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Operation Expressions

At a glance

  • Identifier: OperationExpressions
  • Stage: RFC0: Strawman
  • Champion: -
  • PR: -


RFC: Operation Expressions


Proposed by: Benjie Gillam - Graphile

In the Schema Coordinates RFC Mark introduced the concept of "schema coordinates" which give a standard human- and machine-readable way to unambiguously refer to entities within a GraphQL schema: types, fields, field arguments, enum values, directives and directive arguments. The scope of that RFC is deliberately very tight, and it serves that goal well, providing a one-to-one mapping between the schema coordinates and the schema entities.

This RFC is to gather feedback on expansions of the Schema Coordinate syntax that could be used for different purposes whilst maintaining familiarity.


The aim of this RFC is to give the GraphQL community a standard syntax that people, tools and documentation can use to concisely and consistently reference GraphQL operation concepts such as paths that is more fluid, expressive, and contains more context than the Schema Coordinates RFC that this RFC builds on top of.

This is not intended to be a replacement of the Schema Coordinates RFC, but an extension to it for a number of additional use-cases.

Use cases

Referencing a position within a GraphQL Operation Document

Imagine you have the following GraphQL query:

businesses: searchBusinesses(name: "Automotive") {
owner: personByOwnerId {
email # <<< HERE

You might reference the marked (<<< HERE) field with an expression such as:

  • - this is the "schema coordinate" which uniquely identifies the field, but lacks context on how we retrieved it
  • >businesses>owner>email - given the GraphQL query document, this is sufficient to uniquely identify this specific reference (caveat: duplicate fields would all be referenced with the same expression)
  • >businesses:searchBusinesses>owner:personByOwnerId>email - this contains more context than the above, indicating not just the aliases but the actual field names too; with this access to the operation document is not required to determine what was requested
  • >businesses:searchBusinesses(name:)>owner:personByOwnerId>email - this contains even more context (the argument names that were used)

These are all valid operation expressions, but they each convey different levels of context.

Generating a GraphQL Operation Document quickly (Emmet-style)

Emmet is a plugin for many popular text editors which greatly improves HTML & CSS workflow:

Emmet is a popular syntax for quickly generating HTML/CSS. It's easy to imagine how a operation expression syntax could be combined with a GraphQL schema definition to quickly generate GraphQL queries, mutations and subscriptions with a concise syntax. For example the expression:


might expand to:

query($name: String!) {
businesses: searchBusinesses(name: $name) {
owner: personByOwnerId {


might expand to:

fragment MyFragment on User {
businesses {
owner {

When navigating the GraphiQL documentation, GraphiQL maintains a stack of the path you arrived to the current documentation page through. It could be valuable to store this into the query string such that you could share a "documentation stack" with someone else (or bookmark it). For example if you browsed through the documentation via:

  • User type
  • User.friends field (returns a User)
  • User.latestMedia field (returns a Media union)
  • Post type in Media union
  • title field

you might use a query string such as:


Linking from a field description to an operation path

If, for example, you were to deprecate a root-level field in your schema, you might want to indicate where the user can retrieve the equivalent data now. You could do this by including an operation expression as part of the deprecation reason:

The Query.branchesFromFork field is being removed; please use the following path instead: Query>repositories>forks>branches

Indicating how to access a particular field

When reading the documentation of a type in GraphiQL it currently does not indicate how to reach a particular field. Though there are often infinitely many paths to reach a field, often the shortest are the most valuable, so GraphiQL could indicate a few of the shorter paths using operation expression syntax:

User.firstName can be accessed through paths such as:

  • >me>firstName
  • >articles>author>firstName
  • >searchMedia>>firstName
  • mutation>createUser>user>firstName


When analysing how a GraphQL schema is used, it may be useful to track statistics for each type, field, argument using Schema Coordinates; but it may also be interesting to track through what paths users are finding said fields. You could use operation expression syntax to track this:



Syntax is in flux; but here's some thoughts:


Following a path from one field to the next could use the > character; this is already used in Apollo's GraphQL documentation browser and is intuitive for navigation. This leaves . available and non-ambiguous for referring to fields on a type, which is useful when disambiguating references on a union type, for instance:


might model:

me {
media {
... on Film {


The expression >me>name would expand to { me { name } }.

If you want to create a mutation or subscription operation, you can prefix the path with the operation type (you can do this for queries too, but just like in operation documents, the query keyword is optional):

  • mutation>createUser>user>name expands to mutation ($input: CreateUserInput!) { createUser(input: $input) { user { name } } }
  • subscription>currentUserUpdated>name expands to subscription { currentUserUpdated { name } }
  • query>me>name expands to query { me { name } }

You may name operations by prefixing with an operation name followed by a colon; for example:

  • MyQuery:>me>name and MyQuery:query>me>name expand to query MyQuery { me { name } }.
  • MyMutation:mutation>createUser>name expands to mutation MyMutation { createUser { name } }.
  • MySubscription:subscription>userCreated>name expands to subscription MySubscription { userCreated { name } }.


Fragments start with a type name followed by a period: User.friends>name expands to ... on User { friends { name } }.

You can name fragments by prefixing with a fragment name and a colon: FriendNames:User.friends>name expands to fragment FriendNames on User { friends { name } }.

Other examples:

  • MyFragment:Node.User.fullName:name expands to fragment MyFragment on Node { ... on User { fullName: name } }

  • MyQuery:>allEntities>edges>node>MyNodeFragment:Node.MyUserFragment:User.fullName:name expands to

    query MyQuery {
    allEntities {
    edges {
    node {

    fragment MyNodeFragment on Node {

    fragment MyUserFragment on User {
    fullName: name


Arguments use the same syntax as Schema Coordinates; namely parenthesis and a colon: >searchBusinesses(name:)>city.

We also allow you to reference input objects used in arguments, for example:


expands to something like:

query($whereSizeGreaterThan: Int) {
searchBusinesses(where: { size: { greaterThan: $whereSizeGreaterThan } }) {

Further we allow for multiple arguments to be specified, joined with commas:


expands to something like:

$whereSizeGreaterThan: Int
$whereSizeLessThan: Int
$whereCityEqualTo: String
) {
where: {
size: { greaterThan: $whereSizeGreaterThan, lessThan: $whereSizeLessThan }
city: { equalTo: $whereCityEqualTo }
) {

NOTE: the following number syntax probably needs more thought. Added only for completeness.

We also allow [number] syntax to refer to a numbered entry in a list, or [] to refer to the next entry; e.g.:


expands to something like:

query($byIds0: ID, $byIds1: ID, $byIds2: ID, $byIds5: ID) {
findUsers(byIds: [$byIds0, $byIds1, $byIds2, null, null, $byIds5]) {


The Lexical Tokens below plus OperationType and Alias are defined as in the GraphQL spec. Note there are no ignored characters: whitespace is not ignored.

Lexical Tokens

Name ::

  • NameStart NameContinue* [lookahead != NameContinue]

NameStart ::

  • Letter
  • _

NameContinue ::

  • Letter
  • Digit
  • _

Letter :: one of A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z

Digit :: one of 0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9

IntValue :: IntegerPart [lookahead != {Digit, ., NameStart}]

IntegerPart ::

  • NegativeSign? 0
  • NegativeSign? NonZeroDigit Digit*

NegativeSign :: -

NonZeroDigit :: Digit but not 0

Comma :: ,

Expression Syntax

Expression :

  • FragmentExpression
  • OperationExpression

OperationExpression : Alias? OperationType? > SelectionPath

FragmentExpression : Alias? Name . SelectionPath

Alias : Name :

OperationType : one of query mutation subscription

SelectionPath :

  • Alias? Name . Alias? Name ( Arguments ) > SelectionPath
  • Alias? Name . Alias? Name ( Arguments )
  • Alias? Name . Alias? Name > SelectionPath
  • Alias? Name . Alias? Name
  • Alias? Name ( Arguments ) > SelectionPath
  • Alias? Name ( Arguments )
  • Alias? Name > SelectionPath
  • Alias? Name

Arguments :

  • Argument Comma Arguments
  • Argument

Argument : NamePath :

NamePath :

  • Name Indexes? > NamePath
  • Name Indexes?

Indexes :

  • Index Indexes
  • Index

Index :

  • [ IntValue ]
  • [ ]