PostGraphile Realtime

Every application is different, and no more so than when it comes to their realtime requirements. Some applications are read-heavy, others write-heavy, and others are collaborative and need to put in effort to avoid conflicts between multiple people editing the same things at the same time (e.g. Google Docs).

PostGraphile focusses on customisability and extensibility; rather than giving a one-size-fits-all solution, we provide the baseline subscriptions and live queries functionality in core, and the rest is achieved by adding and combining plugins - the official ones, ones made by the community, or ones you've developed in-house. This enables you to use whatever technology best suits your requirements to provide the realtime features to PostGraphile.

First, though, there are two main types of real-time provided by PostGraphile — "subscriptions" (which are event based) and "live queries" (which are reactive).

Subscriptions

"Subscriptions" are a way of having a new proactively sent to the client automatically whenever a particular event occurs on the server side, such as:

subscription {
  chatMessageAdded(channel: 27) {
    id
    message
    author { id name avatarUrl }
    timestamp
  }
}

This example subscription would result in a new response whenever a new message is added to channel 27. Note that a normal subscription such as this one only triggers when the event occurs (i.e. chat message added) - it does not trigger when the message is edited, or if the author changes their avatar.

Subscriptions are part of the latest GraphQL specification, and are well supported by many clients.

When to use subscriptions:

  • When you know exactly what events will trigger an update
  • When you care about an event (e.g. "broadcast") rather than a change in state
  • When performance and scalability is a strong concern

Find out more about subscriptions in PostGraphile.

Live queries [EXPERIMENTAL]

"Live queries" allow you to be notified whenever the result of a selection set would differ. For example, given the PostGraphile live query request:

subscription {
  allUsersList(condition: { firstName: "Alice" }) {
    id
    name
    friendsList {
      id
      name
    }
  }
}

a new result set will be automatically sent to the client time any of the returned Alices change, when an Alice is added or removed, when an Alice gains or loses a friend, or when one of the Alice's friends' names change - anything that'd result in a change to the original response.

Live queries are not part of the GraphQL specification (yet) and each backend implements them in different ways. We use the subscription operation type to maximise compatibility with your existing tooling, rather than using a directive-based approach. Your client will not know the difference between a subscription and a live query - that's the server's concern.

When to use live queries:

  • If you want to automatically update your page whenever a piece of data on the server changes (e.g. a realtime graph of stock prices)
  • When you want to batching multiple updates together, for example if your client is being overwhelmed due to too many events firing
  • When you have a small query you want to monitor (the smaller the query the better for live queries because the entire result is re-calculated and sent every time a change occurs - this is quite the opposite of normal GraphQL)
  • When you want to fawn over the power of GraphQL 🤤

Find out more about live queries in PostGraphile.