firebase

Investigating Headless CMS solutions for Firebase

Tom is a Test Automation Engineer working at Novoda's Liverpool office.

At Novoda we’ve recently been delving into the world of headless CMS solutions, specifically those using Firebase storage. But what are they and why would you use one? Join us as we find out more.

What are headless CMS solutions?

A back-end only content management system. In our case, a CMS that interfaces with and uses a Firebase database and storage as a backend (either a Realtime or Cloud Firestore database depending on your chosen solution).

Why use a headless CMS on top of Firebase?

In a nutshell, user experience. Let’s face it, adding and managing content by entering data directly into a database is extremely tedious and error prone. Using a CMS for this task not only makes the experience a bit more bearable, it also allows non-technical users to chip in and perform tasks themselves without breaking anything, whilst also freeing up developers to crack on with what they do best, developing. It’s a win-win!

Investigation

We put three solutions through their paces, here are our findings.

PushTable

Homepage: PushTable.com
Price: Free

pushtable-screenshot-4

The first and simplest solution we took a look at was PushTable. PushTable is a free offering from Trellis Technologies Inc. that provides a neat spreadsheet-like interface that feels familiar and intuitive, allowing users to get up and running quickly and easily.

Linking a Firebase project took no more than a couple of minutes and setting up data models for different types of content and adding new content was a breeze. The search and filtering capabilities also came in handy as we added more and more content.

PushTable only currently supports Firebase Cloud Firestore databases. This is great on one hand as it works out cheaper to run than a Realtime database of similar size. On the other hand, Cloud Firestore databases are currently still in BETA, meaning you won’t be able to backup and restore your database for the time being. There’s also no user creation or management features, potentially opening the door for non-technical users to make mistakes, for example, modifying a data model rather than adding content to the data model.

Key features and benefits:

  • Cloud Firestore database for data storage
  • Content management through content models
  • Search and filter functionality for content and data
  • Multi-project support
  • Documentation and support available

Homepage: Flamelink.io
Price: Free, Paid

flamelink-screenshot-2

The second and arguably best all-round solution we took a look at was Flamelink. Flamelink offers free and paid plans depending on whether or not you need multiple users and user creation and management features.

It has a sleek, intuitive interface that will feel familiar to anyone who has any kind of experience of using a CMS such as Wordpress or Ghost. The video walkthroughs provided with the docs were helpful and concise and made linking a Firebase project an absolute doddle. Flamelink uses schemas rather than content models for adding and managing content, but in reality it’s very similar to PushTable in this regard and we were able to add a bunch of content relatively quickly and painlessly. Search and filtering was again handy as we added more content.

Flamelink only currently supports Realtime databases (i.e. the opposite of PushTable), great if you want to backup and restore your database, but comes in a little more expensive than running a Cloud Firestore database.

A key area that really differentiates Flamelink from the rest of the pack is it’s user creation and management features. User access rights/privileges can be configured in in a way that allows non-technical users to add and manage content, whilst removing the possibility of them accidentally modifying content schemas, thus breaking things. Although this is a paid feature it’s a huge bonus in our book and one of the key reasons you would use a headless CMS in the first place.

Key features and benefits:

  • Realtime database for data storage
  • Content management through schemas
  • Firebase Storage for media upload and storage
  • User creation and management (privileges and access)
  • Search and filter functionality for content, data and users
  • Multi-project support
  • Multi- environment support (e.g. dev, staging, test, production)
  • Multi-language support
  • Backup and restore (via the product and Firebase)
  • Documentation and support available

Firebase CMS

Homepage: alexabbott/firebase-cms
Price: Free

firebase-cms-screenshot

The third and final solution we took a look at was firebase-cms, an open source solution created by Alex Abbott.

Truth be told we found it a little difficult to get up and running. The project hasn’t been updated for almost a year and some of the setup and configuration instructions are out of date or result in error messages.

Adding and managing content was fairly straightforward, however, content was limited to posts, pages, products or product categories. User creation was also available, a really nice bonus, but again was limited to specific user roles including super-admin, admin and editor.

Taking a look through the issues currently open for the project highlighted a number of security worries, and taking into consideration the overall inflexibility of the solution when compared to PushTable or Flamelink it becomes hard to recommend firebase-cms for commercial use.

Key features and benefits:

  • Realtime database for data storage
  • Content management (posts, pages, products, product categories)
  • User creation and management (super-admin, admin, editor)
  • Backup and restore (via Firebase)
  • Documentation available

Summary

After taking the reviewed solutions for a spin the verdicts are in and our final recommendations are as follows:

  • If you’re looking for something simple and free you can’t go wrong with PushTable.
  • If you’re looking for something fully featured and don’t mind paying a small monthly fee for the extras then go for Flamelink.
  • We can’t recommend Firebase CMS as it's not up to date, has security issues outstanding and is less flexible than other solutions currently available.

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