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Upgrading Cordova-iOS apps outside Apple Store

In one of my last post I explained how to upgrade Cordova-Android apps outside Google Play Store with angularjs. Today is the turn of iOS applications.

If you work with in-house iOS applications you need to define a distribution strategy (you cannot use Apple Store, indeed). Apple provides documentation to do it. Basically we need to place our ipa file in addition to the plist file (generated when we archive our application with xCode). I’m not going to explain how to do it here. As I said before it’s well documented. Here I’m going to explain how to do the same trick than the Android’s post but now with our iOS application.

With iOS, to install the application, we only need to provide the iTunes link to our plist application (something like this: itms-services://?action=download-manifest&url=http://url.to.plist) and open it with the InAppBrowser plugin.

First we install the InAppBrowser plugin:

    $ cordova plugin add https://git-wip-us.apache.org/repos/asf/cordova-plugin-inappbrowser.git

And now we only need to open the url using the plugin:

var iosPlistUrl = 'http://url.to.plist';
cordova.exec(null, null, "InAppBrowser", "open", [encodeURI("itms-services://?action=download-manifest&url=" + iosPlistUrl), "_system"]);

We can use exactly the same angularJs used the the previous post to check the version and the same server-side verification.

We also can detect the platform with Device plugin and do one thing or another depending on we are using Android or iOS.

Here you can see one example using ionic framework. This example uses one $http interceptor to send version number within each request and we trigger ‘wrong.version’ to the event dispatcher when it detects a wrong versions between client and server

angular.module('G', ['ionic'])

    .value('appConf', {
        version: 1,
        apiHost: 'http://localhost:8080'
    })

    .config(function ($httpProvider, $urlRouterProvider, $stateProvider) {
        $httpProvider.interceptors.push('versionInterceptor');

        $stateProvider
            .state('home', {
                url: '/home',
                templateUrl: 'partials/home.html',
                controller: 'HomeController'
            })
            .state('upgrade', {
                url: '/upgrade',
                templateUrl: 'partials/upgrade.html',
                controller: 'UpgradeController'
            })
        ;

        $urlRouterProvider.otherwise('/home');

    })

    .run(function ($ionicPlatform, $rootScope, $state) {
        $ionicPlatform.ready(function () {
            if (window.cordova && window.cordova.plugins.Keyboard) {
                cordova.plugins.Keyboard.hideKeyboardAccessoryBar(true);
            }
            if (window.StatusBar) {
                StatusBar.styleDefault();
            }
        });

        $rootScope.$on('wrong.version', function () {
            $state.go("upgrade");
        });
    })

    .controller('HomeController', function ($scope, $http, appConf) {
        $scope.someAction = function () {
            $http.get(appConf.apiHost + "/hello", function (data) {
                alert(data);
            });
        }
    })

    .controller('UpgradeController', function ($scope) {
        $scope.upgrade = function () {
            cordova.exec(null, null, "InAppBrowser", "open", [encodeURI("itms-services://?action=download-manifest&url=https://path/to/plist.plist"), "_system"]);
        }
    })

    .factory('versionInterceptor', function ($rootScope, appConf) {
        var versionInterceptor = {
            request: function (config) {
                config.url = config.url + '?_version=' + appConf.version;

                return config;
            },
            responseError: function(response) {
                if (response.status == 410) {
                    $rootScope.$emit('wrong.version');
                }
            }
        };

        return versionInterceptor;
    })
;

Upgrading Cordova-Android apps outside Google Play Store with angularjs

Recent months I’ve working with enterprise mobile applications. This apps are’t distributed using any marketplace, so I need to handle the distributions process. With Android you can compile your apps, create your APK files and distribute them. You can send the files by email, use a download link, send the file with bluetooth, or whatever. With iOS is a bit different. You need to purchase one Enterprise license, compile the app and distribute your IPA files using Apple’s standards.

OK, but this post is not about how to distribute apps outside the markets. This post is about one big problem that appears when we need to upgrade our apps. How do the user knows that there’s a new version of the application and he needs to upgrade? When we work inside Google Play Store we don’t need to worry about it, but if we distribute our apps manually we need do something. We can send push notifications or email to the user to inform about the new version. Let me show you how I’m doing it.

My problem isn’t only to let know to the user about a new version. Sometimes I also need to ensure that the user runs the last version of the app. Imagine a critical bug (solved in the last release) but the user don’t upgrade.

First we need to create a static html page where the user can download the APK file. Imagine that this is the url where the user can download the last version of the app:

http://192.168.1.1:8888/app.apk

We can check the version of the app against the server each time the user opens the application, but this check means network communication and it’s slow. We need to reduce the communication between client and server to the smallest expression and only when it’s strictly necessary. Check the version each time can be good in a desktop application, but it reduces the user experience with mobile apps. My approach is slightly different. Normally we use token based authentication within mobile apps. That’s means we need to send our token with all request. If we send the token, we also can send the version.

In a angular app we can define the version and the path of our apk using a key-value store.

.value('config', {
        version: 4,
        androidAPK: "http://192.168.1.1:8888/app.apk"
    })

Now we need to add version parameter to each request (we can easily create a custom http service to append this parameter to each request automatically, indeed)

$http.get('http://192.168.1.1:8888/api/doSomething', {params: {_version: config.version}})
    .success(function (data) {
        alert("OK");
    })
    .error(function (err, status) {
        switch (status) {
            case 410:
                $state.go('upgrade');
                break;
        }
    });

We can create a simple backend to take care of the version and throws an HTTP exception (one 410 HTTP error for example) if versions doesn’t match. Here you can see a simple Silex example:

<?php

include __DIR__ . "/../vendor/autoload.php";

use Silex\Application;
use Symfony\Component\HttpFoundation\Request;
use Symfony\Component\HttpFoundation\Response;
use Symfony\Component\HttpKernel\Exception\HttpException;

$app = new Application([
    'debug'   => true,
    'version' => 4,
]);

$app->after(function (Request $request, Response $response) {
    $response->headers->set('Access-Control-Allow-Origin', '*');
});

$app->get('/api/doSomething', function (Request $request, Application $app) {
    if ($request->get('_version') != $app['version']) {
        throw new HttpException(410, "Wrong version");
    } else {
        return $app->json('hello');
    }
});

$app->run();

As you can see we need to take care about CORS

With this simple example we can realize if user has a wrong version within each server request. If version don’t match we can, for example redirect to an specific route to inform that the user needs to upgrade the app and provide a link to perform the action.

With Android we cannot create a link to APK file. It doesn’t work. We need to download the APK (using FileTransfer plugin) and open the file using webintent plugin.

The code is very simple:

var fileTransfer = new FileTransfer();
fileTransfer.download(encodeURI(androidUrl), 
    "cdvfile://localhost/temporary/app.apk",
    function (entry) {
        window.plugins.webintent.startActivity({
            action: window.plugins.webintent.ACTION_VIEW,
            url: entry.toURL(),
            type: 'application/vnd.android.package-archive'
        }, function () {
        }, function () {
            alert('Failed to open URL via Android Intent.');
            console.log("Failed to open URL via Android Intent. URL: " + entry.fullPath);
        });
    }, function (error) {
        console.log("download error source " + error.source);
        console.log("download error target " + error.target);
        console.log("upload error code" + error.code);
    }, true);

And basically that’s all. When user self-upgrade the app it closes automatically and he needs to open it again, but now with the correct version.

Multiple Phonegap Push Notifications in the Android’s status bar

Last month I worked within an Android project using Phonegap, jQuery Mobile and Push Notifications. I also wrote one post explaining how to use PHP to send the server side’s part of the push notifications. Today I want to show one small hack, that I’ve done to change the default behaviour of push notifications. Let me explain it a little bit:

When you use the Push Plugin “out of the box” you will see one message in your Android’s status bar everytime we send one push notification (and you application isn’t running at this moment). If you click on the notification you application will start and you can handle this notification. But if you send more than one notifications to the device, only the last one will be shown on the status bar. This behaviour can be suitable for most situations, but within my application I wanted to see all the notifications in the status bar until I click on one (then all must disappear). If we want to do that we need to hack a little bit our Phonegap application. Let me show you what I’ve done.

Basically we need to change com.plugin.gcm.GCMIntentService file. If we open this Java file we can see that there’s one constant called: NOTIFICATION_ID and a public function called createNotification with something like that:

public static final int NOTIFICATION_ID = 237;
...

public void createNotification(Context context, Bundle extras)
{
    ...
    mNotificationManager.notify((String) appName, NOTIFICATION_ID, mBuilder.build());

}

I’m not a Java expert, but I notice that if I change this function to:

public static final int NOTIFICATION_ID = 237;
public static int MY_NOTIFICATION_ID = 237;
...

public void createNotification(Context context, Bundle extras)
{
    ...
    MY_NOTIFICATION_ID++;
    mNotificationManager.notify((String) appName, MY_NOTIFICATION_ID, mBuilder.build());

}

Now my android device will show multiple notifications, exactly as I need.

If we need to handle properly the way that our notifications are cancelled we also need to modify the public function cancelNotification

public static void cancelNotification(Context context)
{
    NotificationManager mNotificationManager = (NotificationManager) context.getSystemService(Context.NOTIFICATION_SERVICE);
    //mNotificationManager.cancel((String)getAppName(context), MY_NOTIFICATION_ID);
    mNotificationManager.cancelAll();
    MY_NOTIFICATION_ID = NOTIFICATION_ID;
}

And that’s all. Multiple notifications as I needed.

Sending Android Push Notifications from PHP to phonegap applications

Last days I’ve been working within a Phonegap project for Android devices using Push Notifications. The idea is simple. We need to use the Push Notification Plugin for Android. First we need to register the Google Cloud Messaging for Android service at Google’s console, and then we can send Push notifications to our Android device.

The Push Notification plugin provides a simple example to send notifications using Ruby. Normally my backend is built with PHP (and sometimes Python) so instead of using the ruby script we are going to build a simple PHP script to send Push Notifications.

The script is very simple

<?php
$apiKey = "myApiKey";
$regId = "device reg ID";

$pusher = new AndroidPusher\Pusher($apiKey);
$pusher->notify($regId, "Hola");

print_r($pusher->getOutputAsArray());

And the whole library you can see here:

<?php
namespace AndroidPusher;

class Pusher
{
    const GOOGLE_GCM_URL = 'https://android.googleapis.com/gcm/send';

    private $apiKey;
    private $proxy;
    private $output;

    public function __construct($apiKey, $proxy = null)
    {
        $this->apiKey = $apiKey;
        $this->proxy  = $proxy;
    }

    /**
     * @param string|array $regIds
     * @param string $data
     * @throws \Exception
     */
    public function notify($regIds, $data)
    {
        $ch = curl_init();
        curl_setopt($ch, CURLOPT_URL, self::GOOGLE_GCM_URL);
        if (!is_null($this->proxy)) {
            curl_setopt($ch, CURLOPT_PROXY, $this->proxy);
        }
        curl_setopt($ch, CURLOPT_POST, true);
        curl_setopt($ch, CURLOPT_HTTPHEADER, $this->getHeaders());
        curl_setopt($ch, CURLOPT_RETURNTRANSFER, true);
        curl_setopt($ch, CURLOPT_SSL_VERIFYPEER, false);
        curl_setopt($ch, CURLOPT_POSTFIELDS, $this->getPostFields($regIds, $data));

        $result = curl_exec($ch);
        if ($result === false) {
            throw new \Exception(curl_error($ch));
        }

        curl_close($ch);

        $this->output = $result;
    }

    /**
     * @return array
     */
    public function getOutputAsArray()
    {
        return json_decode($this->output, true);
    }

    /**
     * @return object
     */
    public function getOutputAsObject()
    {
        return json_decode($this->output);
    }

    private function getHeaders()
    {
        return [
            'Authorization: key=' . $this->apiKey,
            'Content-Type: application/json'
        ];
    }

    private function getPostFields($regIds, $data)
    {
        $fields = [
            'registration_ids' => is_string($regIds) ? [$regIds] : $regIds,
            'data'             => is_string($data) ? ['message' => $data] : $data,
        ];

        return json_encode($fields, JSON_HEX_TAG | JSON_HEX_APOS | JSON_HEX_QUOT | JSON_HEX_AMP | JSON_UNESCAPED_UNICODE);
    }
}

Maybe we could improve the library with a parser of google’s ouptuput, basically because we need to handle this output to notice if the user has uninstalled the app (and we need the remove his reg-id from our database), but at least now it cover all my needs. You can see the code at github