tRPC or GraphQL

14 May 2024

Choosing Between tRPC or GraphQL in Next.js

Ed Robinson, Lead Software Engineer

Understanding the Key Differences Between tRPC and GraphQL

When building modern web applications, developers often face the challenge of choosing the right API architecture. Two popular options in the Next.js ecosystem are tRPC and GraphQL. While both aim to simplify API development and provide a seamless client-server communication experience, they have distinct differences that can impact your project's performance, scalability, and maintainability.

What is tRPC and How Does it Work?

tRPC (TypeScript Remote Procedure Call) is a lightweight, type-safe framework for building APIs in Next.js applications. It leverages TypeScript's static typing capabilities to generate type-safe client and server code, eliminating the need for manual type definitions and reducing the chances of runtime errors.

With tRPC, you define your API endpoints as simple TypeScript functions on the server-side. These functions are then automatically exposed as API routes, allowing the client to invoke them seamlessly. tRPC handles the serialization and deserialization of data, ensuring type safety throughout the communication process.

One of the key benefits of using tRPC is its simplicity and ease of use. It integrates seamlessly with Next.js' file-based routing system, making it straightforward to define and organize your API endpoints. Additionally, tRPC's minimal setup and configuration requirements make it an attractive choice for developers who prefer a lightweight and efficient API solution.

The Fundamentals of GraphQL

GraphQL, on the other hand, is a query language and runtime for APIs. It provides a flexible and efficient way to fetch data from the server, allowing clients to request exactly what they need and nothing more. GraphQL APIs are defined using a schema, which specifies the available data types, queries, and mutations.

One of the core principles of GraphQL is its strong typing system. By defining a schema, you establish a contract between the client and the server, ensuring that the data being exchanged adheres to a specific structure. This helps catch errors early in the development process and provides a clear understanding of the API's capabilities.

GraphQL's flexibility is another key advantage. Clients can query for specific fields within a data type, allowing them to retrieve only the necessary information. This granular control over data fetching can lead to improved performance by reducing the amount of data transferred over the network.

To get to know all the advantages it offers, read our article on 10 Reasons for GraphQL.

Comparing the API Design and Development Experience

When it comes to API design and development experience, tRPC and GraphQL have their own strengths and considerations.

With tRPC, the API design is more straightforward and familiar to developers accustomed to traditional REST APIs. Each API endpoint is defined as a TypeScript function, making it easy to understand and maintain. The type safety provided by tRPC catches potential errors at compile-time, enhancing the development experience and reducing the likelihood of runtime issues.

GraphQL, on the other hand, offers a more flexible and expressive way to design APIs. The schema definition language allows you to define complex relationships between data types and enables clients to query for specific fields and nested data structures. This flexibility comes at the cost of a slightly steeper learning curve and the need to understand GraphQL's query language and best practices.

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Performance Considerations: tRPC vs. GraphQL

Performance is a critical factor when choosing between tRPC and GraphQL for your Next.js application. While both technologies can deliver excellent performance, there are some differences to consider.

tRPC's lightweight nature and minimal overhead make it highly performant, especially for simpler APIs. By leveraging TypeScript's static typing, tRPC can optimize the data serialization process and reduce the runtime overhead associated with type checking. This can lead to faster response times and lower latency compared to GraphQL.

GraphQL, being a more feature-rich and flexible query language, may introduce some performance overhead due to its query parsing and execution process. However, GraphQL's ability to fetch only the required data can significantly reduce the amount of data transferred over the network, leading to improved performance on the client-side.

It's important to note that the performance of tRPC and GraphQL can vary depending on the specific use case, the complexity of the API, and the optimization techniques employed. Proper caching, pagination, and efficient query design can help mitigate performance concerns in both tRPC and GraphQL APIs.

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Evaluating Project Requirements and Choosing the Right Tool

When deciding between tRPC and GraphQL for your Next.js project, it's essential to consider your project's specific requirements, team expertise, and long-term goals. Let's explore some key factors that can help you make an informed decision.

When to Choose tRPC: Simplicity and Type Safety

tRPC (TypeScript-RPC) is an excellent choice for projects that prioritize simplicity and type safety. If your Next.js project heavily relies on TypeScript and has a relatively straightforward API structure, tRPC can provide a seamless development experience. With tRPC, you can define your API endpoints using TypeScript, eliminating the need for manual type definitions and reducing the chances of type-related errors.

tRPC's lightweight nature and minimal setup make it ideal for projects with well-defined endpoints and limited data manipulation requirements. It abstracts away much of the boilerplate code associated with traditional API setups, allowing you to focus on building your application logic.

When to Choose GraphQL: Flexibility and Complex Data Requirements

GraphQL, on the other hand, shines when your project demands flexibility and has complex data requirements. If your Next.js application needs to fetch data from multiple sources, perform intricate data manipulations, or allow clients to request specific subsets of data, GraphQL's powerful querying capabilities can be a game-changer.

With GraphQL, clients can precisely specify the data they need, reducing over-fetching and improving performance. The ability to define a schema and use a strongly-typed language like TypeScript with GraphQL provides a robust foundation for building scalable and maintainable APIs.

Considering Project Size, Team Expertise, and Long-term Maintainability

When evaluating tRPC and GraphQL, it's crucial to consider the size and complexity of your project, as well as your team's expertise. If you have a small to medium-sized project with a team proficient in TypeScript, tRPC can offer a more straightforward and efficient development process. Its simplicity and type safety make it easier to maintain and refactor code over time.

However, if your project is expected to grow in complexity and scale, GraphQL's flexibility and extensive ecosystem may be more suitable. GraphQL has a larger community, a wide range of tools and libraries, and proven scalability in large-scale applications. It's important to weigh the initial learning curve and setup effort against the long-term benefits of using GraphQL.

Real-world Case Studies: Insights from Next.js Projects

To gain practical insights, let's look at some real-world case studies of Next.js projects using tRPC or GraphQL:

  1. Vercel's Next.js Commerce Starter - This open-source e-commerce starter kit utilizes tRPC for its API layer. It demonstrates how tRPC can be seamlessly integrated with Next.js, providing a type-safe and efficient development experience for building online stores.

  2. Prisma's Blog - Prisma, a popular database toolkit, uses tRPC in their Next.js-powered blog. They leverage tRPC's simplicity and type safety to build a performant and maintainable blogging platform.

  3. Hulu Clone - A popular tutorial series on building a Hulu clone with Next.js and GraphQL showcases the power of GraphQL in handling complex data requirements. It highlights how GraphQL's flexible querying and schema definition can be used to create feature-rich applications.

These case studies demonstrate the real-world applicability of tRPC and GraphQL in Next.js projects, each catering to different project requirements and showcasing the strengths of the respective tools.

Implementing tRPC in Next.js: A Step-by-Step Guide

Integrating tRPC into your Next.js project is a straightforward process that involves setting up the project structure, creating the tRPC router and procedures, generating typesafe hooks for data fetching, and configuring server-side rendering and static site generation. Let's dive into each step in detail.

Setting Up the Project Structure and Dependencies

To get started, create a new Next.js project or navigate to an existing one. Install the necessary dependencies for tRPC integration, including @trpc/server, @trpc/client, @trpc/react-query, @trpc/next, and @tanstack/react-query.

Next, create a graphql directory in your project's root folder. Inside the graphql directory, create a src folder with the following structure:


Creating the tRPC Router and Procedures

In the src/server/trpc.ts file, define your tRPC router and procedures. The router acts as the central hub for your API, while procedures represent individual API endpoints. Use Zod for input validation to ensure type safety.

import { initTRPC } from '@trpc/server';
import { z } from 'zod';

const t = initTRPC.create();

export const appRouter = t.router({
  greeting: t.procedure
    .input(z.object({ name: z.string() }))
    .query(({ input }) => {
      return `Hello, ${}!`;

export type AppRouter = typeof appRouter;

Generating Typesafe Hooks for Data Fetching

To generate typesafe hooks for data fetching, create a src/utils/trpc.ts file. This file will contain the tRPC client and the generated hooks.

import { createTRPCNext } from '@trpc/next';
import { AppRouter } from '../server/trpc';

export const trpc = createTRPCNext<AppRouter>({
  config() {
    return {
      url: '/api/trpc',

The createTRPCNext function generates typesafe hooks based on your tRPC router and procedures, making it easy to consume your API in your Next.js pages and components.

Configuring Server-side Rendering and Static Site Generation

To enable server-side rendering (SSR) and static site generation (SSG) with tRPC, wrap your Next.js _app.tsx file with the withTRPC higher-order component (HOC).

import { withTRPC } from '@trpc/next';
import { AppRouter } from './api/trpc/[trpc]';

function MyApp({ Component, pageProps }) {
  return <Component {...pageProps} />;

export default withTRPC<AppRouter>({
  config({ ctx }) {
    return {
      url: '/api/trpc',
  ssr: true,

The withTRPC HOC automatically wraps your application with the necessary providers and handles SSR and SSG seamlessly. You can customize the tRPC and React Query clients, enable SSR, and set request headers and HTTP status for SSR using the configuration options.

Overcoming Common Challenges with GraphQL in Next.js

When working with GraphQL in Next.js, developers may encounter various challenges. In this section, we'll explore some common issues and provide guidance on how to overcome them effectively.

Handling Generic Types and Configuring Code Generation

One of the challenges developers face when using GraphQL with Next.js is handling generic types in the apolloClient.query method. This method requires specifying the response and variable types, which are typically auto-generated using a codegen.js file. To configure code generation, you need to set up the codegen.js file correctly, specifying the GraphQL schema endpoint, matching patterns for GraphQL documents, and output location. Additionally, you can generate a GraphQL schema JSON file using the introspection plugin, which can be useful for IDE plugins and documentation.

Integrating Generated Code and Managing Schema Updates

After configuring code generation, the next step is to integrate the generated code into your Next.js application. The auto-generated types and hooks, such as TransactionsByProductIdQuery and TransactionsByProductIdQueryVariables, are used in the apolloClient.query call. It's important to keep the generated code in sync with any changes made to the GraphQL schema. Whenever the schema is updated, make sure to re-run the code generation process to ensure that the generated types and hooks reflect the latest schema.

Optimizing Performance and Rendering Strategies

Performance optimization is crucial when using GraphQL with Next.js. Developers should fully understand Next.js rendering options, such as Server-Side Rendering (SSR), Static Site Generation (SSG), and Incremental Static Regeneration (ISR). Avoid relying solely on client-side rendering, as it can impact performance. Consider the choice between the Pages router and the newer App router, as it can affect rendering efficiency and complexity. Additionally, leveraging Next.js optimization features like image optimization, script optimization, CSS optimization, and client-side navigation can significantly improve user experience and reduce costs.

Best Practices for Deployment and Monitoring

When deploying a Next.js application with GraphQL, there are several best practices to follow. Securely manage environment variables to protect sensitive information. Set up a robust CI/CD pipeline to automate the build and deployment process. Implement monitoring and performance tools to track application health and identify any issues proactively. If you're using a headless CMS like WordPress, ensure that the GraphQL schema and data are correctly integrated with your Next.js application to avoid schema mismatch, caching, or versioning problems.

By addressing these common challenges and following best practices, developers can effectively overcome the hurdles associated with using GraphQL in Next.js and build performant and scalable applications. Here's a longer and more detailed guide on using GraphQL with Next.js.

Making an Informed Decision: Weighing the Trade-offs

When choosing between tRPC and GraphQL for your Next.js project, it's essential to consider various factors that can impact your development process and the long-term success of your application. In this section, we'll explore the key aspects you should evaluate before making a decision.

Evaluating the Learning Curve and Developer Experience

One of the primary considerations when selecting a technology is the learning curve and developer experience. tRPC offers a more straightforward approach, leveraging TypeScript's type safety and reducing the need for additional tooling. This can lead to a gentler learning curve, especially for developers already familiar with TypeScript and Next.js.

On the other hand, GraphQL has a steeper learning curve due to its query language and the need to understand concepts like schemas, resolvers, and mutations. However, once mastered, GraphQL provides a powerful and flexible way to define and consume APIs.

Considering the Ecosystem and Community Support

The ecosystem and community support surrounding a technology can greatly influence its adoption and long-term viability. GraphQL has a mature and extensive ecosystem, with a wide range of libraries, tools, and resources available. This includes well-established libraries like Apollo Client and GraphQL Code Generator, which simplify development and provide additional features.

tRPC, being a newer technology, has a smaller but growing ecosystem. While it may not have the same breadth of tooling as GraphQL, tRPC benefits from its tight integration with TypeScript and its simplicity, which can lead to faster adoption within the TypeScript community.

Assessing Scalability and Future-proofing Your Application

When building applications, it's crucial to consider their scalability and ability to adapt to future requirements. GraphQL's flexible and efficient data fetching capabilities make it well-suited for complex applications with evolving data needs. Its ability to request only the required data and perform granular queries can optimize performance and reduce over-fetching.

tRPC, with its focus on simplicity and type safety, can be a good fit for applications with well-defined APIs and a need for strong typing. Its lightweight nature and seamless integration with Next.js can lead to faster development and easier maintenance.

Striking the Balance Between Simplicity and Flexibility

Ultimately, the decision between tRPC and GraphQL comes down to finding the right balance between simplicity and flexibility for your specific project. If you prioritize a streamlined development process, strong typing, and a more straightforward API design, tRPC may be the better choice. It can help you move quickly and maintain a clean codebase.

On the other hand, if your application requires complex data fetching, granular control over queries, and the ability to evolve your API over time, GraphQL's flexibility and extensive ecosystem may be more suitable. It allows you to build powerful and efficient APIs that can adapt to changing requirements.

In conclusion, choosing between tRPC and GraphQL for your Next.js project requires careful consideration of your project's specific needs, team expertise, and long-term goals. By evaluating factors such as the learning curve, ecosystem support, scalability, and the balance between simplicity and flexibility, you can make an informed decision that aligns with your development objectives.

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