Behind every software application is a comprehensive series of backend services intended to support the front end you see and use each day. The amount of work involved in creating this backend technology is never a simple task, and many organizations are choosing to save themselves the time and money of redeveloping the wheel by instead using Backend as a Service (BaaS). This service provides organizations with cloud-based services catering to backend processing.
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 interface (API) and software developer kit (SDK) to connect mobile apps to backend services like cloud storage. This includes key features like push notifications, social networking integration, location services and user management.
BaaS vs. mobile middleware
Backend as a Service varies from the more traditional mobile middleware through a simple approach to backend processing, or rather how the back end connects to the front end of an app. Mobile middleware typically integrates backend services to the app through an on-premises server, requiring you to purchase and maintain your own hardware. BaaS, however, takes the way of the cloud and provides these same services through the use of offsite data centers.
BaaS providers differentiate themselves by offering a wide range of added functionality. These key features appeal to advanced business needs and will vary in scope and purpose between providers. The basic elements most companies offer will include:
- Social integration. For apps that focus on social collaboration or need analytics, this functionality will allow 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 the app isn’t actively launched, native notifications allow you to easily alert users with any changes on the app.
- Search functionality. Modern apps tend toward a more content-discovery design that allows users to find context-appropriate content. But from a technology standpoint, search still proves necessary.
- Mobile application management. Apps are designed to access many different data sets, information which users shouldn’t always have full access to. Managing the app’s functionality allows developers to disable areas of functionality based on user permissions, device types and so on.
- Visual development. While the most commonly-offered feature from a front-end perspective, many BaaS providers are starting to offer visual development controls for backend elements.
BaaS and mobile application development
BaaS successfully moves the point of app integration to the cloud, making the process of connecting backend services to mobile apps. This is a drastic departure from traditional mobile application development, which requires a developer to incorporate each back-end API individually. This allows for developers to more easily 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 added benefit is scalability, removing the need for mobile app developers to handle increased demand and server storage for traffic.
The BaaS audience
The downside of BaaS
Despite the benefits offered through a comprehensive backend that can easily integrate with most any front end programming, the service as a whole does contain an inherent flaw. Vendor lock-in is the main problem many developers face, and 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.
The market for Backend as a Service is quickly growing in size, with a few contenders making themselves known throughout the industry. Companies like Appcelerator, Buddy, Cocoafish, FatFractal, and Kii Corp help in speeding up app development while removing the focus from backend to front end.