In the software as a service (SaaS) landscape, there are many variations of “____ as a service”. In this article, we will explain what mobile backend as a service, or MBaaS, means.
At its core, MBaaS is an application platform that provides developers with all the tools they need to build and deploy apps on any device, regardless of operating system. It includes everything from APIs to analytics, push notifications, user management, and more.
The most important thing about MBaaS is that it allows you to focus on building your app instead of worrying about infrastructure. This can be a huge time saver for developers who want to get their applications out to users quickly.
While still vitally important, backend development tends to be much more utilitarian than UI/UX development. For most applications, the backend must function efficiently but can be designed with a “set it and forget it” mentality. Thus, a no-code (Codeless) or low-code backend can speed up app development with few drawbacks.
MBaaS is sometimes used interchangeably with backend as a service (BaaS). BaaS may be more oriented toward web-based applications rather than mobile apps, although typically the service offerings are very similar. While backend as a service providers can typically support both web and mobile applications, it’s common for BaaS to offer greater storage capabilities to support larger web apps.
While MBaaS utilizes the term “mobile” referring to mobile app development, a mobile backend as a service platform such as Backendless can be used to support both a mobile application as well as a web app. In fact, Backendless provides extensive cross-platform support for apps that are available across client types such as mobile, tablet, and desktop/web.
Common MBaaS Functionality
In general, the purpose of an MBaaS platform is to provide app developers with a means to connect their frontend application with backend core features such as cloud computing, cloud storage, and APIs exposed by a backend application. The intended outcome is that it frees app developers from thinking about, worrying about, managing, or performing any tasks related to servers.
An MBaaS platform will typically provide a number of basic operations, such as user management, support for push notifications, and social network APIs for social login, posting, etc.
MBaaS services utilize custom software development kits (SDKs) to enable developers to connect their API endpoints to various frontend clients such as iOS and Android applications built with any technology capable of producing a mobile app, such as ReactNative, Ionic, Flutter, Unity, etc. These SDKs can also contain access to the provider’s pre-built APIs, such as APIs for login, push notifications, and data service.
The depth and quality of features offered by MBaaS services can vary greatly. Some may offer the bare minimum features mentioned previously while leaving the remainder of the backend, such as API construction and database development and management, to the developer. Others, such as Backendless and Google Firebase, offer extensive additional out of the box features.
Top Benefits of MBaaS
There are several benefits to using an MBaaS platform to support mobile app product development:
1. No need to manage servers
With an MBaaS platform, you no longer have to worry about server administration, security updates, backups, scaling, performance optimization, or other issues associated with running your own backend infrastructure. You simply develop your frontend application and let the MBaaS platform handle everything else.
2. Faster time to market
An MBaaS platform makes it possible to quickly create new mobile apps without having to build out a full backend solution. This allows you to start building out your app UI right away, which can save months of work and, in turn, reduce app development costs.
3. Increased productivity
An MBaaS platform enables you to spend less time developing your app and more time focusing on what matters most—building great products.
4. Reduced hosting costs
You don’t have to pay for expensive hosting and maintenance fees when using an MBaaS service. Instead, you only pay for the resources you use.
5. Easier scalability
An MBaaS platform typically offers easy ways to scale up and down based on demand. That means that you don’t have to invest time and resources into infrastructure planning and server resource allocation. Instead, your MBaaS provider will handle these complex tasks for you as you grow.
6. Better security
If you’re concerned about securing sensitive data in your mobile app, an MBaaS platform gives you the ability to easily encrypt data at rest and in transit. It’s important to note that this encryption is handled by the MBaaS platform, not your mobile app.
7. Easy integration with third-party services
Many MBaaS platforms allow you to integrate with existing third-party systems, such as Facebook, Twitter, and Slack. This eliminates the need to duplicate functionality across multiple systems.
Now that we know the overall benefits, let’s dig a little deeper into how an MBaaS system handles these critical functions.
Infrastructure management can be costly and time-consuming – for apps with consistent growth, it can be a full-time job for a developer. Owning your own server infrastructure can be very costly and inefficient, especially for applications that see large fluctuations in usage depending on time of day, day of the week, or even time of year.
When working with an MBaaS platform like Backendless, you can focus on creating your mobile app instead of managing servers. The MBaaS platform handles all aspects of backend infrastructure, including the following:
Database creation and management
Allowing the MBaaS provider to handle these aspects of your project can dramatically speed up development, saving both time and money.
API construction and management can be handled by MBaaS in a variety of ways. A basic approach requires the developer to build and test new APIs on their local machine or with another service, and then access or import those services using the MBaaS platform.
More feature-rich providers, like Backendless, give the developer the tools to build, test, and deploy APIs within the MBaaS platform itself. Backendless gives users the ability to import APIs from other sources, code APIs within the platform, or build APIs using a Codeless builder.
Codeless API construction is designed to make building APIs easier. With a Codeless builder, the user has the ability to build logic using visual components. When complete, the platform will automatically convert the logic to code.
MBaaS providers do not necessarily include database management services. Typically, an MBaaS provider will be capable of interacting with a user’s database, but may not provide the ability to build a database within the platform.
Some providers, such as Backendless, Firebase, and Azure, provide database management services as well. Backendless, for example, can interact with a user’s external (or legacy) database while also providing the tools to build a new database within the platform itself.
Backendless provides an internal database that is automatically tuned to provide optimum performance. It is a complete persistence solution that can fully support your application without any additional storage systems. Additionally, Backendless can support external databases, meaning the platform can connect to your existing relational database management system (RDBMS) to access the existing schema and dataset.
Most MBaaS providers have some sort of user management functionality built into the platform. This allows users to register, log in, and manage their own accounts. Some platforms, such as Backendless, offer more advanced features, such as password recovery, two-factor authentication, and multi-user capabilities.
User authentication is one of the key features of any user management system. Authentication is typically performed through a combination of username and password, although other methods are available. For example, OAuth 2.0 uses tokens instead of passwords. Single sign-on, or SSO, solutions enable users to authenticate once and then use those credentials across multiple applications.
Authentication can be handled using a simple username/password combination, or using third party authentication. Third-party authentication options can include social media services such as Facebook and Twitter, tech giants like Google, Microsoft and Amazon, and other tech services like Fitbit and GitHub.
Business Logic and Cloud Services
Once data is received on the backend, or a request for data is received, it is not uncommon for the backend to perform some logic relating to that data. In order to free up memory and computing resources on the client-side, it is far more efficient for a mobile application to perform computations on the backend.
A high-quality MBaaS solution with give the developer the ability to create logic based on certain events that trigger calculations or computations on the backend. That way, the platform’s cloud computing capabilities – which far surpass those of a mobile device – will be utilized to save processing time.
For developers seeking to substantially speed up the backend development process, or for those without coding expertise, Backendless provides the ability to create Cloud Code: event handlers and timers that can be built without code and run on the backend as programmed by the developer.
MBaaS services provide developers with access to cloud storage. This potentially eliminates the need to purchase and maintain internal servers while still making the backend readily available to client applications. Maintaining separate file storage, data storage, and logic storage systems can greatly increase costs. MBaaS providers put all of these elements under one roof.
One common function of a backend is to store images and files that are too bulky or infrequently used to be included in the client application. By storing these items in the cloud, MBaaS makes it easy for geographically or organizationally separated teams to share these files. The files can be easily accessed with a file service API or in the MBaaS user interface.
MBaaS providers typically use cloud hosting for all backend files, databases, and APIs as the default, following the serverless model. Less common are MBaaS solutions that offer local installations of the platform for on-premises or virtual machine hosting.
With Backendless Pro, Backendless also offers an MBaaS platform that can be housed on local servers. This gives developers greater control over server architecture as well as removing limitations on server usage. We discussed the advantages and disadvantages of serverless hosting versus cloud servers and in-house servers in a previous article.
Cross-Platform Data Morphing
An important capability not offered by all MBaaS services is the ability to morph data for cross-platform delivery. An application that supports multiple client-side platforms (iOS, Android, web, etc.) will receive data in different formats from each platform.
Traditionally, providers will deliver all data to the client applications in JSON, leaving it up to the developer to transform that data into the appropriate class in order to perform application-level processing. Backendless performs this transformation automatically out of the box, with no additional setup required.
Mobile developers will benefit from the ease of being able to deploy to multiple mobile platforms with a single backend code base. Additionally, it puts all backend development into a single development environment, lowering the learning curve for inexperienced developers.
Overall MBaaS Benefits
There are many benefits to using an MBaaS platform for your backend development. Virtually all of the benefits boil down to this: saving mobile app developers money and time. With MBaaS, your mobile development team spends less time developing APIs, managing databases, and (potentially) managing servers, and can therefore spend more time developing new functionality and focusing on the user experience.
For lean teams with limited resources, MBaaS can drastically reduce the time spent on building the backend for startup-level projects. For enterprises looking for rapid, agile mobile development, MBaaS provides benefits such as API sharing among teams and centralized database management for large-scale projects. In either case, MBaaS frees up developers to focus on the user experience rather than the inner workings of the app.
Broadly, MBaaS offers a number of backend development benefits compared to building and managing backend resources manually. Backendless, specifically, offers the most functionality of any MBaaS provider with a user-friendly interface. You can read about all of our features here.
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