From zero to a serverless GraphQL endpoint in a flash

nickymeuleman profile image Nicky Meuleman Originally published at nickymeuleman.netlify.com on ・6 min read

Serverless GraphQL.

Does the combinatiton of those 2 words set off your buzzword detector?
That must be hard, right?

I'm here to tell you it's not!
We'll create a serverless GraphQL endpoint during this blogpost and I promise, it's easier to do than you might think.


We'll use Netlify to host the GraphQL endpoint.
They make it quick and painless to host sites. They also provide a way to work with serverless functions, which is what we're really interested in. Those functions will be deployed on AWS Lambda, but you don't have to worry about how to accomplish that, Netlify will do it for you.

Start by installing the Netlify CLI tool

npm install netlify-cli -g

Create a new directory for this new, awesome project and do some busywork initial setup

git init
npm init -y

Optionally create a repository on GitHub to help Netlify automatically deploy every time you publish an update to the code.

netlify login
netlify init

Choose the "Create & Configure a new site" option and enter through the other options to pick the default settings.

netlify init

A .gitignore file, netlify.toml file and .netlify folder are created.

The netlify.toml holds your config for the Netlify site.
In there you will see a functions = "functions" line.
The "functions" is the path where your serverless-functions go that will be deployed to AWS Lambda

Create an index.html file so something is displayed when you go to the site.

At this point, you have a functioning website, let's add a first serverless function.

First serverless function

Create a functions folder (or whatever you changed that path in the netlify.toml to).

Every .js file in here is a serverless function.
The name of the file will also be the name of the serverless function.
They will become accessible at /.netlify/functions/{function_name}

Every file should export a handler function.

exports.handler = function(event, context, callback) {
  // Hey, I'm lighter than a server, I'm server~~less~~ 🥁💥

Use the callback parameter to either return an error or a response from the function.

Inside the functions directory create a hello.js file.

exports.handler = (event, context, callback) => {
  const response = {
    statusCode: 200,
    body: JSON.stringify({
      msg: `Mr. Mime is the best Pokemon`
  callback(undefined, response);

You could pick another Pokemon here, but you'd be wrong 🤷‍♂

To see it in action, run netlify dev

netlify dev

Open the URL and go to /.netlify/functions/hello

🎉 TADA, there is the response.

Serverless GraphQL using a single file

Time to create another serverless function, the reason for this article, a GraphQL endpoint!

We'll use the apollo-server-lambda package for this.

npm install apollo-server-lambda

Don't forget to add the node_modules folder to the .gitignore to prevent committing the code from that package to git.

Inside the functions directory create a graphql.js file.

Start off that file by importing the things you are going to need.

const { ApolloServer, gql } = require('apollo-server-lambda');

There are 2 big parts to the GraphQL server that will live in this file.
The schema (or typeDefs) and the resolvers.

The schema defines WHAT the operations you can do are, and WHAT the data that's used looks like.

The resolvers are functions that define HOW those operations are done.

As a result, these 2 parts have to be in sync. If they are not, the apollo server will yell at you and your GraphQL endpoint will not work!

For more information on the schema, apollo has a great schema step in their tutorial, which is what we're doing here, only this time, we're going serverless while those docs use an "old-school" server.

const typeDefs = gql`
  type Query {
    hello: String!

With a minimal schema done, it's time to move on to the resolvers!

A resolver is a function with the following signature

fieldName(obj, args, context, info) { result }

For more information on resolvers, the apollo docs have a wealth of information.

In that graphql.js file, define an object called resolvers that corresponds with your schema.

In this case, that means a single function under the Query key named hello.
The schema calls for a string type as result, so that's what we'll return from the resolver.

const resolvers = {
  Query: {
    hello: (obj, args, context) => {
      return 'Hello, world!';

Great! The file now holds 2 variables, but they are not being used yet.

This is where you feed the variables you just created to the ApolloServer you imported from apollo-server-lambda at the top of the file.

For illustration purposes, add playground: true, introspection: true to open it up and make sure you see something useful when you visit /.netlify/functions/graphql.

const server = new ApolloServer({
  playground: true,
  introspection: true

Almost done. Remember how our serverless function should export a handler?

Thankfully, a convenient method on server exists that does this for you.

exports.handler = server.createHandler();

Ready for liftoff 🚀.

Run netlify dev and visit /.netlify/functions/graphql to interact with the serverless GraphQL endpoint you just created using the GraphQL playground at that URL!

hello query

Expanding the GraphQL endpoint

Only being able to query for hello and that query always returning the same string is boring, let's add some Pokemon.


A schema could look like this now

const typeDefs = gql`
  type Query {
    hello: String!
    allPokemon: [Pokemon]!
    pokemonById(id: Int!): Pokemon
    pokemonByName(name: String!): Pokemon
  type Mutation {
    createPokemon(id: Int!, name: String!, isVeryBest: Boolean!): Pokemon
    deletePokemon(id: Int!): Pokemon
    updatePokemon(id: Int!, name: String, isVeryBest: Boolean): Pokemon
  type Pokemon {
    id: ID!
    name: String!
    isVeryBest: Boolean!

Notice how we not only defined fields we can ask for under Query, but also fields that represent actions we can take under the Mutation key and the format of how the data for a single Pokemon looks.

I'll refer back to those apollo schema docs for more information. For information that's even more detailed, have a look at the official GraphQL schema docs.


To support what we want to do, a database is needed!

To keep things simple, we'll add a JavaScript array to our file.

// I know the plural is Pokemon, don't judge me
const pokemons = [
  { id: 122, name: 'Mr. Mime', isVeryBest: true },
  { id: 25, name: 'Pikachu', isVeryBest: false },
  { id: 7, name: 'Squirtle', isVeryBest: false }


Our resolvers should match our schema, so that part of the file now looks like this:

const resolvers = {
  Query: {
    hello: (obj, args, context) => {
      return 'Hello, world!';
    allPokemon: (obj, args, context) => {
      return pokemons;
    pokemonById: (obj, args, context) => {
      return pokemons.find(pokemon => pokemon.id === args.id);
    pokemonByName: (obj, args, context) => {
      return pokemons.find(pokemon => pokemon.name === args.name);
  Mutation: {
    createPokemon: (obj, args, context) => {
      const pokemon = {
        id: args.id,
        name: args.name,
        isVeryBest: args.isVeryBest
      return pokemon;
    updatePokemon: (obj, args, context) => {
      const pokemon = pokemons.find(pokemon => pokemon.id === args.id);
      if (args.name) pokemon.name = args.name;
      if (args.isVeryBest) pokemon.isVeryBest = args.isVeryBest;
      return pokemon;
    deletePokemon: (obj, args, context) => {
      const index = pokemons.findIndex(pokemon => pokemon.id === args.id);
      const pokemon = pokemons[index];
      pokemons.splice(index, 1);
      return pokemon;

Trying out the additions

Running netlify dev and visiting the GraphQL playground again, you can interact with a GraphQL endpoint that's a little more fleshed out.

create pokemon

Remember, since that super hightech database is a JavaScript array, any changes you make to it will disappear when the serverless-function shuts down and boots up again!


This really excited me, so I used it in a sideproject that's basically a runaway joke.

It has a serverless GraphQL endpoint that talks to FaunaDB, is written in TypeScript and has a small Gatsby frontend.

In the next part of this blogpost, we'll explore how to use multiple files to create our GraphQL endpoint and replace our database with FaunaDB.

For a sneak peak, feel free to look at the code for the examples.

GitHub logo NickyMeuleman / serverless-graphql

Serverless GraphQL endpoint


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quantuminformation profile image

Nice work thx