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There's more than one API solution

4 min read ·

I’m kind of sick of all the “tRCP vs GraphQL”, “tRPC will kill REST”, “REST and GraphQL are dead”, and other click baits.

With every new API solution, the previous one was supposed to be dead. REST is believed to be deep in the grave, killed by almighty GraphQL. SOAP was supposedly killed by REST. Yet, people are still using it. How’s that possible?

And guess what. RPC was said to be dead over thirty years ago. A whole long paper was written on how much RPC sucks. And now what? It’s suddenly the best thing that ever happened to web dev, and we should forget about everything else?

I hate that it seems that there can be a place for just one API solution at a time. Yes, there are cycles in technology, and some stuff is more hyped at a given time than others, but it’s not like all the other stuff is suddenly BAD.

Why is RPC popular now? Because other parts of technology evolved. Because full stack JS/TS applications became a thing thanks to Next, Remix, etc. And there was a need for something as simple as RPC (which was meant to be the simplest way of dealing with APIs). It is, in fact, a good solution for the monolith, full-stack apps with small teams that need to iterate fast. Will it be suitable for something else? Could be. Do you have to use it EVERYWHERE else just because it appeared to be awesome for your full-stack Next.js project and yell at people that GraphQL is long gone? Most likely, no.

Some of the problems that were a huge deal with RPC years ago are not necessarily relevant anymore. Some are, but many are fine in the context of full-stack typescript apps. Let’s look at some of them from the paper:


One more thing. I saw in a few places that tRPC (or Blitz RPC) REMOVES the API layer. Not true. There’s still an HTTP call (even if it’s nicely abstracted away). That’s actually another thing for which RPC was criticized: the whole transparency promise (local calls = remote calls). We shouldn’t treat all the calls the same. The remote ones do come with their issues — network latency, different errors, and different performance. Let’s think about it as “almost as local calls”. But we should never say that “this RPC call is the same as calling a function in JavaScript”. Because it may look like it is, but it’s not. And we can’t forget about the things that happen underneath.

As written in A note on distributed computing by Waldo et al.:

Distributed objects are different from local objects, and keeping that difference visible will keep the programmer from forgetting the difference and making mistakes.