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Choosing a Parse Alternative

Posted by on Jan 30, 2016

You’ve probably heard that Parse is closing its doors. While they will keep the lights on until January 2017, if you use Parse, you probably want to replace it with a new Backend-as-a-Service (BaaS) provider ASAP. Below we’ll look at the features offered by Parse, and how both Firebase and Backand stack up. We’ll explain what Parse had to offer, then look at the features in-depth to see why they matter for a BaaS provider.

A Brief Refresher on Parse

In case you’re not familiar with the back story, Parse is a BaaS focused on automating the most common tasks needed for web apps that are predominantly client-based. They offer data storage, scaling, analytics, security, storage, and a number of other useful features that you would typically need to purchase a physical server to implement. By implementing these features using common cloud-based providers, they are able to take the brunt of the back-end load for applications that don’t have extensive server-side computation needs.

Parse was acquired by Facebook in 2013 to drive a mobile development offering, serving as Facebook’s first foray into B2B services. However, Facebook decided to sunset the service, and as of January 28, 2016 Parse is closing down. They’ve open-sourced their code and offered migration plans for existing customers, and have given a generous time limit for the transition – Parse will go offline for good on January 28, 2017.

Examining Parse Alternatives

One of the first steps in choosing a BaaS provider is to understand what features are available from each. Below we will look at three providers. The first is Parse, to provide a baseline for the comparison. The second is Firebase, which is another popular provider that was acquired by Google in 2014. Finally, we’ll look at the list of features provided by Backand, and compare the three offerings. First, here’s a handy table to highlight the offerings of each provider:

Feature Parse FireBase Backand
Database Storage 1024px-Yes_check.svg 1024px-Yes_check.svg 1024px-Yes_check.svg
REST API based on Data 1024px-Yes_check.svg 1024px-Yes_check.svg 1024px-Yes_check.svg
User Management & Social Media Integration 1024px-Yes_check.svg 1024px-Yes_check.svg 1024px-Yes_check.svg
Hosting 1024px-Yes_check.svg 1024px-Yes_check.svg 1024px-Yes_check.svg
File Storage 1024px-Yes_check.svg 1024px-Yes_check.svg 1024px-Yes_check.svg
Geolocation 1024px-Yes_check.svg 1024px-Yes_check.svg 1024px-Yes_check.svg
Server Side Code Execution 1024px-Yes_check.svg 1024px-Yes_check.svg
Push Notifications 1024px-Yes_check.svg 1024px-Yes_check.svgvia integration
Real-Time Database Connections 1024px-Yes_check.svg 1024px-Yes_check.svg
Analytics 1024px-Yes_check.svg 1024px-Yes_check.svgvia integration
Bring your own database (portability) 1024px-Yes_check.svg
Advanced Data Models 1024px-Yes_check.svg
Server-side Integration with 3rd-party services 1024px-Yes_check.svg

 

Let’s take a look at each feature in-depth.

Common features

The following six features are available across all three BaaS providers.

Database Storage

All three providers give you a database to store your application’s data. While Parse and Firebase are based on NoSQL databases like Couchbase and MongoDB, Backand provides a relational database using Amazon RDS (although you can query it with a Mongo-like NoSQL syntax).

REST API Based on Data

In addition to the underlying database for storage, all three providers provide a RESTful API for your data that can be used by any app able to send a request to the endpoint.

User Management and Social Media Integration

User management focuses on managing access to your application by restricting access to registered users. Building off of this is Social Media Integration, which allows you to easily integrate your app with Facebook, Google, Github, and so on, simplifying the registration process. This is a feature offered by all three providers.

Hosting

A web application is not very useful without a publicly-accessible URL. All three providers offer a hosting service that lets you, and your users, quickly find and use your app.

File Storage

Most applications of any note need to deal with user files at some point. All three providers offer a means of storing files in the service, saving you the trouble of integrating with an Amazon S3 instance of your own.

Geolocation and Geo Queries

With mobile apps, knowing when and where your users are using your application can be crucial to pushing notifications and new functionality. All three providers provide a means of geo-locating the source request, and running functionality based on those results.

Shared features

This next set of three features is only available on two of the three providers, with the providers indicated in each case. If your app depends on one of these features, you’ll need to be extra diligent when making your transition.

Server-Side Code Execution

Offered by: Parse, Backand

One of the main benefits of building and maintaining your own back-end is that you can put the functionality where it makes the most sense. Consuming a common JavaScript display framework? Stick it in the client. Performing sensitive payment functions? The server is the most secure location. Of the three providers, only Parse and Backand offer the capability to execute code within the server context, allowing for the development of applications that are more secure and robust.

Push Notifications

Offered by: Parse, Backand (with integration)

Most mobile apps rely upon some method of sending push notifications to the user, informing them of application actions. Parse offered this capacity as a part of their core functionality, and Backand makes this easy with both third-party integrations and server-side code execution.

Real-Time Database Communications

Offered by: Firebase, Backand

One of the key features of many web applications is responding as quickly as possible to underlying data changes. One feature not offered by Parse, that could be useful to apps that need real-time database capability, is Real-Time Database Communications. This is available on both Firebase and Backand, and eases the use of programming techniques like two-way data binding and event handling.

Analytics

Offered by: Parse, Backand

A crucial component of web applications is assessing performance via analytics. Parse offers a robust suite of analytics tools that is fully integrated into your app. Backand takes a different approach, relying on its strength as an open platform, by giving you access to the RDS instance underlying your application. This approach allows easily connecting third-party tools to the database and constructing your own analytics suites. Firebase does not appear to offer analytics.

Backand-only features

The following features are only available with Backand

Bring Your Own Database (aka Database Portability)

Of the three options, only Backand allows you to start from an existing database schema. Furthermore, Backand provides you with all of the relevant information necessary to connect to an individual Amazon RDS instance that drives your application, giving you the capability to connect other apps to your database at will.

Advanced Data Models

By running on top of a SQL-based database, Backand allows you to build advanced, complex, object-oriented data models that can be adapted to any application need. The data model can also be easily modified using a JSON specification, and the changes are reflected in your REST API within seconds.

Server-side Integration with Third-Party Applications

While any application can integrate with appropriate third-party applications on the client side, only Backand gives you the capability to drive that integration from within the server. This allows you to build secure applications that provide things like payment functionality – a feature that requires the security of a server to ensure your users’ data is kept as safely as possible. You can see a complete list of current integrations, as well as integrations upcoming in future releases.

Parse Migration Tools

In addition to the features described above, Backand now has a suite of Parse-to-Backand migration tools, which can be found here.

Conclusion

Parse shutting down came as a shock to most in the development world. Many developers are suddenly shifting from developing new features and gaining traction to hunting for an alternative BaaS provider – a process fraught with confusion and misinformation. Hopefully, our breakdown of the most common JavaScript BaaS providers has eased some of the frustration you’ve felt in your search.

 

 

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