Best Firebase Tools for Your Mobile Application

11 min read

Firebase provides a comprehensive suite of tools designed to boost your business and enhance your mobile application. In this article, you’ll discover the most effective Firebase tools that you can integrate into your app for improved performance and functionality.

Jaewoong E.
Jaewoong E.
Published June 25, 2024

When building mobile applications, you often need to implement essential features such as authentication, push notifications, and more, which can be especially challenging for startups that lack the budget and time to develop these features from scratch. Implementing these features can be very time-consuming and resource-intensive.

Firebase offers a comprehensive suite of tools that can help streamline the development process. These tools provide ready-to-use solutions for authentication, notifications, real-time databases, and more. This allows startups to focus on their core product rather than spending valuable resources on implementing and maintaining backend infrastructure.

In this post, you'll learn how to utilize Firebase for your mobile and web applications, covering features such as authentication, push notifications, remote config, analytics, and more.

What is Firebase?

Firebase offers a comprehensive suite of tools that can significantly simplify your application's implementation of essential features. These features, which would otherwise require tremendous effort to build from scratch, include push notifications, analytics, and real-time databases.

Firebase provides a dedicated server tailored to run its services. You don't need to build and maintain a server to implement features like push notifications, analytics, and real-time databases on your client side. By using Firebase, you can significantly reduce the backend workload. Sometimes, you can even launch your mobile applications without hosting your own server, leveraging Firebase's robust infrastructure to handle these tasks.

On the client side, Firebase offers several client SDKs that facilitate communication with its server, simplifying the process of building your business logic and ensuring seamless integration with Firebase services. Additionally, the Firebase Console provides a user-friendly interface that allows non-technical team members, such as product owners, to easily manage services and track events through a web browser.

According to Stackshare, Firebase has proven its capabilities and reliability, and it is being used by major companies such as Instacart, Block, Twitch, and Accenture. Additionally, Firebase offers a no-cost plan (Spark Plan), making it an attractive option for startups looking to enhance their services without incurring high costs. There’s no reason not to try Firebase for bolstering your startup’s services.

Authentication

Authentication is an essential feature in most applications that need to identify a user. Knowing a user’s identity allows an application to securely save user data on the server and provide personalized experiences across all of the user’s devices.

The easiest way to handle authentication in your app is by leveraging well-known platforms' authentication services, such as Google, Meta, Twitter, and others. These services have been thoroughly vetted by their respective companies, ensuring robust security. Additionally, users can easily authenticate their identities using their existing accounts, avoiding the need to manually register a new account, which simplifies the onboarding process.

Firebase Authentication provides backend services and client libraries, including easy-to-use UI libraries, to authenticate users on multiple platforms such as Android, iOS, Flutter, Web, and Unity. It supports integration with various authentication providers, including Google, Facebook, Apple, Twitter, GitHub, Microsoft, manual email-password, and phone number authentication. This wide range of options ensures that you can offer a seamless and secure login experience for your users, regardless of their preferred platform or authentication method.

Firebase Authentication also provides several advanced features, such as multi-factor authentication, blocking functions, abuse prevention, and support for SAML(Security Assertion Markup Language) and OpenID Connect providers. These features enhance security and offer greater flexibility in managing user authentication. If you’re interested in learning more about these features, check out their official documentation.

Cloud Messaging (Push Notification)

Push notifications are an essential feature in mobile applications to engage users and can be a powerful strategy for increasing active user engagement and retention. They can also be incredibly useful for delivering real-time information and updates between user interactions, such as likes, comments, chat messages, and follows on your mobile service.

For instance, push notifications can alert users about new messages, friend requests, or updates to their posts, thereby keeping them connected and engaged with the app. Effective use of push notifications can lead to improved user experience, higher retention rates, and increased user activity on the app.

Building a notification system from scratch is highly resource-intensive and complex. It requires setting up your own notification cloud server, implementing real-time synchronization mechanisms to fetch notification payloads, ensuring your mobile device can wake up properly, and creating the necessary payload protocols between the server and clients.

Firebase offers a built-in solution called Firebase Cloud Messaging (FCM), which eliminates the need to build your own notification server. It also provides client SDKs for your mobile application, ensuring that users receive notifications properly. By following Firebase's comprehensive guidelines, FCM allows startups to implement complex push notification systems efficiently, often within a day.

FCM also supports a convenient user experience that allows non-technical personnel, such as product managers, to easily send push notifications via GUI-based Firebase Console. This means that your product manager can send push notification messages to specific topic subscribers, including data payloads and schedule notifications, and target specific users without needing technical expertise.

According to the official documentation, the overall architecture of FCM is illustrated in the figure below:

The architecture described in the above illustration works like below:

  1. Create a Notification Request: Use the FCM Console or your own backend service to create a notification request. Your backend service should operate within a trusted server environment and support either the Firebase Admin SDK or the FCM server protocol.

  2. FCM Backend Processing: The FCM backend accepts the message request, performs message fanout via topics, and generates message metadata, including the message ID.

  3. Platform-Level Transport Layer: A platform-level transport layer routes the message to the targeted device. It handles message delivery and applies platform-specific configurations as needed.

  4. FCM SDK on User’s Device: On the user’s device, the FCM SDK handles the notification display or message processing based on the app’s foreground/background state and any relevant application logic. The SDK ensures that notifications are appropriately displayed or handled within the app.

If you want to learn more about FCM, check out their official documentation.

Firebase Remote Config

One of the biggest challenges in mobile development is the need to push updates for any changes to your application, such as modifying UI layouts, enabling or disabling specific features, or other adjustments. This typically involves delivering a new package to the Google Play Store or Apple App Store. Additionally, users must then manually update their application to see these changes.

If you use Firebase Remote Config, you can avoid the complex process of updating your app for simple changes. Firebase Remote Config is a cloud service that lets you modify the behavior and appearance of your app without requiring users to download an update.

When you update any values (parameter keys and values) on the Firebase console, your app or server implementation determines when these updates are applied. The app can frequently check for updates (every hour or something like this) and apply them with minimal impact on performance. Firebase also provides a GUI-based console that allows non-technical personnel to control these values based on their strategies, as illustrated below:

Firebase Remote Config can be incredibly useful for enabling or disabling features without requiring an app update. It allows you to experiment with different configurations, manage seasonal events or rewards, and activate specific features across global time zones seamlessly. Effectively utilizing Firebase Remote Config in your application can significantly enhance its flexibility below:

  1. Reduce Risk: Roll out features incrementally to targeted users and perform an emergency rollback if needed.
  2. Increase User Engagement: Quickly customize user experiences as they use the app. For example, update banners and offer incentives for users who match specific Google Analytics user properties or dynamically adjust sales amounts for different user cohorts.
  3. Boost Developer Productivity: Use Remote Config parameters as feature flags to expose functionality for your development and test teams while keeping it hidden from users in production. This reduces build dependencies and streamlines the development process.

If you want to learn more about Firebase Remote Config, check out the Understand real-time Remote Config.

Real-Time Database

In mobile application development, you often need to store user data or enable users to communicate with each other. In such cases, you must establish and manage a backend server that interacts with your mobile applications. However, for most startups, which often consist of a very limited number of developers, building and maintaining a custom server can be challenging and costly.

Even if you want to gather market feedback by building a simple server or you just want to reduce the cost of building a backend server as a sole mobile application developer, here's the best choice: Firebase Realtime Database. It offers an ideal solution for quickly setting up and managing a backend, allowing you to focus on developing your mobile application without the complexity and expense of building a server infrastructure from scratch.

The Firebase Realtime Database allows you to store and sync data using a NoSQL cloud database. Data is synced across all clients in real time and remains accessible even when your app goes offline. This makes it a very convenient option if you don't require complex SQL queries or heavy computational operations.

The key advantages of using Firebase Realtime Database include:

  1. Realtime Data Synchronization: Unlike typical HTTP requests, the Firebase Realtime Database employs data synchronization, ensuring that any changes to the data are instantly updated across all connected devices within milliseconds. This feature enables the creation of collaborative and immersive experiences without the need to manage networking code.

  2. Offline Persistence: Firebase apps remain responsive even when offline. The Realtime Database SDK persists data to the device's disk. When connectivity is restored, the client device receives any missed updates, synchronizing with the current server state. This ensures a seamless user experience, regardless of network conditions.

If you want to learn more about the Firebase Realtime Database, check out the official documentation.

App Distribution

While this primitive approach achieves the goal of delivering the application file to your team for testing, it has several drawbacks:

  1. Scalability Issues: If your team is large and there are many stakeholders who need to test the application, you must distribute the file to each person individually.
  2. Version Control: Tracking which versions have been delivered can be challenging, leading to potential confusion and inconsistencies.
  3. Installation Hassles: Team members need to manually download the application file, transfer it to their local device, uninstall the previous version, and then install the new version. This process is time-consuming and cumbersome.

Firebase provides an excellent solution for this scenario with Firebase App Distribution. This tool simplifies the process of distributing your apps to trusted testers. By adding your team members as testers in the Firebase Console and publishing your application through the console, your team will receive an email notification and be able to install the app via the Firebase Tester App. This method streamlines app distribution and ensures that all stakeholders have easy access to the latest version for testing.

Firebase App Distribution also offers highly useful plugins for developers, allowing for automatic distribution of application files directly from the terminal during the build process. For Android, Firebase provides a Gradle plugin, and for iOS, distribution can be handled via Fastlane.

For more information, check out the Firebase App Distribution.

Crashlytics

Crashes are one of the most critical issues to address to ensure a better user experience. On mobile devices, a crash not only closes the application but also causes users to lose all their current states and workflows. This disruption can lead to significant user dissatisfaction and potentially result in low ratings or retention.

Understanding crashes is crucial, but it's impractical to diagnose all issues on each user's device individually. This is where Firebase Crashlytics comes in. It curates and reports crashes that occur on user devices, providing real-time alerts and synthesizing a large volume of crash data into a manageable list of issues. Crashlytics offers contextual information and highlights the severity and prevalence of crashes, enabling you to pinpoint the root cause faster.

The Firebase Console provides detailed information about crashes, including which code caused the issues, the specific devices that encountered the problems, and the frequency of these occurrences, as you can see in the image below:

For Android, Android Studio offers the App Quality Insights Tool, which allows you to trace crashes directly within your project. By integrating your Firebase account with the IDE, you can view detailed crash reports and debug issues efficiently.

With the App Quality Insights tool in Android Studio, you can view Android vitals issues, filter them, and jump directly from the stack trace to the relevant code. This integration with Firebase allows for efficient debugging and quicker resolution of issues within your project. For more information, check out Analyze issues from Firebase Crashlytics and Android Vitals with App Quality Insights.

Performance Monitoring

Firebase provides another valuable tool called Performance Monitoring. This tool enables developers to monitor and trace the performance of their entire application or focus on very specific features. By using Performance Monitoring, developers can gain insights into how their app is performing in the real world, identify performance bottlenecks, and make data-driven improvements to enhance the user experience.

This tool allows you to monitor various aspects of your application's performance in real time, such as network connectivity, loading heavy resources, and rendering complex UIs. By reviewing the performance reports provided by Firebase Console, you can identify bottlenecks and optimize specific implementations to improve your app's overall performance.

It automatically measures app startup time, HTTP network requests, screen rendering data, and much more. Additionally, you can add custom code to track the performance of specific features in your application. This allows you to gain detailed insights into particular functionalities and optimize them based on the data collected.

If you want to learn more about this tool, check out the Firebase Performance Monitoring.

Firebase Extensions

Firebase provides additional tools, known as Firebase Extensions, that help developers quickly deploy, build, or analyze functionality within their applications using pre-packaged solutions. Firebase Extensions are pieces of code that execute tasks whenever predefined events occur in your application or project, and they are written using Cloud Functions for Firebase.

These extensions can be accessed through the Firebase Extensions Hub, where you can explore various useful extensions to integrate into your project. Additionally, you can develop your own Firebase extensions to contribute to the developer community or to connect your SaaS (Software as a Service) solutions.

Recently, the Google Cloud team introduced the Gamini Firebase extension, which allows you to quickly build a chatbot using the Gemini models, stored and managed by Cloud Firestore. This extension makes it easy to implement a chatbot system that leverages Generative AI on Vertex AI.

For best practices in building Firebase Extensions, consider using Authenticate with Stream Chat. This extension allows you to authenticate user information based on Firebase Authentication. Stream SDK customers can easily integrate Stream authentication with Firebase authentication, utilizing social identification, phone number verification, and email and password-based authentication provided by Firebase. For more information, you can check out Announcing Stream Firebase Extensions for Chat and Feeds.

Conclusion

In this article, you've explored some of the most useful tools Firebase provides for enhancing your business and application performance. Firebase benefits most companies that provide mobile applications, particularly startups that lack the resources to build complex systems from scratch and have limited budgets for developing mobile-friendly backend infrastructure.

If you have any questions or feedback on this article, you can find the author on Twitter @github_skydoves or GitHub if you have any questions or feedback. If you’d like to stay up to date with Stream, follow us on Twitter @getstream_io for more great technical content.

As always, happy coding!

Jaewoong