Couchbase brings NoSQL power to mobile apps

Couchbase Mobile promises native embedded NoSQL on mobile devices, both to bolster apps and to help Couchbase stand apart from other NoSQL providers

Couchbase, makers of NoSQL key-value and document database products, is delivering a new mobile-centric line of products designed to make it easier for app developers to synchronize data between devices and back-end data stores.

The offering, called Couchbase Mobile and billed as "the world's first and only native embedded NoSQL mobile database," isn't just intended to allow mobile developers to build applications that weren't previously possible (or so Couchbase says), but also to allow Couchbase to distinguish itself in a field that's become crowded by competitors.

Couchbase Mobile is made of three components: a device client component (Couchbase Lite), a back-end component (Couchbase Server), and a synchronization layer between the two (Couchbase Sync Gateway).

Couchbase Lite is a ground-up rewrite of Couchbase Server for mobile environments, which includes the multi-master replication and conflict resolution features of the full server product. Right now, it runs natively on iOS, OS X, Android, and Portable Java, but future support is planned for .Net as well.

The kinds of apps that can be built with Couchbase Mobile typically involve having large amounts of data that can be selectively cached, stored, and updated on the device. For example, there's Infinite Campus, an educational app that allows lessons or modules to be pushed to students' devices so that homework assignments bundled with those lessons can be completed offline without needing a network connection.

Databases for mobile applications are legion, but Couchbase claims relational databases -- the main variety of database found in mobile apps -- are "poorly suited to manage the many types of unstructured data generated by today’s mobile users." Also, "no productized solution has existed for the synchronization of unstructured data that is shared between the cloud and the device." The individual pieces of the suite are actually not new offerings, though -- they debuted in September of last year.

Some of Couchbase's push to mobile may be motivated by the difficulties it has had in competing with MongoDB. Despite Couchbase having a lot to admire (as InfoWorld's Andy Oliver noted on the release of Couchbase 2.0), it was still edged out slightly by MongoDB when InfoWorld reviewed both products last year, with MongoDB being slightly easier to use and sporting better querying and index features.

It's become harder to compete in the NoSQL space generally, not only because of MongoDB's prevalence, but also because the field quickly became crowded with a great many contenders trying to distinguish themselves in some fashion. (Quick -- what's the difference between Neo4j and Riak?) If Couchbase's strategy is to center around mobile apps and disconnected functionality, that may be a useful niche.

Plus, this strategy could provide Couchbase with two ways to flourish: as a NoSQL solutions provider and as a tool in the ever-expanding box available to mobile developers, all of whom are looking to solve more ambitious problems with each passing generation of apps.

[An earlier version of this article incorrectly identified Couchbase as "makers of the CouchDB line of NoSQL products." CouchDB is an Apache Software Foundation project.]

This story, "Couchbase brings NoSQL power to mobile apps," was originally published at Get the first word on what the important tech news really means with the InfoWorld Tech Watch blog. For the latest developments in business technology news, follow on Twitter.

Copyright © 2014 IDG Communications, Inc.

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