Push Messaging


This guide will show you how to configure an Android app to send and receive push notifications. There are several approaches to sending push notifications. The two most common are:

Parse Push

First approach is to use the Parse Push service to send and receive push notifications. You will first need to setup a Parse server by following our configuring parse server guide to get things started.


Start by checking out our push notifications setup guide for Parse to get things started. Use the push notifications client demo as a reference as well.

Sending Push Notifications

Because of the implicit security issues with allowing push notifications to be sent through Android or iOS directly to other devices, this feature is disabled. Normally in hosted Parse you can toggle an option to override this security restriction. For open source Parse, you must implement pre-defined code written in JavaScript that can be called by the clients to execute, otherwise known as Parse Cloud.

Your Java client should call this function:

HashMap<String, String> test = new HashMap<>();
test.put("message", "testing");
test.put("customData", "abc");
ParseCloud.callFunctionInBackground("pushChannelTest", test);

You then need to implement a custom Parse function on your cloud server:

Parse.Cloud.define('pushChannelTest', function(request, response) {

  // request has 2 parameters: params passed by the client and the authorized user
  var params = request.params;
  var user = request.user;

  var message = params.message;
  var customData = params.customData;

  // use to custom tweak whatever payload you wish to send
  var pushQuery = new Parse.Query(Parse.Installation);
  pushQuery.equalTo("deviceType", "android");

  var payload = { "alert": message,
                  "customdata": customData

  // Note that useMasterKey is necessary for Push notifications to succeed.

  where: pushQuery,      // for sending to a specific channel
  data: payload,
  }, { success: function() {
     console.log("#### PUSH OK");
  }, error: function(error) {
     console.log("#### PUSH ERROR" + error.message);
  }, useMasterKey: true});


Receiving Push Notifications

Check out the Receiving Push Guide for a basic overview of receiving Push messages within an Android app. There are two basic ways to receive push notifications.

Basic Push Invoking Activity

Normally when receiving a push, Parse will open the default activity that is designated as the main launcher in your AndroidManifest.xml file, but you can have Parse trigger a different activity to launch. You can change this behavior by subclassing ParshPushBroadcastReceiver and overriding the getActivity() method to returning the Activity you prefer to launch instead:


public class YourBroadcastReceiver extends ParsePushBroadcastReceiver {

  protected Class<? extends Activity> getActivity(Context context, Intent intent) {
    return YourActivity.class; // the activity that shows up


You will also need to modify the default Parse Broadcast Receiver normally used and replace with this custom class name.

    android:exported="false" >
        <action android:name="com.parse.push.intent.RECEIVE" />
        <action android:name="com.parse.push.intent.DELETE" />
        <action android:name="com.parse.push.intent.OPEN" />

This way is pretty straightforward to bringing up an activity when a push is received but you can use a more custom approach if you need more flexibility with how a notification is handled.

Custom Push Broadcast Receiver

Receiving push notifications sent with Parse can also be done using the BroadcastReceiver and implementing the onReceive() method to manage incoming push events. Any activity can register to handle these broadcast events.

If you want to implement the push notification receiver, then check out this tutorial. Full source code for this tutorial can be found on github.

Once a BroadcastReceiver is listening for messages, there are a few actions that are commonly taken once a push is received:

You can review examples of these outlined in this more elaborate code sample.

Creating Dashboard Notifications

By default, Parse will create dashboard notifications based on certain details of the push message that are sent if you specify the "alert" and "title" properties in the notification. In the event that you want to manually manage the notifications, all you have to do is avoid sending the alert or title so parse doesn't create the notification for you.

Details of setting up custom push notifications can be found in the Notifications guide for a detailed look at creating and managing these notices. See also how to group notifications by modifying existing notices. This is useful if you want to avoid stacking a bunch of notifications and instead group messages or only show the latest one.

Launching an Activity

When working with push messages, often the notification will launch an activity or the activity may even be launched by the broadcast receiver directly. In these cases, we might want to ensure that the activity launched is the same activity that is already running rather a new instance. To achieve this, we can use launch modes or intent flags such as singleTop to ensure the same activity instance is presented.

Checking App State when Receiving a Broadcast

In certain cases when receiving a push, you want to update an activity only if the activity is on the screen. Otherwise, if the activity is not on screen then you want to create a notification.

There are two approaches to this: either use ActivityManager to check if the activity is running or use ordered broadcasts to override the receiver when the activity is running. Both possible solutions to this are outlined in this post with a code sample here.

Source Code

We have a full demo of Parse Push sending and receiving which can be found on Github. Check out MyCustomReceiver and MainActivity.


A few quick things to help make implementing push notifications easier:

  • Review the official parse push troubleshooting guide.
  • Make sure to register for the broadcasts using the LocalBroadcastManager with the LocalBroadcastManager.getInstance(this).registerReceiver method.
  • If you need to communicate between a receiver and then a second activity that is not currently in the foreground, you may consider persisting the notification to disk in SQLite. This way we can easily access that from another Activity once that activity switches to the foreground.

Google Cloud Messaging

Second approach is the more manual way using GCM. Google Cloud Messaging for Android (GCM) is a service that allows you to send data from your server to your users' Android-powered device and also to receive messages from devices on the same connection. Beneath the surface, Parse implements push notifications for Android with GCM.

Read our Google Cloud Messaging guide for specific implementation details.


Fork me on GitHub