All you need to know about Firebase

On September 26th 2019, Firebase organized its annual Summit in Madrid, Spain. The Reference was invited for a day of keynotes, practical sessions and conversations with the engineers at Firebase to receive the latest updates on the platform. But what is Firebase exactly?



Firebase is a mobile- and web application development platform, backed by Google, to help developers deliver richer app experiences. Firebase manages its own infrastructure with a nice set of tools to simplify the workflow of the developer by providing them with development kits and an online dashboard. These toolkits are interconnected, scalable and integrable with third party software to overcome complex challenges with standard building blocks.

The platform consists of a great set of development tools. The Realtime Database and Cloud Firestore can stock document-structured data and synchronize the corresponding apps in milliseconds whenever a data transformation occurs. This means that both the app and its database listen to each other, providing the user with reactive app experiences. And Firebase Cloud Functions can even extend this functionality. These functions allow the developer to write backend code to respond to events happening in the Firebase platform without having to deal with any servers. 


For example, a Cloud Function can send a notification to the app whenever something is happening in the database. Pretty neat, right? And there's more. With Firebase Authentication you can verify users through both social and e-mail logins and manage them securely. Firebase Hosting can deploy both static and dynamic content to web apps and Cloud Storage can accumulate and serve a huge amount of files. Last but not least, there's ML Kit. This module brings machine learning to your app with ready-to-use APIs and custom models using TensorFlow Lite, an open source machine learning platform by Google.

Firebase can also improve your app quality when development is done. The Crashlytics module gives a real-time overview of the issues your users might encounter. Your app's performance can also be monitored by using the Performance Monitoring tool and Test Lab tests your app on a range of devices to make sure that everyone gets the same user experience. The platform has its own Analytics and Prediction modules to get a better understanding of your users' behaviour and, for example, target specific audiences using In-App Messaging. App notifications can also be sent through the platform and there's even an A/B Testing tool to experiment with new functionalities. Are you familiar with those links which can redirect you to a specific screen in an app? Well, Firebase can do that too. 

Use case

At The Reference, we often consider Firebase as a solution for our customers. One example is the Route 1700 app we developed for DP World Antwerp to make visits of truck drivers easier. The app had to be reactive, scalable and versatile and that's where Firebase came in. We used Firebase Remote Config to make sure that whenever any configuration inside the app had to change, we could do that without the release of an app update. The app uses Cloud Firestore to sync their behaviour on-site with the app, providing them with a reactive experience. We also wanted to understand the visitors of DP World Antwerp and their needs. That’s the reason why we implemented Crashlytics and Analytics with great results.

What's new

In Madrid, the Firebase team overwhelmed us with a new set of tools for building better mobile and web apps. Firebase Extensions is one of those. This tool allows developers to save time on everyday repetitive development tasks. Whether you want to resize images, translate text, send emails or shorten URLs, Firebase built a great amount of solutions that you can easily deploy to your projects. 

At The Reference, we like to thoroughly test our apps before releasing them. We already automate this process using our own set of tools, but Firebase announced App Distribution as an alternative solution. This module provides an easy and flexible way to distribute pre-release versions before they end up in the Google Play and Apple App Store. Firebase already offered a great set of tools for machine learning with ML Kit, but now there's more. On-device object detection and tracking and translation have been added, along with AutoML Vision Edge which allows you to train and publish your own image classification models and use them on-device or in the cloud. Luckily, the Firebase team didn't forget about web developers. Analytics, Remote Config and Cloud Messaging are now available for web.

We're thrilled to start experimenting with all the new features Firebase announced and are looking forward to utilizing them in real use cases. 

Want to know how Firebase can help your business grow? 

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