The saying that “there’s an app for that™” doesn’t just apply to users these days — web developers can now dig into a growing collection of services and tools that will help them add specific functionality to their projects without having to spend tons of time custom-coding such functions.
Changes in how people access the Internet — particularly the growth of mobile and the need for synchronization of data across devices — has also resulted in changes that have decreased developer concerns about becoming locked into specific vendors if they use third-party services. The explosion of web apps and the demand by users for more and better functionality and synchronization between their various devices has also led to the growth of more and better ways for developers to meet those demands without writing complex code and carrying the cost of data maintenance. At the same time, security and reliability for such services have also been improved and enhanced.
This month’s article highlights just under a dozen of the most popular and promising of these online developer services. We encourage you to check them out to see if you can save yourself time and effort while also improving your projects and applications — all of which will ultimately make you more successful.
Filepicker — A winner of the MIT business plan competition in 2012, Filepicker is now an established go-to tool for adding interoperability of cloud storage programs (Dropbox, Google Drive, GitHub, etc.) with web and mobile apps. Users can upload files from 18 different programs into a common area easily and quickly – no downloading to your computer and then uploading, no logging into different servers, etc. A 10 day free trial is available and plans start at $29/month for up to 2,000 files per month (a personal plan is available for free). Security is ensured via SSL and AES-256 encryption for file storage, with a 99.9% uptime guarantee.
Mandrill Email Delivery — Mandrill is a product of MailChimp that lets you build in email delivery capability by either SMTP or through Mandrill’s API. Mandrill can route your inbound email, be connected to a bunch of third-party plugins and apps, has impressive analytics, and you can check email status from a smartphone or tablet. Pricing is easy – the first 12,000s email each month are free, with overages starting out at 20 cents per thousand. A dedicated IP is also available for $29.95/month.
Import.io — Need to gather data from websites or online databases but dreading the process? Import.io is a free tool that allows you to basically turn any website into an API and extract the data from it — from either one source or multiple sources. Import.io’s best practices insist that users abide by the terms and conditions of websites whose data is being extracted — in other words, it is not meant to be an easy way to scrape websites that don’t openly allow the use of their data. For legitimate uses, however, it’s a fantastic tool that will save you tons of time.
Avatars.io— Everyone likes avatars served up with their apps, and this service makes it super-easy for you to add the functionality for your app’s users to choose an avatar from an existing social app like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram; convert an avatar from Gravatar; or create a custom avatar via AvatarPickerPlus. Three different sizes are possible, with pseudo-extensions possible for other sizes. A step-by-step tutorial on GitHub will help you get started with adding this capability to your project. Avatars.io is currently in beta and is free to use.
Elastic.io — The advantage of Elastic.io (an Integration Platform as a Service or iPaaS) is that it lets you integrate different cloud services to your app all at once, rather than separately, saving time and complexity of coding. Out of the box, Elastic has connectors to almost 40 different APIs, including such popular ones such as Salesforce, Google Analytics, DropBox, Shopify, Zendesk, WordPress, Twitter. Pricing depends upon traffic and number of data records per month, but starts at 19 Euros/month. A 14-day trial is available.
Algolia — Need to build in a fast search function to a website or app you are developing for text, number, or faceted searches? Algolia may be the answer to your prayers. With three clusters of servers in different parts of the globe, search queries are sent and returned in milliseconds. You can set up a search bar that features auto-completion, multiple categories plus auto-completion, instant search that refreshes the search results page as the user types, etc. The Starter package covers 1M searches/indexing actions per month for $49. A 14-day free trial is offered.
PaperTrail— If you dread looking through a bunch of different types of log files to try to find out where and how an error or problem has occurred, PaperTrail is just that – an easy way to find the paper trail behind a question or problem that needs an answer. Basically a log management tool, it brings together all of your log files from different sources (such as text log files, Apache, MySQL, Windows events, Heroku apps, etc.) and minimizes the effort you normally need to put into tracking them all. Quick setup (45 seconds!) and the ability to manage logs from 2-2,000 servers, it operates in real-time via the browser, command line, or an API and will alert you of problems as they occur. A free plan will search a 48-hour timeframe and archive for 7 days, while a week search period starts at $7 per month for up to 1GB/month.
Firebase — Developers today realize that users want real-time access to data, no matter what platform they may currently be on – a desktop, tablet, or smartphone. And providing a tool that makes that data sync instantly is Firebase’s advantage for web developers. If you have built your app using Firebase, updates to the data in that app with sync automatically across web and mobile – even if the app is offline, it will sync as soon as connectivity recurs. Firebase works across all of the popular platforms and frameworks and integrate with servers, storing data as standard JSON. A free “Hacker” account will get your feet wet (only 50 concurrent connections, however) and plans start at $49/month.
Simperium — Both during development of a new app or site and throughout its use, data needs to move quickly and seamlessly between a variety of places — examples include your database itself, other services you are integrating, dealing with curated content. Simperium moves data quickly and automatically using a connection between it and your app, letting you provide a great user experience as well. All you have to do is change the data locally and the tool works to manage and update it wherever needed, cutting down on system maintenance and making coding simpler. You can host it yourself if preferred. Simperium is free for now but will have the usual resource-dependent pricing in time.
authO — authO is “identify made simple for developers” — a way to allow users to log in to your application via their existing user account on another site or application. In other words, authO helps you create a login process that will let your users sign into your application with their Facebook login information, for example. Making your application/site as user-centered as possible is a vital key to success, and authO easily accomplishes this for the authentication process, using standard protocols and a simple HTTPS API that works across any device. The provided login widget (Lock) even includes email verification and a “forgot your password” process. Rules can be executed as code snippets to do things such as whitelisting or adding roles. User management and reports/analytics are also included. A free “Dev” account has the basic features and limited number of users; adding branding and more users/APIs starts at $19/month.