Power of DataLoader

Aug 6, 2021 • 5 min read

In this post I would like to share my recent experience of working with DataLoader, with a step-by-step example.

I actually have been thinking about writing an article about DataLoader for few years, since I first tried it. I even had a talk (in russian) about it once. And finally I have some really simple and yet meaningful example of its usage outside of GraphQL ecosystem.

Problem space

An app I have recently been working on was a contentful extension which gathered some metrics about content usage/completeness. One particular feature was to find links to the pages from other ones. E.g. we wanted to know how many offer pages are associated with a city page.

To give you an idea, contentful has a very powerful mechanism to build site hierarchy (not only) - reference fields. Where one entry can have link/s to others. With a help of it we've been able to create structure like this:


On which we heavily rely to automate a lot of content sections throughout our website: main navigation, breadcrumbs, thumbnails with parent/child/sibling pages and basically the whole gatsby (yep, we use SSG) build process relies on it.

Limitation of existing API

And obviously we'd like to use this info to gather our metrics, moreover contentful provides a way to do so - links_to_entry query param. It returns a list of entries which refer to the one you are interested in. E.g. using js sdk:

let { items: entries } = await space.getEntries({
  links_to_entry: 'id-of-our-city',

But there are few issues with this approach:

  • it works for 1 entry, we can't get links to multiple cities;
  • contentful docs suggest: "it is more performant to query based on a content type's reference field";

And in my case, I really need to work with hundreds of pages, so both of them sound rather concerning. Here is an example:

let cityIds = [1, 2, 3, ...hundredMore]

// make 103 parallel heavy requests
// at least contentful sdk handles rate limit responses for us (retries requests)
let citiesWithLinks = await Promise.all(
  cityIds.map((id) => space.getEntries({ links_to_entry: id }))

Luckily contentful provides an alternative:

  // now we need to know
  content_type: 'offer', // referencing content type
  'fields.city.sys.id': 42, // and field

It also allows using operators, so we actually can make a single request for all cities at once:

let offersReferencingToAllCities = space.getEntries({
  content_type: 'offer',
  'fields.city.sys.id[in]': cityIds,

Now we have to group this flat array of offers by the city they belong to:

// lodash have a handy method for that
let offersByCityId = _.groupBy(
  (offer) => offer.fields.city.sys.id

Finally, we can get same result we had in the beginning with fewer (just 1 in our case) api calls. Here is full example:

let cityIds = [1, 2, 3, ...hundredMore]

let offersReferencingToAllCities = space.getEntries({
  content_type: 'offer',
  'fields.city.sys.id[in]': cityIds,

let offersByCityId = _.groupBy(
  (offer) => offer.fields.city.sys.id

// ta-da!
cityIds.map((id) => offersByCityId[id] ?? [])

Well great, but it's it confusing that we achieved what we wanted to, but didn't use DataLoader as I promised?

Right, there is a couple of issues with our final solution actually:

  • it is obviously more complicated than the one we started with;
  • contentful has a limit on number of returned entries, so it is very likely that we'd wanna batch in a smart way (and complicate solution even further);
  • our abstractions not always allow us to operate on all entities, so that we can batch calls explicitly (e.g. graphql resolvers);

So wouldn't it be cool if we had an api similar to our initial solution, and performance of the last one? Easy! That's what we need DataLoader for!

 * We'll have a data loader per content type and field,
 * cause that's what contentful allows us to batch
let createLinksLoader = (contentType, field) =>
  // we should provide a batch loader
  // which gets an array of keys (in our case entry ids)
  // and returns array of resuls, respecting the original order
  new DataLoader(async (ids) => {
    // pretty much same code we had,
    // except now it is more generic/reusable
    let referencingEntries = await space.getEntries({
      content_type: contentType,
      [`fields.${field}.sys.id[in]`]: cityIds,

    let groupedEntries = _.groupBy(
      (offer) => offer.fields[field].sys.id

    return ids.map((id) => groupedEntries[id] ?? [])

And now we can use our loader:

let cityIds = [1, 2, 3, ...hundredMore]

let offerToCityLinksLoader = createLinksLoader('offer', 'city')

let citiesWithLinks = await Promise.all(
  cityIds.map((id) => offerToCityLinksLoader.load(id))

Neat, isn't it? Now we have a performant, reusable links loader and even more:

  • DataLoader also deduplicate and cache calls;
  • with a help of maxBatchSize option, we can prevent hitting the limit for number of returned entries I mentioned above;

Hope you enjoyed the article!

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