API between different tables.

In this tutorial, we will build a small GraphQL endpoint for a ticketing system. We want to create an endpoint where we can read tickets and get their associated data such as user, status, and priority.

The building blocks we will be using are:

  • (An existing) MySQL database
  • NodeJS
  • Express (web framework for Node.js)
  • Apollo (tools to create GraphQL endpoints)
  • Sequelize (Object-Relational Mapping package)
  • Webpack (to package the application)
  • Docker (to spin up a local MySQL database, it’s optional as long as you have a MySQL instance)

Don’t worry if you don’t know every piece I just noted, I will describe every step along the way. If you want to code along, you can check out this repository and clone the start of the tutorial release with this command:

git clone <https://github.com/DirkWolthuis/graphql-express-migrating-mysql> --branch start

Step 1: Database layer

First, we’ll assume that we’re working with an existing database. I’ve created an SQL file that you can import into MySQL database. I like running my MySQL database inside a Docker container, you can use the docker-compose.yaml file (inside the repository) to start a MySQL container.

The database has four tables: tickets, priorities, status, and users. The tables have the following structure:

Tickets

+---------------------+------------------+------+-----+-------------------+----------------+
| Field               | Type             | Null | Key | Default           | Extra          |
+---------------------+------------------+------+-----+-------------------+----------------+
| id                  | int(11) unsigned | NO   | PRI | NULL              | auto_increment |
| subject             | varchar(256)     | NO   |     | NULL              |                |
| priority_id         | int(11)          | NO   |     | NULL              |                |
| status_id           | tinyint(4)       | NO   |     | NULL              |                |
| user_id             | int(11)          | NO   |     | NULL              |                |
| assigned_to_user_id | int(11)          | YES  |     | NULL              |                |
+---------------------+------------------+------+-----+-------------------+----------------+

Users

+-------+------------------+------+-----+---------+----------------+
| Field | Type             | Null | Key | Default | Extra          |
+-------+------------------+------+-----+---------+----------------+
| id    | int(10) unsigned | NO   | PRI | NULL    | auto_increment |
| name  | varchar(256)     | NO   |     | NULL    |                |
| email | varchar(256)     | NO   |     | NULL    |                |
+-------+------------------+------+-----+---------+----------------+

Priorities

+-------+------------------+------+-----+---------+----------------+
| Field | Type             | Null | Key | Default | Extra          |
+-------+------------------+------+-----+---------+----------------+
| id    | int(10) unsigned | NO   | PRI | NULL    | auto_increment |
| slug  | varchar(64)      | NO   |     | NULL    |                |
| name  | varchar(256)     | NO   |     | NULL    |                |
+-------+------------------+------+-----+---------+----------------+

Status

+-------+------------------+------+-----+---------+----------------+
| Field | Type             | Null | Key | Default | Extra          |
+-------+------------------+------+-----+---------+----------------+
| id    | int(10) unsigned | NO   | PRI | NULL    | auto_increment |
| slug  | varchar(64)      | NO   |     | NULL    |                |
| name  | varchar(256)     | NO   |     | NULL    |                |
+-------+------------------+------+-----+---------+----------------+

Create your own database with the schematics above or import the SQL file into your MySQL database and we are ready to start coding. You can find the SQL file inside the repository in the directory tutorial_assets.

Step 2: Bootstrapping the application

In the repository for this tutorial, I have set up Webpack to compile the app.js file inside the dist directory. It serves a basic Express Hello World app. After cloning the project you need to run npm install to install the dependencies.

Finished installing? You can run npm run start to start the app. It will serve an endpoint on http://localhost:5000.

Cool. Let’s start building our GraphQL API!

Step 3: Creating the database models

Virtually every framework uses models to interact with a database. To interact with our MySQL database we’re using Sequelize as ORM (Object-Relational Mapping) package. Let’s start by adding the packages (the mysql2 package is necessary to connect to the MySQL database).

npm install sequelize mysql2

Now we can do one of two things, we can either create the database models by hand or auto-generate with an extra package. For this tutorial creating the models by hand would not be a problem, we have just four small tables in our database. But when you are migrating a bigger database you might want something more automated. Luckily, there is a package to generate Sequelize database files based on an existing database. The package is named Sequelize-Auto and it can be installed globally with NPM.

npm install -g sequelize-auto mysql

In order to migrate the database in a more automated way, we can use the sequelize-auto command. We need to insert our MySQL database credentials in the command to generate the models. If you are using the provided MySQL dump from step 1, I’ve created a config JSON file that you need to use.

The sequelize-auto-settings.json is located in the tutorial_assets directory. If you’re using your own database for this tutorial, checkout this settings page on Sequelize API documentation to find out what settings you need.

sequelize-auto -h <host> -d <database> -u <user> -x [password] -p [port]  --dialect [dialect] -c [/path/to/config] -o [/path/to/models]

So in my case:

sequelize-auto -h localhost -d graphql-mysql-tutorial -u graphql -x 123456 -p 8006  --dialect mysql -c /Users/wolthuis/Documents/websites/tutorials/graphql-migrating-mysql/tutorial_assets/sequelize-auto-settings.json -o /Users/wolthuis/Documents/websites/tutorials/graphql-migrating-mysql/app/models

And there we go! Four files appeared in app/models directory. In our file let’s start with importing Sequelize and setting up some variables.

Step 4: Implementing the database models

We now need to implement the database models. In the app directory create a database.js file. In this file we import the database models and export them so we can use them anywhere in our app.

const Sequelize = require('sequelize')

var db = {}

const sequelize = new Sequelize(
    'DATABASE_NAME',
    'DATABASE_USER',
    'DATABASE_PASSWORD',
    {
        host: 'DATABASE_HOST',
        port: 'DATABASE_PORT',
        dialect: 'mysql',
        define: {
            freezeTableName: true,
        },
        pool: {
            max: 5,
            min: 0,
            acquire: 30000,
            idle: 10000,
        },
        // <http://docs.sequelizejs.com/manual/tutorial/querying.html#operators>
        operatorsAliases: false,
    },
)

let models = []

// Initialize models
models.forEach(model => {
    const seqModel = model(sequelize, Sequelize)
    db[seqModel.name] = seqModel
})

// Apply associations
Object.keys(db).forEach(key => {
    if ('associate' in db[key]) {
        db[key].associate(db)
    }
})

db.sequelize = sequelize
db.Sequelize = Sequelize

module.exports = db

Okay so we need to do two things, fill in our MySQL database credentials and import the freshly created models. Normally you would use environment variables to safely pass around sensitive data, but for tutorial purposes I’m just going to hard code some values inside the database.js file. So the database.js file with credentials in imports looks something like this:

const Sequelize = require('sequelize')

var db = {}

const sequelize = new Sequelize('graphql-mysql-tutorial', 'graphql', '123456', {
    host: 'localhost',
    port: '8006',
    dialect: 'mysql',
    define: {
        freezeTableName: true,
    },
    pool: {
        max: 5,
        min: 0,
        acquire: 30000,
        idle: 10000,
    },
    // <http://docs.sequelizejs.com/manual/tutorial/querying.html#operators>
    operatorsAliases: false,
})

let models = [
    require('./models/priorities.js'),
    require('./models/status.js'),
    require('./models/tickets.js'),
    require('./models/users.js'),
]

// Initialize models
models.forEach(model => {
    const seqModel = model(sequelize, Sequelize)
    db[seqModel.name] = seqModel
})

// Apply associations
Object.keys(db).forEach(key => {
    if ('associate' in db[key]) {
        db[key].associate(db)
    }
})

db.sequelize = sequelize
db.Sequelize = Sequelize

module.exports = db

Great, we can now import the db variable anywhere in our app and access all of our models. In the next steps we are surely going to use that variable to access our data.

Step 5: Setting up an Apollo server

Apollo is a layer built on top of the GraphQL specification and they provide excellent developer tools. They also provide a package to integrate Apollo server into an (existing) Express application. We are going to use this package, in my experience the best way to create a GraphQL API is to sometimes fall back on a ‘normal’ rest API. For example, when creating an authentication endpoint I prefer to keep GraphQL and the authentication routes completely separated.

To start, we first need to add two packages:

npm install apollo-server-express graphql

After installing we need to do some setup inside app.js to couple Apollo and Express. We start by importing ApolloServer:

const { ApolloServer } = require('apollo-server-express')

Then we create a new instance of the Apollo server:

const server = new ApolloServer({
        modules: []
})

And the last step we apply the Apollo server as middleware on the existing Express app:

server.applyMiddleware({ app })

We can’t yet start our app, without any modules Apollo server will throw an error. So in the next step we are going to implement our database entities into GraphQL endpoint so we can reach them with a GraphQL query.

Step 6: Creating our GraphQL types and resolvers

In GraphQL, you need types and resolvers. Types describe the data you can either fetch or write via a GraphQL endpoint. Resolvers are the logic to resolve a request from a user.

Inside of the GraphQL directory, we create a new file with the name tickets.js. Inside this file we will include a variable from the apollo-server-express package that we’ll use to create GraphQL type definitions, include our db variable and two empty objects for our type GraphQL definitions and GraphQL resolvers.

import { gql } from 'apollo-server-express'
import * as db from '../database'

export const typeDefs = gql`
    
`
export const resolvers = {
}

Creating the GraphQL types

So first we’re filling the typeDefs variable. You can see that we are using the gql variable from the apollo-server-express package. The gql variable lets us write type definitions that are readable for the package.

In the typeDefs variable we need to do two things, extend the Query type and create a new type called Ticket. The reason that we need to extend the Query type is because GraphQL always works with a top level type called Query. Inside that type are other types nested and that’s how GraphQL knows with types are available in your GraphQL API.

Okay so let’s extend the Query type:

export const typeDefs = gql`
    extend type Query {
        tickets: [Ticket]
        ticket(id: ID!): Ticket
    }
    type Ticket {
        
    }
`

So in the code above we did a couple of things. We let GraphQL know we want to extend the Query with two new entities: ticket and tickets.

Tickets returns an array of tickets:

tickets: [Ticket]

Ticket returns a single type of Ticket. The ticket type will receive an argument called id, of type ID and can’t be null (so in other words, the argument is required). The exclamation mark in a GraphQL type symbolize that a value can’t be null:

ticket(id: ID!): Ticket

For now our Ticket type is empty, so let’s fill in this type:

export const typeDefs = gql`
    extend type Query {
        tickets: [Ticket]
        ticket(id: ID!): Ticket
    }
    type Ticket {
        id: ID!
        subject: String
        priority_id: Int
        status_id: Int
        user_id: Int
        assigned_to_user_id: Int
    }
`

So in de above code we described out of which types the ticket type is composed. It is a 100% match with our database model. This is true for now, but will change in the future when we are going to add relations between our types/models.

Creating the GraphQL resolvers

So we created our types for the ticket entity. Now let’s create the resolver. The resolver needs to more or less reflect our types. Inside the resolver object we also start with a top level Query object.

export const resolvers = {
    Query: {},
}

Inside the query, we reflect our query type so we add two keys: ticket and tickets. We use our db (database) variable to ‘resolve’ the data from the database.

export const resolvers = {
    Query: {
        tickets: async () => db.tickets.findAll(),
        ticket: async (obj, args, context, info) =>
            db.tickets.findByPk(args.id),
    },
}

A resolver receives a couple of arguments we can use to resolve the delete request. The obj is the root object, we will use this root object to make relations. The args are the function arguments we defined in the types. So in case of our tickets it’s an ID of the ticket we need to get. If you want to read more about obj, args, context, info check out the Apollo Docs.

Adding the ticket module to our Apollo server

So we’ve created a module, we just need to import it into our application inside the app.js. To do so, add the module:

const server = new ApolloServer({
    modules: [require('./GraphQL/tickets')],
})

Now do the same for priorities, users and status and also import those modules:

const server = new ApolloServer({
    modules: [
        require('./GraphQL/tickets'),
        require('./GraphQL/status'),
        require('./GraphQL/users'),
        require('./GraphQL/priorities'),
    ],
})

After starting the app again, go to localhost:5000/graphql and you will come into the Apollo GraphQL query builder environment. In this environment, you can test your API and create queries that you will use later in other applications. Also, you can explore your api with the docs button on the right side. Because GraphQL is typed, you automatically have API documentation. Pretty cool!

Apollo GraphQL tooling

Step 7: Creating relations between data

So this is pretty cool, but it would be nice to automatically get the users name when getting a ticket. In the current state of our application we can only get the user id associated with the ticket. In this step we will create a relation between the ticket and the users.

Adding the user type on the ticket type

So first let’s edit the Ticket type. We need to let GraphQL know that we want to request a user of the type user:

export const typeDefs = gql`
    extend type Query {
        tickets: [Ticket]
        ticket(id: ID!): Ticket
    }
    type Ticket {
        id: ID!
        subject: String
        priority_id: Int
        status_id: Int
        user_id: Int
        user: User
        assigned_to_user_id: Int
    }
`

Adding a extra resolver for the user

Next, we need to add a nested resolver that will resolve the user inside the ticket. In the resolver object we are going to add the key Ticket.That’s how GraphQL knows to resolve nested queries, when we request a type inside an other type. In this case resolver, the User type, inside the Ticket type:

export const resolvers = {
    Query: {
        tickets: async () => db.tickets.findAll(),
        ticket: async (obj, args, context, info) =>
            db.tickets.findByPk(args.id),
    },
    Ticket: {
        user: async (obj, args, context, info) => db.users.findByPk(obj.user_id),
    },
}

You see we are using the obj to access the ticket data. In the ticket data the user_id is set, so we can get the right user from the database.

So let’s see if our code works. I’ve created this query to see if I can get the nested user data. Take note that you also need to specify which fields you want from the user type, in my case the id, name and email field.

{
  ticket(id: 3){
    id
    subject
    user{
      id
      name
      email
    }
  }
}

Great, it works! This is what Apollo returns:

Apollo GraphQL results

Now add the other relationships the same way: priority, status and assignedtouser. After finishing adding the other nested resolver your tickets.js file will look something like this:

import { gql } from 'apollo-server-express'
import * as db from '../database'
export const typeDefs = gql`
    extend type Query {
        tickets: [Ticket]
        ticket(id: ID!): Ticket
    }
    type Ticket {
        id: ID!
        subject: String
        priority_id: Int
        priority: Priority
        status_id: Int
        status: Status
        user_id: Int
        user: User
        assigned_to_user_id: Int
        assigned_to_user: User
    }
`
export const resolvers = {
    Query: {
        tickets: async () => db.tickets.findAll(),
        ticket: async (obj, args, context, info) =>
            db.tickets.findByPk(args.id),
    },
    Ticket: {
        user: async (obj, args, context, info) =>
            db.users.findByPk(obj.user_id),
        priority: async (obj, args, context, info) =>
            db.priorities.findByPk(obj.priority_id),
        status: async (obj, args, context, info) =>
            db.status.findByPk(obj.status_id),
        assigned_to_user: async (obj, args, context, info) =>
            db.users.findByPk(obj.assigned_to_user_id),
    },
}

Go to localhost:5000/graphql and construct a query that gets all the tickets with their status, priorities and users. With this query:

{
  tickets{
    subject
    status{
      slug
    }
    priority{
      slug
    }
    user{
      name
    }
    assigned_to_user{
      name
    }
  }
}

I get the following tickets and their attributes:

{
  "data": {
    "tickets": [
      {
        "subject": "My computer is on fire🔥🔥",
        "status": {
          "slug": "open"
        },
        "priority": {
          "slug": "high"
        },
        "user": {
          "name": "Dirk Wolthuis"
        },
        "assigned_to_user": null
      },
      {
        "subject": "MS Word is not starting, can someone help?👴🏿",
        "status": {
          "slug": "doing"
        },
        "priority": {
          "slug": "low"
        },
        "user": {
          "name": "Chris Vogt"
        },
        "assigned_to_user": {
          "name": "Dirk Wolthuis"
        }
      },
      {
        "subject": "There is a bug in the 🛒 of the webshop, steps to reproduce are included",
        "status": {
          "slug": "doing"
        },
        "priority": {
          "slug": "high"
        },
        "user": {
          "name": "Andrew Clark"
        },
        "assigned_to_user": {
          "name": "Dirk Wolthuis"
        }
      },
      {
        "subject": "404 error: website not found - website down?💀",
        "status": {
          "slug": "closed"
        },
        "priority": {
          "slug": "high"
        },
        "user": {
          "name": "Andrew Clark"
        },
        "assigned_to_user": {
          "name": "Dirk Wolthuis"
        }
      }
    ]
  }
}

Conclusion

Cool we’ve created a usable GraphQL API that you can customize any way you want. You can add multiple layers of relationships between entities. And after creating a new database table you can easily create the required Sequelize models for your application. For the sake of this tutorial we’ve created a read-only database. Just want to checkout the code? You can find it in this repository. If you want to learn more about how to manipulate data in the database, you can check out Designing Mutations or read this post about Mutations. The setup of the server is a little bit different, but the logic is the same.