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SF AppWorks Feb 25, 2020 7:01:00 AM 5 min read

Firebase vs. Heroku: Knowing the Difference | SF AppWorks

Are you building a web application and aren’t sure which hosting platform you should use for your app? The leading hosting platforms are Firebase and Heroku, but each platform is very different in how they support your application.


While both platforms allow developers to create, deploy, and manage full-stack web applications, they are very different in their approach. We’ll explain the differences between Firebase and Heroku and recommend which is ideal for your application. In a number of cases, you may need to use both.



Why Firebase and Heroku are the Leading Platforms for Web Applications


Firebase and Heroku are very popular because they both offer:


  • Command-line interfaces (CLIs) that allow for fast and easy deployment

  • Custom domain support, SSL, and backend storage

  • A robust set of features and utilities

  • Scalability

  • Free versions


The free versions of the platforms are ideal for startups, hobbyists, and small-scale projects because they can upgrade as demand increases or as the application becomes more robust.



Why Firebase is a Popular Platform for App Hosting


Backed by Google, Firebase is a BaaS (Backend as a Service) platform for web applications. It allows developers to focus on creating an intuitive user experience without worrying about database or server management. You can integrate your frontend application with Firebase directly or utilize a REST API so that your server communicates with Firebase. 


Firebase supports:


  • iOS

  • Android

  • Web

  • NodeJS

  • Java

  • Python

  • Unity

  • C++



Why Heroku is a Popular Platform for App Hosting


Heroku is a cloud-based PaaS (Platform as a Service) that manages the servers, deployment, scaling, and operations so that developers can focus on coding the application. Heroku supports over 6000 language or framework buildpacks


The more popular programming languages that it supports are:


  • NodeJS

  • Python

  • PHP

  • Ruby

  • Java

  • Go

  • Gradle

  • Scala

  • Clojure


Related: Comparing Firebase to AWS


Online_collaboration as a concept of firebase vs heroku



Firebase vs. Heroku Pros


Here are the most significant pros of using Firebase and Heroku.


Firebase Pros:


  • Handles server-side programming

  • Offers production-ready NoSQL backend storage with easy to use GUI

  • Controls security and privacy through SSL encryption automatically

  • Custom domain pointing (also included in the free version)

  • Synchronize data changes automatically to the cloud when you add the Firebase library

  • Allows you to write your apps with client-side code

  • Access data easily using client libraries or as a REST endpoint

  • Updates the backend in real-time


Heroku Pros:


  • Integrates and deploys seamlessly with the programming language of your choice

  • Runs and scales every type of application

  • Can deploy apps inside the developer’s server container for flexibility

  • Allows complete visibility and control of your app

  • Saves time by providing foundational systems and programs so that the developer can quickly and easily build and test apps

  • Offers an intuitive UX, API, and command-line interface for easy navigation, management, and control

  • Monitors and alerts the developer of problems or usage pattern changes.


Do you have an idea for a web application but need help designing a prototype? Enroll in our one-week design sprint to transform your idea into a proof-of-concept prototype by visiting SF AppWorks today.


developer at work as a concept of firebase vs heroku



Heroku vs. Firebase Cons


While both platforms are powerful services, they also have some weaknesses that may not make them suitable for your application.


Firebase Cons:


  • Some of the interfaces are less intuitive and clunky.

  • The platform limits some server-side functions

  • Supports only static file types like HTM, JavaScript, images, etc.

  • Can’t track all user interactions with the app

  • Customer support can be lacking and frustrating for some developers


Heroku Cons:


  • It can be expensive when you need to scale up a pricing tier

  • It doesn’t offer some essential features in its free version

  • Can’t filter irrelevant alerts about server status and downtime

  • The server will go to sleep from infrequent use in the free version

  • Need solid DevOps and system management background to ensure proper setup


Related: Insidesource Design Sprint



Heroku vs. Firebase Cost Structure


Both Heroku and Firebase used a tiered model for pricing. While both offer free subscription tiers, many developers eventually upgrade to support their applications.


Heroku pricing is broken into four tiers ranging from free to large-scale enterprise application hosting. While Heroku does have a free version, most developers must upgrade quickly. Overall, Heroku is more expensive than Firebase because of its upsell functionality.


Firebase pricing is based on a two-tier model: free and pay-as-you-go. Both tiers include A/B testing, analytics, app distribution & indexing, cloud messaging, crashlytics, and dynamic links for free. The other functions such as authentication, Cloud Firestore, cloud functions, and hosting have daily or monthly caps for the free version and per-use charges for the pay as you go tier.


Developers love using Heroku, but it comes at a price. You’ll want to evaluate your app’s business model and factor in hosting costs if you choose Heroku. This is where Firebase’s pricing model is better because if you do the pay-as-you-go model, you’re only charged for what was used.



Your Web Application Will Drive Whether Firebase vs. Heroku Is Better for You

bookmarks as a concept of firebase vs heroku


Your web application requirements will determine which platform is best for you. While both are fantastic solutions, they cater to different functionality.


When You Should Use Firebase as Your Website Platform


  • Need a centralized space for all user data

  • Require user authentications

  • Need hassle-free backend configuration

  • Need a less expensive hosting platform

  • Need a reliable backend for a quick MPV


When You Should Use Heroku as Your Website Platform


  • Need a server stack running quickly

  • No overhead for managing instances

  • Need more flexibility and control working with the backend

  • Need third-party backend data engines like Mongo DB, MySQL, and PostgreSQL


And When to Use Both


Sometimes you need to utilize features from both platforms to deploy a full-stack web application. You can use Firebase on your frontend and use Heroku for your backend. Or you may want to store data in a reliable Firebase database but use a REST API application deployed on Heroku to allow additional features and private APIs.


Related: Top Databases of 2020: Everything You Need to Know





How SF AppWorks Can Help You Develop Your Application


SF AppWorks is a trusted digital agency that can help you integrate your software platforms, improve user experience, and optimize your web applications. We have a track record of elevating successful apps. We also offer several free resources to help you manage projects and develop ideas.


Still aren’t sure which hosting platform is right for your project? Contact SF AppWorks to set up a free consultation with an experienced consultant.