Best Back-End Solutions for Mobile Apps


Back-End Mobile feat

Mobile is the emerging platform that’s gaining more and more popularity every single day. Why’s that? Well, the answer is obvious, right? With the rise of smartphones in the market, each of them serving different features and awesome performance with tons of customizability and flexibility.

Moreover, mobile apps are becoming more and more intelligent, thanks to the powerful hardware becoming more easily available and the hard work of the developer community.

That being said, it’s also the increasing necessity for a suitable back-end for powering all the cool, strong and useful features we’re enjoying on a daily basis. Of course, there are lots of things going on even on the smallest details, so a powerful back-end is paramount, especially for the mobile platform.

What is back-end, actually?

We’re going to discuss the back-end a lot. If you’re wondering what the heck back-end is, then why not do a recap of what we mean by “back-end”.

If you’re a computer enthusiast or an advanced computer user, you may already have experience with some sort of programming, right? For example, C/C++, Python, Java or other similar programming languages, right?

Then you’re already familiar with the concept of back-end technologies! It’s actually the part that builds up the basement for all the cool applications we are enjoying. Think of back-end as the base of a building. Without a strong, powerful base, the building is going to fall. The base isn’t visible to us but it’s what powers the entire structure.

From the above analogy, the outer structure of the building is the front-end that we all are familiar with. Powered by the strong base, a balanced combination of both is vital for the best user experience.

The same thing applies in the world of technologies as well. There are numerous back-end technologies being developed and used constantly for providing the solid basement for all the enhancements we can enjoy.

For the mobile platform, this is easier to understand. Let’s say that you’re playing Clash of Clans or browsing the web. In each case, the front-end is the only thing you’re actually watching. All the interactions you perform requires a lot of things to go smoothly. With clever programming techniques and taking advantage of different frameworks and programming languages, you’re getting that buttery smooth experience.

Now, developing mobile apps require a bit more expertise and carefulness. Mobile platform differs from the desktop/laptop platform in a significant way. You can throw a poorly programmed app on the desktop and it will most likely offer nearly the same performance as its improvised counterpart. That’s not the case with mobile.

It comes up with less hardware resource available and a more complex environment. Thus, the importance of powerful back-end support to offer the most out of the device is pretty significant.

The back-end for the mobile apps

Let’s get deeper with the inner structure of the mobile platform.

Mobile devices are actually smaller computers with smaller parts. However, it contains all the things that a modern computer contains – a processor, a certain amount of RAM, a storage solution and of course, a powerful OS that operates all the things smoothly.

So, how does the back-end looks like?

For convenience, let’s talk about Android – the open-source operating system for the mobile platform that’s developed and maintained by Google. There are a number of amazing frameworks for the platform that powers almost the majority of the smartphones in the world.

Here, the back-end consists of the following ingredients –

Linux kernel

Linux is one of the finest things, thanks to its ULTRA kernel! That’s what makes all the Linux systems very smooth and powerful. It’s open-source and actively developed by thousands of devs from the community.

As a result, it has found its way on the most popular smartphone OS of the current age. With highly efficient performance and flexibility, there’s no need stretching the tremendous advantage that Android has at its hand.

Kotlin, Java, JavaScript, Python, and others

This is the part that devs use to build all the amazing apps on the platform. With all the features of all these programming languages, it’s possible to perform the most amazing tasks.

All these parts ensure that the Android and all the apps on it runs as smooth as you’re used to experiencing.

JavaScript is an interesting addition to the list. Originally developed for enhancing the web, it has now craved its path into other infrastructures! Yes, it’s possible to develop Android and iOS apps with the help of JavaScript and other web programming languages!

Servers

Because mobile has a limited amount of hardware resource and display output, the mobile contents also have to be configured to ensure the maximum flexibility and seamless performance.

This is where special servers come in. It’s actually normal servers with different usage by intelligent programs. Instead of sending all the data via the internet, the general practice is to use the residual app data on the device to generate its own UI and some other features while the server provides necessary support and online features.

The target here is to reduce the usage of internet as lowest as possible for the maximum efficiency.

Different types of back-ends

Now, in the case of the back-end, there are different types of back-ends available. For simplification, all of them can be categorized into 3 major categories.

  • Static: These back-end parts are determined by the configuration of the service (hardware or software) and not easily changeable on-the-fly.
  • Dynamic: This is the most suitable type of back-end available for the developers. It allows dynamically determining things on the run.
  • Loopback: This type of back-end might not be a true back-end provided the possible usage scenarios. In this case, the device itself can send a response to the client without the help of a back-end destination.

Now, there are a number of available back-end services that can work just fine for the mobile platform. Even all the existing back-end services are compatible with meeting the needs of the mobile platform and developers are always fine-tuning things.

MBaaS

This is one of the newest technologies for the back-end sector. It’s specially designed to provide a simpler and better way of deploying, using and managing a cloud back-end for mobile and web apps.

The term MBaaS stands for “Mobile Backend as a Service”. In cases, it’s also called as BaaS (Back-end as a service). It’s a powerful model for the web app and mobile app devs that allows linking these apps to back-end cloud storage and other APIs while also providing support for user management, push notification and integrated support for social networking services.

Why MBaaS? I’m glad that you asked!

In the world of mobile apps, there are numerous challenges to overcome. Each and every mobile app is separated into 2 parts.

  • Client-side – The one that interacts with the users. Basically, the UI with all the buttons and beautifications.
  • Back-end – The infrastructure responsible for managing all the logic and database layers. In short, it’s everything “below the surface”.

For mobile apps, almost every single one of them is dependent on various additional services like APIs, file storage, user and data management, push notification and a lot of others. This is where MBaaS comes into play.

MBaaS transforms the server-side infrastructure into an abstract layer. So, as a mobile app developer, there’s no need for focusing hard and clogging your mind on the complex server interactions. With MBaaS, every single “back-end” thing (push notification, server management, cloud-based database and everything else) is set out-of-the-box.

Moreover, you will no longer have to worry about the uptime and scalability of the back-end. All the tasks are taken care of by your MBaaS service provider!

However, MBaaS isn’t the ultimate solution for everyone. After all, it depends on the necessity for the certain app – how the developer wishes to manage things. Let’s have a look at all the features and limitations of MBaaS.

Strengths
  • Flexibility and multi-utility

One of the major reasons behind the development of MBaaS model is to make the work mobile app devs easier. However, the properties of the model allow flexibility to such an extent that it no longer limited to “mobile-only” category. Now, MBaaS takes pride in powering web app development and other categories.

It’s even extremely powerful for deploying API frameworks.

  • Efficiency

By transforming the entire layer of back-end into an abstract one, MBaaS is definitely the most efficient way for devs.

For example, it usually takes weeks to months to do the complete back-end development for a specific app/platform. But just by deploying MBaaS, it’s possible to perform the entire action in hours!

  • Hassle-free

With all the difficult part taken care of, MBaaS offers the easiest way to develop the finest applications completely free of hassles.

  • Easy recovery

Because of the presence of multiple levels of redundancy (multiple backups of the data), if data is lost or deleted, backups are always available at any moment.

The more levels of redundancy, the better. It allows safeguarding against loss as much as possible.

Weakness

Well, MBaaS isn’t something that doesn’t come up without any limitation. Due to its nature, there are already built-in limitations that also affect other aspects.

  • Lesser control

MBaaS use predefined infrastructure for handling the back-end. It limits the power of the dev on the system greatly.

  • Limited operation count

There’s a limit on the count of operation for MBaaS. It depends on the service provider but generally, the limit doesn’t exceed 160.

  • Security issue

Security is a major concern here. For sensitive usage case, it’s always a better choice to opt for custom back-end cloud service that’s dedicated to your service only.

Moreover, security policies will vary for different businesses. That’s another limitation that can’t be enjoyed with MBaaS.

  • Delayed notifications

Sometimes, the push notification on the user’s device can take time, even about an hour on certain situations!

Despite having such limitations, MBaaS is still one of the most suitable and viable options for mobile app development. MBaaS is more appealing to web developers that come up with reduced cost and development time. With all the hard, complex and confusing part of the back-end taken care of, it frees up more time to invest in the design and UX to attract more users and of course, serving their needs easily.

RESTful Web API

This is another piece of tech that offers tremendous value to the app developers. REST stands for Representational State Transfer – a software architectural style that defines a set of constraints to be used for developing a web service.

Now, on the RESTful API. API (Application Program Interface) is an interface that allows two software programs to communicate with each other in an orderly manner. For the RESTful API, it uses the HTTP requests as the medium for this communication to perform different actions like GET, PUT, and POST and DELETE data.

REST offers a number of powerful features, most notably, the bandwidth. This makes the REST technology highly suitable for internet usage.

Now, a RESTful API takes the full benefit of HTTP methodologies defined by the RFC 2616 protocol. In this case, GET is used for retrieving a resource, PUT for modifying/updating a resource (object, block or file), POST for creating the resource and DELETE for removing a resource.

Like MBaaS, this one also comes up with its own benefits and limits.

Strength
  • All the RESTful web services are stateless. You can simply verify the condition by simply restarting the server and verifying if the interactions survive.
  • Offers a good caching infrastructure using HTTP GET method. It’s suitable for most of the servers. Using the caching, it’s also possible to improve the overall performance of the service.
  • The service producers and consumers must be within the same context and content over a content being passed along. There’s no set rule for describing the REST web services interface.
  • REST is extremely viable for restricted-profile devices like mobile.
  • Easy to integrate with existing platform and websites. The need for refactoring the existing site architecture is very small. That saves a lot of hassle as there’s no need to rewrite every single part since the beginning.

Now, let’s check out the limitations that RESTful API puts on the users.

Weakness

The problems with REST aren’t inherent problems from the architecture itself but rather, the issue of implementing REST on the HTTP. This makes it extremely difficult to enforce authorization and security on top of it.

For the service to work properly, both of them have to be in the same context to know what to do with the message. True RESTful web service requires too much work to do. That’s a lot of stress on the development side.

It’s better to use REST on such occasions where there’s no necessity for the objects to communicate with the client.

At the end of the day, the best protocol should be the one that makes the most sense for a particular purpose. It depends on the organization, the types of clients that are needed to support and what’s necessary in terms of flexibility. Most of the APIs are now developed using REST and JSON for less bandwidth consumption and easier understanding for both the developer implementing initial APIs and other developers who are writing other services against it.

The best backend solution for mobile apps

Well, why not check out some of the best back-end solutions for the mobile platform? These should also work fine with other scenarios depending on the needs.

Node.js

If you haven’t heard the name, it’s one of the finest back-end solutions that use the power of JavaScript to deliver infinite possible features. Node.js is essentially a runtime that uses the open-source and well-known JavaScript runtime – V8 Engine from Chrome.

Because of its versatility and features, Node.js has earned quite the reputation in the market. The community of Node.js is also increasing day by day.

For use on mobile app back-end, Node.js can be extremely useful. It uses non-blocking I/O model. Using this feature, it’s possible to keep the running app alive while it waits for communication with a distant server.

However, there are some limitations of Node.js that you have to keep in mind.

It’s a single-threaded application. Most of the modern applications are multi-threaded that allows calculating and processing data and new requests from the outside into different threads, saving time and improving efficiency. However, Node.js is a single-threaded application. But using clever techniques, it’s possible to bypass this limitation without any issue.

Secondly, Node.js uses JavaScript. JavaScript is one of the most vital parts of modern websites. However, JavaScript has been notorious for its weird features. It’s also important to implement JavaScript codes with care. Otherwise, it may pose as a huge security risk.

Finally, the eval should be avoided as much as possible. Of course, there are places where this will be necessary. However, avoiding eval will dramatically improve the performance and security of the mobile application.

Firebase

Firebase is a mobile and web application development platform. After being acquired by Google in 2014, Google has been the maintainer of the platform. And we all know that Google products are some of the top-notch ingredients for baking the best solutions.

Firebase offers built-in support for analytics, databases, messaging and crash reporting. This opens up more room for investing on the app features and users. The platform uses the powerful Google infrastructure that uses auto-scaling.

Interestingly, Firebase offers support for all the major programming languages (Java, JavaScript, C++, Objective-C, and Swift) and mobile platforms (Android and iOS)! There are also major vendors using the power of Firebase including Shazam, Lyft, Trivago and a lot more!

There are 3 different pricing plans available – Spark (free, generous limits for hobbyists), Flame (fixed pricing for growing apps) and Blaze (pay as you go). If you’re interested in Firebase, get started today with the free plan or, if your industry demands it, it’s possible to switch to any other plan easily.

But like any other BaaS solutions, there’s no control over the back-end for your apps. If Firebase shuts down, then you have to shift towards the classical custom back-end solution – literally, starting almost everything from scratch.

Moreover, Firebase is highly optimized for apps that require real-time interactions. For any other offline solution, it can easily become a hurdle. There’s no support for database migration as well. That can be a huge disadvantage for lots of scenarios.

AWS Mobile App Backend

Amazon has earned its reputation as one of the most reliable cloud service providers. It continuously improves while expanding aggressively. AWS is no different from that trend.

Some might argue that AWS isn’t an authentic MBaaS solution. But that doesn’t diminish the platform for being a suitable candidate as a powerful back-end for the mobile app platform. With 100+ associated services, AWS offers tremendous value for any size of apps.

For mobile, AWS Mobile Hub comes up with powerful core services like Amazon’s Cognito, Cognito Synch and DynamoDB, Lambda, Simple Notification Service and others. The target is to provide developers with all the necessary components by default.

Another powerful feature is AWS Device Farm. Using the service, devs can test their services and apps on 300+ devices concurrently!

AWS offers flexible pricing plans for all of its services. This can be really helpful for all types of businesses and organizations.

Conclusion

With all the above information, it’s finally up to you to decide which solution is the best for you. The design and the features you intend to incorporate with your apps will decide the factor.

If the target is to offer simple functionalities and not something crazy, then MBaaS should be the way to go. For something sensitive and privacy-related, it’s always better to choose the custom back-end solution, no matter how much effort it requires.

In my case, I prefer using JavaScript for developing my apps and back-end solution. Node.js and other JavaScript frameworks offer a huge benefit for me over other media. In fact, there are a number of dedicated frameworks only for mobile and web-based app development. Frameworks like NativeScript and Flutter offers seamless support for all mobile platforms. Check out the immense world of JavaScript.

Rooney

I am a full-stack web developer with over 13 years of experience. I love learning new things and are passionate about JavaScript development both on the front-end and back-end.

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