With the rapid advancements in technology and the pressing need for fast, efficient, and secure software updates, over-the-air (OTA) updates, commonly known as “code push,” are becoming a game-changer in mobile app development. It’s a method by which developers can directly push app updates without downloading or installing anything manually. Imagine having an app on your phone that updates itself in real-time without any intervention, ensuring you always have the latest features, security patches, and bug fixes.

When Do You Need Over-the-Air Updates?

The traditional app update method requires developers to submit a new app version to app stores like Google Play or Apple App Store. This process can be cumbersome and time-consuming and may cause delays due to app store review processes. OTA updates offer a streamlined alternative. With code push, developers can:

  • Quickly roll out bug fixes or minor feature enhancements without waiting for app store approvals.
  • Test new features or changes with a subset of users before making them available to everyone.
  • Maintain more frequent release cycles, ensuring users always have access to the latest version of the app.

By bypassing the app stores, developers can offer a more seamless experience to users, who won’t need to keep checking their app store for updates or worry about running outdated software.

What Are the Limitations of Code Push Solutions?

As powerful as code push solutions like Shorebird, they have limitations. One of the primary constraints is that only the Dart code can be updated. This means any changes to native configurations or native code (like Java, Kotlin, Objective-C, or Swift) won’t be reflected through OTA updates. Developers must be mindful of this when considering what kind of updates they want to push.

Supported Platforms for Shorebird Code Push

Currently, the Shorebird code push solution supports Android and iOS platforms. You might wonder, “Why not web support?” Simply put, web applications inherently support real-time updates by fetching the latest version from servers whenever a user accesses the app. So, a code push solution for web apps would be redundant. If it comes to desktop applications, we might see them being implemented in Shorebird in the future.

A Closer Look at Shorebird for Flutter Developers

Shorebird has emerged as a promising solution for Flutter developers wanting to deploy OTA updates. It currently supports Android and has alpha support for iOS. It’s worth noting that the term “Code Push” has its roots in the React Native community, with tools offered by companies like Microsoft and Expo, which don’t support Flutter.

With Shorebird, developers prepare a “release” for the app stores. Later on, they can generate a “patch” that updates this release with new code. This patch is diffused with the release binary to craft an update for users. The terminology may seem technical, but Shorebird provides detailed explanations in its documentation.

Ensuring Your Source Code’s Security

A common concern with such solutions is the security of source code. Shorebird ensures developers that their source code remains untouched. The tool uploads the same compiled app binary sent to app stores, ensuring the utmost privacy. Their privacy policy, found in Shorebird’s Privacy Policy, provides a deeper dive into their commitment to user privacy.

Seamlessly Integrating Shorebird with CI Systems

Continuous Integration (CI) systems are integral to modern software development. Shorebird is designed to fit seamlessly into these systems. They’ve even provided a guide for incorporating Shorebird with GitHub Actions, showcasing its compatibility with popular CI tools. It’s worth noting that Shorebird is a command-line software. Therefore, it can be implemented in any CI/CD environment.

Adhering to App Store Policies with OTA Updates

Ensuring any OTA solution doesn’t infringe upon app store policies is important. Shorebird is designed to respect these guidelines. Both Android’s Play Store and Apple’s App Store have policies surrounding app updates. Key points include not changing the app’s primary purpose and adhering to the stores’ technical restrictions. Shorebird operates within these constraints, ensuring developers can push updates directly without any policy violations.

How to Get Started with Shorebird?

To start with Shorebird, you must create an account on the Shorebird website. Once you have created an account, you can download the Shorebird CLI tool.

Once you have installed the Shorebird CLI tool, you can initialize Shorebird for your Flutter project. To do this, run the following command:

shorebird init

This will create a new directory in your project called Shorebird. This directory contains the Shorebird configuration files.

Once Shorebird has been initialized, you can start developing your app as usual. When you are ready to release an update, simply run the following command:

shorebird release

This will generate a patch file that contains the changes to your app. You can then upload this patch file to the Shorebird cloud service.

When a user opens your app, it will check for updates from Shorebird. The app will download and install the patch file if an update is available.

When to Utilize Code Push for Flutter App Enhancements?

Code push is not a replacement for testing. You should still thoroughly test your updates before releasing them to users.

Code push can be used to deploy emergency fixes to production apps. This can be very useful if you need to fix a bug causing your users’ problems.

Code push can be used to ship bug fixes to users on older versions of your app. This can be helpful for users who have not yet updated to the latest version of your app.

Code push can be used to ship updates to your app continuously. This can be useful for apps that need to be updated frequently, such as news apps or social media apps.


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The Evolving Landscape of Mobile App Updates

In today’s fast-paced world, tools like Shorebird are reshaping the way developers meet user expectations. Over-the-air updates are pioneering new standards in mobile app development, facilitating swift rollouts, emphasizing security, and creating a more adaptive app experience. For those looking to further deepen their understanding of Flutter in this evolving landscape, The Flutter Handbook is a valuable resource. Compiled with insights from top Flutter developers, it serves as a reflection of the current best practices and real-world applications of Flutter in 2023.