Couchbase rolls out native NoSQL databases for iOS, Android

NoSQL startup Couchbase is trying to stake its claim as the go-to database for mobile apps with a new product designed specifically for iOS and Android devices. Called Couchbase Lite, it’s built to run directly on a phone or tablet rather than in the cloud, where the databases powering most mobile applications currently run.

The benefits of running a local database are clear to anyone who has ever lost their work due to a lost connection or had to endure excruciatingly slow load times because of a weak connection. Assuming it’s lightweight and fast — as Couchcase claims its Lite version is — apps can serve and update certain data right from the device a lot faster and more reliably. In the case of Couchbase Lite, applications can sync local data with a cloud-based Couchbase Server database, which means that both instances can remain as up-to-date as their connection status and programming decisions allow.

And we’re not just talking about relatively simple apps like Instagram or Angry Birds. Couchbase SVP of Product Development Rahim Yaseen is excited about the possibilities when you combine powerful multicore processors and increasingly large local memory capacity in mobile devices with a local database. During a call discussing the new database, he suggested the possibilities of e-learning platforms where content and interactions are all stored locally first, and even properly equipped tablets perform advanced medical tasks such as ultrasounds.

“[This much compute and memory] naturally opens the door for applications that are very data-intensive locally,” he said, “including sensor-type stuff.”


Yaseen’s team has already put the syncing capabilities to work in the form of a sample app that’s essentially a crowdsourced game of checkers. Each user on a team suggests the next move, and the results are sent back to a cloud database that feeds the computer that makes the ultimate decision. Theoretically, he noted, a chess club distributed around the world could use a similar type of app to take on a grandmaster.

Haven’t I seen this before?

However, some mobile developers might rightfully be wondering what’s new. SAP offers a similar set of capabilities with its Sybase SQL Anywhere platform, and Couchbase itself rolled out a similar-sounding product called Mobile Couchbase two years ago. The difference with SAP’s approach is pretty stark — that’s a relational database, while Couchbase Lite is a NoSQL database focused on JSON documents.

The difference between Mobile Couchbase and Couchbase Lite is pretty much a technical one. “CouchOne … had this idea that they were going to focus on mobile,” said Couchbase CEO Bob Wiederhold, “but they didn’t have the technology in place.” CouchOne was the CouchDB startup that merged with key-value startup Membase to create Couchbase in early 2011. Mobile Couchbase was based on the CouchOne technology, but Couchbase has since abandoned straight-up CouchDB in favor of its eponymous Couchbase Server technology.

This sequence of events from the Couchbase Lite Github page helps explain what it is and how it evolved into its current state:

2011: Couchbase ported CouchDB to mobile platforms. The resulting product, Couchbase Mobile, was reliable but was deemed too large and slow-launching due to its reliance on interpreted languages (Erlang and JavaScript.)

2012: As an R&D project, Couchbase Labs developed a new database called TouchDB. It used SQLite — already built into the OS — as its underlying data store, and added a NoSQL document model and replication protocol written in native code. This proved very successful, and TouchDB was enthusiastically adopted by developers and used in several commercial apps.

2012: Couchbase shipped its flagship Couchbase Server 2 database. It kept the high performance of Membase, and added CouchDB’s map/reduce query engine.

2013: Future versions of TouchDB will [be] named Couchbase Lite. It’s being made even smaller and faster. And from the other direction, we’re building a server-side gateway component to Couchbase Server to re-enable replication capabilities.

Couchbase Lite for iOS is written in Objective-C and Couchbase Lite for Android is written in Java, Yaseen said.

The company is getting some help from a handful of application-development platforms in its mission to make Couchbase Lite a standard component. It will be integrated into the Antenna, Appcelerator, Apperian, Adobe PhoneGap, Sencha and Xamarin platforms.

The announcement of Couchbase Lite comes less than a month after Couchbase announced it had closed a $25 million series D round of venture capital. It’s one of the big three NoSQL companies, along with MongoDB and DataStax, although the former is a much bigger threat in the quest to win over mobile developers.

Feature image courtesy of Shutterstock user mama_mia.