Push Notifications

Push notifications are communications that are delivered to a user's device, generally either a smartphone or wearable device, or via web browser.

Though we mainly experience push notifications as banner alerts on a smartphone, push notifications may contain many other kinds of data such as sounds, badge updates, interactive button configurations, and more.

Key Terms

A workflow is a method of creating messages via the dashboard.
The dashboard is the Urban Airship web interface located at go.urbanairship.com.


A Brief History

In 2009, along with the release of iPhone OS 3, Apple unveiled a new service, Apple Push Notification Service (APNs), allowing third-party developers to send push notification data to apps on Apple devices. Initially, APNs supported three types of data: alert text, sound, and badge updates. Urban Airship was founded at this time as the first third-party provider to support app developers' use of push notifications for App Store apps, powering the very first live App Store app using APNs.

The "push" descriptor indicates that the message originates from a server and is pushed to a client application. Push technology is contrasted with pull or polling methods in which the request for new information is initiated from the client. In the early days of smartphone app development, such polling methods presented a battery-drain issue for developers of apps who wanted to display the most up-to-date information possible to their users, e.g., breaking news or sports score apps.

Since 2009, other companies have followed Apple's lead in providing a notification service for their developer communities. Google launched C2DM, which was supplanted by GCM, and is now known as Firebase Cloud Messaging (FCM). Microsoft launched the now-end-of-lifed MPNS and now uses Windows Push Notification Service (WNS). Amazon has Amazon Device Messaging. Beyond smartphone apps, push notifications are now widely available on most modern web browsers, e.g., Chrome, Firefox, Edge, Safari, both on desktop and mobile devices.

As push technology matures, we continue to see enhancements in the way push notifications are experienced. Interactive notifications, notification categories and rich messaging display options are just a few of the recent notification advancements announced by Apple and Google in recent iOS and Android releases. And as they continue to push each other (no pun intended) to develop better user notification experiences, here at Urban Airship we are committed to providing support for all new OS-level features via our world-class SDKs, APIs, and dashboard.


  • Alert users when they are not in the app.
  • Pass extra data to users for marketing/segmentation use.
  • Keep users engaged with your app over time.

Use Cases

  • Breaking news
  • Score updates
  • Transaction confirmation/etc
  • Social interactions
  • New content available

Behavior and Appearance

Push notifications are banner alerts and can appear on any screen on a device. They are displayed upon receipt and may be controlled via automation.

Send a Push Notification



You may also use push notifications in Push Templates.


Configuration and Requirements


Try sending messages now, using our 1st Flight app. No development required!

Push is included in every version of our SDK. Follow the steps in Getting Started with Messages.