Google Firebase for Startups – Must-Have or Nice-to-Have!
Startups have been falling head over heels in love with Firebase, the wildly popular Backend-as-a-Service app development platform. This popularity may be owing to the fact that Firebase can be a big help in case the business lacks resources with a technical background, or in case there’s no one familiar with the backend.
What is Firebase? – A brief history of its evolution.
Almost a decade ago, Envolve entered the market and over the past few years evolved into Firebase as we know it today. At the outset, when Firebase was a startup itself, their aim was to provide APIs that enabled chat setup in a website. The technology enthusiasts, though, found ways to exploit it beyond the basic functionality it offered. They started to pass app data that was so much more than just the chat messages and began using it to sync the app data like maybe a game across all the users in real-time.
It is upon observing this, that the founders James Tamplin and Andrew Lee separated the two uses – the chat system and the real-time architecture. It was in April 2012 that Firebase was made into a separate entity to exclusively offer Backend-as-a-Service with a real-time functionality.
In 2014, Google acquired Firebase which helped them evolve rapidly into the versatile juggernaut that it has become on the web platform. The acquisition let the developers connect with key cloud tools like storage or database using multiple SDKs. This has resulted in an added refined functionality like monitoring to fix performance issues and analytics to see user engagement among other things.
According to Google, on a monthly basis 1.6 million apps run purely on Firebase and they are working towards making every developer’s experience using the solution smoother.
Is Google Firebase good for my startup?
The answer to this is a resounding yes, if your startup involves a mobile application or a web app. it is true that using Firebase may take getting used to, but there are abundant advantages to using Firebase for your mobile app-based startup. In the sections below, we will talk about the advantages that come with using Firebase and the limitations you might encounter with it.
Why should a startup use Firebase for apps?
- Brilliant Analytics
It is a Google product after all! When you opt for Firebase while building your mobile app, one of the most useful and coveted features that comes with it is the brilliantly designed and intuitive Analytics dashboard. I am calling it brilliant because it comes with the ability of tracking and reporting more than 500 different event types and each one of these has more than 25 attributes. The highlight – it comes free!
Using this dashboard, you can get a clear picture of the user behavior and also measure the attributions of different users. Most importantly, these analytics can help you develop a stronger understanding of user interactions within the app, helping you optimize the app and make it better in future.
- Powered Up Static Hosting
Firebase gives you, the developers a free CDN and SSL hosting and it all runs on Google Cloud! That should be enough to reassure you that you would face absolutely no problems while you are serving files to a massive number of users all across the world.
The entire development process is made further painless by the fact that Firebase host uses Superstatic which can be run locally for all kinds of testing.
Firebase may be perfect for you, if you are looking for a zero-configuration hosting for your single-page app or a static website.
- Easy Scalability
Backed by the brilliant Real-Time database feature (I’ll get to that later), Firebase has a certain efficiency when it comes to scaling. It, of course, works really well when it comes to test versions of the app, but even when these apps go live and the database grows exponentially, Firebase has an uncanny ability to deal with scaling taking the fears in this regard away.
- Dynamic Links
Dynamic Links are awesome because with just a tap they take the user directly to the app (if they have installed it already) or to the app store (if they haven’t installed your app yet). You can include a whole lot of relevant data in the links (like referral codes) opening up a whole new world of opportunities for you. You can invite new members to a group and offer rewards for joining and more such activities.
Firebase comes with a built-in dynamic link generator which the developers can use to design a referral system where one user can send it out to another as an invite. The invited person can just tap on the link (which contains data) and be redirected to the app.
- Authentication Implementation
It is an age of digital vulnerability and the apps you build are going to need some kind of authentication. Firebase comes with multiple ways of authentication that you can employ in your app like email and password, social media logins (Facebook/Google/Twitter/GitHub), and even phone numbers where you give Google the phone number and Firebase sends a verification code to be used to access the app.
With Firebase, you can allow your app users to authenticate, register, reset passwords, and verify emails. You can save up on some money and time with Firebase UI – it’s free and open source!
- Real-Time Database
One of the biggest highlights of using Firebase is their real-time database where you can store your app data. the way this works, however, is a little different from the platforms you may be used to. On Firebase all data is grouped into different “nodes” which are defined by you, like “invites” “users” etc. and then add children or sub-nodes. Data can be removed or added directly from the interface.
Majority of the databases today need you to make HTTP calls for collecting and syncing your data, but if you are using Firebase, the connections are made through WebSocket, not HTTP. The thing with WebSocket is that they are fast, and a single connection is needed to sync all the data through the single WebSocket.
The best part is that as soon as any data is updated, the new data is sent instantly through the Firebase web app. This effectively means that if a client updates any piece of data, the connected clients will all get the updated data in real-time!
- Feature Loaded App Platform
Recently, a number of existing and new Google products have found their way into Firebase mobile apps! Quite a few of these features can now be applied to Android and iOS, but not web. Let’s take a look.
- Remote Configuration
- Test Lab
- Dynamic Links
Limitations or challenges of using Firebase for your Startups
- Dissatisfactory Console
The Firebase console allows a range of features and functionalities but comes with its own set of problems as well. The console lacks analytics or detailed logs which is strange for a product from Google which is notoriously obsessed with data.
This means that if you want to know the number of times a particular file was downloaded from storage the only way would be to implement a functionality in the app. The only thing you get in their console is a graph that shows you the database usage.
- Defining Security Rules
It is as tough as it sounds!
- Querying Data
It is quite unusual for a product from Google to have this limitation. The Firebase system only lets you do limited filtering and only some pagination – that’s it!
This means if the developers want to implement any kind of search functionality, they would have to download all the existing data and then use a server, or will have to carry out the entire process with the help of a suitable third-party app.
- Data Modelling
A Firebase database is essentially one big JSON file and if the developers want to develop one to many or many to many more connections, there simply is no way out for them! They would have to duplicate the entire data repetitively on regular intervals.
An even bigger problem comes up when you have to edit a name. In this case, the developers would have to manually edit the name from each individual place it has been used.
For small and medium businesses and especially startups who lack experience or resources to handle the backend of an app or website, Firebase may come in really handy. Of course, it has its own set of challenges and limitations, but these emerge only when you get past a certain level of experiences with databases and database management issues.