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An Introduction to Google's Flagship Mobile and Web App Development Tool

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Designing a mobile app.

Designing a mobile app.

Introduction

To create a high-quality mobile application not only needs dedication to get all those codes right, but an accompanying development platform that is powerful and is rich in features. There is one such platform that is widely used by developers across the globe for those reasons, and it is called Firebase. It provides many options for the creation of highly functional and flexible web, Android and iOS platform applications. Like any other industry, it also has its own contenders, but they always have an open communication with the best and currently available platforms.

The Features

Firebase boasts its own set of powerful tools that developers can use to create and expand apps based on demand, as it is cloud-based. The platform’s aim is to help developers solve their main dilemmas – to create an app quickly, to fearlessly release and monitor it accordingly, and lastly, engage its users. The delivery of robust app experiences is allowed to be given focus by the developers. Among its prominent features include push messages, file storage, databases, analytics, authentications and much more.

The History

Like any other company or business, this platform has its own interesting history. It all started with Envolve, established by Andrew Lee and James Tamplin as a startup company back in 2011. Back then, they offered API for developers that facilitated online chat integration for websites, but before long the chat service was utilized for sending non-chat messages. It was relied on for real-time application data syncing, so eventually the real-time architecture from the chat system was separated, hence Firebase was founded in 2011, and was finally launched to the public in April 2012.

Firebase Realtime Database was launched first, an API for application data syncing across Android, web and iOS devices, that can be relied on for creating collaborative real-time apps.

They accumulated seed funding of more than $1 million in 2012 from contributors that included Greylock Pattners, Funder Collective, Flybridge Capital Partners, and New Enterprise Associates. Series A funding of $5.6 million was also raised in June 2013 from Union Square Ventures and Flybridge Capital Partners. Subsequently, Firebase Authentication and Firebase Hosting launched in 2014 that established the company as a leading mobile backend as a service (MbaaS).

It is now the Google BaaS platform, as it was acquired in October 2014. Eventually, they merged with DivShot, a web hosting platform that was also acquired by the technology giant. Since then, it has accumulated a remarkable list of clients including Alibaba, the New York Times, Todoist, Le Figaro and eBay Motors.

What made it popular is its accessibility with a Google account, plus it can be used for free with their Spark Plan. It features 10 GB hosting, SSL, custom domain, multiple websites, and several others. Firebase ML, Cloud Firestore, Test Lab and Realtime Database are optional features. As a platform that can be accessed for free, limitations still cannot be avoided, like access to Cloud Functions.

Meanwhile, the Blaze Plan is an upgrade considered by developers when they require more services, plus it considers the original free limits. If 20GB storage is hosted, the extra charge will only be for the 10GB extra usage. It has a flexible pricing model of $0.026/GB for hosting and likewise for each GB of storage. All the Spark Plan features are included, and a plan calculator and Usage tab used to check plan payment status and usage-related data for various Firebase services like the total number of real-time connections including WebSockets, and more.

Regardless of which plan is chosen, Firebase has its own range of Always Free services that makes it stand out. So let us go through each one briefly.

The Pros: Services for All

One is the app distribution feature that lets users receive useful feedback prior to the production phase of a new release, and transmit early versions of apps with CI servers or a console. App indexing provides app links on Search that lets users to reengage their Google Search. Now, A/B Testing is another feature allowing users to promptly test modifications made to features, UIs and campaigns before app launches.

Predictions uses machine learning for data to develop dynamic user sections based on behaviors. Active app users are allowed to use contextual messaging with the In-App Messaging feature. While app owners can notify clients apps if and when data or emails are to be synced with payload transfers, using the Firebase Cloud Messaging service.

Developers gain insight into the performance characteristics of web, Android and iOS apps with the Performance Monitoring feature. Issues are found and fixed quickly by Crashlytics as both non-fatal and fatal errors are monitored, and reports are generated centered on the effect on users’ experience.

There are also Dynamic Links, which are smart URLS allowing application managers to organize both potential and current users to different parts of the app. Remote Config cloud solution lets users change the apps’ behavior and appearance without an update. Predictions is enabled to inform returning application users with the Machine Learning components.

Another noteworthy feature is its ability to drastically shorten the time to market developing apps. With frontend developers managing all the work, starting a backend from scratch, avoiding creation of a boilerplate code, the time needed to reach completion is reduced, all thanks to the previously mentioned features like data storage, analytics and more.

With the platform focus on creating frontend code, this allows convenience and keeps costs low, hence the high preference of Firebase among developers. With the high-quality SDKs and detailed documentation, integrating this platform with their codebase is much easier.

The serverless feature through the integrated Cloud Functions is accessible with the Blaze Plan through its two database options – Cloud Firestore and Firebase Realtime Database. Cloud Firestore or Google Firestore can be accessed with native SDKS from mobile or web applications and is used for storage and synchronization as it is a cloud-based NoSQL database. Firebase Realtime Database facilitates JSON-based data storage and is also cloud-hosted. It can execute real-time data synchronization with the connected clients and allows apps to receive latest updates.

The Cons: Open-Source

With the pros also comes the cons of using the platform. As it is not open-source, it became a suboptimal option for developers, thus its largest limitation. The source code cannot be changed, so this prevents the community from improving the product. Another is the use of the NoSQL structure that limits its ability to run complex queries.

Dedicated servers are not available, so this makes it less flexible compared to a full-clustered structure that can hamper optimal performance. The usage-based pricing model is likewise a difficulty in estimating costs especially when scalability requirements are unpredictable. ACID properties support has been emphasized in the community as it requires developers to execute their own code unlike a traditional database, resulting in a more complex system.

As part of the Google Cloud Platform, it can work perfectly with its other services and incorporate with plenty of third-party services, but it cannot run on other cloud providers such as AWS or Azure. Also, the URIs with *.google.com and *.googleapis.com are obstructed in many countries like China.

Despite all this, Firebase is still an impressive platform with its own setbacks. As with other industries, there are other options that are equally significant.

The Low-Code Backend Tools

One that operates as a low-code backend to quicken app development and is a widely-used open-source platform is Back4App, a reliable alternative for hosting web, mobile, and IoT apps. Developers are also allowed to take advantage of a database that provides fast and efficient data update and synchronization. Backendless is a popular mobile backend that provides users the options of dedicated, cloud and managed servers to fit various development requirements. AWS Amplify has numerous features for developing AWS full-stack applications and features its Analytics that is appropriate for figuring out user behaviors with convenient metrics and auto-tracking.

Parse is another well-known open-source backend framework since 2016 that gives an extensive set of features like a spreadsheet-like database, Authentication, Storage, APIs and Notifications. Kinvey is also a serverless application development platform used for multichannel application creation that works through a cloud backend and SDKs. It can facilitate easy management of code and allows code sharing beneficial for cross platform applications.

Coding.

Coding.

The Verdict

Like any item or software, Firebase has its own list of pros and cons, and likewise has a number of competitors. With all the information discussed, hopefully this article will help you to understand Firebase better and make an enlightened decision on whether to use this platform or not.

Testing what you learned so far!!!

For each question, choose the best answer. The answer key is below.

  1. What is the name of Google's flagship website and mobile application development tool?
    • Firesquare
    • Firebase
    • Firechase
  2. Firebase originated from what company?
    • Envolve
    • Alphabet
    • Google
  3. What year was Firebase founded?
    • 2010
    • 2021
    • 2011

Answer Key

  1. Firesquare
  2. Envolve
  3. 2010

More details here.

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