What Even Is Firebase

Created 2020-04-27 / Edited 2020-04-27

We're using Firebase as the hosting service for https://covidcanidoit.com and the experience has been kinda weird, coming from a more traditional server-database world.

First, I didn't even realize that Firebase was more than a cloud-JSON-blob! Our initial use of it was only for static asset hosting. This is a VueJS application that so far mostly lives in the browser, so static hosting is perfect. I generally use Github Pages for this purpose, but another team member had already set up Firebase for us.

Once I learned that it was even a thing, all was good. I wrapped the CLI that Firebase provides into yarn land, and now you can do yarn deploy and it'll build up the local assets and push them up. Works quite well! The auth is stored somewhere else on my computer. If a new dev wants to deploy, you add their google account to the Firebase project and presto!

We now have 3 devs on this project, and I'm starting to wonder about staging environments and such. As far as I can tell this isn't a thing in The Cloud, and instead we need to set up a separate project. I guess I'll do that eventually?

Our first user-serviceable data store was the almighty Google Sheets. You might not know this, but you can craft a URL to a public sheet and get down a very lovely CSV. When our app "boots" in the browser, we pull down this csv, parse it, turn it into a nice JSON tree that we stick into Vuex. If you edit the Google Sheet, the next app reload gets the new data. This is a disturbingly effective way to prototype. I grabbed a markdown rendering Vue component and ... now we have a SheetyCMS(tm) (haha).

As we look to expand the type of data we are storing and who can edit the data, I decided that we should switch over to the only thing I thought Firebase did in the first place, a hosted and magically live JSON "database". This is called the "Real Time Database", and for good reason -- all of the client libs know how to watch this thing for changes. In the VueJS one-way world, it goes Firebase -> Vuex -> component -> [edit-event] -> Firebase, and then wraps back around.

I built this admin tool to edit content, and now when you change the description text of something it updates every browser viewing it ... LIVE. Like, even as you type things. We went from having to do a lot of work to make things that live to now maybe having to create a "commit" button so that people can't see you typing and re-typing your text.

Things to discuss further:

  • Firebase Rules
  • Staging environments vs staging data
  • I wonder how much this is going to cost?
  • Firebase data migrations
  • Tracing the round trip of a text update