What is a Push Notification Service?

A push notification service is a technology that an application uses to send messages to users. You may have seen app notifications or alerts pop up on your mobile device. Those are communication signals that came from the application server. The server, not the user, initiates the push notification exchange. Applications use push notifications to make users aware of upcoming deals, app events, or other information they might be interested in. While mobile push notifications are the most common type, there are also web push notifications, wearable push notifications, and voice push notifications.

What are the benefits of using a push notification service?

Over the past several years, push notification services have become essential to mobile apps. In 2009, Apple released the first version of its Apple Push Notification service (APNs) for iOS, which allowed app publishers to send messages to users without requiring them to open the app. Google launched its push notification service in 2012 for Android. Your users might expect push notifications as a feature, and they can help both you and your users.

Here are some benefits of using a push notification service.

Increased engagement

Push notifications are an effective way to engage your users. You can use push notifications to send your users relevant information, remind them to use your application, and prompt them to take advantage of features and promotions. Multiple studies show push notifications have higher open rates than emails, SMS messaging, and chat applications.

Improved retention

You can use push notifications to create more targeted and relevant messaging for your users. For example, you can target users based on their past behaviors, locations, interests, and other factors. This could increase customer retention and revenue.

Greater user control

Your users might prefer push notifications to other communication methods, because push notifications are easy to control as a user. Your users can opt in to receive push notifications and opt out when they want.

What are the use cases of a push notification service?

Here are some of the most common ways that organizations use push notifications.

Marketing campaigns

Push notifications are often used for marketing campaigns. Promotion details, discounts, new product launches, and other important updates are sent directly to your users’ devices.

Push notifications are an effective way to push campaigns and encourage your users to perform actions. For example, you can prompt them to download a new app, sign up for a service, or purchase products they liked.

Successful push notification campaigns also help to bring back past customers.

Transactional notifications

Push notifications can alert your users to transactions like financial activity in their accounts. For example, banks use push notifications to alert customers about deposits, withdrawals, account balance updates, and other changes to their accounts.

Push notifications help customers stay on top of their finances and be aware of any suspicious activity. You can also use push notifications to send customers payment reminders and other alerts about upcoming transactions.

One-time passwords

Push notifications can deliver one-time passwords (OTPs), which let you authenticate user accounts. For example, when a user attempts to log in or make a purchase, you can send an OTP to the user’s mobile device. The user would then enter the OTP to complete the action, so you can verify the user's identity without storing sensitive information. More generally, OTPs are one aspect of multi-factor authentication (MFA).

Read about MFA »

Emergency alerts

Government organizations can use push notifications to deliver emergency alerts to the public. These can be alerts about natural disasters as well as other emergencies, such as Amber Alerts, terrorist threats, and extreme weather warnings.

Medical services

Push notifications can send your users health information like appointment updates, medication reminders, and test results. Additionally, push notifications can remind patients to take their medications or book follow-up appointments. 

Shipping updates

As a retailer or supplier, you can send push notifications to keep your customers updated on the status of their orders. You can notify your customers of any changes in an order’s shipping status, such as when it is shipped, when it is out for delivery, and when it is delivered. Push notifications can also provide tracking numbers and estimated delivery times.

Customer feedback

Push notifications can prompt your customers to provide feedback about a product or service. You can use them to ask customers to rate their experiences or leave comments about products or services. Additionally, you can use push notifications to conduct surveys and gain insights into your customers’ preferences and opinions. 

Social media

If you run a social media application, you can send push notifications to your users about updates such as new posts and comments. When you send users a notification whenever new content is available, they can quickly access and engage with the latest news without manually checking for updates. 

What are the types of push notifications?

There are two main types of push notifications: application-to-person (A2P) and person-to-person (P2P).


A2P push notifications are sent from an application or service to an individual user. Some examples are news and alerts, promotional messages, and transactional messages.


P2P push notifications are sent directly from one user to another, commonly to notify the recipient of an event or activity. They include chat messages, friend requests, reminders, and location updates.

How do push notifications work?

For a push notification to happen, a publisher has to send it, a user has to receive it, and a service has to connect them. The relationship between these three parties is like this:

  • A publisher uses an application server to send notifications to its users
  • A user agrees to receive notifications by subscribing through their device
  • A platform-specific push notification service links a publisher to its users

If you’re developing a mobile app, here are common steps to consider if you want to start sending push notifications.

Register app with push notification service

You should connect with the push notification service of individual platforms that you want to target. For example, you should design your app to connect with Apple Push Notification service (APNs) to target iOS users and Firebase Cloud Messaging (FCM) to target Android users. You can register your app with the push notification service to gain access to the service API.

Read about APIs »

Process service tokens

Push notification services maintain a connection with each app and associated mobile device that have registered with their services. When an app and mobile device register, the push notification service returns a device token. As a developer, you can process and use the tokens to send notifications to your users.

Start to send notifications

Your application server sends the content of a notification and device tokens to your push notification service API. Once the server has sent the request to the push notification service, the service sends the notification to your users’ devices.

The notification appears on the devices’ lock screens, notification centers, or app icons, depending on your users’ settings. Your users can then tap the notification to go to your app or website.

How can AWS support your push notification requirements?

At Amazon Web Services (AWS), we offer Amazon Simple Notification Service (Amazon SNS) to support your push notification requirements.

Amazon SNS is a fully managed publish-subscribe (pub/sub) service for application-to-application (A2A) and application-to-person (A2P) messaging. It acts as an intermediary between your app and various mobile platform push notification services so that you can scale faster.

For A2A messaging, Amazon SNS provides push-based, many-to-many messaging for distributed systems, microservices, and event-driven serverless applications. For A2P messaging, Amazon SNS allows you to communicate with your customers using SMS texts, push notifications, and emails.

Here are ways you can benefit from using Amazon SNS:

  • Integrate applications with first-in, first-out messaging
  • Securely encrypt notification message delivery
  • Capture and fan out events from more than 60 AWS services
  • Send push notifications and SMS messages to customers worldwide

Get started with push notifications on AWS by creating a free AWS account today.