Firestore & Firebase suite are great technologies. They allow us to build some features really fast. Showing your stakeholders that you’ve made real-time, collaborative features in almost no time gets you the “wow effect” so needed in some fields. However, Firestore also has many pain points that, in my opinion, outweigh the pros in most of the more advanced cases.
This is a series of articles where we comprehensively describe the pros and cons of using Firestore as the backend for your next mobile application. In this series, we will try to show you that making this decision is not a simple process, and you need to analyze your app from multiple perspectives.
Posts in the series:
Is Firestore appropriate for you? As with everything in IT - it depends. Read on to find out why!
Firestore has outstanding libraries for mobile. Android (Kotlin!), iOS (Swift!), Flutter (Dart!) - every one of them works magically. For free, you get services that complement each other with ergonomic and easy-to-bootstrap libraries. With Firestore libs, you get all the goodies of the Firebase suite - auth, serverless, storage, ML, and others perfectly blended with the language specifics.
The only bad thing about them is that they are pervasive - once you get them, you start using them everywhere. In all layers. Generally, that is a bad thing, but let’s be honest here, most small apps don’t need any additional abstractions, and using the libraries directly is a good thing.
This is a significant trait of Firestore. The truly killer feature - it can work (to some extent) offline. Seamlessly. If you have accessed the data previously, you can do so again without the Internet connection. You can even save the data there without an active connection. Firestore libraries handle all the syncing, data merging, notifications, and other problems.
The Firebase platform (that Firestore is part of) might be a viable “backend” option for minor, user-focused apps. If you use it alongside other SaaS solutions (e-mails, voice calls, etc.), you might even be able to build a not-so-small app without creating any traditional backend system.
Being Google’s product, it also integrates well with GCP. It blends with it more and more with every release, and I suppose that soon, these two will be fully merged.
Having all these solutions in a single place, governed by the same IAM services and configured the same, gives you a great advantage right at the beginning. It allows you to focus on what matters, leaving all the gritty details to Firebase. Even if you need some more advanced backend features, you can always use Cloud Functions and do it the usual way.
If you need to have offline capabilities, using Firestore for that is also great - we used this approach in Activy, and it worked wonders.
We need there to record GPS tracks as reliably as sports devices (e.g., watches), but being a casual gaming app, it needs to do so in very rough conditions without specialized hardware. Jagged GPS signal, no Internet, prolonged connection, intermittent Internet connection, apparent connection - all need to be taken care of. With Firestore, we handled all of the cases and gave our users a solution that works everywhere - even in very remote areas without that much of development.
There are many other places where Firestore is an excellent solution, but Firestore's simplicity can take its toll. Where Firestore shines and simplifies things initially, it can make your hair gray after the application gets complicated enough. As with everything in programming, you need to wage pros and cons, consider the future and select the best for your app.
Do you want to find out how the Firestore pricing works or what traps wait for you if you're going to secure it properly? Maybe you want to create an auction-based app that requires quick updates? We learned about this the hard way. Paying thousands for improper usage, breaking live apps because of deployments, overcoming all the shortcomings of Firestore - we've been there.
Read the 2nd part of our series on "Why Firestore" to learn about the biggest limitations of Firestore.
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