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Step classes

A step details a particular action or transform that needs to be performed when executing a GraphQL request. Each step is an instance of a specific step class, produced during the planning of a field. Each step may depend on 0 or more other steps, and through these dependencies ultimately form a directed acyclic graph which we refer to as the execution plan. Thus the steps are the building blocks of an execution plan.

A modest range of standard step classes are available for you to use; but when these aren't enough you are encouraged to write your own (or pull down third party step classes from npm or similar).

Step classes extend the ExecutableStep class, the only required method to define is execute, but you may also implement the various lifecycle methods, or add methods of your own to make it easier for you to write plan resolvers.

/** XKCD-221 step class @ref */
class GetRandomNumberStep extends ExecutableStep {
execute(count) {
return new Array(count).fill(4); // chosen by fair dice roll.
// guaranteed to be random.

function getRandomNumber() {
return new GetRandomNumberStep();

If you add any custom fields or methods to your step classes we recommend that you prefix them with your initials or organization name to avoid naming conflicts occurring.


Don't subclass steps, this will make things very confusing for you. Always inherit directly from ExecutableStep.

Built in methods

Your custom step class will have access to all the built-in methods that come as part of ExecutableStep.


When your step requires another step's value in order to execute (which is the case for the majority of steps!) it must add a dependency via the this.addDependency($otherStep) method. This method will return a number, which is the index in the execute values tuple that represents this step.

It's common to do this in the constructor, but it can be done at other stages too, for example during the optimize phase a step's descendent might ask it to do additional work, and that work might depend on another step.

In the getting started guide we saw the constructor for the AddStep step class added two dependencies:

class AddStep extends ExecutableStep {
constructor($a, $b) {
this.addDependency($a); // Returns 0
this.addDependency($b); // Returns 1

You must never store a reference to another step directly (or indirectly) in your step class. Steps come and go at quite a rate during planning - being removed due to deduplicate, optimize, or tree shaking lifecycle events. Referring to a step that no longer exists is likely to make your program have very unexpected behaviors and/or crash.

In the exceedingly unlikely event that you need to reference another step but it is not a dependency, use its id ─ you can then look up the step associated with that id at a later time; if it exists it may be different to the step you remember, but it should serve the same purpose. However, it may have been deleted due to tree shaking - if this causes a problem, then maybe that step should have been a dependency after all?


Pass in the number of the dependency (0 for the first dependency, 1 for the second, and so on) and Grafast will return the corresponding step. This should only be used before or during the optimize phase.

For example in the AddStep example above we might have:

const $a = this.getDep(0);
const $b = this.getDep(1);



Like getDep, but skips over __ItemStep and similar builtin intermediary steps to try and get to the original source. Typically useful if you have a step representing an entry from a collection (e.g. a database "row") and you want to get the step representing the entire collection (e.g. a database SELECT statement).


Pretty formatting for the step.

console.log("$a = " + $a.toString());


You may override this to add additional data to the toString method (the data that would occur between the triangular brackets).

Lifecycle methods


count: number,
values: ReadonlyArray<GrafastValuesList>,
extra: ExecutionExtra,
): PromiseOrDirect<GrafastResultsList>

Execute is the one method that your step class must define, and it has very strict rules.

The first argument to the execute method, count, indicates how many values will be fed into your execute method, and the length of the list that the method must return.

The second argument to the execute method, values, will be an n-tuple (a tuple with n entries), where n is the number of dependencies the step has. Each of the entries in the tuple will be a list of length count, and contains the data that relates to the corresponding dependency. The order of the entries in these lists is significant - the N'th entry in each list corresponds with the N'th entry in each of the other lists.

The third argument is currently experimental, use it at your own risk (and see the source for documentation).

Execute must return a list (or a promise to a list) of size count, where the N'th entry in this list corresponds with the N'th entries in each of the values tuple's lists.


If the step has no dependencies then values will be a 0-tuple (an empty tuple), so in situations where this is possible you must use count to determine how many results to return.


You might wonder why the values input is a tuple of lists, rather than a list of tuples. The reason comes down to efficiency, by using a tuple of lists, Grafast only needs to build one new array (the tuple), and into that array it can insert the results from previous execute methods unmodified. Were it to provide a list of tuples instead then it would need to build N+1 new arrays, where N was the number of values being processed, which can easily be in the thousands.

The result of execute may or may not be a promise, and each entry in the resulting list may or may not be a promise.


If you want one of your entries to throw an error, but the others shouldn't, then an easy way to achieve this is to set the corresponding entry in the results list to Promise.reject(new Error(...)). You can do this even if you don't use promises for any of the other values.


In the getting started guide we built an AddStep step class that adds two numbers together. It's execute method looked like this:

  execute(count, [allA, allB]) {
const results = [];
for (let i = 0; i < count; i++) {
// `allA` and `allB` have the same length, which is `count`, and the
// entries at the same index in each list relate to each other.
const a = allA[i];
const b = allB[i];
results.push(a + b);
return results;

Imagine at runtime Grafast needed to execute this operation for three (count = 3) pairs of values: [1, 2], [3, 4] and [5, 6]. Since Grafast batches everything the values for $a would be allA = [1, 3, 5] and the values for $b would be allB = [2, 4, 6]. The execute method then returns the same number of results in the same order: [3, 7, 11].


This method is optional.

count: number,
values: ReadonlyArray<GrafastValuesList>,
extra: ExecutionExtra,
streamOptions: {
initialCount: number;
): PromiseOrDirect<GrafastResultStreamList>

TODO: document stream. (It's like execute, except it returns a list of async iterators.)


This method is optional.

peers: readonly ExecutableStep[]
): readonly ExecutableStep[]

After a field has been fully planned, Grafast will call this method on each new step when more than one step exists in the draft execution plan with the same step class and the same dependencies. These "peers" (including the step itself) will be passed in to the deduplicate method, and this method should return the list of the peers that are equivalent (or could cheaply be made equivalent) to the current step.

To cause your step class to never be deduplicated, either don't implement this method or simply return [];.

You should not mutate your peers or yourself during this method, instead use the deduplicatedWith method to apply side-effects.


This method is optional.

replacement: ExecutableStep
): void

If Grafast determines that this specific step instance should be replaced by one of its peers (thanks to the results from deduplicate above), Grafast will call deduplicatedWith on the step that is being replaced, passing the step that it is being replaced with as the first argument. This gives your step a chance to pass any information to the peer that may be necessary to make the peers equivalent.


It's rare to need this functionality, so let's work through a hypothetical.

Imagine step $select1 represents the SQL query SELECT id, name FROM users and step $select2 represents SELECT id, avatar_url FROM users.

Lets further imagine that we've optimised our SQL handling step classes such that both $select1 and $select2 return [$select1, $select2] from their deduplicate method (because they can "cheaply" be made equivalent).

Assuming Grafast chooses to keep $select1 and "deduplicate" (get rid of) $select2, Grafast would then call $select2.deduplicateWith($select1). This would give $select2 a chance to inform $select1 that in order to be completely equivalent, it must also select avatar_url.

In this scenario, at the end of deduplication, only $select1 would remain and it would represent the SQL query SELECT id, name, avatar_url FROM users.


This method is optional.

options: { stream: StepStreamOptions | null }
): ExecutableStep

This method is called on each step during the optimize lifecycle event. It gives the step a chance to request that its ancestors do additional work, and/or replace itself with another step (new or old). If it does not want to be replaced, it can simply return itself: return this;.

This one method unlocks a significant proportion of Grafast's efficiency improvements. Here are some common use cases that it can be used for:

Optimize: inlining

optimize is often useful for "inlining" the requirements of this step into an ancestor and then (optionally) replacing itself with a simple access or remapKeys step. This reduces the number of asynchronous tasks the request needs to execute and can enable significantly more efficient data fetching.

Optimize: planning-time only steps

Another use case for optimize is to make planning-time only steps "evaporate" by replacing them with their parent or a different step.

The loadMany step represents each record via a LoadedRecordStep instance which can be used to .get(attr) a named attribute. This reference is then stored, and at optimize time the LoadedRecordStep can tell the LoadStep to request this attribute (so that the loadMany callback doesn't need to do the equivalent of SELECT * - it can be more selective). However, since LoadedRecordStep has no run-time behavior (only planning-time behavior) it can simply replace itself during optimize with its parent step (typically an __ItemStep).

The builtin each step uses optimize to replace itself with the underlying list where possible.

Optimize: simplification

Another use case is simplification.

For example the step representing access(access(access($a, 'b'), 'c'), 'd') could be simplified down to just access($a, ['b', 'c', 'd']), reducing the number of steps in the operation plan.

Similarly first(list([$a, $b])) can be simplified to just $a.


This method is optional.

finalize(): void

This method is called on each step during the finalize lifecycle event. It gives each step a chance to prepare for execution, doing anything that needs to be done just once. A step that deals with a database might precompile its SQL, a step that transforms an object might build an optimized function to do so, there are so many other actions that this step can be used for.


It is critical that the step calls super.finalize() at the end of the finalize() step:

finalize() {
// ... your code here ...


Importantly during this step the step should only worry about its own concerns and should not attempt to communicate with its ancestors or descendents - they may not be the steps that it remembers as they may have been switched out during optimize! If the step needs to communicate with its ancestors it should use the optimize method to do so.

Other properties


Every step is assigned a unique id by Grafast. This id may be a string, number, or symbol - treat it as opaque.


Currently this value is a number, but Grafast may change it to be a string or symbol in a minor release so you should not rely on its data type. You may, however, rely on String(id) being unique across an operation plan.


Set this true if the step has side effects (i.e. causes a mutation) - if this is true then Grafast will not remove this step during tree shaking, and will ensure that the step is executed even if it doesn't appear to be used in any output.



This is a very dangerous optimization, only use it if you're 100% sure you know what you are doing!

Setting this true is a performance optimization, but it comes with strong rules; we do not test you comply with these rules (as that would undo the performance gains) but should you break them the behaviour is undefined (and, basically, the schema may no longer be GraphQL compliant).

Do not set this true unless the following hold:

  • The execute method must be a regular (not async) function
  • The execute method must NEVER return a promise
  • The values within the list returned from execute must NEVER include promises
  • The result of calling execute should not differ after a step.hasSideEffects has executed (i.e. it should be pure, only dependent on its deps and use no external state)

It's acceptable for the execute method to throw if it needs to.

This optimisation applies to the majority of the built in plans and allows the engine to execute without needing to resolve any promises which saves precious event-loop ticks.


This is set true after the step has been optimized.


Set this true if your plan's optimize method can be called a second time.


In this situation it's likely that your dependencies (or their dependencies) will not be what you expect them to be (e.g. a PgSelectSingleStep might become an AccessStep due to having been optimized). This, and the fact that it's rarely needed, is why it's not enabled by default.



You may optionally set this to indicate a key to use for which meta object to be passed in to execute (typically used for caching). To make it unique to the instance of your step, in the constructor after calling super(), set it as this.metaKey =;. If you want to share the same meta object between all steps of a given class, that class may set metaKey to be the name of the class. You can even set it to a shared value between multiple step classes (a "family" of step classes) should that make sense. By default no metaKey is set, and your class will therefore have no meta object.


The loadMany and loadOne standard steps make use of this key to optimize value caching, you may want to look at them for more inspiration.

Step function

By convention, we always define a function that constructs an instance of our class so we don't see the new calls or redundant Step text in our plan resolver functions.

This function is typically named after the corresponding step class, but with the first letter in lower case and the Step suffix omitted, for example AddStep would become add:

function add($a, $b) {
return new AddStep($a, $b);

There's multiple reasons for this, a simple one is to make the plan code easier to read: we won't see the new calls in our plan resolver functions, nor the redundant Step wording, resulting in a higher signal-to-noise ratio. More importantly, though, is that the small layer of indirection allows us to do some minor manipulations before handing off to the class constructor, and makes the APIs more future-proof since we can have the function return something different in future without having to refactor our plans in the schema. And remember that this cost is only incurred at planning time (which is generally cached and can be re-used for similar future requests), and each field is only planned once, so the overhead of an additional function call is negligible.