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How databases are used in mobile app development & the top options available

There are a few considerations to keep in mind regarding the database solution you select, which are specific to the circumstances of mobile app development.

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Building a mobile app is a process which involves all sorts of tools and solutions that have to work seamlessly behind the scenes so that end users are satisfied with their experience.
Databases are one such tool, and any aspiring app developers need to get to grips with how they apply in this context, as well as understanding the options available so that they can pick the best database for their needs.

The basics

Simply put, a database will be the repository for any information your app needs to function as intended, so obviously it is an essential part of the framework that supports it.

There are a few considerations to keep in mind regarding the database solution you select, which are of course specific to the circumstances of mobile app development.

For example, while having a remotely accessible database to deliver information to end users when needed is all well and good, you will also need to consider the need for providing offline access to critical data, because guaranteeing connectivity on portable devices is not possible.

Likewise it is important to make sure that database performance is consistently quick, as issues can sour the experience for users and could harm the reputation of your app. Using SQL database monitoring for this purpose is sensible, no matter your setup, as without it your app might flounder unnecessarily.

The choices

Now that you know how a database is used and why it is important for mobile app development, you need to find the right way to pick one of the many competing platforms.

First and foremost you should look at the mobile OS ecosystems you are targeting and make sure that the database you choose is actually supported by them. In most cases this means looking into compatibility with both Android and iOS, although some developers may only need to concern themselves with one of these, which can affect your choices.

Secondly you need to think about the speed with which data access will be needed, and the scale and type of the information you will be storing. Some databases are better at dealing with larger volumes of structured data, for example, while others are tuned more towards quick wrangling of unstructured data.

Thirdly you need to think about how your app will actually function, and whether you will need an always-online approach to service provision, if local storage of data is necessary for offline use, or if frequent synchronisation of both local and remotely hosted information makes the most sense.

Finally you should consider the security that a given database solution offers, such as being able to offer encryption while information is in transit between the user’s device and the remote server where it is being stored, and vice versa.

The top databases

In terms of the actual database solutions that are worth weighing up, for the aforementioned convenience of handling structured data, examples which use SQL are probably worth prioritizing as part of your search.

Microsoft’s SQL Server is a premium version of this, while there are free and open-source counterparts like MySQL and PostgreSQL which could be a good choice if you are on a tighter budget or are simply looking to experiment with the different editions out there before making a commitment.

Unstructured data handling is impactfully done by MongoDB, which is also recommendable because it offers solid speed, decent scalability and also plenty of flexibility, depending on what you actually hope to achieve with your mobile app. Cassandra falls into a similar camp, once again benefiting from being free to use and operating on an open-source basis which gives developers more control and customization options.

For local storage on phones, SQLite is a popular database solution, while real-time synchronization of data between the app and the server is handled well by something like ReThinkDB.

There are many other databases which might catch your eye as you develop a mobile application, so it is best to compare them thoroughly and think about exactly what you want to get out of them so that you can narrow down the field and find the perfect database for you.

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