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Cash App Case Study: Getting the benefits of KMM without leaving their comfort zone

Alec Strong from Cash App shares their story of adopting KMM and benefiting from shared code across their mobile platforms.

Cash App is the easiest way to send money, spend money, save money, and buy cryptocurrency. We believe in providing everyone with access to important financial services so they can fully participate in the economy. The app launched in 2013 as a simple peer-to-peer payment app with 4 mobile engineers, and it now has 50 mobile engineers (split across iOS and Android) and 30 million monthly active users.

The app has been built with the native Android/iOS toolchains throughout, with a few small exceptions. We introduced a JavaScript runtime to power some shared server-driven logic for displaying sensitive payment information, and that was our first exposure to shared code. We continued to experiment with JavaScript as a tool for sharing code after 2016, but we concluded that unless circumstances required it, the cost of working with JavaScript outweighed the value of sharing code. We strive for a quick development turnaround with Cash App, with small pull requests that are reviewed and merged in a matter of hours, and working with JavaScript always slowed us down, both in the writing and the reviewing of it. Over time our Android and iOS teams grew closer, the platforms did the same with Swift and Kotlin, and collaboration between the two teams strengthened. We started bouncing ideas off each other and comparing code, and similar implementations started emerging within the codebase.

The decision to test out Kotlin Multiplatform started in open source. A library we maintain called SQLDelight was gearing up to generate Kotlin-only APIs, and the decision was made to also use KMM to make those generated APIs platform-agnostic. The fit seemed natural. Since SQLite is the most widely used cross-platform technology around, this would serve as an opportunity to test the technology, and it would open the doors for Cash App to use it later, since the Android version of the app relied heavily on the library at its core.

Visit the Kotlin Multiplatform Mobile portal to find more case studies from different companies!

Within Cash App the value proposition of using KMM was twofold: we could remove some of the shared JavaScript that was causing issues and enable the Android and iOS engineers to take the next step in their collaboration and maintain a single codebase. We loved the "shared business, native UI" idea that Kotlin Multiplatform promoted, and it meant that our teams did not have to give up using their preferred toolchains. We started testing the technology within Cash App in 2018 with the help of TouchLab, slowly rolling it out behind a feature flag to ensure we could roll back and upstream our problems to JetBrains if we encountered any early-adopter issues.

In the last year, we’ve made major changes to how we use Kotlin Multiplatform to help teams to adopt it. We had originally introduced the Gradle toolchain to the iOS build by keeping the shared code in the same repository, but the added cost of running Gradle and rebuilding the project did not make sense in light of how often the dependency was being changed. Instead, we created a shared repository for Android/iOS to be the home for our shared business logic. Since then, our network, investing, and growth teams have all built features with parts of their business logic in KMM. What has made me most proud is that the contributions have come not only from Android and iOS team members, but from the server team as well! Since we use Kotlin for our server-side development, their team is now able to work in the repository, and because the platform-agnostic Kotlin so closely resembles Swift that the shift is manageable for our iOS team too.

In addition to using SQLDelight, we use CrashKiOS from TouchLab to get better stack traces in the wild, and we are in the process of adopting Wire to work with protocol buffers in the shared codebase. As for which parts of our business logic we’ve encouraged KMM as a solution for, we’ve had the most success so far with persistence and pure functions in the shared code, and next we’re hoping to work more closely with our network APIs using Wire.

The vast majority of our code is written natively — developer happiness and productivity is still the most important thing for us, and our focus right now is making sure those who want to try Kotlin Multiplatform can do so easily (and the number of people who do is growing!). The trend in the last year of more projects exploring it as an option shows the strength of the technology.  With JavaScript, we were quick to run away after giving it a shot, but so far more and more folks on the team have been showing interest in adopting KMM.

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We love Kotlin Multiplatform because we didn’t have to give up any of the things we love about our work. We’re at a place now where the developer workflow is unchanged but there is an option to share code and get all of those benefits without stepping out of our comfort zone. Our teams are increasingly realizing the potential of KMM, giving it a shot, and seeing how powerful it is.

Alec Strong,
Senior Kotlin Developer

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