AWS AppSync vs API Gateway: Which Should I Use?

AWS offers a variety of tools to develop, deploy, and manage APIs. Two popular services for this purpose are AppSync and Amazon API Gateway. Both have their strengths, but choosing the right one depends on your specific requirements and use cases.

This article aims to provide a detailed comparison of AppSync and API Gateway regarding their features, pricing, and appropriate use cases, so that you can make an informed decision based on your project needs.

What are AppSync and API Gateway?


AppSync is a fully managed service that makes it easy to develop GraphQL APIs by handling the heavy lifting of secure and scalable execution of GraphQL resolvers. AppSync supports real-time updates and offline programming features, allowing developers to build responsive and robust applications.

API Gateway

Amazon API Gateway is a fully managed service that enables developers to create, publish, maintain, monitor, and secure REST and WebSocket APIs at any scale. With a few clicks in the AWS Management Console, you can create APIs that act as a "front door" for applications to access data, business logic, or functionality from your backend services.

Feature Comparison

Here's a table summarizing the key features of AppSync and API Gateway:

Features AppSync API Gateway
Interface GraphQL REST and WebSocket
Real-Time Data Built-in support via GraphQL subscriptions WebSocket support but requires more setup
Offline Support Automatic conflict resolution for offline clients No built-in support, handled at the application level
Integration Seamless with several AWS services Broad options with AWS and any HTTP-enabled service
Security Multiple methods: AWS IAM roles, Amazon Cognito user pools, API keys Multiple methods: AWS IAM roles, Amazon Cognito user pools, API keys

Pricing Comparison

Pricing for both AppSync and API Gateway is primarily usage-based. While multiple factors contribute to total cost, here are the baseline numbers:


  • $4.00 per million Query and Data Modification Operations.
  • $2.00 per million Real-Time Updates.
  • Data Transfer is priced separately and varies by region, it starts from $0.09 per GB.

API Gateway (for REST APIs)

  • $3.50 per million API calls received, plus the cost of data transfer out, starting at $0.09 per GB.
  • Caching price is $0.020 per hour for a cache size of 0.5 GB.

For WebSocket APIs in API Gateway:

  • $1.00 per million messages, plus $0.20 per million connection minutes.

View the AWS AppSync Pricing and Amazon API Gateway Pricing pages for the latest pricing information.

Remember that both services offer a free tier for new AWS customers, and costs may also vary depending on the region where your resources are hosted. Make sure to consider these factors when calculating the cost for your specific use case.

Use Cases

  • AppSync is best for applications needing real-time updates, complex nested queries, offline support, or seamless integration with other AWS services. These could include real-time chat apps, collaborative apps, or apps with complex data requirements.
  • API Gateway is a good fit for applications that need to provide RESTful or WebSocket interfaces, support high request rates, or require flexible integration with various services. It's ideal for microservices architectures, serverless applications, or legacy system interfaces.

How to Choose Between AppSync and API Gateway

Choosing the right tool for your project comes down to a number of factors. Here are more points to consider when deciding between AppSync and API Gateway.

  1. Understand Your Data and Interface Needs: First and foremost, you need to understand the nature of the data you're working with and how you want your clients to interact with it. GraphQL, used in AppSync, enables clients to fetch exactly what they need, making it efficient for complex systems and mobile applications. On the other hand, if your service interactions are simple CRUD (Create, Read, Update, Delete) operations, a RESTful interface provided by API Gateway might be sufficient.
  2. Real-Time and Offline Support: AppSync's real-time and offline support makes it a strong candidate for applications that need to function smoothly with intermittent connectivity, or for real-time collaboration apps. On the contrary, while API Gateway can handle real-time interaction via WebSocket, if your application needs a comprehensive offline-first approach, AppSync would be more appropriate.
  3. Integration and Flexibility: Both services offer seamless integration with other AWS services. API Gateway has an edge here as it can work with any other HTTP-enabled service, providing broader flexibility. If your project involves integrating with various diverse services, you might lean towards API Gateway.
  4. Scale and Performance: If your APIs need to support a high number of requests, API Gateway can be an ideal solution due to its ability to scale automatically and handle virtually any level of traffic. However, for data-intensive applications where clients need to make fewer but more data-specific requests, AppSync could be more efficient due to the nature of GraphQL.
  5. Pricing: Lastly, consider your budget. If your API sees high request volumes but transfers minimal data, API Gateway might be the cheaper option. However, if your application makes complex queries that return substantial amounts of data but makes fewer requests overall, AppSync could be more cost-effective.
  6. Learning Curve and Developer Experience: GraphQL has a steeper learning curve compared to REST. If your team is already comfortable with RESTful APIs, choosing API Gateway might lead to faster development. However, if the advantages of GraphQL align with your project needs, the investment in learning could lead to longer-term productivity gains with AppSync.

In conclusion, understanding your project requirements, the strengths and limitations of each service, and aligning them with your team’s capabilities and business goals will enable you to make the best choice for your API needs.

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Maintained by Caleb Waymeyer