Atlassian Connect vs. Forge — which way faster to effective Cloud app development?

When it comes to platforms enabling app development, there’s a couple of essentials that developers look for: provided languages, security level, a low-code/no-code approach, hosting possibilities, and many more. There are even more factors to consider when building Jira- and Confluence-related Cloud applications. In addition to ensuring perfect integration, it would be ideal if the platform provided the ability to distribute the application on the Marketplace. Is there a platform that has it all? In this article, we’ll compare two Atlassian Cloud app development platforms: Connect and Forge. What are the differences between them and which of them is more universal?

What is Atlassian Connect?

Connect is a Cloud app development platform announced by Atlassian in 2014 and still developed and maintained by the company. The platform enables building apps and integrations connected with Atlassian products like Jira, Confluence, and Bitbucket. The reason behind creating Connect in the first place was to give developers the possibility to customize their customers’ Cloud instances like their on-premise counterparts.

Atlassian presents 5 simple elements of developing Cloud apps in Connect:

In what cases using Atlassian Connect is recommended?

According to Atlassian, Jira Software is used by more than 65,000 companies in 190 countries.

The Atlassian Marketplace itself is an environment for over 1000 third-party vendors and developers with at least one public app on the Marketplace. One of the main advantages of Connect over Forge (at least for now) may be the possibility to sell our apps on Atlassian Marketplace. Connect enables creating applications that may be presented to a wider audience of Atlassian product users. The asset of this approach is not only the incoming profit but also testing our ideas on a large and diverse group of recipients. It’s a great opportunity for developers’ and vendors’ ideas to shine through.

What’s more, Atlassian Connect doesn’t limit its users only to develop Jira and Confluence add-ons. Connect is also compatible with Bitbucket, which expands the possibilities of creating new applications for fellow developers.

What is Forge?

Atlassian announced Forge, a new Cloud app development platform, at the beginning of 2020. What was the reason behind creating the second platform seemingly similar to Connect?

Forge (currently in beta, but intensively developed) is Atlassian serverless platform that differs from Connect with this exact feature: no need to have our own infrastructure for building Atlassian apps. This FaaS (Function-as-a-Service) platform is powered by AWS Lambda. Due to the fact that applications are hosted on the Atlassian side, vendors bear much lower initial costs.

The platform (at least as of this moment) doesn’t allow for putting your add-ons on the Atlassian Marketplace, which means it’s targeted at companies that need to build applications for their own internal needs.

There are three Forge’s main components:

  1. A serverless Function-as-a-Service hosted platform
  2. A declarative UI language (Forge UI), responsible for fast coding
  3. A DevOps toolchain, allowing for the creation, testing, and deployment of apps.

What are Forge’s main advantages?

Forge’s second name is simplicity. The idea behind creating this platform was to maximally simplify the development process. Forge is made to take the difficulties that Cloud app developers have faced so far. The FaaS model enables developers not only to build the whole application but also to write single functions. In developers’ opinion, Forge is simply easy to work with — they can write self-contained modules, each of which is a separate function. Instead of solving problems related to configuring apps in cloud services, developers are now able to focus on the essence of their work with less amount of code to write. This means faster results and simpler solutions.

Maintaining the highest security level is also Forge’s task. Now, Atlassian takes care of security issues: the access to user data is secured and the data flow is effectively controlled. Forge uses its implemented authentication mechanism — the platform ensures communication with Jira from the application side. Due to the fact that the responsibility for these issues is transferred to Atlassian, developers don’t have to remember about generating keys and tokens.

Connect and Forge face-to-face comparison. Source: Atlassian Developer documentation

Connect vs. Forge — the developers’ experience

So much for the theory. But how both Connect and Forge are rated by developers that come in contact with these platforms? We asked Deviniti’s developers working in both Connect and Forge about their thoughts on these platforms. Here are the advantages and disadvantages of the two tools that they’ve pointed out.

When it comes to Forge, according to developers, the first distinguishing feature of the platform is the fact that they don’t have to use their own servers. They also point out the ease of the development process: in Forge, they can create a simple application, and what’s important, they can do it quickly. On the other hand, the Forge’s capabilities are limited, although its rapid development is visible.

Forge is a serverless approach. All we, developers, have to do, is to outsource the performance of a function to the server. Then, the server takes this function and returns the result. Although, Forge’s main limitation and the downside of this solution is the limited time to perform a given function.

— Maciej Dudziak, Product Owner/Software Developer at Deviniti

So far, Maciej has created two apps using Forge — during the hackathon Codegeist 2020:

  • SLAs Elapsed Time, presenting the total elapsed time that was spent on resolving the ticket in Jira.
  • Transition 2, showing the target status of an issue in Jira right after it’s created.

As we can see, Forge, despite its limits, is already a great tool for developing useful apps. But every tool has its downsides. What bothers developers, while coding in Forge? The initial configuration, i.e. the transfer to the platform, is time-consuming and laborious compared to server applications. Developers also acknowledge that Forge, unlike Connect, is integrated only with Jira and Confluence, which is not enough. It’s easy to tell that Forge is still limited compared to Connect, though it’s understandable — it’s still in beta, so more features are ahead of us.

Will Forge displace Connect? Atlassian’s position is clear: Connect is not going anywhere. The company encourages developers and vendors to build new commercial apps and integrations using this platform. Forge, on the other hand, is recommended in cases when we don’t want to worry about app hosting and authentication but are interested in building custom Jira automation or Confluence macros.

The developers themselves have the same opinion:

Both tools are most suitable for particular add-on needs. In my opinion, Forge will never replace Connect, they will coexist.

— Sławomir Jezierski, Product Owner/Software Developer at Deviniti

As an Atlassian Platinum Solution Enterprise Partner and a Platinum Marketplace Partner, we’ve been working hard on helping improve the user experience of Jira Service Desk and Jira Software for the last 15 years. With our expert services and dedicated apps on the Atlassian Marketplace, we’ve enhanced the overall quality of work comfort and customer service in over 5000 companies around the globe.

If you want to learn more app development tips and tricks, make sure to check out other articles available on Deviniti Technology-Driven Blog:

Content Specialist at Deviniti

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