Best Serverless Backend Tools: How-to, Pros & Cons, And Features (2022)

Olivia Rhye
11 Jan 2022
5 min read

Backend development can be complex, especially regarding provisioning and configuring servers and keeping them secure. Backend work might rebuke you as a front-end developer, but a serverless backend platform can alleviate your pain without needing to learn additional skills. In fact, most people use one: a survey conducted by Datadog showed that half of all organizations use serverless for their backends.

But with serverless becoming mainstream, one might ask what’s the best way to get started. It happens that a serverless backend platform powers this website, so we know from experience the pros and cons of each solution. You’ll find in the following article a list of 6 great options to help you get the ball rolling in a day:

What’s A Serverless Backend

A serverless back-end is a platform that eliminates the need for developers to deploy and maintain web servers and other common back-end features like authentication or database access management. Instead of buying a web server and configuring it through SSH and Linux commands, you can just go to a web portal that handles everything for you with a few clicks and call the back-end directly with an API from your front-end in minutes.

If you search Google for serverless solutions, you’ll find different acronyms that might confuse you, like BaaS, FaaS, or DBaaS. Database as a Service (DBaaS) tools abstract the complexity of hosting a database, like Amazon Aurora or MongoDB Atlas. A Function as a Service (FaaS) platform lets you host and run code. Backend as a service (BaaS) products usually combine the two to handle standard features you need to develop web applications, as well as things like authentication, email, file storage―which we are going to see in a minute.

Why Serverless Backend Platforms

Back-end development has a steep learning curve, but some tasks, like managing database entries, are repetitive enough to be easily abstracted away by visual user interfaces you can find in serverless backend platforms. Outsourcing the complexity of a backend infrastructure allows you to focus on what matters―providing value to your users―rather than learning a whole new skill set. You’ll find that the solutions listed in this article only take a few minutes to get started, not hours.

Not having to take care of the backend side of your product also means faster release cycles: the simplicity makes you code, test, and push new changes live faster. Accessing your backend functionalities is as easy as installing a software developer kit and sending an API request so that you can go on with your life instead of debugging servers for hours.

Because yes, a poorly configured backend is the source of many headaches. Handling web server security, availability, and scalability isn’t much fun when all you want to do is to build cool, useful apps. A serverless backend tool is secure by default and will decrease your stress levels.

Criteria

We are going to use the following criteria to compare each solution:

  • Pricing - How much does it cost? What are the limits on the pricing plan, and can I try the tool for free?
  • Scalability - How much work is needed to handle more customers?
  • Developer Experience - How easy is it to use?
  • Feature-completeness - What can I do with the tool?
  • Security - Are there any risk I should be aware of?
  • Time To First Hello World - How fast can you get started?

Best Serverless Backend Summary

This is where each serverless backend solution shines in one sentence:

  • Firebase offers the best balanced options between costs, developer experience, scalability, and feature-completeness.
  • If you want an open-source solution, Supabase is the best choice.
  • For building stateless apps, use Vercel.
  • Subscribe to AppWrite if you need a well-documented self-hosted option.
  • AWS Amplify proposes the most features thanks to its huge ecosystem.
  • Use Back4app if you need the cheapest low-code solution.

6 Best Serverless Backend For Your Next Product

Firebase

Firebase homepage

Firebase is an app development platform maintained by Google.

Best for: Best balance between costs, developer experience, scalability, and feature-completeness.

Key Features:

  • Database with real-time features
  • Authentication
  • Cloud functions with Google Cloud
  • Analytics tools to help you track your app's performance
  • Integrations and extensions to automate your workflows

Pricing: Firebase’s pricing adopts a freemium model with a generous free tiers adapted to small and medium businesses.

Firestore pricing

Pros:

  • Generous free tiers
  • Document database that’s easy to get started with
  • Easily scalable
  • Loads of features to handle every aspect of app development
  • Extensive documentation
  • Loads of SDKs to integrate Firebase into your app

Cons:

  • The documentation isn’t always clear because of the many features
  • Not open source
  • The database user interface is limited

How To Get Started With Firebase:

Create an account and use the software developer kit corresponding to your programming language to call your backend. The following code is automatically generated by Firebase and you just need to copy/paste it to start using it in your frontend:

import { initializeApp } from "firebase/app"

let firebaseConfig = {
  # ...
	apiKey: "FIREBASE_API_KEY",
	# ...
}

const app = initializeApp(firebaseConfig)

Supabase

Supabase homepage

Supabase presents itself as an open source Firebase alternative.

Best for: Best open-source solution for a serverless backend.

Key Features:

  • Postgres database with Instant APIs and Realtime subscriptions
  • Authentication
  • Edge Functions
  • Storage

Pricing: Freemium. Free up to 500Mb of database storage, then $25 per month per project.

Supabase pricing

Pros:

  • Open source
  • Great pricing for small and medium businesses
  • Great developer experience: beautiful documentation and user interface
  • Self-hosted option

Cons:

  • More aimed toward Javascript frameworks for API consumption
  • Less features than Firebase
  • Limited to PostgreSQL as a backend technology, so you need to understand how SQL works (bigger learning curve than a document database)

How To Get Started With Supabase:

Create an account, a project, and a database. Unlike a NoSQL database like Firebase’s, you need to have a structure ready to be able to manipulate data. But once this step is done―and you’ll have ready-to-use templates to help speed up this part―you can call Supabase like so:

import { createClient } from '@supabase/supabase-js'

const supabaseUrl = process.env.REACT_APP_SUPABASE_URL
const supabaseAnonKey = process.env.REACT_APP_SUPABASE_ANON_KEY

export const supabase = createClient(supabaseUrl, supabaseAnonKey)

Vercel

Vercel homepage

Vercel is a platform for frontend developers for deploying code to an optimized production environment. Even though it doesn’t offer stateful features you’d expect from a BaaS like authentication or databases, it is trivial to copy/paste code from a third-party service like Auth0 for authentication and MongoAtlas for API development.

Best for: Building stateless applications.

Key Features:

  • App Hosting with automatic devops
  • Serverless cloud functions
  • Great documentation
  • App analytics

Pricing: Free for non-commercial sites, then $20 per month per user with a 14-day trial.

Vercel pricing

Pros:

  • Performant infrastructure
  • Easy to learn and use with no-code CI/CD
  • Generous free plan
  • Security and analytics tools built-in

Cons:

  • Cloud functions are limited to Javascript, Go, Python, and Ruby
  • Free plan not available for commercial sites
  • Expensive concurrent builds ($50 each per month)
  • No authentication or database solution built-in, so you’ll need additional services for stateful apps.

How To Get Started With Vercel:

Write your backend logic in the API folder of your project’s Git repository and distribute it to Vercel using Github:

// api/[name].ts -> /api/lee

export default function handler(request, response) {
  const { name } = request.query;
  return response.end(`Hello ${name}!`);
}

Appwrite

AppWrite homepage

Appwrite is a self-hosted BaaS platform giving you all the tools you need to build all sorts of application.

Best for: A self-hosted option that also has great documentation.

Key Features:

  • Document database and functions
  • Authentication & authorization
  • File storage
  • Analytics
  • Privacy-friendly

Pricing: Free, but you’ll need to pay for a web server.

Pros:

  • Self-hosted option that is way better documented than Supabase
  • The only free option
  • All the features you’ll need are there

Cons:

  • No managed option so it’s not fully serverless, but still a better option than building your own backend from scratch if you have legal requirements to host the BaaS yourself.
  • You have to handle web server security

How To Get Started With Appwrite:

Install AppWrite on your server using Docker and call it from your front-end app:

const client = new Client()
    .setEndpoint('https://[HOSTNAME_OR_IP]/v1') // Your API Endpoint
    .setProject('5df5acd0d48c2');               // Your project ID

AWS Amplify

AWS Amplify homepage

AWS Amplify packs several tools in the Amazon ecosystem to allow you to build full-stack web and mobile apps in hours.

Best for: feature-completeness thanks to Amazon’s ecosystem. You can connect any service to it in minutes with much less code to write.

Key Features:

  • Database
  • User management
  • Hosting & Storage
  • Email with AWS SES
    • anything the AWS ecosystem can offer

Pricing: Free-tiers depending on what service you use, then usage-based pricing depending on which standalone service you use (AWS Lambda, AWS Aurora, etc.).

Pros:

  • Handles any use case thanks to the AWS ecosystem
  • Super scalable
  • Extensive documentation, trainings, and certifications

Cons:

  • Extremely complex pricing and product ecosystem
  • Not the best beginner friendly option as a solo developer
  • AWS documentation isn’t the prettiest option.

How To Get Started With AWS Amplify:

Create an AWS account and you’ll be guided to configure the Amplify CLI and get started fast:

import { Amplify } from "aws-amplify";
import awsconfig from "./aws-exports";
import { DataStore } from '@aws-amplify/datastore';
import { Post } from './models';

Amplify.configure(awsconfig);

const models = await DataStore.query(Post);
console.log(models);

Back4app

Back4app homepage

Back4app is a low-code backend for app development.

Best for: most cost-effective option.

Key Features:

  • Relational database with real-time feature and cloud functions
  • Auth
  • Storage & notifications

Pricing: Free up to 25k API requests per month, then packages starting from $15 per month.

Back4app pricing

Pros:

  • Low-code features to inject / generate code when needed
  • Offers all the features you expect from a BaaS
  • Most generous free tiers by comparison

Cons:

  • Aimed at front-end consumption inside web and mobile apps, so no SDK for server languages
  • The documentation is of lower quality compared to the alternatives.

How To Get Started With Back4app:

Create an account to obtain an API key and design a database, then simply call your backend:

import Parse from 'parse/dist/parse.min.js';

Parse.initialize("APP_ID","JS_KEY");
Parse.serverURL = 'https://parseapi.back4app.com/'

const soccerPlayer = new Parse.Object('SoccerPlayer');
soccerPlayer.set('playerName', 'A. Wed');
const result = await soccerPlayer.save();

Level Up Your Serverless Backend With Rowy

That’s a wrap: 6 best serverless backend for your next project! If you like Firebase, check out Rowy, our Firebase Content Management System that let's you build backend cloud functions. Your data and code stay on your own Firebase project.

Rowy gives you all the power of Firebase in a beautiful spreadsheet interface that’s easy to use and integrate with other services like Webflow, Figma, or GPT-3. But it’s also a low-code platform that allows you to customize your backend code entirely without spinning up a server yourself. Get started in 5 minutes, and it’s free!

Olivia Rhye
11 Jan 2022
5 min read
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