Batching (DataLoader)


A GraphQL query is resolved by calling the resolver functions for the fields inside the query. For example, consider the following schema:

type Query {
  user(id: ID!): User

type User {
  id: ID!
  name: String

Now assume the corresponding resolvers are implemented as follows:

const resolvers = {
  Query: {
    user: (_, args) => {
      return fetchUserById( // hit the database

Consider the situation where a GraphQL server now receives the following query:

query {
  user(id: "abc") {

The server's GraphQL execution engine now needs to invoke the resolvers for the fields contained in the query: user, id and name. This is easy enough and there's not a lot to optimize for just yet.

Now assume the schema has another root field called users that allows to retrieve a list of users by their id:

type Query {
  users(ids: [String!]!): [User!]!

Here is what the resolver implementation looks ike:

const resolvers = {
  Query: {
    users: async (_, args) => {
      const { ids } = args
      const users = []
      for (const id of ids) {
        const user = await fetchUserById(id) // hit the database
      return users

This time the performance trap is very apparent. A long list of IDs might cause the server to hit the database several times, each database access involves an actual database query and the corresponding performance penalty that comes along with it.

The optimization strategy to be applied in these cases is called batching: Instead of hitting the database multiple times, it's preferred to "collect" all database queries and send them as a single one. The database invokations are now batched.


Facebook's DataLoader library implements the above approach to batching by leveraging the process.nextTick() function provided by Node.js.

Note: The DataLoader implements a relatively simple but very effective batching pattern. If you want to learn how it works in detail, watch this excellent video by Lee Byron: DataLoder - Source code walktrough

For every resource (e.g. users) that can be loaded in batches, one DataLoader can be instantiated with a batch function that knows how to fetch multiple instances of this resource.

The batch function needs to fulfill two simple requirements:

  1. It must takes an array of keys as input arguments. Each key identifies one instance of the resource to be loaded.
  2. It must return an array of Promises. Each Promise must resolve to an instance of the corresponding resource (or reject). The length and order of the input array needs to be retained in the output array!

Considering the example from above, the batch function would provide a way to take multiple user IDs at once and send them as a single query to the database in order to load the corresponding user instances.

Here is a simple example demonstrating that technique.


When resolvers don't retrieve their data from a database but rather from another GraphQL API (which is a common scenario in schema stitching), the DataLoader pattern can be applied as well.

To see what this looks like in practice, check out the BatchedGraphQLClient where this technique is applied.

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