A quick and dirty guide if you need to migrate your project off of Heroku
October 16, 2022Code
In a Aug 25th 2022 blogpost, Heroku has communicated about their "Next Chapter":
Starting October 26, 2022, we will begin deleting inactive accounts and associated storage for accounts that have been inactive for over a year. Starting November 28, 2022, we plan to stop offering free product plans and plan to start shutting down free dynos and data services.
If you're like me, you have grown up (as a developer) using Heroku's services, and you might find yourself with at least 1 service running on Heroku. Worse, if you're like me, you might have missed that announcement and you might have just helped a friend build his wedding website on Heroku, and you're now looking for migration options 😂.
In this blog post, I will try to summarise your options.
Consider not migrating
First, assess your architecture In other words, what is Heroku doing for you? Let's take a simple use case: you have a hobby project which is web app with a database. Heroku hence runs a server ("dyno") and a Postgres DB ("Postgres add-on") for you.
But Heroku also does more. It is what's called a PaaS (platform as a service): continuous integration with Github, and no headaches integration of your services (e.g your DB and your server together).
So when looking for a new solution, ask yourself:
- do you need a hosted server?
- do you need a hosted database?
- do you need PaaS experience?
Second, understand the cost of cloud resources Heroku hobby developers are spoiled because they get, for free, a server and a DB. It's easy to assume that building a project should be free. But any project running on the cloud has costs that can be divided between compute and storage. Someone is paying for those costs.
Storage costs have been driven down "thanks" to AWS S3 and its generous free tier. They can mostly be ignored (note: for more advanced projects, you might run into high costs due to AWS egress fees, in which case Cloudflare R2 storage wil get you back into low-cost land).
Compute costs however, are not avoidable in most cases. Developer-friendly and cheap options like Digital Ocean have set the benchmark: ~$5 per month for a server and ~$15 per month for a database server.
If we come back to our proto-typical hobby project consisting of a server and a DB, our cloud costs on the market would realistically be $20 per month minimum. If you know your database will stay very small, you can deploy Postgres side-by-side with your application on your existing server, saving you the costs of a dedicated DB server. In this scenario, your hobby project would add up to $5 per month (along with more potential ops headaches).
Finally, estimate your bill if you were to not migrate No need to migrate anything if you're OK with the new pricing model of Heroku. Heroku has an interactive pricing page to help you estimate your costs (make sure to not choose Free or Hobby as those will be sunsetted). The cheapest server will be $25 per month. The cheapest database will be $50 per month, so our proto-typical hobby project cloud costs will jump from $0 per month to $75 per month.
OK, you want to migrate
Many other developers are facing this situation. You can read more experiences in this post: Ask HN: So you moved off Heroku, where did you go? | Hacker News
The rest of this article is an opinionated breakdown of alternatives I can recommend. I expect this advice to grow stale with time: just like advising my friend to tie himself up with Heroku would have been fine 2 months ago and is not anymore (sorry Thibault 😂🙈), the following advice could become stale if the cited companies change their pricnig models, or if their VC cash runs out.
(Ab)use serverless: vercel.com
There are a few free options to deploy static websites (look no further than Github Pages). But soon enough, you need more than a static page: e.g. persist data to a database, hide a secret token from clients using an API. For those cases, you need a server. But, as explained above, a server has fixed costs. With serverless, and typically with AWS Lambda's generous free tier, you can develop the needed backend functionalities "for free". Except managing the code and deployment won't be as easy as PaaS.
Vercel is a platform for web developers that provides a PaaS experience: it deploys your static pages and it deploys functions to AWS Lambda under the hood. Official Vercel Runtimes are Node.js, Go, Python, Ruby.
For the unlikely scenario in which you need to deploy a PHP application, here are useful links:
- vercel-community/php: 🐘 PHP Runtime for ▲ Vercel Serverless Functions
- juicyfx/vercel-examples: 📦 Examples and sample projects using Vercel platform
Migrating your application to that architecture might be a fair amount of work, but the (absence of) cost and PaaS experience might be worth it.
Free tier hosted Database: supabase.io
If all you need is replacing the Heroku Postgres Add-on, then Supabase is a great option. Disclaimer: Supabase is a company graduated from Entrepreneur First, the incubator I was part of in 2018.
Self-hosted PaaS: coolify.io
If what you need is a PaaS experience have a look at coolify. You first need a running server of your own (see above on compute prices). Then you setup "Remote Docker Engine" (which means the server runs Docker Engine and has ports exposed for querying the Engine API). Then you add it as destination in coolify, and you get a Heroku-like experience.
This is an open-source solution with a lot of promises and a nascent community. The drawback is that you need to bring your own cloud resources (i.e. provision and pay for them separately).
If running your own cloud resources is not an option, there are other fully managed options. But keep in mind that running any project incurs compute + storage costs (see section above). So I am always suspicious of companies offering free tiers.
Those free tiers might be subsidised for you by them using the VC cash they have raised; they are validating product-market fit with you and might turn off free tier tomorrow. If you're OK with that and are ready for the engineering costs of "ejecting" (migrating away from the chosen service), you're fine.