What is the Firebase backend?

In this article, we shall make a detailed review of Firebase by analyzing its features, pricing models, and the platform’s benefits and demerits.

One of the critical factors that enhance the development of quality apps is a powerful development platform with extensive features. Firebase is one of the preferred development platforms for developers because of its stability and the valuable tools available on the platform.  With Firebase, developers can create apps for iOS, Android and the web without much hassles. 

Although several cloud platforms for app development exist, Firebase competes with the top platforms worldwide.

Without further ado, let’s proceed with the in-depth analysis of the Firebase platform.

Introducing Google Firebase

Firebase takes the form of a cloud platform for developing, managing, and running applications. It offers a wide array of tools for accomplishing app development and hosting assignments.  

some hassles, run and manage apps efficiently, and also engage app users.  Rather than develop these tools by themselves, developers can access all these powerful programs out-of-the-box with Firebase so they can focus on the core assignment of developing functional apps for their users.

A few excellent features of Firebase include push messaging, server analytics, backend storage, user authentication, and much more.

Firebase is hosted on the cloud, allowing developers to scale their apps without stress. All these features make Firebase one of the leading app development solution in the world today. 

The History of Firebase

A startup called Evolve, founded by James Tamplin and Andrew Lee in 2011, created an app that transformed into Firebase, as we call it today. It all started with the company providing APIs for integrating chat feature in websites.

However, the founders made an intriguing discovery that some users transmit other data types on their chat application. Developers were using the app for realtime syncing of data. Evolve founders then decided to separate the realtime module from the existing platform and developed it into Firebase, which was launched to the public in 2012. 

The Firebase Realtime Database was the first product from the Firebase staple. It offers API for syncing data across the web, Android and iOS applications. Developers started leveraging this technology to create instant collaboration apps.

After the initial launch, the Firebase raised over a million dollars in seed funding from investors a couple of investors. After that, the company raised Over five million in another round of funding in 2013.

In 2014, the authentication and hosting services of Firebase were launched simultaneously, making Firebase the premier provider of mobile backend as a service (MBaaS).

After Google acquired Firebase in 2014, it was integrated into the Google ecosphere.  Consequently, the search engine giant also bought a web hosting company called Divshot and merged it with Firebase.

Famous Apps Built with Firebase

Here are a few globally renowned apps that were developed with Firebase. 

  • eBay Motors
  • Le Figaro
  • Todoist
  • Alibaba

Firebase apps are found in different industries and diversified applications. It has been used to develop web-based applications, Android apps and iOS apps. 

The Benefits of Firebase

The  advantages of Firebase for developing anf hoting apps  are discussed below:

  • Offers a Free Plan

Any Google account owner can get started with Firebase absolutely free using their Google account details.

Firebase’s free tier is called the Spark Plan. It offers some server resources such as database read and write limits that can help a developer get up and running with a personal app. Once the resources are exhausted, the user can switch to the premium Blaze Plan. 

The ability to use the platform without any upfront cost is beneficial to developers who want to get acquainted with the Firebase.  Even after upgrading to the Blaze place, the developer is still entitled to the free resources offered to Spark plan users. 

For instance, if the developer subscribed to the Blaze plan used 30GB storage in a calendar month, the free 10GB available to the Spark users will remain free. In essence, such a user will only have to pay for the 20GB that exceeds the free plan limits. 

 This is one of the reasons why Firebase is popular among developers. 

  • Expedites Projects Delivery

With Firebase, developers can complete app development tasks quickly, thereby reducing time to the market.  

How does Firebase expedite project delivery?

 The platform negates the cumbersome tasks of setting up a server infrastructure, creating databases and backend servers.  It presents a ready-made backend so that developers can focus on frontend development assignments. 

This approach is in direct contrast to a scenario where the backend development team have to work in collaboration with frontend developers. This complicated tactic increases costs and can lead to bottlenecks that delay development assignments.

Firebase also offers several ready-made services that save developers the stress of creating boilerplate codes, writing backend codes from scratch or reinventing the wheel. Some of these services include Social Login, analytics, notifications, and many more. 

  • Comprehensive Services

Developers on Firebase have access to a wide array of services and products useful for app development projects. For instance, the platform offers Realtime Database and Firestore options for database.

Other features include seamless integration of storage to web apps, and many other features that enhance app development in a serverless environment. 

The tools and resources Firebase provides takes care of all possible assignments in the app development cycle.  For instance, you can develop an app, launch it and perform the continued monitoring and management all within Firebase. It also offers a suite of tools for managing and engaging app users. 

  • Google-Powered Platform

Given the fact that Google owns Firebase, one can expect superior quality and support from the well-established technology giant. For instance, The Firebase was upgraded with novel features since Google took over ownership of Firebase. Better still, Google established a seamless integration between Firebase and Google Cloud Services.

As a subset of Google Cloud Platform, developers can easily integrate services from other platforms into their app development projects. 

  • Streamline Development Tasks to the Frontend

Firebase offers several functions that take care of backend tasks, allowing the developer to concentrate on the frontend features of an app. Developers love Firebase because it streamlines development assignment to the frontend only. Therefore, app development is more convenient, and developers can complete app-building projects faster than ever. 

Streamlining the backend also allows the stereotyping of the backend assignments, making it easily manageable after short training.  Most of the tasks developers need to handle relate to the app frontend. 

  • Serverless Environment

The procedure of autoscaling server is complicated. Other tedious backend management assignments include optimizing the database for performance and managing database clusters to enhance availability.

Firebase takes the hassles away from backend management by providing a serverless environment. In essence, the developer doesn’t have to bother about managing servers or backend resources. 

Firebase makes resources available to app users on-demand and charges app owners based on server resource usage. This architecture differs from the conventional server that is always available, whether it is in use or not. This system uses server resources efficiently and will only implement scaling when the need arises. 

  • Machine Learning

Machine learning (ML) is disrupting the computing world through various intelligent programs designed for various industries.  In fact, Gartner predicts that about a third of business will soon use machine learning technology in their operations. The ML feature of Firebase is beneficial for developers who want to add the feature to their applications.

Firebase offers cloud solutions and ML Kit containing APIs for implementing machine learning functions such as barcode scanning, image labeling, face detection. OCR scanning, etc., in Android and iOS apps. 

  • Traffic Generation

The feature in Firebase that provides a link to the Google search engine is beneficial for re-engaging users through app indexing.  This feature allows the search engine to rank an app and provide more exposure and users for the mobile application.  A feature called Android Instant App offers unfettered access to application content. 

  • Seamless Monitoring

Monitoring an app for errors is automatic with Firebase apps. The platform offers a tool called Crashlytics that help developers detect issues with an app and resolve the challenges quickly. The tool logs all errors and generates reports that make it easy to troubleshoot and resolve such glitches in apps. 

  • Backups 

Firebase makes the procedure for handling backups seamless and hassle-free for developers. The challenge losing data and availability is no longer an issue because Firebase takes backups automatically.

Blaze plan users can configure automatic backups for Realtime Database. The platform has a backup tab that enables developers to activate automatic backup with a simple mouse click.

Firebase Limitations

While Firebase boasts of many innovative features, it does have some shortfalls too.

  1. It’s a proprietary platform.
  2. Users suffer from being locked-in on vendor platform
  3. Firebase platform does not support several countries.
  4. All database options are NoSQL.
  5. Reply to queries are relatively slow.
  6. Free Plan his limited services.
  7. Relatively expensive, and price forecast is unpredictable.
  8. Works on Google Cloud only.
  9. No dedicated and enterprise service options.
  10. It does not support GraphQL APIs

We shall discuss these shortfalls one after the other.

  • It’s a proprietary platform

The fact that Firebase is closed-source is a concern among developers. Because they cannot have access to modify the source code, developers must put up with the platform’s rigid limitations.  That is why many developers that started with Firebase migrated their app to other platforms later. Although Firebase is proprietary, it does publish its SDKs and libraries on GitHub. 

The proprietary nature of Firebase is one of its most notable drawbacks. It leads to inflexibility, cannot be self-hosted for developers with a frugal budget, and the community cannot improve the product.

  • Users are locked-in on vendor platform

Vendor lock-in is another issue of concern with Firebase. Interoperability is a challenge with proprietary systems, and the developers cannot create the necessary tweaks to migrate their app to another platform. Therefore, they are locked-in indefinitely.  The only option left is to create the app afresh if they must move to another app hosting platform. 

  • Firebase platform does not support several countries

Since Firebase is designed as a subdomain of Google, it is automatically blocked in countries that block the Google platform.  

  • All database options are NoSQL

Firebase does not offer an SQL-based database option because FRDB and Firestore provided by the platform are NoSQL databases. Issues related to NoSQL database are:

  • Queries are complicated

It is challenging to implement complex queries with Firebase. Although Firebase was upgraded with the Cloud Firestore, some developers find it cumbersome to run complex queries on the platform.

A couple of challenges that users encounter includes filtering and running several queries at once. Although a workaround for such challenges exist, such techniques are complicated for beginners to implement. 

  • Data Migration Challenges

The Firebase databases uses JSON technology without SQL support. Unlike SQL-based database technologies, it is challenging to accomplish data migration assignments.

  • Some Services are missing from the Spark plan

The free Spark plan of Firebase offers many useful services, but not everything. For instance, the Cloud Vision API in the Machine Learning function and Cloud Firestore becomes activated after upgrading to the Blaze plan. Firebase Machine learning function is only offered to Blaze users and charge $1.5 per thousand API calls.

  • Relatively expensive, and the pricing forecast is unpredictable

While Firebase has many excellent features for app development, the cost is on the high side. The free plan has several restrictions that make it unsuitable for production apps.  High costs is one reason many developers opt for self-hosted backends on IaaS platforms like AWS, Digital Ocean, and other cloud solutions.

Firebase provides additional value over IaaS; that is why self-hosting on Infrastructure as a Service platforms is significantly cheaper. It would be smart to compare and contrast costs vs. convenience of setting up and managing servers on IaaS platforms and using Firebase.

Since Firebase is a proprietary platform, it must build the costs of it’s engineering investment on the pricing structure. Opensource solutions are cheaper because they leverage inputs from the developers’ community to minimize expenses.

The services of Firebase are priced based on usage, and there are no ways to set a limit to service usage. That is why its challenging to track or predict expenditure on Firebase. This challenge becomes more complicated when the app needs to scale.

Bills for Firebase resource usage can be highly unpredictable, especially when the platform retired the plan named Flame in January 2020. This Flame plan offered a fixed $25/month rate.

It is essential to note that pay-as-you-go pricing models are not always unreasonable. For instance, IaaS providers such as DigitalOcean and Azure offer this type of pricing model. It can be beneficial in some cases because the bill reflects the exact resource usage. 

However, it is essential to understand this type of billing structure and keep an eye on your resource usage to avoid unpleasant surprises when the invoice comes.

  • Restricted to the Google Cloud

Firebase has migrated the entire infrastructure of the platform to Google Cloud. You cannot use other IaaS platforms like Azure and Digital Ocean for Firebase hosting.  So, the Firebase hosting options are highly rigid.

Moreover, Firebase users do not have admin-level access to the server. This limitation can cause bottlenecks when a project requires custom server configurations. 

  • No dedicated and enterprise service options

Firebase does not offer dedicated server or enterprise plans which is a major issue for some users. The only available option with Firebase is a scalable serverless backend structure. 

This serverless backend model is great for mobile applications that experience substantial fluctuation in workloads, such as a restaurant that has a peak and off-peak period. For instance, maximum server availability is guaranteed during the weekends when patronage is high. 

Some apps have consistent workloads but require customized admin access to the server and custom security settings only available in a dedicated server environment. Unfortunately, the luxury and freedom of a dedicated server cluster are conspicuously absent in Firebase.

Many enterprises prefer to use a platform that guarantees dedicated contracts for support and other unique needs. This option is not available on Firebase. Such companies are compelled to stick with the Blaze service plan.

  • It does not support GraphQL APIs

GraphQL is not available on Firebase out-of-the-box. Rather, it uses REST as the default API solution for the platform. Developers are compelled to used workarounds to implement REST on Firebase.  

Firebase Pricing Model

Firebase offers two plans which are the Free Spark plan and the pay-as-you-go plan called the Blasé Plan.  There are no fixed price options on Firebase. 

PlanService Description
Spark The free Spark Plan offers custom domain, multi-site hosting, SSL, 10GB Storage, and many more. Other useful features include Realtime Database, Test Lab, Firebase ML, Cloud Firestore, and many more.  Some restrictions on this plan include the lack of Cloud Functions. 
BlazeThe Blaze plan charges the user based on various server resource usage; it offers all the features of the Spark Plan and many other advanced features that enhance development projects. It also lifts many restrictions applicable to the Spark Plan. The pricing model includes $0.026/GB for app hosting and storage, respectively.  Other chargeable services include authentication, cloud function, Firebase ML, and Cloud Firestore. The platform offers a useful tool on its website for estimating costs in different usage scenarios.

The Free Services of Firebase

The free plan of Firebase offers enough resources that allow developers to get acquainted with the platform and even start creating apps.  No matter the plan you choose, these services are always available at no cost to Firebase users. 

These free services are:

  • Machine Learning-enabled predictions that identify returning app users.
  • Customization of remote app features.
  • Dynamic link-based user redirection.
  • Crashlytics – crash detection logging.
  • Firebase user messaging and cloud messages for apps. 
  • App performance, reports, and predictions.
  • Version deployment for A/B testing.
  • SEO features that enhance app indexing in the marketplaces. 
  • Testers-specific app delivery.

Firebase Premium Services

Firebase provides a console usage tab for viewing payment status, usage data and available Firebase services.  Here are the available tabs

  • Downloads tab: This contains the total data volume downloaded from the database.
  • Load Tab: Refers to a time-delimited graphical display of app loads.
  • Connection Tab: Displays all realtime connection to the app backend. This data includes web sockets. 
  • Storage Tab:  This tab displays the total amount of data in a database and other data stored by other Firebase services.

Features of Firebase

Firebase developers enjoy several beneficial features from the platform. These features are designed to achieve the following objectives.

  1. Developing apps
  2. Publishing the app and manage it.
  3. Engage with the app users 

In essence, Firebase offers tools that are relevant throughout the app development life cycle.

CategoryFeatures
Developing appsHosting 
FCM
Authentication
Cloud Functions
ML
Storage
Databases (Firestore + RTDB)
Publishing and ManagementApp distributions 
Test Lab
Performance Monitoring
Analytics
Crashlytics
Engaging UsersIn-App Messaging
Dynamic Links
A/B Testing
Predictions
Remote Config

Alternatives to Firebase

Firebase provides excellent features for app development and hosting. However, many platforms have emerged that offers excellent services as well.  Here are a couple of Firebase alternatives we recommend you check out.

Back4app

Back4app leverages several opensource technologies to provide an excellent platform for reliable development and hosting for Android, iOS, web and IoT apps.

The platform is famous for its low-code backend that expedites app development and other rich features that enhances app development and management.

The features include database options that support realtiime data syncs., Rest API, GraphQL API, live queries, storage, and many more. 

Backendless

Backendless is a popular mobile backend provider that offers several reliable tools for app development and management. Users on this platform can choose from cloud, dedication and managed server plans.

The caching technology of this platform is efficient for enhancing app speed and performance. It also offers central logfile management that improves app efficiency. Developers can also leverage geolocation features to develop GPS-enabled apps. 

AWS Amplify

Many mobile app developers prefer AWS Amplify because it provides a wide array of development tools that expedite app development.  Developing full-stack apps is seamless with AWS.

The analytics feature of Amplify is highly developed, offering app metrics, auto-tracking and user-behavior analysis.  Other features include storage, syncing, push notifications and messaging that enhances user engagement.

Summary

The paragraphs above gave a detailed overview of Firebase from several perspectives, including features, benefits, drawbacks, pricing and alternatives.

Firebase is an integral part of Google Cloud. It’s benefits include scalability, faster time to the market, and comprehensive app development and deployment functions. A few drawbacks include its closed-source status, lack of SQL databases and users getting locked-in on vendor’s platform

Firebase offers the free Spark Plan and the premium Blaze Plan. The free plan offers limited server resources that cover most  Firebase services, while the Blaze Plan charges users based on the server resources used.

The features of Firebase provides value all through an app development cycle, from building to deployment through monitoring and engaging users. 

Viable alternatives to Firebase include Back4app, AWS Amplify and Backendless. 

This article aims to help you gain an in-depth understanding of Firebase and discover viable alternatives backends for app development. This valuable information enables you to make the right choice when selecting a backend for your app development project.

General FAQ

What is Firebase?

Firebase is a Google-owned app development platform that allows developers to create modern apps with top-notch features in record time. The platform provides infrastructure and other reliable app development tools. 

What are Firebase main features?

The main features of Firebase are machine learning, scalable hosting, analytics, database management, cloud code, and file storage.

Are there alternatives to Firebase?

The top Firebase alternatives are Back4app, Amplify, and Backendless.


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