Friday, February 8, 2013

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An API can make you happy! A brief overview of Parse.

On a cold Sunday afternoon a few weeks ago I was toiling away setting up a new instance of node.js and MangoDB. My goal was to create a software stack that I knew well enough to quickly stand up and prototype all the app ideas I had floating around. I was in the middle of a book about node.js when my friend +Bill Mote messaged me. I told him what I was working on and he suggested I check out the Parse API. Little did I know that what he had just suggested would be an amazing boost to my productivity!

Parse is a platform that provides a back end for your application. Everything from simple tables to push notifications is built into the service. They have APIs for every major mobile and desktop platform. If your platform is not included then you can make use of their REST based services to interact with your data.

Pricing seems reasonable as their free tier is very generous for getting a project off the ground. In fact many smaller apps will probably not come close to exhausting the free level of service. The free tier allows for 1 million requests and 1 million pushes per month. You can also store up to 1 GB of data. Should you go over the request limit there is an additional charge of 7 cents per 1000 requests/pushes. Additional file storage runs 20 cents per gigabyte.  The first subscription pay tier kicks in at $199/mo ( a huge jump from free) but it comes with 15 million requests, 5 million pushes, and 10 gigabytes of file storage. Additional pricing details can be found here:

The guys at Parse have all of your bases covered. If you need to create an account system for your app then Parse takes care of the little things like email verification and forgotten passwords. If you need push notifications then they are included as well. Should you find that your app requires server side processing you can create custom scripts using the Parse Cloud API.

During my first afternoon with parse I had an account system set up in an hour. I used their handy data importing tool to load in the back-end data for my apps. It was  by far the fastest I had ever set up the back end for a new mobile application. I also found the parse documentation to be very easy to read and very complete.

One thing I would like to see in parse is the ability to copy a back end from one application into another. In this way you could set up a test environment that mirrored your production data. As far as I can tell there is no easy way to accomplish this.

Only time will tell how well this service hands up to the rigors of full scale app development. I intend to test every corner of the service fully within the next few months. For now I can say that I hope to see more services like Parse popping up. I think they help enable indie and new developers to focus on their app and their chosen platform.

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