This is article is part of a series. They are:

Rust is an upcoming programming language that is often regarded as a low-level systems language, however it comes with language features that allow it to extend itself into other domains while minimizing the boilerplate you might expect from a systems language. We will be looking at Rust as a GraphQL Server and demonstrating its simplicity when paired with powerful frameworks such as Juniper and Actix Web. Comparisons will be made with Node.js and the Express framework which has undoubtedly had an influence on the entire space.

Some prior knowledge of web frameworks, GraphQL, and the Rust programming language are assumed in this article.

If you are looking for complete example code, I recommend looking at the GraphQL using Juniper Actix Example.

Why Rust?

If you are looking to get something up quick, Rust might not be your best bet. Building a GraphQL backend in Rust will take some extra time, and you will spend some of that time arguing with the language’s borrow checker and the compiler’s insistence on correct, transparent code. Rust is a systems language without a garbage collector, and has a proven model of ownership forcing its users to write memory safe code, preventing notorious bugs such as buffer overflows. It has all the same safety as writing your server in Node.js, but without the need for a garbage collector or interpreter. Ideally, in the long term, you can have more confidence in the correctness of your code when using Rust, and benefit in a speed boost from the reduced overhead.

Not to mention, if your business does end up needing performance critical code elsewhere, you can write everything in one programming language. That includes in the web with Rust’s excellent out-of-the-box WASM support.

Initial Setup

Create a folder with a name of your choosing, run cargo init in the folder to bootstrap the project, and then open the Cargo.toml, adding the following dependencies under the [dependencies] block:

actix-web = "4"
actix-cors = "0.6"
juniper = "0.15"

The actix-web and juniper are the primary points of discussion in this article. actix-cors is middleware which should be very familiar to anyone coming from Node.js and Express-like frameworks. It is middleware which adds CORS headers to the HTTP responses.

Creating The App with Actix Web

I will let the code do the talking here.

use std::io;
use actix_web::{ App, HttpServer };

async fn main() -> io::Result<()> {
    HttpServer::new(move || {
    .bind(("", 8080))?

(Note: If you run this code, you will receive a 404 error since it’s not serving any content)

As you can see, it’s not quite as small as an equivalent Express app, but compared to web frameworks in C/C++ from years past, humble systems languages have come a long way. The actix_web::main macro is handling a lot of the busy work for you, and the interface of the API has the same simplicity you’d expect from high level frameworks.

To understand better what the actix_web::main macro is providing, it is helpful to read the Async in Depth article by the Tokio team. Actix Web uses Tokio as its asynchronous runtime and the main macro here is more or less the same as Tokio’s provided tokio::main.

The CORS Middleware

It wouldn’t be a modern web framework without middleware. Middleware are plugins that can act on all requests and responses to further cut down on the boilerplate. A common middleware is the CORS header, which adds special headers to each response allowing for cross-origin requests in web browsers.

Rust libraries often use the builder pattern to construct configuration objects and we also see it here with the Actix Web App. Middleware is added to our web app using wrap.

use actix_cors::Cors;

// ...


CORS header may not be necessary in all applications, but we will add them to ensure the GraphiQL debug tool we add later works properly.

Adding Routes

Admittedly, this has all been pretty straightforward stuff so far. Hiding away the work of handling HTTP packets and registering plugins shouldn’t be complicated. The real power starts to show when it comes to introducing application specific logic, like routes. We need to handle the actual contents of those incoming HTTP headers, which is not only tedious, but also error-prone. The route handling obviously needs to be abstracted away, which tends to add a lot of complexity and even more boilerplate. However, we can solve this problem using Rust macros:

use actix_web::get;

// ...

async fn hello() -> &'static str {
    "Hello World"

Add our route using the same App builder:

use actix_cors::Cors;

// ...


There is a lot happening here. The get macro wraps hello, handling all the routing for you, and only invoking the function if the route is /hello. That’s not all, however. Notice that we are returning a static lifetime &str. This isn’t very expandable as most strings probably don’t have a static lifetime. Actix Web routes (or “services”) can return anything that implements Responder. Many types, such as string types, are coalesced into this trait. With Responder, you can also provide response headers. Finally, the whole function is marked async, which is not too dissimilar from the equivalent in JavaScript.

The point here isn’t necessarily to explain every little detail about how Actix Web works (for that you can check their docs), it is to show just how much boilerplate is swept under the rug.

Adding GraphQL with Juniper

The process of adding Juniper to Actix Web is fairly straightforward, but the first thing we need is a schema definition for GraphQL. Once we have that, we will add a route for /graphql. Finally, we will add in the provided GraphiQL web interface to interact with the GraphQL API.

Creating the Schema

GraphQL brings a lot of its own perks to the table. It has built-in schema checking, its own query language, and lots of documentation features all built in. The only thing needed to integrate GraphQL with a programming language is a bit of mapping, and here’s where macros come to the rescue yet again.

To define a GraphQL object, we derive GraphQLObject and create a Rust struct as usual. We can provide a description for this object as well. You can use the usual GraphQL primitives (with i32 being Int and f32 being Float), as well as other GraphQL objects. Vec can be used for arrays.

use juniper::GraphQLObject;

#[graphql(description = "A person")]
struct Person {
    name: String,
    age: f64,

To query for this type, we must define query functions. Again, we rely on macros, and these can infer a lot about the implementation within. The functions need to return FieldResult to allow for error checking, and the _id parameter here is to demonstrate how to add Query parameters, but is currently unused.

use juniper::FieldResult;

pub struct QueryRoot;

impl QueryRoot {
    // This is the person() GraphQL query
    fn person(_id: i32) -> FieldResult<Person> {
        Ok(Person {
            name: "Bob".to_string(),
            age: 42.0,

From there we simply need to create a schema, the simplest of which looks something like this:

use juniper::{EmptyMutation, EmptySubscription, RootNode};

pub type Schema = RootNode<'static, QueryRoot, EmptyMutation, EmptySubscription>;

pub fn create_schema() -> Schema {
    Schema::new(QueryRoot {}, EmptyMutation::new(), EmptySubscription::new())

Adding a mutation looks almost identical to QueryRoot and goes inside the second parameter of Schema::new. For subscriptions, it’s more complicated, and I suggest checking out the juniper docs.

Plugging it into Actix Web (+ GraphiQL Playground)

The only thing necessary is to add a /graphql route and execute the GraphQLRequest with the Schema. The code is surprisingly clean and straightforward.

use std::{io, sync::Arc};
use actix_web::{ get, route, web::{self, Data}, App, HttpResponse, HttpServer, Responder };
use actix_cors::Cors;
use juniper::http::{graphiql::graphiql_source, GraphQLRequest};
use crate::schema::{create_schema, Schema};

mod schema;

async fn graphql_playground() -> impl Responder {
    HttpResponse::Ok().body(graphiql_source("/graphql", None))

#[route("/graphql", method = "GET", method = "POST")]
async fn graphql(schema: web::Data<Schema>, request: web::Json<GraphQLRequest>) -> impl Responder {
    HttpResponse::Ok().json(request.execute(&schema, &()).await)

async fn main() -> io::Result<()> {
    let schema = Arc::new(create_schema());
    HttpServer::new(move || {
    .bind(("", 8080))?

There is a bit of trickery here in the graphql function. It’s able to grab the Schema and GraphQLRequest automatically by declaring them as parameters. You do also need the add_data, which makes the data accessible from within services by TypeId.

You can see the whole thing in action by running the app and navigating to http://localhost:8080/graphiql

GraphiQL Interface

Putting it All Together

This was a look at the simplicity of creating a GraphQL server in Rust, but the ecosystem is still relatively new and APIs can change. Check out the GraphQL using Juniper Actix Example.

To see how to hook up Juniper with a Postgres database, click here for part 2.