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browser push notifications

Browser Notifications: What Are They, and How Do They Work?

Angela Stringfellow

Browsers are the gateway to the internet. In the pre-smartphone era, the browser was the only gateway. Today, with the proliferation of mobile applications, there are many avenues to access the internet. Mobile apps make it easier to interact with digital tools and brands. One key piece of technology that mobile applications have is notifications.

Notifications are essentially snippets of information placed prominently on the screen along with alerts to the user. They offer different avenues for engaging with an app’s users. Marketers also rely on notifications to increase sales and brand visibility.

Browser Notifications

Earlier browsers lacked notification technology, but it was later introduced with the Google Chrome version 42 update. Today, all mainstream browsers support notifications. Browser notifications are simply notifications that can be sent by web applications and websites. The messages are received by the user’s browser client. Browser notifications can be sent even when the particular website is not actively in use.

Browser notifications offer the same functionality as the notifications in mobile applications. They can be sent to the mobile versions of popular browsers, too. Notifications to the web app and mobile app can be integrated such that notification messages are delivered to the device actively in use. Marketers can use browser notifications to:

  • Convert more users
  • Increase user engagement
  • Retain users
  • Send targeted messages
  • Build brand value

Sending browser notifications to any of the available browsers requires secure HTTPS certification for the web server. Another common requirement across browsers is that developers can send notifications only if the user has explicitly given permission to receive browser notifications. The following sections deal with how browser notifications work in major web browsers.

Chrome Notifications

Google Chrome was the very first internet browser to implement a notification system that works similar to notifications on a smartphone. Developers can configure notifications to deliver to the Google Chrome browser using Firebase Cloud Messaging (FCM), previously known as Google Cloud Messaging.

The server on which the web app/site is hosted has to be linked with the FCM service. Application developers can access Firebase Cloud Messaging free of charge if they’re only using it to send push notifications. Here’s how browser notifications work in Chrome:

  1. The website sends an intimation to the FCM push service.
  2. FCM creates a push event and sends the information to the respective service worker on the web browser.
  3. The browser sends a fetch call to the server on which the website is hosted.
  4. The website sends the content of the notifications to the browser.
  5. Google Chrome pushes the notification with the content sent from the web server.

Safari Notifications

Integration with Apple Push Notification service (APNs) is essential to send browser notifications to the Safari browser. APNs is the notification system that is common for all Apple devices and software. Safari, being a web browser from Apple, uses the same APNs system to send browser notifications. Detailed documentation and an explainer of how to work with APNs is available on the Apple developer website.

Firefox Notifications

Firefox supports browser notifications in all forms. The only difference of the notification system in Mozilla Firefox is that notifications cannot be displayed for websites that are not active. Firefox also requires users to opt-in to receive browser notifications. The Firefox browser notification push API adheres to W3C standards. W3C “is an international community that develops open standards to ensure the long-term growth of the Web.” W3C standards are open in nature, meaning they can be adopted or modified by anyone without any licensing fee.

Microsoft Edge Notifications

Microsoft Edge is a browser that is packaged with Windows. It is available on other platforms too. It replaced the Internet Explorer browser that used to be bundled with Windows OS, and it’s been increasing in popularity in recent months. Microsoft Edge is built on the Chromium engine and shares many features with Google Chrome. The push notification system used with Microsoft Edge is borrowed from Mozilla and works similarly to browser notifications in Firefox.

Opera Notifications

Opera is the fifth most popular browser in use. Recent iterations of the browser use the Chromium engine and share most of the features with Google Chrome. Opera relies on the operating system’s native messaging system to send notifications. Opera’s notification system is implemented with the W3 specification, just like Firefox.

User Mobility

Application developers have to adhere to the different notification standards of various platforms. This helps consumers switch easily between the various platforms: desktop, mobile, and web. With browser notifications, developers can send notifications across the different platforms seamlessly.

When switching between different platforms, consumers may miss notifications that are received on different devices. But what if all the notifications could be accessed from the various platforms? The ideal solution is to integrate an inbox with the application so all notifications are collated in one place. This happens whether the notifications are sent to the browser, mobile app, or desktop.
MagicBell is an inbox solution developers can integrate with their applications in mere minutes. MagicBell’s inbox can aggregate all the messages sent to users. Additionally, users can also select the type of messages they want to receive for a customized experience. An integrated inbox solution is a win-win for both developers and users.

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