NoSQL, huh, whats is it good for?
I am not a huge fan of NoSQL. If you can keep your data structured, you should keep your data structured. Also, I have never, to date, worked on a project where a relational database was not scale-able enough to cater for the amount of data I needed to throw at it. NoSQL databases, like Firestore, have their uses, but for most production projects I’ve worked on so far, a relational database was either the ‘best’ choice or ‘good enough’.
However, sometimes, the structure of the data is unknown or likely to change. One such occasion is when you are starting out on a project. For prototype web applications I have found that NoSQL (Mongo, Firebase etc) can really speed up the initial stages of the project. Firebase’s new Cloud Firestore offering is a really useful NoSQL database for prototyping projects.
Real-time Database Vs Cloud Firestore
Firebase used to call its database offering ‘Realtime Database’ it now has a new offering called ‘Cloud Firestore’. Both are currently supported and available through the console, but it does appear that Firebase are trying to coax users to use the newer, but still in beta, Firestore.
The main difference between the two seems to be the data model. One of the frustrating things about the Realtime database was that you needed to de-normalize your data in order to use the queries effectively. If your data was hierarchical in nature you found yourself having to jump through hoops in order to use the realtime database effectively e.g. because you are always returned the entire sub-tree for a query, you needed to create separate trees for your data to avoid bloat in your result sets.
Cloud Firestore FTW
Firestore is not just any old NoSQL database, it has the following compelling features:
- Easy to setup. The Firebase docs do a great job of helping you get started in whatever language you use (web, IOs, Android, Node, Go, Python, Java).
- Easy to use. I have tried to think of a way that the Google team could have made it even easier to use the SDK… but failed.
- Realtime. Real-time means real-time, try it out, create a simple project, hook your UI up to some data, watch the data change as you change the data in your console.
- Scalable. So they say, sadly I’ve not had to use the scalability super powers yet.
Even though its still in beta, I would thoroughly recommend choosing Firestore over the realtime database for new projects. For existing projects, which currently use the realtime database, the choice is not as simple. Migrating to the Firestore is not a simple task due to the vastly different datamodels. Take a look at the pros and cons to determine if it is indeed worth the migration effort.
In the next blog post I’ll show how you can get started with Firestore and build upon the Authentication post to tie authentication events to saved user data.