Real-time data - AWS AppSync

Real-time data

AWS AppSync allows you to utilize subscriptions to implement live application updates, push notifications, etc. When clients invoke the GraphQL subscription operations, a secure WebSocket connection is automatically established and maintained by AWS AppSync. Applications can then distribute data in real-time from a data source to subscribers while AWS AppSync continually manages the application's connection and scaling requirements. The following sections will show you how subscriptions in AWS AppSync work.

GraphQL schema subscription directives

Subscriptions in AWS AppSync are invoked as a response to a mutation. This means that you can make any data source in AWS AppSync real time by specifying a GraphQL schema directive on a mutation.

The AWS Amplify client libraries automatically handle subscription connection management. The libraries use pure WebSockets as the network protocol between the client and service.


To control authorization at connection time to a subscription, you can use AWS Identity and Access Management (IAM), AWS Lambda, Amazon Cognito identity pools, or Amazon Cognito user pools for field-level authorization. For fine-grained access controls on subscriptions, you can attach resolvers to your subscription fields and perform logic using the identity of the caller and AWS AppSync data sources. For more information, see Authorization and authentication.

Subscriptions are triggered from mutations and the mutation selection set is sent to subscribers.

The following example shows how to work with GraphQL subscriptions. It doesn't specify a data source because the data source could be Lambda, Amazon DynamoDB, or Amazon OpenSearch Service.

To get started with subscriptions, you must add a subscription entry point to your schema as follows:

schema { query: Query mutation: Mutation subscription: Subscription }

Suppose you have a blog post site, and you want to subscribe to new blogs and changes to existing blogs. To do this, add the following Subscription definition to your schema:

type Subscription { addedPost: Post updatedPost: Post deletedPost: Post }

Suppose further that you have the following mutations:

type Mutation { addPost(id: ID! author: String! title: String content: String url: String): Post! updatePost(id: ID! author: String! title: String content: String url: String ups: Int! downs: Int! expectedVersion: Int!): Post! deletePost(id: ID!): Post! }

You can make these fields real time by adding an @aws_subscribe(mutations: ["mutation_field_1", "mutation_field_2"]) directive for each of the subscriptions you want to receive notifications for, as follows:

type Subscription { addedPost: Post @aws_subscribe(mutations: ["addPost"]) updatedPost: Post @aws_subscribe(mutations: ["updatePost"]) deletedPost: Post @aws_subscribe(mutations: ["deletePost"]) }

Because the @aws_subscribe(mutations: ["",..,""]) takes an array of mutation inputs, you can specify multiple mutations, which initiate a subscription. If you're subscribing from a client, your GraphQL query might look like the following:

subscription NewPostSub { addedPost { __typename version title content author url } }

This subscription query is needed for client connections and tooling.

With the pure WebSockets client, selection set filtering is done per client, as each client can define its own selection set. In this case, the subscription selection set must be a subset of the mutation selection set. For example, a subscription addedPost{author title} linked to the mutation addPost(...){id author title url version} receives only the author and title of the post. It does not receive the other fields. However, if the mutation lacked the author in its selection set, the subscriber would get a null value for the author field (or an error in case the author field is defined as required/not-null in the schema).

The subscription selection set is essential when using pure WebSockets. If a field is not explicitly defined in the subscription, then AWS AppSync doesn't return the field.

In the previous example, the subscriptions didn't have arguments. Suppose that your schema looks like the following:

type Subscription { updatedPost(id:ID! author:String): Post @aws_subscribe(mutations: ["updatePost"]) }

In this case, your client defines a subscription as follows:

subscription UpdatedPostSub { updatedPost(id:"XYZ", author:"ABC") { title content } }

The return type of a subscription field in your schema must match the return type of the corresponding mutation field. In the previous example, this was shown as both addPost and addedPost returned as a type of Post.

To set up subscriptions on the client, see Building a client application.

Using subscription arguments

An important part of using GraphQL subscriptions is understanding when and how to use arguments. You can make subtle changes to modify how and when to notify clients about mutations that have occurred. To do this, see the sample schema from the quickstart chapter, which creates "Todos". For this sample schema, the following mutations are defined:

type Mutation { createTodo(input: CreateTodoInput!): Todo updateTodo(input: UpdateTodoInput!): Todo deleteTodo(input: DeleteTodoInput!): Todo }

In the default sample, clients can subscribe to updates to any Todo by using the onUpdateTodo subscription with no arguments:

subscription OnUpdateTodo { onUpdateTodo { description id name when } }

You can filter your subscription by using its arguments. For example, to only trigger a subscription when a todo with a specific ID is updated, specify the ID value:

subscription OnUpdateTodo { onUpdateTodo(id: "a-todo-id") { description id name when } }

You can also pass multiple arguments. For example, the following subscription demonstrates how to get notified of any Todo updates at a specific place and time:

subscription todosAtHome { onUpdateTodo(when: "tomorrow", where: "at home") { description id name when where } }

Note that all of the arguments are optional. If you don't specify any arguments in your subscription, you will be subscribed to all Todo updates that occur in your application. However, you could update your subscription's field definition to require the ID argument. This would force the response of a specific todo instead of all todos:

onUpdateTodo( id: ID!, name: String, when: String, where: String, description: String ): Todo

Argument null value has meaning

When making a subscription query in AWS AppSync, a null argument value will filter the results differently than omitting the argument entirely.

Let's go back to the todos API sample where we could create todos. See the sample schema from the quickstart chapter.

Let's modify our schema to include a new owner field, on the Todo type, that describes who the owner is. The owner field is not required and can only be set on UpdateTodoInput. See the following simplified version of the schema:

type Todo { id: ID! name: String! when: String! where: String! description: String! owner: String } input CreateTodoInput { name: String! when: String! where: String! description: String! } input UpdateTodoInput { id: ID! name: String when: String where: String description: String owner: String } type Subscription { onUpdateTodo( id: ID, name: String, when: String, where: String, description: String ): Todo @aws_subscribe(mutations: ["updateTodo"]) }

The following subscription returns all Todoupdates:

subscription MySubscription { onUpdateTodo { description id name when where } }

If you modify the preceding subscription to add the field argument owner: null, you are now asking a different question. This subscription now registers the client to get notified of all the Todo updates that have not provided an owner.

subscription MySubscription { onUpdateTodo(owner: null) { description id name when where } }

As of January 1, 2022, MQTT over WebSockets is no longer available as a protocol for GraphQL subscriptions in AWS AppSync APIs. Pure WebSockets is the only protocol supported in AWS AppSync.

Clients based on the AWS AppSync SDK or the Amplify libraries, released after November 2019, automatically use pure WebSockets by default. Upgrading the clients to the latest version allows them to use AWS AppSync's pure WebSockets engine.

Pure WebSockets come with a larger payload size (240 KB), a wider variety of client options, and improved CloudWatch metrics. For more information on using pure WebSocket clients, see Building a real-time WebSocket client.