Module 4: Advanced web technologies

4.3.1 Intro to web push and notifications

If you ask a room of developers what mobile device features are missing from the web, push notifications are always high on the list.

Web push notifications allow users to opt-in to timely updates from sites they love and allow you to effectively re-engage them with customized, relevant content.

The Push API and Notification API open a whole new set of possibilities for you to re-engage with your users.

Two technologies

Push and notification use different, but complementary, APIs: push is invoked when a server supplies information to a service worker; a notification is the action of a service worker or web page script showing information to a user.

Are service workers involved?

Yes. Push is based on service workers because service workers operate in the background. This means the only time code is run for a push notification (in other words, the only time the battery is used) is when the user interacts with a notification by clicking it or closing it.

If you're not familiar with service workers, read the service worker introduction. We will use service worker code in later sections when we show you how to implement pushes and notifications.

A little notification anatomy

In the next section we're going to throw a bunch of pictures at you, but we promised code. So, here it is. With a service worker registration you call showNotification on a registration object.

serviceWorkerRegistration.showNotification(title, options);

The title argument appears as a heading in the notification. The options argument is an object literal that sets the other properties of a notification. A typical options object looks something like this:

  "body": "Did you make a $1,000,000 purchase at Dr. Evil...",
  "icon": "images/ccard.png",
  "vibrate": [200, 100, 200, 100, 200, 100, 400],
  "tag": "request",
  "actions": [
    { "action": "yes", "title": "Yes", "icon": "images/yes.png" },
    { "action": "no", "title": "No", "icon": "images/no.png" }

This code produces a notification like the one in the image. It generally provides the same capabilities as a native application. Before diving into the specifics of implementing those capabilities, I'll show you how to use those capabilities effectively. We'll go on to describe the mechanics of implementing push notifications, including handling permissions and subscriptions, sending messages, and responding to them.

What makes a good notification?

Don't annoy your users, or you'll lose access to them forever. Do we need to say anything more than that? We do because it's easier said than done.

Push notifications are one of the most valuable capabilities of native apps, and this capability is now available on the web. To get the most out of them, notifications need to be timely, precise, and relevant.

  1. Timely: A timely notification is one that appears when users want it and when it matters to them.
  2. Precise: A precise notification is one that has specific information that can be acted on immediately.
  3. Relevant: A relevant message is one about people or subjects that the user cares about.

How to try it

There are several ways you can play with the features before you completely understand how they work, or have to implement them. First, check out our own sample. You can also use Peter Beverloo's Notification Generator

Was this article helpful?
How can we improve it?