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Google Leverages Near Real-Time Backend Development With Firebase

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From Google Cloud Platform’s team, Mandy Waite presented at QCon London 2015 Firebase, a solution to help teams being focused on building (near) real-time mobile and web applications without dealing with the complexity of backend services.

During her talk “Taking the pain out of real-time mobile backend development”, she detailed how Firebase may help dealing with the challenges that mobile development is facing in the present, namely:

  • Multi-platform support
  • Capability to scale for a large number (and always increasing) of devices
  • Need for real-time updates
  • Support for distributed state because sometimes devices are not connected

As mentioned in the provider’s website, Firebase

“is for anybody that wants to write apps without having to run backend servers or write server code”

Firebase is a real-time application platform that offers common needs for nearly every application, which are a database, an API and an authentication process. The Database is characterized by real-time capabilities based on NoSQL technology, allowing the storage of JSON documents in a straightforward way. One should expect latencies to be extremely low when accessing data.  The provider promises that different users of an app based in Firebase will be able to exchange information in less than 100ms. A RESTful API that maps every piece of data to a url is also available in the platform.

After introducing the platform, Waite reminded the audience that we are facing (again) a shift in processing power, giving more power to the clients. A blog post called the tablet turning point goes deeper on this trend analysis. According to the speaker, Firebase takes advantage of this additional power.

Another characteristic of an architecture using Firebase is the ability to have synchronization both ways. On the client-side, a developer will have a client library that leverages the support for the typical situations like the need of a screen refresh, accessing data when offline or synchronizing when a device become reconnected again.  

The functionality described above will result in collaboration when there are several people using the same application.

As mentioned, authentication is also one of the core capabilities of the platform. The following methods are available:

  • Email and password
  • Common OAuth providers like Google, Facebook, Twitter and Github
  • Custom authentication, for proprietary LDAP or AD

Waite fished with the “What’s next?” question. The main functionalities on the roadmap are:

  • Private backups to cloud storage
  • Disk persistence for iOS and Android
  • Improved user management and analytics
  • Integration with Google Cloud Platform

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