Which apollo-server to use? Comparing apollo-server, apollo-server-express, apollo-server-*


Spencer Carli

Developer, cat dad, and devout pizza lover. Teaching at React Native School and building apps with Handlebar Labs.

Last Updated: January 13, 2021

I've spent a lot of time primarily working on the frontend of mobile apps and in that time I've absolutely loved when I could work with a GraphQL API.

So, when I decided to start building a full stack open source trivia app for React Native School, I decided that I would be using a GraphQL API via Apollo Server.

But when I started looking at it and my desired hosting options I got confused...

What's the difference between apollo-server, apollo-server-express, apollo-server-lamda, apollo-server-*?

The docs cover it but I didn't find an answer immediately when I searched for the answer so, hopefully, I saved you some time.

Note to self: Read the docs, at the very least the README, first.


Basically, apollo-server is a standalone app and apollo-server-* is an integration.


The apollo-server package provides everything you need to create a web server & a GraphQL API. Two packages, a dozen lines, and you've got a GraphQL API.

The apollo-server- packages allow you to integrate with an existing web framework (like Express, Lambda/Serverless, Koa, etc.).

You set up your server via the normal means for that framework and then you setup a GraphQL endpoint via apollo-server within that framework.

Which to Use?

If you only need your server to serve a GraphQL API I'd say apollo-server is the way to go.

If you...

  • Already have a web backend setup
  • Know you'll need more than a GraphQL API
  • Know where you're hosting it (say a GraphQL endpoint in a Next.js app)

Then you'll want to use the integration package for that framework/service.


From what I can tell they're all the same under the hood (they depend on apollo-server-core) and function the same way - they're just customized to work on the specific platform.

It also seems easy enough to move around if you need to change something - just move your type defs and resolvers over to the new way you setup your Apollo Server.

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