Google Cloud Firebase: How to Quickly Launch and Monitor Your App

Thursday, May 7, 2020
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Building an app is like putting on a show. What happens on stage is the main focus for your audience, but you also have to take care of stage design, lighting, sound, and a number of other essential backstage elements. So long as everything runs smoothly, the audience rarely even notices these aspects of the show. If something goes wrong, though, it becomes immediately obvious and problematic.

Some developers enjoy tinkering with the backend infrastructure of an app, but most would actually prefer that someone else took care of it. As a result, Backend-as-a-Service (Baas) has become a popular and cost-effective solution. Google’s Firebase is a good example and, as you would expect, one that holds a leading position in the industry.

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But what exactly can Firebase do and, more importantly, is it the right service for your project? Read on to find out.

Using Firebase to Build Apps

At its core, Firebase is a software development platform backed by a real-time database. When it was first launched by Google in 2014, its main feature was the Realtime Database, a NoSQL cloud-storage solution that could immediately sync data across multiple platforms.

As soon as a client changed their information, the database was updated and the new version was made available to all other clients right away. In addition, the database could work offline by caching data on a local device and synchronizing it as soon as Internet connectivity was available.

If you wanted to build a simple app, you no longer needed to provision your own servers, nor did you have to program user authentication. Instead, Firebase would take care of the backend for you, while its Auth interface allowed you to integrate email and password, as well as Facebook or Google authentication. In other words, you could focus most of your resources on creating an excellent user experience.

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However, there were a few drawbacks with Google’s Realtime Database, such as its notorious reliance on NoSQL. With NoSQL, there was no way to query your data properly or set up relational data without having to duplicate it for each element. Developers immediately recognized these issues and recommended Firebase only for a few, very specific applications such as real-time chat or messaging.

Since then, Google has launched its Cloud Firestore product to address many of the issues specific to the Realtime Database. Unlike the latter, Firestore can handle more complex, scalable data models and deep queries, which is the main reason why it has become the primary database recommended by Google.

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There’s other good news, too. For example, Google’s Cloud Storage lets you store content that is generated by in-app users, such as images or audio and video recordings. What’s more, Firebase comes with static hosting for any application you build with JavaScript, HTML, and/or CSS. Your web assets are cached on a global CDN for improved performance and everything gets an SSL certificate for enhanced security.

Perhaps the best thing about Firebase is that it integrates dozens of tools designed by Google for app developers. Even once you’re finished building your app, there are more features waiting for you.

Firebase Testing and Maintenance Tools

Diagnosing and troubleshooting your app can be a painful process, but it doesn’t have to be. Firebase puts four essential tools at your disposal to give you invaluable insights into app performance and stability.

The Firebase Test Lab. Why provision physical devices to test your app when you can use virtual and physical devices hosted by Google? You can use this feature to discover bugs throughout the development lifecycle of your app so that the end result is a great user experience across different platforms.

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Firebase App Distribution. Want to send a version of your app to a trusted tester? This tool helps you do just that directly from the console, where you can also group up and manage all of your testers.

Firebase Performance Monitoring. If some of your users experience performance issues on their devices, this tool can help you diagnose them, as well as monitor the performance of specific elements of your app. All results are neatly summarized in the console and require no coding on your part.

Crashlytics. The main crash reporter for Firebase, this feature can significantly reduce troubleshooting time by identifying and organizing issues according to their impact on your users’ experience. Not only do you get a better idea of what causes a crash, but you also know which problems you should address first.

Firebase Integrated Analytics

Once your app is published, it’s time to track its success and make changes based on the ways in which users interact with it. Firebase makes this entire process significantly easier with several integrated tools.

Google Analytics is deeply integrated within the Firebase platform, which lets you obtain invaluable metrics on user engagement, user retention, and other behaviour data. With just a few lines of code added to your app, you can even target specific elements of your service and track precise events, such as when a button is pushed or a purchase is made.

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Using the data you acquire through your app, Firebase Predictions outlines user groups and provide further insights with the help of machine learning solutions. You can then turn this information into increased user retention, a better conversion rate, and more accurate revenue predictions.

Working closely with both Google Analytics and Firebase Predictions, the In-App Messaging tool helps you conduct smart targeting and send personalized messages to your most frequent users. If you need your users to perform certain meaningful in-app actions, this is the feature that can push them in the right direction.

Cloud messaging, A/B testing, dynamic links, and other useful tools are also included in Google’s Firebase. In short, you get all the features you need to obtain app data and leverage the power of analytics grouped up in a single place.

Should You Use Google Cloud Firebase?

Firebase is a complete software development platform and BaaS solution, but that doesn’t mean it’s necessarily the best option for your project. Whether or not this is the case depends on your specific needs, but luckily, you can try out Firebase for free before you commit to a paid plan.

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In fact, one of the main advantages of Firebase is that the platform scales with your app(s). You can start out on the free plan and add more features as they become necessary. You can even launch your app and decide on whether you want to switch to a paid plan based on its success. By the time you need more resources, your app can already be on its way to earning back some of the development costs.

Plus, there’s no need to worry that Firebase will have a similar trajectory as Facebook’s Parse, which was shut down prematurely in 2017. According to Google, Firebase is here to stay.