Imagine a turnkey rental office space. When you lease the space, the infrastructure is already set up: utilities, workstations, phones, WiFi, a security system, and a receptionist. When there’s a problem, you don’t need your own IT support team—it’s built into the lease. All the extras are a phone call away. And when you need to grow, more offices are available.

Now imagine instead of a company, it’s an app. And instead of an office, it’s a cloud-based platform with servers, databases, and hosting built-in, along with a host of other features. All of the back-end programming that usually has to happen to make an app possible is taken care of— that’s what Google’s Firebase backend-as-a-service (BaaS) promises to do.

Here’s why app developers love Firebase.

BAAS BASICS

There are a number of steps and resources required to power a mobile or web app—server provisioning, database design and management, and RESTful APIs to fetch that data. To streamline these steps, more developers are outsourcing back-end development to a BaaS like Google’s Firebase. This doesn’t just speed up development, it takes a lot of day-to-day monitoring off their plates, and offers features that can set an app up for future scalability and success.

Ilya Obshadko, a backend developer at Upwork says “Google Firebase is a very convenient choice if you need a basic, all-in-one back-end infrastructure for your mobile development project without having to create it from scratch, or assemble it from standalone SaaS components. For Android apps, it’s often a natural choice, especially in the early stages of the project.”

Firebase is a mobile and web application development platform that was acquired by Google in 2014. The platform helps developers quickly spin up backends for web, iOS, Android and Flutter applications or Unity games.

Firebase covers these basics of back-end development:

  • Server management
  • Real-time database design and file storage
  • APIs
  • Scaling and load balancing as demand grows
  • Hosting and cloud storage

A couple of these are worth explaining in more detail. The real-time database and API were Firebase’s primary product offerings, and are still at the heart of what makes it so great. The real-time capabilities are possible (and easy to implement) thanks to web sockets, communication protocols that make real-time, interactive communication between apps and databases possible. Scaling and load balancing are also a big bonus because they’re handled without you having to intervene.

ADDING FEATURES WITH FIREBASE PRODUCTS

While the Firebase BaaS offers top-notch foundational tools, it’s the range of products and add-ons that make apps better, and developers’ lives easier. The products are free-standing and independent, which means you can pick and choose the ones you want, whether you need support developing your app, improving the quality of your app, or growing your app. Firebase suggests you “mix and match Firebase products to solve common app development challenges.”

Some features to know include

  • Cloud Messaging lets you add in-app chat to your app
  • Push Notifications, based on segmentation and app
  • A/B Testing with Test Lab
  • Authentication: Use Firebase to manage users, with support for Google, Facebook, Twitter, Github, and Email/Password authentication
  • Analytics, with access to Google’s BigQuery for an in-depth look at user activity
  • Machine learning with ML Kit (in beta at the time of this article)
  • Remote Config, which lets you make changes to your app remotely, on the fly, without having to republish it

Firebase provides some helpful use case scenarios to explain how these features work in detail.

For example, say you’re struggling with your onboarding process and notice users are dropping off early on in your funnel. With Firebase, you can add authentication features for a quick, easy sign-in, then integrate Google Analytics to track where drop-offs are occurring so you know exactly what to address.

Or, say your marketing department would like to spin up a campaign that uses personalized content in the app (e.g., welcome screens) and customized ad experiences based on user activity. Running a campaign like this would typically take a good amount of engineering support, but Firebase incorporates all the tools you need—analytics, AdMob, and Remote Config.

See how one popular fitness app scaled to meet the needs of ten million users with only three developers on their team:

Getting Started with Firebase

If you’re developing an Android app or a web app, Firebase is relatively straightforward to integrate. Also, it’s a standalone product, which means that if you’re using a cloud provider like Google Cloud or AWS, it’s easy to combine with either. You can also hook Firebase up with Google App Engine to send real-time updates.

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