Google’s Firebase Web and Mobile Application Dev Tool

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In this rapidly changing world, the challenge to develop a robust and high-quality mobile application would require a lot of commitment and dedication. There is one such platform from the Google stable that has captured the attention of developers and is now among the top tools that they use. That is Firebase, which has numerous options for creating highly functional and flexible web, Android and iOS platform applications. While it definitely has its own set of competitors in this industry, Firebase is always conversing with the best available platforms presently.

Firebase has powerful features for developing, managing and improving applications. With its own set of credible tools, apps can be created and expanded based on demand. Hence it aims to work through three main dilemmas of developers – to build an app quickly, confidently release and monitor the same, and engage its users. The access to services that they developers can create themselves enable them to focus on delivering robust app experiences. Some of its salient features include databases, authentications, push messages, analytics, file storage and much more. Developers are allowed to perform on-demand scaling without any hassle.

The history of this platform has its own ups and downs like many others. It originated from Envolve, a startup company established in 2011 by Andrew Lee and James Tamplin. They provided an API for developers to facilitate online chat integration for websites, but they soon found out that their chat service was being used for relaying non-chat messages. They were relying on the platform for real-time application data syncing, so they decided to differentiate the real-time architecture from the chat system that led to Firebase being founded in 2011, which led to the public launch in April 2012.

The Firebase Realtime Database was first launched as an API for application data synchronization across Android, web, and iOS devices that developers can use for creating collaborative real-time apps.

Firebase received seed funding of approximately $1 million in 2012 from contributors such as Greylock Partners, New Enterprise Associates, Flybridge Capital Partners, and Founder Collective, and also raised series A funding of around 6 million in 2013.

The launching of Firebase Authentication and Firebase Hosting in 2014 was able to establish the company as a leading mobile backend as a service (MbaaS).

It was acquired by Google in October 2014, and is now the Google BaaS platform. Eventually it was merged with DivShot, a web hosting platform also acquired by the technology giant. Since then, it has amassed an impressive showcase of clients, including Alibaba, The New York Times, Todoist, Le Figaro and eBay Motors.

The platform is accessible for free with its own limitations, which is their Spark Plan. It lets users log in with their Google account which made it so popular. This includes 10 GB hosting, SSL, multiple websites, custom domain, and several other features. It also has elective features like Firebase ML, Realtime Database, Cloud Firestore, and Test Lab, but no access to Cloud Functions.

On the other hand, developers that require more services can upgrade to the Blaze Plan that counts the original free limits. So, if you host 20GB storage, you will only be charged for the 10GB extra usage. This plan has a flexible pricing model of $0.026/GB. It includes all the Spark Plan features, a plan calculator and a Usage tab for checking plan payment status and usage-related data for different Firebase services, like the total amount of data within a database, the total number of real-time connections including WebSockets, and more.

Still, whichever plan you choose, Firebase has a generous array of Always Free services that gives it an advantage over its competitors. We will talk about each one concisely.

First is the app distribution feature that enabless users to receive useful feedback before the production phase of a new release, and send early versions of applications using CI servers or a console. Another is app indexing that lets users reengage Google Search users by providing app links on Search. A/B testing is also a feature that allows users to quickly test modifications made to UIs, features, and campaigns before app launches. Predictions uses machine learning for data to develop dynamic user segments based on behaviors. The In-App Messaging function engages active app users using contextual messaging. Firebase Cloud Messaging enables app owners to notify clients apps if and when data or emails are to be synced with payload transfers of up to 4kb for instant messaging cases.

In order to learn more about how your web apps perform in different operating systems, the performance monitoring feature is provided. Crashlytics finds and fixes issues quickly as it monitors both non-fatal and fatal errors, and reports are generated based on how these affect users’ experience. Dynamic Links are smart URLs that lets application managers direct both potential and current users to the different parts of Android or iOS applications. The Remote Config cloud solution enables users to alter applications’ behavior and appearance without updating them. The Machine Learning components can be used by both iOS and Android developers which provide predictions to notify about returning application users.

Another noteworthy feature of this platform, is its capability to radically reduce the time to market for developing apps, as frontend developers are allowed to manage all work, reduce the time needed to reach completion, avoid creating a boilerplate code and start a backend from scratch. These are all thanks to the services mentioned earlier such as data storage, authentication, notifications, analytics and more.

Hence, with the platform shifting the focus on creating frontend code for mobile applications that allows convenience and helps in keeping costs low, many developers worldwide are preferring Firebase. The integration of this platform into their codebase is easier due to the high-quality SDKs and detailed documentation.

The serverless application development through integrated Cloud Functions can be utilized with the Blaze Plan through the two database options – Cloud Firestore and Firebase Realtime Database. Cloud Firestore or Google Firestore is a cloud-based NoSQL database for storage and synchronization. It can be accessed from mobile or web applications via native SDKs. Firebase Realtime Database is a cloud-hosted database that provides JSON-based data storage and can execute real-time data synchronization with connected clients and lets apps receive the newest updates.

With those upsides, a bunch of downsides in using the platform cannot be averted. The greatest limitation of this platform that makes it an inadequate option for developers is, it is not open-source, hence the Firebase source code cannot be modified, which prevents the community from expanding the product. Another is the use of the NoSQL structure for a database that makes running complex queries difficult. The absence of dedicated servers is another significant limitation, as it offers less versatility compared to a full-clustered structure and can impede optimal performance. Its usage-based pricing model likewise poses a problem in forecasting costs especially when scalability requirements cannot be predicted. The support for ACID properties has also been emphasized in the community, because even though it can support such transactions, developers need to execute their own code, unlike a traditional database that results in a more complicated system.

With Firebase being part of the Google Cloud Platform, it works perfectly with its other services, and integrates with plenty of third-party services, but there are no options to run on other cloud providers like AWS or Azure. As a subdomain of Google, it is blocked in many countries like China because they barred the URIs with *.Google.com and *.googleapis.com.

Nonetheless, Firebase is still an excellent platform even if it has its own set of limitations, and as with other industries, there are many alternatives that are equally astounding.

Back4App is a widely-used open-source platform that functions as a low-code backend to speed up app development. A reliable choice for hosting web, mobile, and IoT apps that allows developers to take advantage of a database that enables quick and efficient data update and syncing. Backendless is a popular mobile backend that provides users the options of dedicated, cloud, and managed servers to suit different development requirements. AWS Amplify has many features for the development of AWS full-stack applications and boasts its Analytics considered suitable for figuring out user behaviors with convenient metrics and auto-tracking. Another one is Parse which is a prominent open-source backend framework since 2016 and provides an extensive set of features like a spreadsheet-like database, APIs, Notifications, Authentication and Storage. While Kinvey is a serverless application development platform for multichannel application development, and it operates through a cloud backend and SDKs. It has code sharing for cross platform applications and can facilitate easy management of code.

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