- Backend as a service (BaaS) streamlines back-end services for software developers working on mobile apps.
- Common BaaS features include social integration, native notifications, search functionality, mobile app management and visual development.
- BaaS offers numerous benefits that make it highly useful for all types of projects and among developers of all skill levels.
- This article is for small business owners and mobile app developers interested in using BaaS to streamline their mobile app development.
Behind every software application is a comprehensive series of back-end services intended to support the front end you see and use each day. The amount of work involved in creating this back-end technology is never a simple task. Many organizations are choosing to save themselves the time and money it would take to redevelop the wheel by instead using backend as a service (BaaS). This service provides organizations with cloud-based services catering to back-end processing.
What is BaaS?
BaaS, also known as mobile backend as a service (MBaaS), is a way of connecting mobile apps to cloud-based services. Instead of using mobile middleware, BaaS creates a unified application programming interface (API) and software developer kit (SDK) to connect mobile apps to back-end services like cloud storage platforms. This includes key features like push notifications, social networking integration, location services and user management.
BaaS providers offer a wide range of functionality. These key features appeal to advanced business needs and vary in scope and purpose between providers. Most companies include these basic elements:
- Social integration. For apps that focus on social collaboration or need analytics, this functionality allows you to link users to their social media profiles. Upon authenticating with these services, you can incorporate additional native integration like social activity lists.
- Native notification. If your app needs to interact with users when it isn't actively launched, native notifications allow you to alert users easily about any changes on the app.
- Search functionality. Modern apps tend toward a content-discovery design that allows users to find context-appropriate content. But from a technology standpoint, a search function is still necessary.
- Mobile application management. Apps are designed to access many different data sets, information which users shouldn't always be able to access for cybersecurity reasons. The ability to manage the app's functionality allows developers to disable certain functions based on user permissions, device types and so on.
Key takeaway: Useful BaaS features include visual development, social integration, search functionality, native notifications and mobile app management.
BaaS and mobile application development
BaaS successfully moves the point of app integration to the cloud. This is a drastic departure from traditional mobile application development, which requires a developer to incorporate each back-end API individually. Developers can connect front- and back-end mobile app elements more seamlessly and with fewer resource requirements.
The use of BaaS eliminates the need for developers to construct their own back-end services. Typical BaaS provides a customizable and ready-made series of features outfitted with common and necessary back-end features. The goal of this service is to shift a developer's focus away from the complexities of back-end development to invest more in the front-end work users will see and interact with more. Another benefit is scalability, removing the need for mobile app developers to handle increased demand and server storage for traffic. [Related topic: How Cloud Computing Can Benefit Your Small Business]
The pros and cons of BaaS
BaaS offers an abundance of benefits and a few drawbacks.
The pros of BaaS
BaaS offers the following advantages:
- It streamlines the inclusion of several key features. With BaaS, adding location services, user management, push notifications and social network integrations into your app is far easier. The same goes for visual management and search functionality. Without BaaS, you'll be juggling a bunch of complicated, unwieldy APIs instead.
- It eliminates the need to build your own back-end services. Building out back-end services from scratch can be a lengthy, tedious process that introduces the potential for error. BaaS eliminates this possibility, since you can use its back end instead of one that you create from scratch.
- It has a lower learning curve. With BaaS, you won't have to worry about cross-platform development or learn new back-end processing skills. The result is a lower learning curve and a shorter time to market.
- It enables stronger focus on front-end development. Since BaaS comes with key back-end features, you'll have more time and resources for front-end development. These tools also help you accommodate increased usage rates and demand without any complex back-end work. That means you can focus on the visual side of your experience as you obtain more users.
The cons of BaaS
Despite the benefits of a comprehensive back end that can easily integrate with most front-end programming, the service does contain minor inherent flaws.
- Vendor lock-in: The inability to easily move from one BaaS platform to another is the main problem many developers face. While service providers claim developers can deploy and migrate apps wherever they want, the technology still proves quite hindering in moving code that connects front- and back-end elements to a new platform or provider. The back-end elements won't move with you to a new provider, which means a developer would need to recreate those connections.
- Less control over code: If you're finicky about getting every little line of code correct, you might struggle to feel a sense of control with BaaS. You'll save tons of time on development, but you won't be able to tweak every little thing.
- Potential for code failures: Let's say your BaaS code stops working shortly after you deploy it. In that case, you'll need to bring a server in to pick up the slack. Doing so defeats the very purpose of BaaS – a cloud-based back end without the physical infrastructure. [Related: What Is a Cloud-Based Phone System?]
Key takeaway: The drawbacks of BaaS are minimal compared to the potential benefits.
BaaS vs. mobile middleware
BaaS varies from the more traditional mobile middleware through a simple approach to back-end processing or, rather, how the back end connects to the front end of an app. Mobile middleware typically integrates back-end services to the app through an on-premises server, requiring you to purchase and maintain your own hardware. BaaS, however, takes the benefits of the cloud and provides these same services through the use of offsite data centers.
Ryan Goodrich contributed to the writing and research in this article.