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How Does Firebase Work? (2024 Update)

In this article, we will explore how Firebase works, delving into its real-time data exchange and the key technologies that power this versatile app development platform.

How Does Firebase Work?

Firebase's Technical Backbone

Firebase is powered by a combination of technologies that enable it to function as an all-in-one app development platform:

  • NoSQL data storage: Similar to MongoDB, Firebase uses NoSQL databases, specifically the Realtime Database and Firestore, to store data. This allows for flexibility, scalability, and quick querying.
  • Pub/Sub server: Like Redis, Firebase employs a publish/subscribe pattern to enable real-time data updates. This architecture helps deliver data updates instantly to all subscribed clients.
  • Web-sockets enabled front-end server: Firebase leverages web-socket technology for establishing a persistent, full-duplex connection between the server and the client. This enables real-time data exchange without the need for continuous polling.
  • Client-side library: Firebase provides SDKs for various platforms (Android, iOS, and web) to facilitate seamless integration and interaction with its services.

Data Exchange Mechanism

Firebase uses a pub/sub mechanism to enable real-time data exchange. Here's how it works:

  • Subscribing to data: Users subscribe to data that they're interested in. The server keeps track of these subscriptions and sends relevant data back as messages.
  • Broadcasting updates: When a client writes or updates data, the pub/sub server broadcasts this update to all other active subscriptions, ensuring that all subscribed users receive the latest data.

This approach differs from traditional REST communication, as it allows for real-time updates and eliminates the need for reloading or refreshing the app. 

The persistent, full-duplex web-socket connection ensures that clients receive many small messages instead of downloading large chunks of data, improving app responsiveness.

The Bigger Picture

Firebase's implementation combines various technologies that work together to provide a comprehensive app development platform. The primary advantage of using Firebase is that it simplifies configuration and maintenance while providing real-time data exchange capabilities. The trade-off is the cost associated with using Firebase as your app's backend infrastructure.

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