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Mastering GraphQL Error Handling: Strategies, Best Practices, and Future Trends

Explore the complexities of GraphQL error handling with our comprehensive guide. Learn from industry leaders, understand best practices, and stay ahead with emerging trends in GraphQL error management.

Written byArman
Published OnWed Jan 24 2024
Last UpdatedWed Jan 24 2024

Introduction to GraphQL Error Handling

GraphQL: A Game-Changer in API Development

In the evolving landscape of web development, GraphQL has emerged as a game-changer. Developed by Facebook in 2015, it’s a query language for your API and a server-side runtime for executing queries. But what sets GraphQL apart is its efficiency and flexibility in fetching data. GraphQL is more efficient than traditional REST APIs because clients can request only the necessary data.

The Challenge: Handling Errors

However, with great power comes great responsibility, particularly in handling errors. In GraphQL, error handling is a critical aspect that often perplexes developers. Unlike traditional REST APIs, where a specific HTTP status code can indicate an error, GraphQL always returns a status code of 200 OK, even when errors occur. This peculiarity makes understanding and handling errors in GraphQL a unique challenge. Understanding GraphQL errors involves distinguishing between two general types: Parse/Validation errors and Execution errors.

Why Focus on GraphQL Errors?

Focusing on GraphQL error handling is crucial because it directly impacts the user experience and the robustness of the application. Efficient error handling ensures that the client application can gracefully manage and respond to issues, thereby maintaining application stability and providing clear feedback to the user. In this article, we dive deep into the world of GraphQL errors. We aim to create a comprehensive guide to mastering error handling in GraphQL. We will cover default error handling in GraphQL, best practices, and real-world case studies.

Understanding GraphQL Errors

The Nature of Errors in GraphQL

Unlike traditional REST APIs, GraphQL doesn’t use HTTP status codes to indicate errors. This feature can initially seem confusing, but it offers more subtle error handling. In GraphQL, errors are always returned in the same structure within the GraphQL response under the errors field. This consistency is critical to understanding GraphQL’s error-handling philosophy.

Common Types of Errors

Errors in GraphQL can broadly be categorized into two types:

  1. Syntax Errors (Parse/Validation Errors): Occur when the query is malformed or against non-existent fields. These are typically caught locally on the client side before the query is sent.
  2. Execution Errors: Occur during the execution of a valid query, including data fetching issues, authentication errors, or validation errors.

Error Format and Details

A typical GraphQL error object contains:

  • message: A human-readable error message.
  • locations: Indicates where in the query the error occurred.
  • path: The path to the response field where the error was found.
  • extensions: Optional field for additional error details, like error codes.

Error Handling in Client Applications

Client-side GraphQL libraries, such as Apollo Client, manage these errors. Developers can access error details and implement UI responses. The error responses include a clear message, the error’s location, and an optional extensions field for additional details. Example of a GraphQL Error Response:

  "errors": [
      "message": "Name for the character with ID 1002 could not be fetched.",
      "locations": [{ "line": 3, "column": 5 }],
      "path": ["character", "name"],
      "extensions": { "code": "INTERNAL_SERVER_ERROR" }

Or the following JSON is an example of a standard GraphQL error response. This error occurs when the username field is missing in a user query:

  "errors": [
      "message": "Field 'username' is missing",
      "locations": [
          "line": 2,
          "column": 3
      "path": ["user"]
  "data": {
    "user": null

The following section will explore real-world applications and case studies to understand GraphQL error handling further.

Case Studies: Error Handling in Practice

Error Handling in Apollo

  • Approach: Specific error handling using Apollo Server’s error classes like AuthenticationError.
  • Practice: Defined error codes for categorizing errors and taking appropriate actions.


const resolvers = {
  Mutation: {
    protectedAction(root, args, { user }) {
      if (!user) {
        throw new AuthenticationError("You must be logged in");
      // Protected action logic

Error Handling with TypeScript and Codegen

  • Approach: Utilizing GraphQL Code Generator for types and resolvers with integrated error handling.
  • Practice: Defining mappers for GraphQL Union types and implementing __isTypeOf for type resolvers.


// TypeScript type for GraphQL error
type GraphQLError = {
  message: string;
  // Other properties

Typesafe Error Handling on the Client Side by The Guild

  • The Guild’s approach uses TypeScript and GraphQL Code Generator for type-safe error handling.
  • Defined specific error classes for different cases, enhancing clarity.
  • Utilized a custom wrapper type and constructor function for errors.

Example code:

export class InvalidInputError extends Error {}
export class NotFoundError extends Error {}

export type WrappedError<E extends Error> = {
  _tag: 'WrappedError',
  err: NonNullable<E>

export const wrappedError = <E extends Error>(err: E) => ({
  _tag: 'WrappedError',

Error Handling with Unions and Interfaces (LogRocket Blog)

  • Utilized GraphQL types to model errors for type safety and complex types.
  • Showcased a login mutation using UserRegisterInvalidInputError for detailed input field messages.
  • Recommended interfaces for common error properties to ensure consistency.

Example code:

interface Error {
  message: String!

type UserRegisterInvalidInputError implements Error {
  message: String!
  loginErrorMessage: String
  emailErrorMessage: String
  passwordErrorMessage: String

union UserRegisterResult = UserRegisterResultSuccess | UserRegisterInvalidInputError

type Mutation {
  userRegister(input: UserRegisterInput!): UserRegisterResult!

GitHub’s GraphQL Client Error Handling

GitHub distinguishes between GraphQL operation errors: Parse/Validation and Execution errors.

  • Parse/Validation Errors: These occur for queries with invalid syntax or queries against non-existent fields, resulting in the entire operation failing. Such errors are typically caught locally on the client side before the query is sent.
  • Execution Errors: These occur while the server is resolving the query operation and can be due to client-side issues (HTTP 4xx errors) or server-side issues (HTTP 5xx errors). The errors API is modelled after ActiveModel::Errors, which is familiar to those working with Rails.

Example from GitHub’s Documentation:

class IssuesController < ApplicationController
  ShowQuery = FooApp::Client.parse <<-'GRAPHQL'
    query($id: ID!) {
      issue: node(id: $id) {

  def show
    response = FooApp::Client.query(ShowQuery, variables: { id: params[:id] })
    if data =
      if issue = data.issue
        render "issues/show", issue: issue
      elsif data.errors[:issue].any?
        message = data.errors[:issue].join(", ")
        render status: :not_found, plain: message
    elsif response.errors.any?
      message = response.errors[:issue].join(", ")
      render status: :internal_server_error, plain: message

This JavaScript example demonstrates handling both GraphQL errors (in the errors array of the response) and network errors (caught in the catch block).

IBM’s Concept of Handling Errors as Data in GraphQL:

  • IBM highlights treating GraphQL errors as part of the data schema.
  • Focuses on structuring GraphQL errors to meet UI requirements.
  • Encourages using GraphQL interfaces for common error properties.

Example Code:

interface Error {
  message: String!

type UserRegisterInvalidInputError implements Error {
  message: String!
  // Additional fields...

Real-World Example: Handling Authentication Errors

Consider a scenario where a query is made to a GraphQL API without proper authentication. A well-structured error response would include:

  • A clear error message indicating authentication failure.
  • The exact location in the query where the error occurred.
  • An error type or code categorizing it as an authentication issue.

This level of detail enables client applications to handle the error appropriately, perhaps by prompting the user to log in.

In the next section, we will explore best practices that you can adopt for efficient GraphQL error handling.

Best Practices for Managing GraphQL Errors

Embracing a Strategic Approach

Effective error handling in GraphQL isn’t just about managing technical issues; it’s about adopting a strategy that enhances the overall user experience. It’s said, “Good error handling is crucial in a GraphQL service to ensure the client developers can quickly diagnose and fix issues.”

Key Best Practices:

  1. Explicit Error Types: “You can’t just hope to catch errors; you must plan for them,” they say. Define explicit error types in your schema to clarify the nature of errors.

    For example:

    This GraphQL schema defines a union UserResult that can either be a User type or an error type UserInputError.

    type Query {
      user(id: ID!): UserResult!
    union UserResult = User | UserInputError
    type User {
      id: ID!
      name: String!
    type UserInputError {
      message: String!
      field: String!
  2. Client-Side Error Handling: Many suggest, “Handle errors at the client side as part of the business logic, not just as an afterthought.” This approach involves parsing error responses and presenting them in a user-friendly manner.

  3. Logging and Monitoring: “Errors are a goldmine for improving APIs”. Implement logging and monitoring to track errors and improve the API over time.

Implementing Best Practices: A Real-World Scenario

Imagine a situation where a user submits a form with incomplete data. The best practice approach would involve the following:

  • Returning a Clear Error Response: The server should respond with a specific error type, like “INPUT_VALIDATION_FAILED”.
  • Descriptive Client-Side Handling: The client application, recognizing this error type, could highlight the missing fields for the user.
  • Logging for Future Reference: The error is logged with details, helping the backend team to identify common user mistakes and improve the form’s UX.

As we move forward, let’s explore the future trends in GraphQL error handling and how they shape the GraphQL landscape.

Adapting to Evolving Needs

The landscape of GraphQL is continuously evolving, and with it, the approaches to error handling are also advancing. As they say, “Technology innovation is all about making it more aligned with our human needs and expectations.”

  1. Standardization of Error Codes: The community is moving towards a standardized format for error codes in GraphQL. This approach would simplify error handling across different implementations.
  2. Increased Use of Tooling and Automation: Tools for automated error tracking and resolution are becoming more integral. The right tools in GraphQL can turn error handling from a challenge into a strategic advantage.

The Modular Approach: A Game Changer

Adopting a modular approach is one of the most significant error-handling shifts. This approach involves defining errors at different layers of the GraphQL architecture, offering more granularity and control.

Benefits of the Modular Approach:

  • Flexibility: Allows more precise error-handling mechanisms tailored to specific API parts.
  • Clarity: Enhances understanding of where and why an error occurred, improving debugging.

Case Example: Modular Error Handling in Action

Consider an e-commerce GraphQL API with separate modules for user authentication, product catalogue, and payment processing. Each module can have its own set of error codes and handling mechanisms, streamlining the process of identifying and resolving issues specific to each domain.

The final section will explore the practical implementation of unions and interfaces for flexible error handling in GraphQL.

Practical Implementation: Unions, Interfaces, and Error Handling in GraphQL

Harnessing GraphQL’s Flexibility

GraphQL’s structure offers unique ways to handle errors more effectively. GraphQL’s power lies in its flexibility and expressiveness, which extends to error handling.

Using Unions for Richer Error Handling

Unions in GraphQL allow for the combination of multiple types into one. This feature can be handy in error handling. For instance, a query might return either a ResultType or an ErrorType.

Real-World Application: E-Commerce Platforms

Consider an e-commerce platform implementing a product query. The query can return a list of products (ProductListType) or an error type (ProductErrorType). This approach allows client applications to handle successful responses and errors distinctly, improving the user experience.

Implementing Interfaces for Common Error Fields

Interfaces in GraphQL provide a way to define standard fields across different types. Interfaces ensure consistency across your API and provide a contract that all implementing types must follow.

Example: Common Error Interface

An Error interface could include a common field like message. Different error types, like AuthenticationError or ValidationError, can implement this interface, ensuring all error types have a message field.

interface Error {
  message: String!

type AuthenticationError implements Error {
  message: String!
  invalidFields: [String!]

type ValidationError implements Error {
  message: String!
  field: String!

The Impact on Client-Side Error Handling

This structured approach simplifies error handling on the client side. Developers can write more streamlined code to handle errors, knowing each error type adheres to a standard interface or fits into a known union type.

For example in this React component using Apollo Client, the GET_USER query handles both user data and input errors:

import { useQuery } from "@apollo/client";

const GET_USER = gql`
  query GetUser($id: ID!) {
    user(id: $id) {
      ... on User {
      ... on UserInputError {

function UserProfile({ userId }) {
  const { loading, error, data } = useQuery(GET_USER, { variables: { id: userId } });

  if (loading) return <p>Loading...</p>;
  if (error) return <p>Error: {error.message}</p>;

  return data.user.__typename === "User" ? (
    <div>User Name: {}</div>
  ) : (
      Error: {data.user.message} in {data.user.field}

Conclusion: Moving Towards More Effective Error Handling

As we’ve seen, GraphQL’s flexibility and robust schema design can be leveraged to create more effective and user-friendly error-handling strategies. Developers can build more resilient and intuitive APIs by utilizing unions and interfaces and understanding the best practices.

The beauty of GraphQL is that it’s not just a query language for APIs; it’s a language for your data, including how you report and handle errors.

Frequently Asked Questions

We got an answer for your questions

  • What is the standard method for handling errors in GraphQL?

    In GraphQL, errors are typically handled through a consistent structure within the GraphQL response. Errors are returned in an errors field, including details such as the error message, locations, path, and extensions for additional information. This standard approach differs from REST APIs, which use HTTP status codes.

  • How do GraphQL errors differ from traditional REST API errors?

    Unlike REST APIs, GraphQL always returns a 200 OK status code, even when an error occurs, whereas REST APIs use HTTP status codes to indicate different types of errors. The error details are instead provided in the response body under the errors field. This approach allows for more granular and descriptive error handling.

  • Can you customize error responses in GraphQL?

    Yes, GraphQL allows for the customization of error responses. Developers can extend the error format by adding fields in the extensions part of the error object. This approach enables the provision of additional context or categorization of errors, which can be especially useful for client-side error handling.

  • What are GraphQL Unions, and how do they help handle errors?

    Unions in GraphQL are a way to return one of several possible types from a single query. They are handy in error handling because they allow a query to return either a result or an error type. This approach provides a structured and predictable way for client applications to handle different query outcomes.

  • How can interfaces improve GraphQL error handling?

    Interfaces in GraphQL help define a standard structure for different types. By creating an error interface with standard fields (like a message field), different error types can implement this interface, ensuring consistency across error responses. This approach makes client-side error handling more straightforward and consistent.

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