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Push Notifications in iOS

Push Notifications are the easiest way for app developers to interact with their users. Push notifications allow developers to perform small tasks when the user taps on the notification. We can trigger a push notification to the device even if it is in the background. In this tutorial, we will configure the iOS application to receive push notifications.

Generally, push notifications are the messages that are triggered by Apple Push Notification Service (APNs). The App can receive push notifications, even if it is not running or the device is not active. Push notifications can be used to perform the following actions within the application.

  1. To show some alert to the user to inform about the update in the App.
  2. To set or update a badge number on the app icon to know about the new item.
  3. Users can also perform small actions via push notifications without opening the application.
  4. To display the media attachment.
  5. To edit or remove the notifications that are delivered.
  6. Play a notification sound.


To send push notifications to the iOS App, we need the following setup.

  1. XCode 11.4 or later: before XCode 11.4, the push notifications are only received on the device. However, since XCode 11.4, Apple has given support to simulators to receive push notifications.
  2. Apple developer account: we need an Apple developer program membership to generate APNs certificates and add them to the application's identifier.

Sending and receiving Push Notifications

Let's start configuring our iOS project to receive the push notifications. In this process, we will do configurations in XCode and Apple developer account. Later, we will send simulated push notifications to test the application. For this tutorial, we will use XCode 12.0.1

Consider the following steps to configure the XCode project.

1. Create a new iOS project in XCode 12 and provide an App Id registered with the apple developer account. However, we can change the bundle identifier (App Id) later on in XCode. To change the Bundle Identifier in XCode, select the XCode target and change the Bundle Identifier in the General section as shown in the following image.

Push Notifications in iOS

2. We need to register the same App Id with the Apple Developer account and enable the push notification entitlement. To create the App Id in Apple Developer Account, navigate to identifiers in Certificate, Identifiers and Profile section and click the + icon. This will prompt the following window.

Push Notifications in iOS

In the above window, select App Ids and click continue. The next window will prompt us to select the target for which App Id is being created (App or App Clip). Select App and continue. The next window will prompt us to enter the general information like App Id name (Reverse domain name of the organization, including app name) and description. Provide the information and click continue.

This will generate our bundle identifier. Now, we need to add the Push notification capability to the application. We need to provide the capability in XCode as well as the developer account. To add the XCode capability, go to project target -> signing and capabilities and click the + icon. This will prompt us to select the capability that we need to add. Consider the following image.

Push Notifications in iOS

To add the capability in the Developer account, go to identifiers in Certificate, Identifiers, and Profile Section. Select the App Id that we have created for our application to edit. Consider the following image to add the capability to the app id.

Push Notifications in iOS

After adding the push notification capability to the XCode project, the project should look like the following image.

Push Notifications in iOS

Now, we will implement the methods that are required to receive the push notification in the iOS App.

Asking for User Permission

We must take permission from the user to show the notifications. For this purpose, import the UserNotifications at the top of AppDelegate.

We need to add the following method to the AppDelegate and call it from the application(_:didFinishLaunchingWithOptions).

The UserNotificationCenter is used to handle the notification related activities. The requestAuthorization(options:completionHandler: ) is used to request the authorization from the user to show notifications. There is the various combination of UNAuthorizationOptions that can be passed in the completion handler given as follows.

  1. .badge: this option specifies the number of new items to be shown on the app icon to notify the user.
  2. .sound: this option is used to play a sound when the notification comes.
  3. .alert: this option specifies the text notifications.
  4. .carPlay: this option asks the user to display the notifications in CarPlay.
  5. .provisional: the user will not be asked for permission if we choose this option. However, the notifications will be shown silently in the notification center.
  6. .providesAppNotificationSettings: it specifies that the App uses its interface for the notification settings.
  7. .criticalAlert: it is meant only for some special cases. We need a specific entitlement from Apple to request the user for this permission since this ignores the mute switch and do not disturb.

The application(_:didFinishLaunchingWithOptions) will contain the following code.

Now, when we build and run our application. It will prompt us for the permissions as shown in the below image.

Push Notifications in iOS

The user must tap Allow to grant the permission of showing push notifications to the application. The user may not allow the application, in that case, we must add the following method in the AppDelegate.

Now, we must replace the code of registerForPushNotifications() method with the following.

Register with APNs

We must register our application with APNs to get the push notifications. Replace the code of getNotificationSettings () method with the following code, which will verify the authorizationStatus. If the status is .authorized, we must call the UIApplication.shared.registerForRemoteNotifications() method to register with APNs.

Get device token

We need to provide our device token to the server, which sends the push notification to the application. It works as an address of the application at the server end. To get the device token, we need to add the following code to get the device token.

The above method is called when the call to registerForRemoteNotifications() succeeds. The device token is a device identifier which is provided by APNs to uniquely identify the device.

However, if the call to registerForRemoteNotifications() fails, the iOS calls the following method, which we need to add into the AppDelegate.

We can retrieve the device token only if we are running the application on a real device. We will get a Failed to register message printed on the console since we are running on a simulator for now.

Sending Push Notification to the App

Now, we are done with the required settings in the Apple Developer Account and XCode application. Our application is good to receive a push notification. To test the App, we need to send the simulated push notification to the App. For this purpose, create a file as push.apn, passed to XCode to test push notification. Save the following JSON txt in the push.apn file.

Now, build and run the application.

To simulate the push notification, we must know the device identifier of the simulator on which we are running our application. For this purpose, go to XCode -> window -> Devices and Simulators as shown in the following image.

Push Notifications in iOS

Now, select the simulator among the simulators list and copy the device identifier. We will need to provide the device identifier and bundle identifier in the following command.

Here, we must make sure that in the terminal, we are in the directory in which we have saved the push.apn file. We must replace the device identifier with the one which we have just copied from XCode and the bundle identifier with the one which we have provided in XCode and the apple developer account.

We will receive the push notification in the simulator once we run this command, as shown in the following image.

Push Notifications in iOS

Push Notification Body

Let's look at the body of the notification that we have sent to the simulator. The payload for the Push notification is given above.

It is a JSON dictionary that contains a single item, aps, which itself is a dictionary. Here, the dictionary aps contains three fields, I.e., alert, sound, and link_url. However, 8 built-in keys can be added to aps dictionary given as follows.

  1. alert: it specifies that the notification shows an alert view with the specified text. It can be a string or a dictionary.
  2. badge: it specifies the number which is to be set on the app-icon to inform the user about a new item. However, the badge can be removed by setting it to 0.
  3. sound: this specifies the name of a sound file located in the App. However, we can set a default sound for the notification. The sound can't be more than 30 seconds in the App.
  4. thread-id: this key can be used to group notifications.
  5. category: the category is used to specify the nature of custom actions to be performed on the notifications.
  6. content-available: this key can be used to send silent push notifications.
  7. mutable-content: this key can be used to modify the notification before displaying it. We can achieve this by setting it to 1.

We can also add the custom data to the notification payload. However, it should not exceed 4096 bytes.

Push Notifications handling

The iOS calls different methods of AppDelegate (when the user taps on the notification) depending upon the state of our application.

We need to set the UNUserNotificationCenterDelegate in AppDelegate and implement the delegate methods, i.e., willPresent and didRecieve.

Add the following line of code to the application(_ application: UIApplication, didFinishLaunchingWithOptions launchOptions: [UIApplication.LaunchOptionsKey: Any]?) method.

Now, as we are done with setting the delegate, we can implement the delegate methods. Add the following code at the end of AppDelegate.

The first delegate method, i.e., willPresent, is called when the notification comes to the application. However, when the user taps on the notification, then the second delegate method, i.e., didRecieve, is called.

We can check the current state of the application in the didRecieve delegate method and perform actions based on the current state of the application. For this purpose, replace the code of didRecieve with the following code.

However, If the application is not running and the notifications come, then the application(_:didFinishLaunchingWithOptions: ) method in AppDelegate is called.

Meanwhile, let's configure our application APNS by adding a UITabBarController with two-tab bar items as Home and Notifications. Let's add a webview to the home and try navigating to notifications when the user taps on the notification.

Now, let's test the push notifications in the application and trying retrieving the data.

Run the application and send the simulated push notification again using the terminal. Keep the application in the foreground and see whether the push notification is coming or not. It should look like the following image.

Push Notifications in iOS

Now, add a breakpoint to the didReceive delegate method and try printing the notification content in the console. We should get the following result printed in the console.

However, we can pass this data and display the notifications in the Notifications Tab. Also, if the application is not running then, we should also add the notification handling code to the didFinishLaunchingWithOptions(: ) method in AppDelegate.

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