Parse co-founder Kevin Lacker announced in a blog post yesterday that the Mobile Back End as a Service his company created – and which Facebook acquired in 2013 – would be shuttered in exactly one year.
Developers loved Parse for three reasons. The API, used for linking mobile apps to the cloud, was carefully designed, streamlining the process of building and operating apps. Parse delivered great support; getting answers when an app is released to production trumped every other feature. Pricing was inexpensive, and startup credits were generous.
Whatever plans Parse developers had for new features are now canceled, as developers need to stop, choose another Mobile Back End as a Service (MBaaS), and start recoding. On the heels of this announcement, development teams everywhere are discussing alternatives today.
What Parse closing means for developers
Nimble mobile developers aren't in the dire straits that used to plague CIOs forced into high-risk migrations from Siebel Customer Relationship Management to Salesforce. Users aren't going to see a change in how the app operates when Parse is replaced.
For most independent developers, it will take weeks to months to choose another MBaaS, redesign, code, test, and push an app update with the new Software Developer Kit.
For larger, more complex apps like Quip and Expedia's Orbitz travel site, moving to another MBaaS could take longer, and they may choose to build their own based on open source alternatives to avoid a future disruption of a proprietary MBaaS shutdown.
Where to go from here
Lacker proposed two alternatives for moving on from Parse. The first is MongoDB, a cross-platform, document-oriented database that is free, open source and, most importantly, mature and widely adopted. Many hosting companies provide Mongo databases as a service. The project has 240 contributors and has delivered 360 major and minor releases. Parse has released a database migration tool to speed offloading data from Parse to MongoDB.
Like many sun-setted proprietary products, Parse will be open-sourced. According to Lacker's post, "we're releasing the open source Parse Server, which lets you run most of the Parse API from your own Node.js server." The sentiment is correct, but open sourcing had to happen. Lawyers for Parse's large customers almost certainly insisted that Parse agree to make its source code available should the business cease to operate. What it means is that Parse will push its code repository to Github, and everyone who follows will hope for a vibrant community to maintain and improve it.
Android developers on Reddit leaned toward Google's Firebase service as a close match with a couple of exceptions. Compared to MongoDB, Firebase gives mobile developers a quick start because it is an MBaaS that doesn't require much provisioning to get started and comes with built-in authentication.
One Redditor, AtherisElectro, summed up the general sentiment about moving to another proprietary MBaaS service:
"Is it going to get acquired by Facebook and then shot behind the barn?"
During the Facebook F8 conference in May 2014, Mark Zuckerberg told a crowd of Facebook developers that the days of moving fast and breaking things for independent developers was over. As long as Facebook makes sure that everyone gets home from the party safely, shutting down Parse won't hurt its close relationship with independent developers who build Facebook apps and contribute to its open source hardware and software projects. Whether that results in Facebook making sure the Parse open source project succeeds or delivering great support to help developers move on or both, it's within the capabilities of the company.
Otherwise, hell hath no fury like a developer scorned.