How to Build a Chat App With Next.js & Firebase
In this tutorial, we will guide you through building a simple chat application with Next.js and Firebase.
Chat SDK, or Software Development Kit, enables you to include instant messaging in your Android or iPhone app. This software kit assists you with everything that can make instant messaging easier, from creating your own Tinder alternative to launching a simple Virtual Event. In fact, It gives your users the freedom to communicate instantly, so that they can slowly and steadily build a community.
Before we proceed, let's clarify a few terminologies that might not be so clear.
A kit is a group of articles or equipment needed for a specific purpose.
A Development kit is a group of articles or equipment needed in order to build or develop a particular thing. The thing here could be a house, car, hardware, software or any other thing.
To make a car for instance, you can think of articles or equipment such as engine, tires, chairs, glasses and so on. These articles or equipment put together is the car development kit.
A software development kit (SDK) is a programming package or set of software tools and programs provided by various vendors to enable developers to build applications for specific or particular platforms.
To understand this even more, this article will be diving deeply into one of such SDKs - Chat SDK. Let's get to it
Chat SDK is a programming package or set of software tools and programs that enable developers to build chat applications effectively and efficiently.
Chat SDK usually comes with out-of-the-box features such as emojis, message attachments, Giphy integrations, and powerful slash commands to make chat experience more engaging. It gives users the freedom to communicate instantly, thus providing an opportunity to build a community slowly and steadily.
Every chat SDK is made up of three (3) components or parts. These parts are compulsory if the SDK will be useful. The following are the components of a chat SDK:
Let's talk more on each
This is an acronym of Application Programming Interface and can also be referred to as Libraries. These APIs are a set of already prepared code that let developers perform common programming tasks like data transmission between one software and another. Chat SDK uses a special type of API called Chat API.
A Chat API is a collection of codes that can be used to provide real-time chat features for in-app chat, or for chat on a website. It provides access to a back-end chat service & server infrastructure with the stability and broad features required to easily embed real-time chat inside of your app at a scale suited to your needs from an intimate conversation to a very large chat group.
Imagine talking to a friend. When you speak, the person is able to receive your message through the ear. The brain interprets your message to the person and the person is able to now discern the appropriate response to give to you.
In the scenario we just painted above, the API is the means by which the message is received by your friend. That is the ear. If your friend speaks back to you, you will also receive the message through you ear before your brain interprets the message. The brain is the back-end where the message is stored and processed.
Now imagine talking with that friend over a real-time chat application through a real-time chat application.
Chat SDK contains one or more of such APIs that enable data transmission between the front-end and the back-end or the Chat SDK provider. So this is what enables messages to be sent and received between users - The message sent from one user is sent to a database and returned to the recipient(s). This also happens as soon as a reply message is sent.
IDE is an acronym for Integrated Development Environment. This is a visual editor that enable developers come up with design concepts and maybe produce such designs while performing minimal tasks
Dependencies are other tools in the Chat SDK that the developer uses or depends upon in order to perform functions such as debugging, building, running, testing and so on.
The services that are provided by a Chat SDK can be either of the following:
This is the kind of chat that only 2 bodies (it could be users-to-users, business-to-users or business to business) are involved in the conversation.
Many businesses have had to adopt this service as it gives better user experience especially for customer services. No doubt, this is the most common form of chat we see in many chat application.
When a chat is hosting a conversation between 3 or more persons or businesses, such a chat is said to be public. So you can start thinking of the group chats which has become very popular today. We notice that it is not uncommon to see people of the same goal create group chats to keep in touch.
These public groups might also be protected. This means that a group chat might restrict the kind of persons or businesses that will be part of the conversation. So even though a chat might be public, it might not be accessible except you meet certain criteria.
A good Chat SDK should be able to provide the following features:
A little about each feature:
Users or businesses are not static. They grow with time and as circumstances changes. A good Chat SDK should ensure that it can be relied upon as such changes takes place.
As people are very busy, checking their phones for new messages might not be feasible or realistic. But having a notification for every new message, can be such a gift. Modern Chat SDK has to integrate this functionality if it must scale competitively in the market.
We could misplace our phones or for some reason loose our chat. Chat SDK should be able to do us the honor of keeping such chat and providing them anytime we need them. Individuals and companies should be able to depend on such Chat SDK for messages whenever needed.
The developers using a given Chat SDK, should be able to manipulate the SDK to something they desire. For example, user profile should be able to exceed the regular user details and have more details if the developer desires that.
The developers should have access to the data such as messages and user details of their users. This should be provided as it helps developers monitor the application better and gives them a sense of ownership.
Chat SDK is supposed to allow users communicate using different means. For example, users who do not desire to use text in communication, should be allowed to use audio, videos, images, stickers and so on.
Logging in or creating a user should not be restricted to a few ways specified by the Chat SDK. Instead, the Chat SDK should provide for authentication possibilities to accommodate whatsoever authentication procedure the developers may already have.
Being left in the dark can be frustrating. We want to know if our friends are online or offline. We want to know if our message has been sent, pending, delivered or read by the other party(s). The Chat SDK should provide us with such Feedback. This is very important for retaining customers. Customers satisfaction is prime!
Profanity filters and user blocking
There will always be that person who causes nuisance. We want to be able to remove them from a group or block them from reaching us. Chat SDK should provide such functionalities.
other features include:
The importance of Chat SDK may have become very obvious as you have read down to this point. Let's point out 3 reasons why the Chat SDK is such a valuable tool:
What are we saying?
To build a Chat application, you will need to hire a group of developers asides the time it will cost you to be able to finish the application.
Chat SDK on the other hand, is already made. All you need is to pay a token and plug it into your application. Sometimes, the package you really need might even be free of charge. This will save you money, time and mental stress.
Consider too that it will cost your user less having to chat with you over your website than having to use airtime to call or text you over the cell phone.
Chat application provides us with security of our documents and conversation such that we can use them as storage spaces. Since it is not inflammable or damageable by water, our documents and conversations will be safe.
Since these chat applications provide us with storage spaces, we can store materials here for future reference. It could be an agreement or business contract.
Better user experience
Imagine that you integrate a chat-bot into your application to provide answers to frequently asked questions. That chat-bot saves you the time to keep repeating same answer over and over again.
But beyond that is the satisfaction your users get from using you application. They do not have to wait for so long to get a reply on how to fix their issue. You have also been able to keep that user from checking on other options.
If you search for Chat SDK right now, I am sure that the list you will get will be enormous. While it is a beautiful thing to have variety of options, it becomes very possible to make a bad judgement call. In this section, I have carefully pointed out things to look out for while picking the right Chat SDK.
I will explain
Without a good documentation, it is almost impossible to use a Chat SDK if given to you. With that in mind, it is very important that we go through whatever documentation we are provided with before deciding to use the Chat SDK. If the documentation is not properly done, it might be a ton of work for us using that SDK.
A proper documentation should be easy to read, short and straight to the point.
Like was pointed out earlier, users or businesses are not static. They grow with time and as circumstances changes. A good Chat SDK should ensure that it can be relied upon as such changes takes place.
If a Chat SDK is not scalable, it will be plenty of work to make a transition to another Chat SDK, it will definitely cost money and time. It might even lead to loosing users/client information.
Since most SDKs are open source, developers will like to contribute. The more people contribute, the more updated the SDK is and the more relevant it will be. So look our for Chat SDKs with high contributions from developers.
It will be a waste investing time, energy and money on a Chat SDK that do not support the technology that we are using. We want to ensure that whatever SDK we choose, supports the technology already being used.
For example, if a Chat SDK do not support React and I am using React to develop the application in question, I do not have business with such Chat SDK.
More people are likely to use or adopt something if it is good and meets the needed requirements. That is same with Chat SDK. We want to go for Chat SDKs that have been adopted by more people. This will also make it easy to find solutions to a bug if we hit any.
Some Chat SDK do not offer all the services we pointed out earlier. So it is important to ensure that the SDK offers those services that you will be needing in your application.
Very important is to ensure that the Chat SDK covers the regions where your customers/clients are based. Certain regions are secluded. Not all providers have coverage and latency that meet your need in each region. Check if you can stress test ahead of time (especially if you have high user traffic).
Freedom is something that we all desire. It is not different when picking a Chat SDK. We need SDKs that give us the flexibility to make changes to the Chat in order to suit our preference. For example, we might want the chat UI to inherit the color of our application or we might want to be able to manage our users and how they use the app and so on.
Having a high level of customization will provide both the developers and the clients a high level of satisfaction or good user experience.
As a business owner, the objective is to make profit. So it wouldn't be wise to spend so much on an exact service or product you can spend so less on if you use a different vendor. So you want to compare different prices from different vendors
Some vendors will even give a free trial period after which you may choose to continue or discontinue. It might be wise to start here.
This might be the most important point to consider especially if you are going to be sending very valuable text, documents, videos and so on. You need to be sure that the Chat SDK provides for certain level of encryption on conversations.
If the Chat will not be secured and you need to exchange confidential materials, it will be wise to check other chat SDK.
Having considered those points, I will like to seize this opportunity to introduce to you a vendor that provides Chat SDKs that meet the whole criteria we have pointed out. The vendor is CometChat.
With CometChat Pro, they have provided Chat SDK for many language/technology as you can see in their documentation.
In other words, search no more for you have everything you might be searching for here in one piece.
So what is it going to be?
Chat SDKs will slightly differ from one another in the way they can be used. However, there are a few steps that are common in most Chat SDKs. They are:
We already pointed out that CometChat Pro has Chat SDKs that meet the needed requirement for a Chat SDK. So, I will use the CometChat Chat SDK to demonstrate how it can be used to build chat applications. So here is how it works in CometChat:
Obtain a unique identity with the vendor
Download the Chat SDK
Get the basic code
We have seen so far that there is a kit for everything. These kits helps to bring out effective and efficient results. The Chat SDK is not left out on this. Amongst other things, we saw clearly what it is and how it differ from Chat API, features of Chat SDK, services offered by Chat SDK and how to pick the right one. In the end, we demonstrated how CometChat SDK can be used to create chat applications.
So if you are dreaming of building any software, I will encourage you to think of ways to integrate CometChat to it. And even if you are not thinking of anything, give it a try. It will cost nothing to see how it works. After all, you get 30 days free trial once you sign up. Keep Building!
About the Author
Njoku is a software engineer who is interested in building solutions to real world problems and teaching others about the things he knows. Something he really enjoys doing asides writing codes and technical articles is body building.
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