Window Shopping Google App Engine (And Some Competitors)

I think I have a working understanding of Angular Standalone components and plan to use them for my future Angular projects. But the sample application in “Getting Started with Angular Standalone Components” code lab had other details worth looking into. Two Google cloud services were included in the exercise: Diagflow Messenger and App Engine. I assume their inclusion were a bit of Google product cross-promotion, as neither were strictly required to build Angular applications using standalone components.

Diagflow Messenger makes it easy to incorporate a chatbot onto your page. I personally always ignore chatbots as much as I can, so I’m not likely to incorporate one to my own project. On the other hand, Google App Engine looks interesting.

The standalone component code lab project only used App Engine to host static files via express.static. In that respect, it could have just as easily been hosted via GitHub Pages, which is what I’ve been using because my projects so far have been strictly static affairs. But I have ambition for more dynamic projects in the future and for those ideas I’ll need a server. When I took the Ruby on Rails Tutorial (twice) aspiring web developers could host their projects on Heroku’s free tier. Unfortunately, Heroku has since eliminated their free tier. Web development learners like me will have to look elsewhere for a free option.

Heroku implemented their service on top of Amazon Web Services. Looking around AWS documentation, I didn’t find an equivalent service making it trivial to deploy backend projects like Ruby on Rails or Node.js. We could certainly roll our own on top AWS EC2 instances and there’s a tutorial to do so but it’s not free. While there’s an EC2 introductory offer for 750 free hours in the first 12 months, after that there’s nothing in Amazon’s always-free tier for this kind of usage.

Google App Engine is similar to Heroku in offering developer-friendly way to deploy backend projects, in this case Node.js. And even better, basic level services are free if I stay within relevant quotas. According to documentation, this service is built on containers rather than EC2 virtual machines like Heroku. I don’t know if there’s enough of a difference in developer experience for me to worry about. One footnote I noticed was the list of system packages available to my projects. I saw a few names that might be useful like FFmpeg, ImageMagick, and SQLite. (Aside: The documentation page also claims Chrome headless, but I don’t actually see it on the list.)

To round out the big three, I poked around Microsoft’s Azure documentation. I found Azure App Service and instructions for deploying a Node.js web app. Azure also offers a free tier and it sounds like the free tier is also subject to quotas. Unlike Google App Engine, everything on Azure comes to a halt if I hit free tier quotas. For experiments, I prefer Azure’s approach of halting. Exceeding free tier limits on Google App Engine starts charging money rather than taking my app offline. If I build something I want to actually use, I might prefer Google’s method. Sure, I might have to pay a few bucks, but at least I can still access my app.

These two free plans should be good enough for me to learn and evolve my skills, assuming they don’t disapper as Heroku free tier did. If I get far enough in my web application development adventures to be willing to pay for server capacity, I’m will also look into an independent offering like DreamHost’s DreamCompute or one of DigitalOcean’s products for Node.js hosting.

But that’s for later. Right now, I have more I could learn from Angular standalone components code lab sample application.

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