GraphQL Nested Queries, Relationships, and Different Data Sources Practices

When building a GraphQL API with nested queries and relationships – specifically when you’re using a relational database – it’s important to follow best practices to attain efficient and performant data retrieval while preventing overly nested queries. From the GraphQL API perspective, here are some practices to follow:

  1. Use GraphQL Fragments: Fragments allow you to define reusable sets of fields that can be included in multiple queries. This helps avoid duplicating nested fields and keeps queries concise and readable.
  2. Resolve Nested Data Efficiently: Use efficient data fetching techniques to resolve nested data. Techniques like batch loading and data loaders can help avoid the N+1 query problem, where multiple database queries are triggered for each item in a list.
  3. Limit Depth of Nested Queries: Consider setting a maximum allowed depth for nested queries. In some tools this can be set via configuration, and in most language stacks the libraries focused on GraphQL also support various features and capabilities to get this limitation in place. This helps prevent clients from making excessively deep queries that can lead to performance issues that would, for example, incur a 4, 5 or more tables in a single query into the database!
  4. Pagination: For lists of data, use pagination to limit the amount of data returned in a single query. This prevents queries from becoming overly large and ensures efficient data retrieval.
  5. Use Aliases: Aliases allow clients to request the same field multiple times with different arguments. This can help reduce nesting by fetching data for related entities in a single query.
  6. Avoid Deep Nesting: Strive to keep your GraphQL queries shallow and avoid excessive nesting. If a query becomes too nested, it may be an indication that the schema design needs improvement.
  7. Encourage Specific Queries: Instead of relying solely on generic queries, encourage clients to use specific queries tailored to their needs. This can prevent unnecessary data retrieval and reduce the chance of overly nested queries.
  8. Provide Field Arguments: Offer field arguments to allow clients to customize the shape of the data they retrieve. This way, clients can request only the data they need, reducing the risk of getting overly nested responses.
  9. Use @defer and @stream: GraphQL supports deferred and streamed responses. By using these features, you can provide more fine-grained control over data retrieval and prevent unnecessary waiting for nested data.
  10. Educate API Consumers: If you are building a public API, provide clear documentation and examples on how to use the API efficiently. Educate API consumers on best practices for querying data and avoiding overly nested queries.
  11. Performance Testing: Conduct performance testing on your GraphQL API to identify potential bottlenecks and areas of improvement. This can help you optimize the data fetching process and avoid performance issues due to nested queries.

By following these practices, you can ensure that your GraphQL API provides a smooth and efficient experience for clients, while also preventing the negative impact of overly nested queries on server performance.

But what about situations you’re building a GraphQL API that isn’t going to be built on a relational database? Well you’re in luck, because I’ve done this more than once and I’ve got a few patterns you can use to help ensure your services stay up to snuff.

Apache Cassandra & Mongo DB

When you’re using databases like Apache Cassandra (a wide-column store) or MongoDB (a document-oriented database), there are some additional concerns related to nested queries and data modeling that should be taken into account. For example, Mongo can have nesting in the document itself – and it could go deep – while the document could hold significant nesting, depending on how data is stored and modeled in the underlying BSON (Binary JSON). This can add complexities and the data being queried needs to be understood to realize the implications of querying from something like GraphQL.

  1. Data Modeling for Query Support: Unlike relational databases, Cassandra and MongoDB do not support complex JOIN operations, making it essential to design the data model to support the required queries efficiently. This may involve denormalizing data and duplicating information to facilitate query patterns.
  2. No Transactions: Both Cassandra and MongoDB are NoSQL databases and do not support full ACID transactions across multiple documents or rows. As a result, handling complex nested queries across multiple entities may require careful consideration of eventual consistency and data integrity.
  3. Data Duplication for Performance: To optimize queries, you may need to denormalize and duplicate data, leading to increased storage requirements. Balancing query performance with storage efficiency becomes crucial in such cases.
  4. Aggregation Pipeline (MongoDB): When using MongoDB, the Aggregation Pipeline can be powerful for handling complex data processing and nested queries. Understanding and leveraging the aggregation framework effectively can be essential for optimal performance.
  5. Limitations on Nested Arrays: While both databases support nested data structures (arrays or maps), deeply nested arrays can become challenging to query efficiently. Be cautious when modeling highly nested structures, as it can lead to performance issues.
  6. Data Distribution (Cassandra): In Cassandra, data is distributed across nodes based on the partition key. Designing a proper partitioning strategy is crucial to avoid hotspots and ensure even data distribution for queries.
  7. Secondary Indexes (Cassandra): In Cassandra, using secondary indexes to query nested data can be inefficient. It’s generally recommended to design the schema to support the required queries without relying heavily on secondary indexes.
  8. Data Access Patterns: Understand the common access patterns of your application and design the data model accordingly. The database schema should cater to the specific needs of the queries your application will perform most frequently.
  9. Avoiding Unbounded Queries: In NoSQL databases, unbounded queries can lead to performance issues. Consider using pagination or other query optimizations to limit the amount of data retrieved in a single query.
  10. Sharding and Replication: Both Cassandra and MongoDB are designed to scale horizontally. Consider the implications of sharding and replication when dealing with nested queries, as they can impact query performance and data consistency.
  11. Query Modeling: Model your queries to take advantage of database-specific features, like secondary indexes, compound keys, or materialized views, to optimize performance for specific access patterns.

In conclusion, when you’re using databases like Apache Cassandra or MongoDB the flexibility and scalability force a required and careful consideration of data modeling and query design to efficiently handle nested queries. The complexity can often be more extensive than that of a relational database, but the advantages can be compounded by the very nature of the underlying systems. By understanding these database limitations and optimizing the data model to suit the application’s query patterns, you can make the most of these NoSQL databases while mitigating potential performance bottlenecks.


Elasticsearch, important to note it not being a database, but more specifically a search engine with respective distributed storage capabilities introduces a whole new realm of considerations. Here are a few I’ve bumped into over the years of implementing GraphQL APIs on engines like Elasticsearch.

  1. Data Indexing: Elasticsearch requires data to be indexed before it can be searched. Designing a proper indexing strategy is crucial to ensure that the data is organized and optimized for search queries, including nested queries.
  2. Nested Documents: Elasticsearch supports nested documents, allowing for complex data structures. However, keep in mind that nested queries can be more resource-intensive than regular queries, so optimizing the data model to minimize unnecessary nesting is important.
  3. Query Complexity: Complex nested queries in Elasticsearch can result in more processing overhead. Strive to keep your queries as simple as possible to improve search performance.
  4. Document Size: Elasticsearch performs best with reasonably sized documents. If your documents are too large or too nested, it can negatively impact performance. Consider flattening nested data if possible.
  5. Index Mapping: Define explicit mappings for your Elasticsearch indices to specify how fields should be indexed and queried. This can help optimize query performance and avoid unexpected behavior.
  6. Filter vs. Query Context: Understand the difference between filter context and query context in Elasticsearch queries. Filters are more efficient for simple binary decisions, while queries are better for scoring and relevance.
  7. Aggregations: Elasticsearch provides powerful aggregation capabilities to analyze and summarize data. However, complex aggregations can be resource-intensive, so use them judiciously.
  8. Scoring and Relevance: Elasticsearch uses scoring algorithms to rank search results based on relevance. Ensure that your queries and data model align with the desired relevance of search results.
  9. Pagination and Sorting: Plan for efficient pagination and sorting of search results. Avoid deep pagination, as it can lead to performance issues.
  10. Sharding and Replication: Elasticsearch is a distributed system that uses sharding and replication to achieve scalability and fault tolerance. Be mindful of the impact of sharding and replication on query performance and data consistency.
  11. Tuning Index Settings: Elasticsearch provides various index-level settings that can affect search performance. Tuning these settings based on your application’s needs can significantly impact query execution times.
  12. Data Modeling for Search: Design the data model in a way that aligns with the search use cases of your application. Consider the types of queries you will be performing frequently and optimize the data model accordingly.
  13. Cluster Health and Monitoring: Keep an eye on the cluster health and performance metrics. Monitor and optimize the performance of your Elasticsearch cluster regularly.
  14. Indexing and Search Performance Trade-offs: The indexing and search performance of Elasticsearch can be influenced by various factors. Understanding the trade-offs between indexing speed and query performance is crucial when designing your application.

Apache Kafka What?

Finally, there is Apache Kafka that comes up every now and again. Even though I haven’t implemented a GraphQL API on Kafka yet, it’s been done and I’ve been privy of the implications. Here are a few best practices I’ve picked up for implementing against Kafka.

  1. Data Synchronization: Decide on the data synchronization approach between Kafka and your GraphQL API. Will your GraphQL API act as a producer, a consumer, or both? Plan how data flows between the two systems to maintain consistency.
  2. Message Format: Define a standardized message format for data exchanged between Kafka and the GraphQL API. This format should be easily interpretable by both systems and include all necessary information for processing.
  3. Schema Evolution: Consider how schema changes in Kafka messages are handled by the GraphQL API. Plan for backward and forward compatibility to avoid breaking the API when message schemas evolve.
  4. Consumer Groups: When consuming data from Kafka, decide on appropriate consumer group configurations to manage the processing of messages efficiently and in parallel.
  5. Event Deduplication: Ensure that your GraphQL API can handle duplicate events from Kafka gracefully to avoid processing the same data multiple times.
  6. Error Handling: Implement robust error handling and retry mechanisms when processing Kafka messages. Handle failures gracefully and avoid data loss.
  7. Message Ordering: Be aware that Kafka does not guarantee strict message ordering across different partitions. Consider how this might impact the ordering of data processed by the GraphQL API.
  8. Throttling and Backpressure: Plan for throttling and backpressure mechanisms to control the rate at which data is consumed from Kafka to prevent overwhelming the GraphQL API with incoming messages.
  9. Security: Secure your Kafka system and the GraphQL API to prevent unauthorized access. Use appropriate authentication and authorization mechanisms to protect data integrity and confidentiality.
  10. Performance Optimization: Optimize the performance of your Kafka consumer and GraphQL API to handle high loads efficiently. Consider batching messages and implementing caching mechanisms when applicable.
  11. Monitoring and Logging: Implement monitoring and logging for both Kafka and the GraphQL API. Track message processing times, error rates, and system health to identify and resolve potential issues.
  12. Integration Testing: Conduct integration testing to ensure seamless communication between Kafka and the GraphQL API. Test different scenarios, such as handling delayed messages and high loads, to validate the system’s behavior.
  13. Versioning and Compatibility: Plan for versioning in both Kafka messages and GraphQL schema. This helps maintain compatibility and allows for smooth changes in both systems over time.
  14. Infrastructure Scalability: Design your Kafka and GraphQL systems with scalability in mind to handle future growth and increased data volumes.


Alright, that’s a boat load of practices for the top databases I’ve worked with to implement GraphQL against. I have tons more to add, but that’s enough detail for a single post! Suffice it to say, GraphQL can provide extensive capabilities with these various data sources.