Last week’s announcement from Parse that it’s shutting down its mobile backend service has left the development community perplexed about the future of this type of service. If you’ve missed the Twittersphere commentary, it’s worth the read:
From tales of developers’ depressing mobile backend-as-a-service (MBaaS) journey…
To those questioning the future of MBaaS …
To those fighting back and petitioning to keep Parse up and running …
What’s clear is that Parse isn’t the first popular backend service to shut down — StackMob, for example, was shut down in 2014 after being acquired by PayPal — and it won’t be the last. The only way developers can avoid reliving this nightmare is to make sure their backend-as-a-service vendor does not lock them in.
You should have full control over the source code of your applications and should not have to worry about what happens to your app if your vendor is acquired or decides to shut down (even Google and Microsoft shut services down).
It is imperative if you are considering using a backend (MBaaS/BaaS) vendor, that you ask the following three questions:
1. Do I have full access to the MBaaS source code?
Ask your vendor if all their source code is available to you. Not just the client-side SDKs, but also the backend server, and the backend server administrative console.
2. Can I continue to run my app if your service shuts down?
Ask your vendor if you have the ability to download the runtime components of your app backend and deploy and administer it anywhere you like without going to their web site. You should be able to stop subscribing to the vendor and still run your app as expected.
3. Do I own the intellectual property (IP) of my app components?
This issue requires both technical and contractual support. Ideally, your vendor answers yes to questions #1 and #2 above and also gives you IP ownership of the runtime components of your app backend (with the exception of any open source components, of course). This should be clearly covered in the Terms or Subscription Agreement.
Here is a simple test to check for lock-in: Ask your vendor to show you how to download the source code for your app backend, and run the server in your own infrastructure, including the backend administrative console. If they can’t show you how this is done, or refer you to a customer that has done it, you are probably locked into your vendor.
Several vendors have announced new Parse migration offerings. As you do your research, keep the above checklist of questions in mind. And if you spot any more good Parse migration tweets, send them my way.
Rich Mendis is cofounder of AnyPresence.