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Local-First Software Development: Cloud’s Latest Competitor

March 25, 2024


In the last decade or so, cloud technology has become so ingrained in our daily technology that we sometimes take for granted the seamless integration it facilitates. Enabling collaborative work processes, reducing reliance on data centers, and reducing data loss, cloud technology has become an integral part of organizational success. From Google Docs to Trello, cloud technology has revolutionized workflows and made remote work possible while saving costs. But quietly gathering momentum is local-first software development, a new approach to decentralized work that prioritizes collaboration and synchronization. Let’s take a closer look at local-first software and how it compares with the cloud. 

What is Local-First Software

Cloud technology has solved one of the biggest pain points for the working world; real-time collaboration. But if you’ve ever had to log in to Figma to collaborate on a design while working at a café with spotty Wi-Fi, you would’ve encountered the biggest drawback to cloud-first technology; its reliance on internet connectivity. Recently, local-first software has come to the fore as a challenger to the cloud’s domination over apps, websites, and tools. A new approach to app architecture that prioritizes collaboration and synchronization while removing the dependence on connectivity for storage, local-first software development is a new movement sweeping through developer circles. 

There are several examples of local-first applications that are currently enjoying popularity, which include: 

  • Turtl: A note-taking application that uses local data storage and syncs data across devices.
  • CryptPad: A document editor that prioritizes privacy and security, enabling collaboration on documents while encrypting data and storing it locally.
  • Joplin: An open-source note-taking and task management application that stores data locally and supports synchronization with various cloud services.

How Does Local-First Software Differ From Cloud? 

We live in a predominantly cloud-first world. Cloud-enabled apps typically sport a backend and frontend and utilize REST, GraphQL, and LiveView protocols for state transfer for data management across networks. Online connectivity is required to accept edits and updates and synchronize data. 

Data synchronization in local-first development replaces the backend with sync systems that can transfer data over Bluetooth or Wi-Fi networks, removing the biggest obstacle of online connectivity. Data is transmitted directly from the local database, updating edits and new writes as you go along, enabling offline capabilities. 

Local-first solves another issue that cloud apps create; data ownership. This doesn’t refer to intellectual property rights, but rather, storage and access. If you’ve spent hours creating an illustration on Figma, you, rightfully, are the owner of that design, but the data is stored and owned by the cloud service provider that Figma runs on. If that cloud server is down, you technically would not be able to access your illustration or your data. Before the cloud era, we would store data locally; on floppy disks, hard drives, USBs, and memory cards. In essence, we used to own our data, and with the invention of the cloud, we’ve sacrificed ownership for collaboration. Local-first development solves this issue by storing data within the disk built into your device.

In short, this type of software is called local-first because it makes use of local storage and local servers. 

The Disadvantages of Local-First Applications

Synchronization is both a benefit and somewhat of a disadvantage in local-first applications. While the system supports synchronization, it’s not as seamless as with cloud technology and a few challenges arise with conflicting changes made across a file with multiple users. 

One of the biggest advantages of using the cloud is that your data is safely stored. With first-local software, data loss and recovery is a threat due to local storage. Users are urged to remain vigilant about regular data backup, as any damage or corruption to devices could result in data loss.

Local-first detractors are quick to point out that collaboration is possible but difficult; especially when teams need to work in real time. Because data is locally stored and transmitted, the challenges of synchronization have a knock-on effect on collaboration, slowing down the editing and conflict resolution processes. 

Benefits of Local-First Software

For the growing fan base of local-first software, the enhanced data privacy that comes with locally stored data is a huge advantage. By completely owning files, documents, and data, users have greater control over their information, reducing the risk of data breaches. With the added benefit of end-to-end encryption, local-first offers data protection during device or cloud synchronization. 

Developers using local-first software can expect significant performance improvements. Processing data locally cuts out the central server middleman between each function, increasing response rate and reducing latency. 

Offline functionality solves one of the biggest issues with cloud-based applications; the need for internet connectivity. Local-first apps operate without an internet connection and enable users to access and edit their data at all times.  

When servers are down (either due to maintenance or a fault), businesses are negatively impacted. Local-first significantly reduces server dependence by storing data on devices, which in turn lessens the prospect of service interruptions and outages. 

Benefits of Cloud-First Applications

In order to make a fair comparison of how local-first stacks up against the cloud, here are some of the outstanding benefits of using a cloud-first approach in your workstream: 

In the competitive software development market, being able to put out new applications and tools quickly is vital. Cloud-first applications offer a faster time to market, alongside the ability to iterate and pivot with speed. Cloud computing enables easy testing of new ideas and applications by eliminating the need for hardware and slow procurement processes. 

Cloud advocates often cite scalability and flexibility as two key reasons they opt for cloud computing. Different projects require different computer processing abilities, and cloud technology allows developers to ramp up and strip back computing as required. Within this point is the added benefit of being able to do this without investing in new hardware and physical infrastructure. 

Cost savings are intrinsic to the cloud model. Regardless of which server you employ, you only pay for the resources used; this is a huge benefit for IT resources, ensuring you never spend more than required. 

Seamless collaboration is a benefit if you have internet connectivity. The advantage here is that you’re not tied to a device or a location, and data can be accessed anywhere in the world. (Freelancers and digital nomads rejoice!) Cloud-based apps also enable real-time collaboration, allowing users to work on a document or update data simultaneously, and resolve conflicting changes with ease. 

Often debated in developer circles, defenders of cloud computing cite advanced security as a benefit. Cloud computing offers sophisticated security features, regular and automated maintenance, and central management. Some of the bigger cloud companies work with security experts to protect against emerging threats. 

With regular updates, synchronized backup, and disaster recovery features, cloud technology has strong data loss prevention mechanisms. Unlike local storage, any damage, malfunction, error, or theft of hardware doesn’t affect data stored in the cloud and is protected by security.


We don’t often stop to think about our daily reliance on cloud computing, and for the most part, have quietly accepted any tradeoffs for the advantages of easy, global access, seamless collaboration, and cost-saving benefits. However, developers are increasingly employing a local-first approach to data and tools, prioritizing complete data ownership. 

Enabling offline collaboration, securely storing data on local devices, and transmitting data locally ensures that users can work on data, documents, and tools at all times. Local-first is increasingly gaining popularity and traction, slowly threatening the cloud’s position as the computing technology of choice for developers.