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Customizing the GraphQL Schema

One of Gatsby’s main strengths is the ability to query data from a variety of sources in a uniform way with GraphQL. For this to work, a GraphQL Schema must be generated that defines the shape of the data.

Gatsby is able to automatically infer a GraphQL Schema from your data, and in many cases, this is really all you need. There are however situations when you either want to explicitly define the data shape, or add custom functionality to the query layer - this is what Gatsby’s Schema Customization API provides.

The following guide walks through some examples to showcase the API.

This guide is aimed at plugin authors, users trying to fix GraphQL schemas created by automatic type inference, developers optimizing builds for larger sites, and anyone interested in customizing Gatsby’s schema generation. As such, the guide assumes that you’re somewhat familiar with GraphQL types and with using Gatsby’s Node APIs. For a higher level approach to using Gatsby with GraphQL, refer to the API reference.

Explicitly defining data types

The example project is a blog that gets its data from local Markdown files which provide the post contents, as well as author information in JSON format. There are also occasional guest contributors whose info is kept in a separate JSON file.

To be able to query the contents of these files with GraphQL, they need to first be loaded into Gatsby’s internal data store. This is what source and transformer plugin accomplish - in this case gatsby-source-filesystem and gatsby-transformer-remark plus gatsby-transformer-json. Every markdown post file is hereby transformed into a “node” object in the internal data store with a unique id and a type MarkdownRemark. Similarly, an author will be represented by a node object of type AuthorJson, and contributor info will be transformed into node objects of type ContributorJson.

The Node interface

This data structure is represented in Gatsby’s GraphQL schema with the Node interface, which describes the set of fields common to node objects created by source and transformer plugins (id, parent, children, as well as a couple of internal fields like type). In GraphQL Schema Definition Language (SDL), it looks like this:

Types created by source and transformer plugins implement this interface. For example, the node type created by gatsby-transformer-json for authors.json will be represented in the GraphQL schema as:

Automatic type inference

It’s important to note that the data in author.json does not provide type information of the Author fields by itself. In order to translate the data shape into GraphQL type definitions, Gatsby has to inspect the contents of every field and check its type. In many cases this works very well and it is still the default mechanism for creating a GraphQL schema.

There are however two problems with this approach: (1) it is quite time-consuming and therefore does not scale very well and (2) if the values on a field are of different types Gatsby cannot decide which one is the correct one. A consequence of this is that if your data sources change, type inference could suddenly fail.

Both problems can be solved by providing explicit type definitions for Gatsby’s GraphQL schema.

Creating type definitions

Look at the latter case first. Assume a new author joins the team, but in the new author entry there is a typo on the joinedAt field: “201-04-02” which is not a valid Date.

This will confuse Gatsby’s type inference since the joinedAt field will now have both Date and String values.

Fixing field types

To ensure that the field will always be of Date type, you can provide explicit type definitions to Gatsby with the createTypes action. It accepts type definitions in GraphQL Schema Definition Language:

Note that the rest of the fields (name, firstName etc.) don’t have to be provided, they will still be handled by Gatsby’s type inference.

Actions to customize Gatsby’s schema generation are made available in the createSchemaCustomization (available in Gatsby v2.12 and above), and sourceNodes APIs.

Opting out of type inference

There are however advantages to providing full definitions for a node type, and bypassing the type inference mechanism altogether. With smaller scale projects inference is usually not a performance problem, but as projects grow the performance penalty of having to check each field type will become noticeable.

Gatsby allows to opt out of inference with the @dontInfer type directive - which in turn requires that you explicitly provide type definitions for all fields that should be available for querying:

Note that you don’t need to explicitly provide the Node interface fields (id, parent, etc.), Gatsby will automatically add them for you.

If you wonder about the exclamation marks - those allow specifying nullability in GraphQL, i.e. if a field value is allowed to be null or not.

Defining media types

You can specify the media types handled by a node type using the @mimeTypes extension:

The types passed in are used to determine child relations of the node.

Defining child relations

The @childOf extension can be used to explicitly define what node types or media types a node is a child of and immediately add child[MyType] and children[MyType] fields on the parent.

The types argument takes an array of strings and determines what node types the node is a child of:

The mimeTypes argument takes an array of strings and determines what media types the node is a child of:

The mimeTypes and types arguments can be combined as follows:

Nested types

So far, the example project has only been dealing with scalar values (String and Date; GraphQL also knows ID, Int, Float, Boolean and JSON). Fields can however also contain complex object values. To target those fields in GraphQL SDL, you can provide a full type definition for the nested type, which can be arbitrarily named (as long as the name is unique in the schema). In the example project, the frontmatter field on the MarkdownRemark node type is a good example. Say you want to ensure that frontmatter.tags will always be an array of strings.

Note that with createTypes you cannot directly target a Frontmatter type without also specifying that this is the type of the frontmatter field on the MarkdownRemark type, The following would fail because Gatsby would have no way of knowing which field the Frontmatter type should be applied to:

It is useful to think about your data, and the corresponding GraphQL schema, by always starting from the Node types created by source and transformer plugins.

Note that the Frontmatter type must not implement the Node interface since it is not a top-level type created by source or transformer plugins: it has no id field, and is there to describe the data shape on a nested field.

Gatsby Type Builders

In many cases, GraphQL SDL provides a succinct way to provide type definitions for your schema. If however you need more flexibility, createTypes also accepts type definitions provided with the help of Gatsby Type Builders, which are more flexible than SDL syntax but less verbose than graphql-js. They are accessible on the schema argument passed to Node APIs.

Gatsby Type Builders allow referencing types as simple strings, and accept full field configs (type, args, resolve). When defining top-level types, don’t forget to pass interfaces: ['Node'], which does the same for Type Builders as adding implements Node does for SDL-defined types. It is also possible to opt out of type inference with Type Builders by setting the infer type extension to false:

Type Builders also exist for Input, Interface Union, Enum and Scalar types: buildInputObjectType, buildInterfaceType, buildUnionType, buildEnumType and buildScalarType. Note that the createTypes action also accepts graphql-js types directly, but usually either SDL or Type Builders are the better alternatives.

Foreign-key fields

In the example project, the frontmatter.author field on MarkdownRemark nodes to expand the provided field value to a full AuthorJson node. For this to work, there has to be provided a custom field resolver. (see below for more info on context.nodeModel)

What is happening here is that you provide a custom field resolver that asks Gatsby’s internal data store for the full node object with the specified id and type.

Because creating foreign-key relations is such a common use case, Gatsby luckily also provides a much easier way to do this — with the help of extensions or directives. It looks like this:

This example assumes that your markdown frontmatter is in the shape of:

And your author JSON looks like this:

You provide a @link directive on a field and Gatsby will internally add a resolver that is quite similar to the one written manually above. If no argument is provided, Gatsby will use the id field as the foreign-key, otherwise the foreign-key has to be provided with the by argument. The optional from argument allows getting the field on the current type which acts as the foreign-key to the field specified in by. In other words, you link on from to by. This makes from especially helpful when adding a field for back-linking.

For the above example you can read @link this way: Use the value from the field Frontmatter.reviewers and match it by the field AuthorJson.email.

Keep in mind that in the example above, the link of posts in AuthorJson works by defining a path to a node because frontmatter and author are both objects. If, for example, the Frontmatter type had a list of authors instead (frontmatter.authors.email), you would need to define it like this with elemMatch:

You can also provide a custom resolver with Gatsby Type Builders or createResolvers API to link arrays.

Extensions and directives

Out of the box, Gatsby provides four extensions that allow adding custom functionality to fields without having to manually write field resolvers:

  1. The link extension has already been discussed above
  2. dateformat allows adding date formatting options
  3. fileByRelativePath is similar to link but will resolve relative paths when linking to File nodes
  4. proxy is helpful when dealing with data that contains field names with characters that are invalid in GraphQL or to alias fields

To add an extension to a field you can either use a directive in SDL, or the extensions property when using Gatsby Type Builders:

The above example adds date formatting options to the AuthorJson.joinedAt and the MarkdownRemark.frontmatter.publishedAt fields. Those options are available as field arguments when querying those fields:

publishedAt is also provided a default formatString which will be used when no explicit formatting options are provided in the query.

If the JSON would contain keys you’d want to proxy to other names, you could do it like this:

You can also combine multiple extensions (built-in and custom ones).

Aliasing fields

You can use the @proxy directive to alias (nested) fields to another field on the same node. This is helpful if e.g. you want to keep the shape you have to query flat or if you need it to keep things backwards compatible.

If you’d add a new field using createNodeField to the MarkdownRemark nodes (change this check if you use another source/type) like this:

The Hello World would be queryable at:

To be able to query someInformation like this instead you have to alias the fields.someInformation field.

Setting default field values

For setting default field values, Gatsby currently does not (yet) provide an out-of-the-box extension, so resolving a field to a default value (instead of null) requires manually adding a field resolver. For example, to add a default tag to every blog post:

Creating custom extensions

With the createFieldExtension action it is possible to define custom extensions as a way to add reusable functionality to fields. Say you want to add a fullName field to AuthorJson and ContributorJson.

You could write a fullNameResolver, and use it in two places:

However, to make this functionality available to other plugins as well, and make it usable in SDL, you can register it as a field extension.

A field extension definition requires a name, and an extend function, which should return a (partial) field config (an object, with type, args, resolve) which will be merged into the existing field config.

This approach becomes a lot more powerful when plugins provide custom field extensions. A very basic markdown transformer plugin could for example provide an extension to convert markdown strings into HTML:

It can then be used in any createTypes call by adding the directive/extension to the field:

Note that in the above example, there have been additional provided configuration options with args. This is e.g. useful to provide default field arguments:

Also note that field extensions can decide themselves if an existing field resolver should be wrapped or overwritten. The above examples have all decided to return a new resolve function. Because the extend function receives the current field config as its second argument, an extension can also decide to wrap an existing resolver:

If multiple field extensions are added to a field, resolvers are processed in this order: first a custom resolver added with createTypes (or createResolvers) runs, then field extension resolvers execute from left to right.

Finally, note that in order to get the current fieldValue, you use context.defaultFieldResolver.

createResolvers API

While it is possible to directly pass args and resolvers along the type definitions using Gatsby Type Builders, an alternative approach specifically tailored towards adding custom resolvers to fields is the createResolvers Node API.

Note that createResolvers allows adding new fields to types, modifying args and resolver — but not overriding the field type. This is because createResolvers is run last in schema generation, and modifying a field type would mean having to regenerate corresponding input types (filter, sort), which you want to avoid. If possible, specifying field types should be done with the createTypes action.

Accessing Gatsby’s data store from field resolvers

As mentioned above, Gatsby’s internal data store and query capabilities are available to custom field resolvers on the context.nodeModel argument passed to every resolver. Accessing node(s) by id (and optional type) is possible with getNodeById and getNodesByIds. To get all nodes, or all nodes of a certain type, use findAll. And running a query from inside your resolver functions can be accomplished with findAll as well, which accepts filter and sort query arguments.

You could for example add a field to the AuthorJson type that lists all recent posts by an author:

When using findAll to sort query results, be aware that both sort.fields and sort.order are GraphQLList fields. Also, nested fields on sort.fields have to be provided in dot-notation (not separated by triple underscores). For example:

Custom query fields

One powerful approach enabled by createResolvers is adding custom root query fields. While the default root query fields added by Gatsby (e.g. markdownRemark and allMarkdownRemark) provide the whole range of query options, query fields designed specifically for your project can be useful. For example, you can add a query field for all external contributors to the example blog who have received their swag:

Because you might also be interested in the reverse - which contributors haven’t received their swag yet - why not add a (required) custom query arg?

It is also possible to provide more complex custom input types which can be defined directly inline in SDL. You could for example add a field to the ContributorJson type that counts the number of posts by a contributor, and then add a custom root query field contributors which accepts min or max arguments to only return contributors who have written at least min, or at most max number of posts:

Taking care of hot reloading

When creating custom field resolvers, it is important to ensure that Gatsby knows about the data a page depends on for hot reloading to work properly. When you retrieve nodes from the store with context.nodeModel methods, it is usually not necessary to do anything manually, because Gatsby will register dependencies for the query results automatically. If you want to customize this, you can add a page data dependency either programmatically with context.nodeModel.trackPageDependencies, or with:

Custom Interfaces and Unions

Finally, say you want to have a page on the example blog that lists all team members (authors and contributors). What you could do is have two queries, one for allAuthorJson and one for allContributorJson and manually merge those. GraphQL however provides a more elegant solution to these kinds of problems with “abstract types” (Interfaces and Unions). Since authors and contributors actually share most of the fields, you can abstract those up into a TeamMember interface and add a custom query field for all team members (as well as a custom resolver for full names):

To use the newly added root query field in a page query to get the full names of all team members, you could write:

Queryable interfaces

Since Gatsby 3.0.0, you can use interface inheritance to achieve the same thing as above: TeamMember implements Node. This will treat the interface like a normal top-level type that implements the Node interface, and thus automatically add root query fields for the interface.

When querying, use inline fragments for the fields that are specific to the types implementing the interface (i.e. fields that are not shared):

Including the __typename introspection field allows to check the node type when iterating over the query results in your component:

Note: All types implementing a queryable interface must also implement the Node interface

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