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15 min readPublished Jul 20, 2023

The 9 best Sendbird alternatives to consider in 2024

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Sendbird overview

Sendbird is a platform-as-a-service (PaaS) provider that enables developers to build notifications, chat, video calling, and video live streaming into their apps. Using the Sendbird API, SDKs, and UI kits, developers can create sophisticated support, marketing, and transactional live chat experiences without needing to create the underlying functionality from scratch.

If you’re considering using Sendbird to add chat functionality to your application, you should make sure that you know:

  • What Sendbird does well.

  • Sendbird’s limitations.

  • The most compelling Sendbird alternatives.

But first, let’s look in some detail at what Sendbird is. As a chat PaaS, Sendbird focuses on giving you the backend functionality to power chat in different forms. Sendbird’s main products are:

  • Notifications for transactional and marketing messages.

  • In-app chat.

  • In-app voice and video calling.

  • Live video streaming.

  • Support desk.

In addition to chat SDKs for some languages and frameworks, Sendbird provides UI kits that help you to embed their functionality into mobile and web applications.

Sendbird’s advantages

Sendbird can be a good choice if you want to focus specifically on chat and video calling. 

  • Use case specific APIs: Sendbird bundles up all of the technologies required to deliver chat, video, and notifications, including moderation, reactions, mentions, typing indicators, user presence, and read receipts. It also further packages them to provide tailored chat and messaging for support scenarios.

  • Scalable infrastructure: Sendbird’s marketing claims that it can scale to more than a million active users per client application and that they deliver billions of messages each month.

  • Compliance: The platform complies with industry and regulatory standards including SOC 2, ISO 27001, HIPAA/HITECH, and GDPR.

Sendbird disadvantages

If you’re considering Sendbird then you should always be aware of its limitations, such as:

  • Limited to certain use cases: Using Sendbird, you can build only the functionality that they have anticipated. That’s not a problem if you want to build in-app chat or in-app video calling but you can’t use Sendbird to build the realtime collaboration features that you find in apps like Figma or Miro.”

  • Must choose one data center: It’s harder to reach a global audience using Sendbird as they require that you choose one data center in which to locate your chat service. That’s bad for performance. Low latency, reliability, and availability will be tougher to deliver, especially as users get further away from that one data center.

  • Limited developer experience: Sendbird offers SDKs for some languages but there are some surprising omissions. For example, Sendbird Chat does not have SDKs for some of the most popular languages, including Java, Python, PHP, Go, and Ruby.

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9 alternatives to Sendbird

Sendbird is just one of many solutions that you could choose, each bringing its own advantages and disadvantages. Let’s look at five of the best chat API and messaging solutions, which make great alternatives to Sendbird:

  1. Stream

  2. Twilio Conversations

  3. CometChat

  4. PubNub

  5. TalkJS

  6. Pusher

  7. Firebase

  8. Socket.IO

  9. Ably

Like Sendbird, Stream is a PaaS that focuses on chat and, more recently, activity feeds. Using Stream’s SDKs and APIs, you can build chat functionality and activity feeds directly into your web and mobile applications. Stream is also planning to introduce video calling functionality, with a beta in operation at the time of writing.

Stream advantages

  • Use case specific APIs: Getstream’s APIs give you endpoints for chat-specific functionality, such as the building blocks to create in-app chat.

  • Strong uptime: For enterprise customers on Stream’s most expensive plans, there is a 99.999% uptime SLA. Customers on lower packages must make do with lower guarantees.

  • Managed infrastructure: Stream takes care of running your chat functionality’s backend, from a network of global data centers.

Stream disadvantages

  • Limited flexibility: Stream offers you only the chat and activity feeds functionality planned by their Product and Engineering teams. If you need to do something different, you’ll need to use a different solution.

  • Data held by Stream: All of the data you send to users through Stream is also stored by Stream. That could complicate compliance and other regulatory concerns.

  • Focused on chat and activity feeds: Like Sendbird, Stream can help you only with certain use cases. If you need to build something else, such as data broadcast or multiplayer collaboration, you’ll need to find a different vendor and technology.

See how Stream compares to Sendbird

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2. Twilio Conversations

Twilio is best known as a communications provider as a service (CPaaS), providing APIs for SMS and phone call functionality. However, their Twilio Conversations product allows you to create one-to-one chats and multi-person chat rooms.

Twilio Conversations advantages

  • Omnichannel: Twilio Conversations provides a single API that works across multiple channels, including WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, SMS, and in-app chat.

  • Rich media support: Chat users can send images, videos, and other files using services built on the API.

  • Compliance: Twilio Conversations meets security standards such as ISO 27001, HIPAA, GDPR, and SOC 2.

Twilio Conversations disadvantages

  • Limited features: Twilio Conversations is best suited to support and customer service scenarios. As such, you can’t create a public group chat service and it doesn’t support expected chat features such as mentions and reactions.

  • Single data center: Chat performance could be compromised because Twilio Conversations does not have a global, edge architecture. That means that performance and reliability reduce as distance increases from the data center. It also introduces a single point of failure, with no back-up should a failure occur.

  • Little flexibility: If all you need to build is a simple customer service chat product then Twilio Conversations could be suitable. However, if you need other realtime functionality or to build a chat solution that doesn’t match Twilio’s offering, then you’ll need to look elsewhere, along with the additional costs involved.

See how Twilio compares to Sendbird

In many respects, CometChat looks quite similar to Sendbird. They are both hosted chat APIs that make it quick and easy to add chat functionality to your applications. Both providers also offer a similar set of features. However, Sendbird is a much larger company and perhaps it’s no coincidence that Sendbird also offers more global locations than CometChat.

CometChat advantages

  • Fast time to market: With sample code, SDKs, UI kits, and drop-in widgets, CometChat focuses on making it easy and fast to integrate their service into your app.

  • Customizability: As well as ready made elements, such as the widgets, CometChat provides SDKs to build your own frontend experiences, a REST API to integrate with the chat backend, and webhooks to trigger external services and chat bots.

  • Not limited to text chat: CometChat also offers voice and video calling, in addition to text based chat.

CometChat disadvantages

  • Smaller company: When compared to Sendbird, CometChat is a substantially smaller company. That could impact their ability to deliver new functionality as quickly as Sendbird.

  • Single region: Like Sendbird, CometChat hosts your chat backend in a single location. Although you can choose that location from a limited list, the key issue is that there’s no way to expand beyond it. That means chat users who are far from the datacenter will experience worse response times than people who are closer.

  • Email and community support: CometChat’s entry level plans offer support via email or through the developer community only.

See how CometChat compares to Sendbird

While Sendbird targets chat use cases specifically, PubNub offers a broader realtime PaaS solution. That versatility means that PubNub is suited to a range of use cases, from data broadcasting to activity streams and multiplayer collaboration

However, it’s not just the ways in which you can use PubNub that set it apart from some of the other alternatives to Sendbird. While many providers host their backend in a single location, PubNub operates a global network. A key benefit is a better user experience for your chat service’s end user. That’s primarily thanks to reduced latency, as the chat backend operates closer to the users. Spreading the workload across multiple regions also ensures that if one datacenter goes down, the others can take over the workload, and minimize the risk of outages. There are, though, a number of weaknesses to bear in mind.

PubNub advantages

  • Multipurpose: As a general purpose realtime platform, PubNub gives you greater scope to build a variety of applications. While it might be quicker to get started with a tool that specializes in one specific area such as chat, PubNub is more flexible.

  • Reduced lag: PubNub’s global edge network means it is likely to have a location relatively close to all of your application’s end users, as well as the rest of your application infrastructure.

  • Diverse SDKs: PubNub offers official SDKs for over 30 languages, frameworks, and platforms, such as Rust, NodeJS, and Swift.

  • Compliance: PubNub meets standards such as HIPAA and SOC2, as well as offering end-to-end encryption.

PubNub disadvantages

  • Poor guarantees: A data streaming platform should be able to guarantee that the data you send will arrive at its destination. PubNub falls down here as it neither guarantees message delivery nor that messages will arrive in the order you intend.

  • Small message queues: When a destination becomes unavailable, PubNub will store only 100 messages. Anything above that and it will delete your data.

  • Outdated protocol: PubNub uses HTTP long polling, which has been surpassed both in terms of efficiency and reliability by WebSocket.

  • Restricted choice of integrations: PubNub doesn’t offer integrations for common tools such as Apache Kafka. If you’re building a system that needs both a realtime PaaS and Kafka then you might need to look elsewhere.

See how PubNub compares to Sendbird

TalkJS is a chat API that has a ready made JavaScript UI, and a JavaScript SDK that helps you to customize the chat experience. Its JavaScript focus means that support for mobile users is through Reactive Native and Flutter, rather than native iOS and Android tooling. As a very small provider, TalkJS is also limited in its support for larger numbers of users and more advanced use cases.

TalkJS advantages

  • Simple to get started: The TalkJS widget is easy to integrate into any webpage, meaning you can get a proof of concept running quickly.

  • Out of the box chat functionality: TalkJS offers all the chat features that most users will expect, such as public channels, private groups, and direct messaging. There’s also well search, native mobile notifications, file sharing, user presence, and voice messages.

  • Avoids message duplication: While TalkJS doesn’t offer many message guarantees, it does help prevent repeated delivery of the same message.

TalkJS disadvantages

  • EU regions only: The TalkJS backend runs in one of Digital Ocean’s EU regions, with no option to host elsewhere. That impacts latency and reliability, especially for users located outside Europe. This might also be a data governance issue, depending on where your chat users live.

  • Text only: Unlike some other providers, TalkJS doesn’t support video or voice calling.

  • Pricing plans designed for low volume users: Although TalkJS has two pricing plans, both are very limited. For example, the larger Growth package supports just 1,250 group chat participants. If you need more, you’ll need to negotiate a custom plan.

See how TalkJS compares to Sendbird

Pusher is a data streaming platform that distributes messages in realtime using the WebSocket protocol. That means that, unlike chat specific tools, Pusher is suited to a variety of use cases. And although Pusher doesn’t offer an out of the box chat experience in the same way as Sendbird, it does provide the raw building blocks to create realtime chat.

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Pusher advantages

  • Mix of protocols: Pusher primarily uses WebSocket, but it has fallback mechanisms such as HTTP long polling and HTTP streaming for environments where WebSocket isn’t supported.

  • SDK selection: Pusher offers client libraries for both frontend and server side languages and frameworks, such as Android, iOS, React, Python, and NodeJS. Eighteen of Pusher’s SDKs are officially supported, while several community provided SDKs target less well known platforms.

  • Compliance: Pusher offers end-to-end message encryption, as well as GDPR and HIPAA compliance.

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Pusher disadvantages

  • No message delivery guarantee: One major failing of Pusher is that it does not guarantee messages delivery. You’ll need to build your own quality of service (QoS) code and infrastructure to deliver a reliable service.

  • Basic features: Pusher focuses on core realtime features, so functionality such as message history and message delta compression are missing. Integrations are also lacking, with no officially supported integrations for common systems such as Apache Kafka.

  • Single data center: All realtime traffic must route through a single data center. Like so many of the Sendbird alternatives we’ve reviewed here, that will lead to poor latency and reliability.

Unlike Sendbird, Firebase is a backend-as-a-service (BaaS). That means it aims to replace the web server, data store, and back-end code that otherwise you’d need to build and administer yourself.

Although Firebase doesn’t directly mirror Sendbird’s chat offering, you can build something similar using several different Firebase components. In particular, Firebase Authentication to authenticate users, Firebase Realtime Database/Cloud Firestore to handle data storage and sync, then Firebase Cloud Messaging for native OS notifications. But how well does Firebase stack up as a Sendbird alternative?

Firebase advantages

  • Fast app set-up: Firebase offers so much functionality – hosting, provisioning, DevOps management, data storage, synchronization – that it can cut how long it takes to spin up those first iterations of your app’s chat functionality.

  • Good developer experience: Firebase is known for the quality of technical documentation, as well as its SDKs for mobile platforms and popular web languages such as Java, Python, and Go. There’s also a large, global developer community who share advice, sample code, and other ways to help you become productive.

  • Free to get started: Most aspects of Firebase let you build a proof of concept or even a small production app without having to hand over any money.

Firebase disadvantages

  • It’s harder to scale Firebase: One key limitation of Firebase is its Realtime Database. It can handle only 200,000 concurrent connections and, perhaps more limiting, only 1,000 writes per second. If your app needs to scale beyond those limits, then you lose much of the convenience that Firebase promised because you will have to shard your data across multiple instances. Sharding adds significant complexity to your app frontend. One alternative that Firebase offers is Cloud Firestore. That will handle up to around one million concurrent connections but you’ll need to develop your own presence functionality manually, which again negates the benefits of using a backend-as-a-service.

  • Every event requires a database write: Firebase is all about the database. Anything that happens between the client and the backend must first become a database write. That way, even throwaway events become a burden on Firebase’s already limited capacity to handle concurrent connections and will increase your storage bill. Imagine having to write to the database every time your chat app needs to display a typing indicator.

  • Firebase is expensive: Firebase gets you going quickly but you pay for that in higher usage fees. But it’s not just that Firebase has high prices. It’s also hard to spot when costs are running out of control. There are many stories of Firebase users receiving high bills as things got out of control. Take a look at How not to get a $30k bill from Firebase.

Learn more about the challenges of working with Firebase.

Socket.IO is an open source library that was one of the first to make it relatively easy for developers to bring low latency, two way communication to their web applications. Built on top of the WebSocket protocol, Socket.IO also provides automatic reconnects and graceful fallback to long polling when WebSocket is unsuitable.

Socket.IO advantages

  • Build what you need: As a realtime connection library, Socket.IO gives you the flexibility to build any realtime functionality.

  • Simple reconnects: The library augments WebSocket by detecting disconnections and automatically reconnecting.

  • Efficient: Socket.IO can divide a single connection into multiple namespaces, meaning that adding more chat rooms or private chats doesn’t have to result in more network overhead.

Socket.IO disadvantages

  • Does not guarantee exactly-once delivery: Receiving the same message more than once is, at best, annoying. Socket.IO’s architecture means that it can provide at-most-once and at-least-once guarantees. To achieve exactly-once, you need to develop manual message tracking and acknowledgements, which could require persisting each message to a separate database.

  • Limited chat functionality: Socket.IO is a low-level solution, meaning that you’ll need to implement common chat features (such as read receipts, typing indicators, and reactions) from scratch. It also doesn’t allow you to generate and renew auth tokens, or end-to-end encrypt chats without third-party tools.

  • Not multi-region: Socket.IO can’t work out of the box across multiple data centers, which increases your app’s exposure to infrastructure issues. It also reduces your app’s performance for users who are further away from that one data center.

Learn about the challenges of using Socket.IO at scale.

Ably is a realtime experience infrastructure provider. Our APIs and SDKs help you power realtime functionality for use cases like live chat, multiplayer collaboration, and data broadcast, without having to worry about managing and scaling messy realtime infrastructure.

Ably key features and capabilities

With a globally distributed, multi-region network, we offer unrivaled performance, data integrity, reliability, and scaling guarantees:

  • <65 ms median latency.

  • Guaranteed message ordering and exactly-once delivery, even when network conditions are unreliable.

  • Global edge network providing unparalleled redundancy at regional and global levels, with a 99.999% uptime SLA.

  • Enormous scalability, meaning you can send billions of messages to millions of channels and chat users.

Our developer experience is focused on bringing your product to market quickly. In particular, we’ve focused on helping you to integrate Ably with your existing tooling, systems, and preferred languages. As such, we have SDKs for languages and frameworks as diverse as PHP, Flutter, Clojure, tvOS, and NodeJS. We also offer integrations with cloud platforms, data streaming tools, and provisioning tools to make Ably a core part of your infrastructure. Built with real world use cases in mind, Ably offers flexible building blocks tailored to building rich chat experiences, including:

  • Online/offline status

  • Last seen indicators

  • Edit/delete messages

  • Threads

  • Emoji reactions

  • Typing indicators

  • Read receipts

  • Chat admin privileges

  • User avatar

  • Push notifications

See how Ably compares to Sendbird.

We have client SDKs for every major programming language and development platform, and we offer a wide variety of integrations, so you can easily connect Ably to your preferred tech stack. 

Build chat experiences you can trust to deliver at scale

Sign up for a free Ably account, and check out our chat apps reference guide to try Ably for chat today.

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