gRPC-Web vs the gRPC-Gateway

Ever since I first started using gRPC in 2016, I’ve been interested in learning how to use it well with browser clients. It’s a common question to ask once you’ve decided that you are going to use gRPC for service-to-service and mobile app communication. Here’s this great technology that abstracts away the problems I was having when making RPC calls between my services. How do I use it for my front-end applications?

Once the question is asked, you might find that it’s (still!) not possible to use raw gRPC in the browser and that there are at least two different solutions for translating gRPC into something a front-end application can use, gRPC-Web and the gRPC-Gateway.

The gRPC-Gateway

The gRPC-Gateway project started out (as I hear it) after the original author, Yuki Yugui Sonoda, left Google and wanted to use a tool they had been using internally at Google, but couldn’t find an open source version. So they wrote one!

At its core the gRPC-Gateway is a translation layer between the HTTP/JSON REStful API paradigm and the gRPC/Protobuf API paradigm. So what does that mean? Lets start by talking about HTTP/JSON.


What I like to call HTTP/JSON is the design pattern of using a RESTful API design for web service APIs. Examples of APIs like this include the Github REST API and the Stripe API. I usually try to avoid calling these “REST APIs” because there’s nothing about a REST API design that mandates the HTTP/JSON format, and often a gRPC API can and should be designed with the REST concepts in mind.

A typical HTTP/JSON API call might be described as a simple HTTP GET request with a JSON response body:

GET /api/v1/pokemon/snorlax
  "name": "snorlax"

This is an example of a HTTP/JSON API call to an API exposing information about Pokémon. The general form of this API call might look like this:

GET /api/v1/pokemon/{name}

It might also expose the ability to create Pokémon through a POST endpoint with a JSON request body:

POST /api/v1/pokemon

Using the HTTP verbs GET, POST, PATCH, PUT and DELETE and designing around resources (such as Pokémon in this exampe) are tell-tale signs of an HTTP/JSON API.

gRPC/Protobuf APIs

In contrast to HTTP/JSON APIs, gRPC/Protobuf APIs do not make use of any HTTP verbs, since that’s all handled by gRPC. It also doesn’t use JSON, instead opting for Protobuf as the transport encoding. Except for these differences, it is often quite simple to map HTTP/JSON endpoints to gRPC/Protobuf. It is still possible (and indeed often recommended) to keep REST API concepts in mind when designing your gRPC APIs. The Google API design guide recommends a Resource Oriented Design greatly inspired by the REST API principles.

Mapping HTTP/JSON to gRPC/Protobuf

Given that the differences between the two paradigms are not so great, shouldn’t it be possible to automate a mapping from one to the other? That’s exactly the role of the gRPC-Gateway. It does this by parsing Protobuf RPC annotations according to the google.api.http spec.

For example, if you start out with a GetPokemon RPC like this:

rpc GetPokemon(GetPokemonRequest) returns (GetPokemonResponse) {};

You can add some google.api.http annotations to turn it into a HTTP/JSON API:

rpc GetPokemon(GetPokemonRequest) returns (GetPokemonResponse) {
  (google.api.http) = {
    get: "/api/v1/pokemon/{name}"

That’s it! The gRPC-Gateway generator generates a file that you run to take care of the translation, and as a result, you can use your gRPC server with a browser client without any problems. The gRPC-Gateway project also includes an OpenAPIv2 generator which can be used to generate an OpenAPIv2 (AKA swagger) file, which you can use to generate a number of different clients (including browser clients).

For more information about the gRPC-Gateway, check out the project docs.


The gRPC-Web project is the official answer from the gRPC project to the question of using gRPC in the browser. Like the gRPC-Gateway, it requires you to run a translation layer between your gRPC service and the browser. Unlike the gRPC-Gateway, it doesn’t allow you to configure anything about that translation. Instead, it defines a spec for how the translation should happen. There are a number of different implementations of this spec, in different languages, allowing users to find the one that is the most suitable for their particular use case.

My preferred option is to use the Envoy proxy if I’m running in Kubernetes, or the Improbable gRPC-Web proxy as an in-process Go proxy, if I’m not.

The project includes a generator that can produce both pure JS and TS code, which can make the experience of using it very similar to that of using gRPC in the back-end. Note that the TypeScript code generated by the library is pretty poor, and vastly superior third party implementations are available, should you want to use gRPC-Web with TypeScript.

If you want to learn more about gRPC-Web, check out the project website and my previous post on gRPC-Web.

Which one should you use?

Though these both sound like similar projects from a distance, they’re actually built for two different use cases. Here’s a quick guide to choosing:

If you want to do both of the above, you can use the gRPC-Gateway to solve both problems, but the browser client will be worse, since it either has to be manually created, or generated via the OpenAPIv2 generator.

If you enjoyed this blog post, have any questions or input, don’t hesitate to contact me on @johanbrandhorst or under jbrandhorst on the Gophers Slack. I’d love to hear your thoughts!