Shorebird is a set of tools that allow you to build and deploy new versions of your Flutter app directly to your users' devices.
Shorebird consists of 3 major parts:
- A command line tool that you use to build and deploy your app.
- A modified Flutter engine that you include in your app.
- Servers that host patches for your app.
shorebird tool is documented extensively elsewhere. Most of the build
logic is just wrapping the
flutter tool and it also adds a few commands to
interface with Shorebird's servers.
A modified Flutter engine
Code push requires technical changes to the underlying Flutter engine. To make those changes required forking Flutter.
We had to fork 3 Flutter repos to make Shorebird work:
The Flutter engine is the C++ code that runs on the device. It is responsible for rendering the UI, handling input, and communicating with the host.
We forked this code to add the Shorebird updater, which lets the Flutter engine load new code from Shorebird's servers.
At time of writing, Shorebird's fork is based on Flutter 3.7.12. You can see our engine changes here: https://github.com/flutter/engine/compare/3.7.12...shorebirdtech:engine:stable_codepush
The flutter/flutter repo contains the Dart code that runs on the device as well
flutter tool that is used to build and run Flutter apps.
We initially did not fork this code. And still don't really want to fork
this code, but in order to deliver a modified engine without affecting other
Flutter installations, we needed to be able to change the version of the
engine that the
flutter tool downloads.
Our one fork is to change bin/internal/engine.version to point to our engine version. You can see our changes here: https://github.com/flutter/flutter/compare/3.7.8...shorebirdtech:flutter:stable_codepush
The buildroot repo contains the build scripts that are used to build the Flutter engine for various platforms. It's separate from flutter/engine in order to share code and configuration with the Fuchsia build system.
We also didn't want to fork this code. However we need to for now in order to integrate our updater code. Our updater code: https://github.com/shorebirdtech/updater is a Rust library which we link into the engine. The way we do that is via a C-API on a static library (libupdater.a). The default flags for linking for the Flutter engine hide all symbols from linked static libraries. We need to be able to expose the shorebird_* symbols from libupdater.a up through FFI to the Dart code. We did that my making one change to buildroot and then a second change to the engine to place the symbols on the allow-list.
Vendoring our fork
When you install Shorebird, it installs Flutter and Dart from our fork. These are currently not exposed on the user's path, rather just private copies that Shorebird will use when building your app.
This was necessary to avoid conflicts with other Flutter installations on the user's machine. Specifically, the way that Flutter downloads artifacts is based on the version of the engine. If we were to use the same version of the engine as the user's Flutter installation, then we would overwrite the user's engine artifacts.
We deliver our artifacts to this fork of Flutter with two ways. First is we
change the version of the engine in the
flutter tool. Second is we pass
FLUTTER_STORAGE_BASE_URL set to download.shorebird.dev (instead of
download.flutter.io) when calling our vended copy of the
Currently this means
shorebird will not work in an environment where the
user needs to use FLUTTER_STORAGE_BASE_URL to download Flutter artifacts
from a private mirror (e.g. a corporate network or China).
Serving our forked binaries
We also use a custom server to handle requests from
flutter for our
(modified) engine. You can see that server here:
Our "artifact_proxy" knows how to serve the modified binaries from our Google Storage bucket, as well as how to serve unmodified binaries for all parts of Flutter we didn't have to modify from Google's Flutter Google storage bucket.