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This guide explains how to send and schedule push notifications in Appcelerator Dashboard.

Overview of Sending Push Notifications

The Dashboard lets you send push notifications to your Android and iOS application users. Mobile Backend Services acts as the push provider on behalf of your application; that is, it communicates with the Google Cloud Messaging (GCM) or the Firebase Cloud Messaging (FCM) services for Android or the Apple Push Notification Service (APNS). Firebase Cloud Messaging (FCM) is the new version of GCM.

Before you can send a push notification from Dashboard, the following must be done first:

How your application subscribes its users (session- or token-base subscriptions) determines to a degree your options for delivering notifications. For example, if you need to send notifications to specific API Builder users, use session-based subscriptions. But for an application like a mobile banking app, you would want to notify individual account holders. If you don't need to target specific users, token-based subscriptions are a good approach. 

Sending push notifications

To send a push notification, you provide Dashboard with the following information:

  • Notification recipients and channel – If your application users were subscribed using session-based subscriptions, you can send a notification to specific API Builder users subscribed to a particular channel. For token-based subscriptions, you can send notifications to all users subscribed to a particular channel, or all users regardless of their channel subscriptions.
  • Notification schedule – You can send a notification immediately, or schedule it to be sent at a future date and time. Scheduled notifications can be one-time or recurring.
  • Notification payload – The content of the notification, which consists minimally of an alert string to display, and optionally a sound to play or badge display. See About Notification Payloads.

To send a notification to users located in a geographic area, the application must have first provided their current location to API Builder. For details, see Updating Subscriptions with Device Location

Appcelerator Dashboard provides two views for sending notifications, Standard and Advanced. The Standard view provides an easy way to send notifications without having to understand the payload structure. In the Advanced view, you manually create the JSON payload. The advanced form provides additional flexibility, such as including custom payload fields. 

If you prefer can use the PushNotification.notify or PushNotification.notify_tokens REST APIs to send push notifications.

To send a push notification from Dashboard:

  1. In Dashboard, select your application from the Apps menu.
  2. From the left-side navigation, select Cloud > Push Notifications.
  3. Click Send Push Notification to open the Send Push Notification form
  4. Select either the Standard or Advanced tab.
  5. Select Recipients and (optionally) the notification Channel Name:
    1. To send a notification to all users regardless of their channel subscriptions, select All Users and leave the Channel Name field blank. 
    2. To send a notification to all users subscribed to a particular channel, select All Users and enter the channel name in the Channel Name field.
    3. To send a notification to specific users who are subscribed to a particular channel, select Specific Users, then:
      1. Click the add (+) button in the To Users field.
      2. Select the desired recipients from the list of users. To locate a particular user, enter their username in the search field.
      3. In the Channel Name field enter the name of the target channel subscription. Note: You must specify a channel when sending a notification to specific users.
    4. To send a notification to all users located within a geographic selection, select Geographic Selection, then:
      1. Click the add (+) button in the Place field and select an existing place. This defines the center points of the geographic selection. The selected Place must have a defined latitude and longitude.
      2. In the Radius field, enter the distance (in Miles or Meters) from the selected Place to define the size of the geographic selection.

  6. To specify when to deliver the notification, in the Send When field, select one of the following options:
    1. To send the notification immediately, select Send Now.
    2. To schedule a one-time notification, select One-Time and then select the delivery date and time (All times are in UTC.)
    3. To schedule a recurring notification, select Recurring, select the start date and time, the end date, and the recurrence interval: Daily, Weekly, or Monthly. (All times are in UTC.)
  7. To define the notification payload using the Standard view:
    1. In the Alert field, enter the notification message to display on the device.
    2. In the Badge field, enter a badge value. See Notification Badges for details.

    3. In the Sound field, select None, Default, or Custom. See Notification Sounds for details.

    4. For iOS devices:

      1. In the Content-Available field, check the box to indicate that new content is available. This is used to support Newsstand apps and background content downloads.

      2. In the Category field, enter the name of the category to use for interactive notifications. See iOS Interactive Notifications.

    5. For Android devices:
      1. In the Vibrate field, select No or Yes to have the device vibrate or not upon receipt of the notification.
      2. In the Title field (Android, only), select the title to display in the Alert message. See Notification Titles for details.
      3. In the Icon field (Android, only), specify the name of the image file to display as the notification icon. See Notification Icons for details. 
  8. To define the notification payload using the Advanced view:
    1. In the Custom JSON field, enter a valid JSON string (see Custom JSON Payloads for details).

  9. Click Send Now

About Notification Payloads

The content, or payload, of a push notification, is a JSON-encoded object whose fields contain the payload values. The JSON object typically contains one of the "standard" notification fields. Standard fields are supported by both iOS and Android devices. Some fields are platform-specific, such as icon or title, that are only used by Android, or category and content-available, that are only used by iOS 8 devices and later.

Standard fields include the following: 

  • alert – The notification message displayed to the user. 
  • badge – A number to display with the notification. See Notification badges.
  • sound – The name of an audio file to play when the notification arrives, minus its extension. See Notification sounds.

Android devices support the following additional fields:

  • icon – The name of the image file to display as the icon, minus its extension. 
  • title – Title displayed above the alert text. Defaults to the application name. 
  • vibrate – A Boolean that the device to vibrate momentarily upon receipt. 

See Android-specific notification fields for more information about specifying these fields.

iOS 8 devices and later support the following additional fields:

  • category – The name of the category to use for interactive notifications. See iOS Interactive Notifications for more information.
  • content-available – If set to 1, indicates that new content is available. This is used to support Newsstand apps and background content downloads.

The payload can also include custom fields that your application can read and use as desired. See Custom JSON Payloads for an example of using custom fields.

Custom JSON payloads

Appcelerator Dashboard provides two forms, Standard and Advanced, for you to compose the payload. In the Standard form, you use common form controls to compose the payload, without having to write JSON code. In the Advanced form, you manually enter the JSON-encoded string that's sent in the notification. The JSON object can contain any of the standard fields discussed in About Notification Payloads, or custom fields specific to your application. For example, the following payload contains alert and sound fields, as well as a custom field named high_score.

Below is a more advanced custom JSON payload:

When the device receives this payload, it will do the following:

  • Display the "Sample alert" message.
  • Increment the current badge value by two.
  • Play the "door_bell" audio file.
  • On Android devices: 
    • The notification title will be set to "Example"
    • The device will vibrate
    • The "little_star" icon will be displayed in the notification area.
  • On iOS devices:
    • The user notification actions associated with the "sampleCategory" user notification category.

About JSON Payloads Delivered to Devices

The notification payload that Mobile Backend Services delivers to either FCM or GCM or APNS is slightly modified from the original JSON payload you provide to Dashboard. Also, the payloads are slightly different for Android and iOS devices.

For Android, all Android-specific fields are contained in an android dictionary, while all other iOS-only and custom fields are top-level keys of the payload. For example, the payload shown in Custom JSON payloads will be delivered to an Android application as follows:

For iOS devices, all iOS-specific fields are contained in an aps dictionary, while all Android-specific and custom fields are top-level keys of the payload. For example, For example, the payload shown in Custom JSON payloads will be delivered to an iOS application as follows:

Notification Features

Rich Notifications (iOS 10 and later)

Icon

The linked documentation may not be available before the 7.2.0.GA release. You can follow TIMOB-23527 for details on its state!

Since Titanium SDK 7.2.0, you can create rich notifications for users running iOS 10 or later. Rich notifications can include additional meta-data like a subtitle, location-based triggers, and attachments. While most of the new properties can be configured in existing UserNotificationAction instances, there is one special case to remember when working with rich notifications: If you want to display an attachment, you have to distinguish between local and remote images:

  • Local images: Can be specified when scheduling a local notification from your application, e.g. using the attachments property inside the creation dictionary of the notification.
  • Remote image: Can be specified when scheduling a remote notification using an UNNotificationServiceExtension. App extensions in Titanium can be written in both Objective-C and Swift. Learn more about them here.

 An example of using remote attachments follows:

Important: Make sure to include the "mutable-content" flag in your JSON payload, which is used to trigger the notification extension. Also, the attachement-url is downloaded and persisted in your local filesystem using the attachment-name key. The developer is responsible to structure the extension and the way it deals with remote content. See our example Swift extension that can be used as part of App Extensions guide. 

In addition to that, iOS 10 also introduces a NotificationCenter API that is made available in Titanium via the Ti.App.iOS.UserNotificationCenter API. It represents a powerful binding to manage notifications by being able to change or cancel notifications that are currently pending. While most of its API's are made for iOS 10 and later, the changes have been made in a way to be backward compatible with iOS 8, so you don't need to call multiple methods to manage your push notifications.

Some useful links to get started:

Interactive Notifications (iOS 8 and later)

You can create interactive notifications for users running iOS 8 or later can respond to without launching the application to the foreground. 

Your Titanium application defines one or more notification categories, each of which consists of one or more notification actions. When you create a push notification in Dashboard, the Category form field lets you specify the category of interactive notification to display when the push notification arrives.

To create an interactive notification:

  1. In your Titanium application:
    1. Create and configure notification actions.
    2. Create notification categories and assign notification actions to them.
    3. Register the application for the desired notification categories, and to receive push notifications.

    4. Register an event listener for the remotenotificationaction event, to respond to user actions when they interact with the notification.
  2. In Dashboard, send a new push notification and set the Category field to the desired notification category to use.

When the notification arrives, the device displays the set of actions defined by the category. The remotenotificationaction event fires when the user interacts with the notification.

In addition, you can set the behavior property of the Ti.App.iOS.NotificationAction to Ti.App.iOS.USER_NOTIFICATION_BEHAVIOR_TEXTINPUT which will show a text-field that can be used to respond to actions without opening the app.

Silent Push Notifications

The Content-Available form field lets you silently notify a Titanium or native iOS/Android application, without alerting the user at all. A silent push is often used to alert the application that new content is available to download. Once the download (or another task) initiated by the silent push is complete, the application can display a notification to the user that new content is available.

For detailed steps on enabling silent push notifications in your Titanium application, see Silent Push in the Titanium SDK guides.

Notification Badges

A badge is a number displayed on the application icon (on iOS), or in the notification area (on Android). You can specify a specific badge value to display (2 or 10, for example), or a number prefixed by plus (+) or minus (-) symbol (+3 or -6, for example). When prefixed, the currently displayed badge number is incremented or decremented by the specified amount, respectively. To remove an application badge on iOS, specify a badge value of 0 (zero).

Notification Sounds

The sound field in a notification payload specifies the name (minus the extension) of a local sound file resource to play the notification arrives. When a push notification arrives, you can specify a custom sound to play, the default system sound, or no sound. 

  • For Android applications built with Titanium, place the file in the /Resources/sound directory.
  • For iOS applications built with Titanium, place the file in the /Resources directory.
  • For native Android applications, place the file in the /assets/sound directory.
  • For native iOS applications, place the file in the main bundle.

Android-specific payload fields

In addition to the standard notification fields (alert, badge, and sound) Android devices support the following fields:

  • title
  • icon
  • vibrate

Titanium application may also specify any of the properties in Titanium.Android.Notification, except for contentIntent or deleteIntent. For instance, you can add a tickerText field to the notification payload that scrolls the specified text across the notification area.

Title field

Title – A string to display above the alert message in the notification area. If not specified in the payload, the application's name is displayed, as specified by the <name> element in your project's tiapp.xml file.

Icon field

The icon payload field specifies an image to display with the notification on Android devices. (For image specifications, see Icons and Splash Screens: Notification Icons.) Its value is the name of a local image file, minus the extension of the icon to display. The file must be placed your project's /res/drawable folder for native Android applications or the /Resources folder Titanium applications. By default, the application's icon is displayed with the notification.

Vibrate field

A Boolean that specifies whether the device should vibrate when the notification arrives.

Troubleshooting common errors

This section lists errors that may occur when sending push notifications.

'Subscription not found' error

In general, this error indicates that the recipients you selected are not subscribed to the specified channel. If you're sending a notification to specific API Builder users, make sure that those users are subscribed to the specified channel. Or, if you're sending a token-based notification (not addressed to specific users) make sure that channel name you specified has at least one subscriber. See Viewing subscribed devices for more information.

 When sending a geo-based push notification, this error can also indicate that no devices were found in the selected geographic area. Try the following:

  • Make sure your application is sending its current location to API Builder. See Updating Subscriptions with Device Location. Devices must report their location to API Builder to enable geo-based push.
  • Try using a larger Radius value to encompass a larger geographic area.
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