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What is a Push Notification System and How Does It Work?

Angela Stringfellow

Last updated on

We interact with push notifications through our cell phones and other electronic devices on a daily basis. Since their introduction by Apple in 2009, this powerful technology has been adopted by all prominent operating systems and platforms. Push notifications are important for developers and marketers alike, as they serve as an open channel to directly communicate with each user. Push notifications can be used to send utilitarian information, updates, and promotional messages.

What are Push Notification Systems?

Push notification systems are the conduit by which the push notifications themselves are delivered to the end-user. There are different push notification systems for different operating systems and platforms, and developers must adhere to the syntax and other requirements of the push notification system to send notifications to the respective platforms.

Push notification systems send notifications to client apps from application servers. Client apps are where a user interacts with the application, and the application server is the server on which the back end of the application is hosted. Push notification systems are required to send push notifications to client apps from the application server. Some of the most common push notification systems are discussed briefly in the following sections.

Apple Push Notification System (APNS)

When Apple introduced push notifications to the iPhone they sparked the push notification revolution. Developers had to tap into APNS to be able to send push notifications to iOS devices. The system was expanded as the number of Apple devices with push notification capabilities increased, and today developers can access the APNS to send push notifications to any Apple device. This includes iPhones, iPads, iPod Touch, Macs, and even the Safari browser.

Android Push Notification System

The android operating system has more than 72% market share of mobile operating systems worldwide, with more than 2.5 billion users in over 190 countries. Similar to Apple, developers must adhere to Android’s guidelines in order to send notifications to Android devices. Android has provided detailed documentation and support for developers who want to send push notifications to Android devices.

Windows Push Notification Services (WNS)

Windows also has its own dedicated service to handle push notifications called Windows Push Notification Services (WNS). Third-party application developers can use WNS to send toast, tile, badge, and push messages from their application server to Windows devices.

Browser Push Notification Systems

Similar to operating systems, browsers also have their own push notification systems. Browser push notifications started with Chrome update 42, and while all browsers now have push notification support, the syntax and protocols to send push notifications will vary, depending on the browser. The most common browsers in use are Chrome, Firefox, and Microsoft Edge, and the push notification systems for each browser can be found on that browser’s developer page.

Push Notification Service Providers

Developers have the tough task of building client applications and services on the application server and also enabling push notifications with notification systems. Managing the various push notification systems to send notifications to different platforms is cumbersome and adds to the already heavy workload of developers.

To make implementing push notifications simpler, many service providers offer an integrated solution to send push notifications to various platforms. The service providers handle all the interplay with the various systems, freeing developers from the headache of navigating the intricacies of implementing push notifications to different platforms.

Subscribing to these services allows developers to focus on the core functionalities of the application, without having to worry about the various push notification systems.

Some of the popular push notification service providers are:

Developers can use any of these service providers to implement a complete push notification solution without a great deal of effort. Some solutions not only save time for the developers in terms of push notifications but can also have additional features that improve the functionality of the applications themselves.

MagicBell’s solution can be used to set up a complete notification system with custom notifications and a notification inbox for centralized notification management. Plus, by syncing notifications across devices and tabs, you’ll never notify the same user twice.

Experienced developers know that benefits such as these make push notification service providers the obvious solution that’s far easier to implement than building push notification infrastructure from scratch.

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