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Facebook Shutting Down Parse Back-end Service for Mobile Development

Facebook is closing down the Parse Mobile Back-end-as-a-Service (MBaaS) platform it acquired in April 2013, a move that will force many developers to switch their apps to an alternative backing service.

Parse provides cloud functionality such as storing data, social log-ins, push notifications app analytics and more services to work with mobile apps. Desktop, Web and embedded app services are supported also.

The Parse service is shutting down in one year, company co-founder Kevin Lacker wrote in a blog post yesterday.

"We understand that this won't be an easy transition, and we're working hard to make this process as easy as possible," Lacker said. "We are committed to maintaining the back-end service during the sunset period, and are providing several tools to help migrate applications to other services."

Lacker's note had a completely different tone than one penned by parse co-founder Ilya Sukhar when the company was acquired by Facebook (which said at the time: "We will continue offering their products and services, and we're excited to expand what Facebook and Parse can provide together.")

"Parse has agreed to be acquired by Facebook," Sukhar wrote in that post titled The Future of Parse in 2013. "We expect the transaction to close shortly. Rest assured, Parse is not going away. It's going to get better."

Well, some 34 months later, it may have gotten better, but it's certainly going away.

Though some media outlets reported that developers were angered by the decision, many commenters on the Hacker News site expressed gratitude to the company for its transition remediation efforts to help developers move to a different service. Open sourcing some of the technology will play an important role in those efforts.

Parse developer advocate Fosco Marotto wrote in Hacker News comments that some new database migration tools and an open source Parse-compatible API server for Node/Express will help smooth the transition.

Such measures "allow developers a full migration path to move from Parse hosted data + API to their own infrastructure," Marotto said. "Over the weekend, I set up a Web site and app on a $5 DigitalOcean box running Parse and Mongo locally."

"Thank you for doing this," one reader commented. "It is so rare not to just leave users high and dry after a set time period. Huge kudos to Facebook for providing this for Parse users."

In addition to the API server for Node/Express, Parse last August said it was open sourcing all of its SDKs, starting with GitHub repositories for iOS and Android on the mobile side and OS X on the Mac desktop (available on GitHub with the iOS SDK).

Lacker capsulized the migration plan in his blog post:

First, we're releasing a database migration tool that lets you migrate data from your Parse app to any MongoDB database. During this migration, the Parse API will continue to operate as usual based on your new database, so this can happen without downtime. Second, we're releasing the open source Parse Server, which lets you run most of the Parse API from your own Node.js server. Once you have your data in your own database, Parse Server lets you keep your application running without major changes in the client-side code. For more details, check out our migration guide here.

One developer used the occasion to warn about the dangers of putting all your development eggs in one basket -- if it's not your basket.

"This announcement just underscores the importance of having full control over your back-end," wrote a Hacker News reader. "Yes, it's more work, but if you're writing apps that seriously depend on back-end services, it's simply too much risk to depend on anyone else. Fortunately in this case Facebook offered generous lead time to migrate off Parse.com, but they were not obligated to do so, and other providers might not be so generous in the future."

Coincidentally, a Facebook engineer working on the company's wildly popular React Native warned developers of this risk during a Reddit "Ask Me Anything" event last month.

Facebook's Christopher Chedeau noted that "So far our framework was to prioritize what Facebook needed above all else. The reasoning behind this is that if we can't solve Facebook problems, no matter how much traction it receives externally, Facebook is going to stop throwing money at the project and it will be dead in six months."

A reader questioned that statement, saying it was a realistic fear for developers and asking if it should be.

Chedeau responded. "This is a legit fear to have and it is truly your decision to make," he said. "If you invest heavily in React Native you will have to bet on Facebook for the foreseeable future to make decisions that are favorable for your business, which is not its priority."

Parse's Lacker didn't say in his post if such internal Facebook priorities had anything to do with the decision to shut down the service, placing no blame but rather expressing contrition and gratitude.

"We know that many of you have come to rely on Parse, and we are striving to make this transition as straightforward as possible," he said. "We enjoyed working with each of you, and we have deep admiration for the things you've built. Thank you for using Parse."

Meanwhile, a Hacker News reader expressed some optimism about the future of the project.

"It's sad that you are shutting down but I think it's awesome that you are releasing the platform source," a reader commented early this morning. "Who knows, this could be the birth of a great FOSS project. [2,000] GitHub starts in 15 [hours] and growing...."

About the Author

David Ramel is the editor of Visual Studio Magazine.

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