Christina Constantinou
28th August 2020 · 17 min read

Want to create a messaging app? You’ve come to the right place!

However, before you get started, think about this...

WhatsApp launched in 2009 and since then they’ve experienced amazing amounts of success, with over 450 million active users.

But did you know that WhatsApp developers had to spend a tonne of time and money making sure their chat app was equipped to handle their ever-growing user base?

That might not be a big deal for a multi-billion dollar company like WhatsApp or Facebook Messenger - but for a small business just starting out?

It can be a disaster.

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So that’s why I chose to write this blog - to help you build your dream messaging app that is fully scalable and functional right from the start.

I have over ten years of app development experience under my belt, and I’ve compiled it all in this blog to assist you with everything you’ll need.

So read on to discover each step you’ll need to take to build an amazing instant messaging app today...

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Chapter 1
Creating a Messaging App - Overview

When you begin developing your app, you might think that the best thing to do is build a fully-fledged, feature packed product right from the start.

Well, I’m here to tell you that you should definitely not take this approach!

For me, it is absolutely crucial to start your app development process by building a minimum viable product (MVP).

To put it simply, an MVP contains the basic features an app needs to function.

When it comes to a messaging app like the Messenger app, there are a few features that are absolutely crucial to development:

Instant Messaging

An instant messaging app without a doubt needs to offer real-time messaging features, alongside typing indicators.

Push Notifications

Users should be able to receive notifications when they have new messages.

Contact Sync

For convenience, messaging apps should include the ability to import contacts from a user’s smartphone.

Encryption

Secure communication and data storage.

Chapter 2
Ecosystem Of An MVP

The optimal architecture of an MVP is one that is structurally sound, easily scalable and cost-effective.

Let’s have a look at an example of an ecosystem of a messaging app MVP:

graphic of a MVP ecosystem
The architecture of your new app.

This architecture is perfect for a messaging app as it is fully scalable and can handle large amounts of information with ease - due to the use of a load balancer and multiple servers.

And building an ecosystem like this right at the start of your process will give you a strong foundation for the further development of your app - meaning fewer performance issues down the line.

So now that we’ve decided what the architecture should look like, let’s take a closer look at how exactly we can develop each part:

1. Server

Messaging apps - especially successful ones like WhatsApp or Telegram - need to be able to hand thousands, if not millions of messages every single day.

All that constant communication can be a lot to handle...

That’s why building a backend that is strong and easily scalable is absolutely crucial!

The first step here is to select a database management system that is right for you. This is where all your data will be stored and managed. There are so many database management systems to consider here - MongoDB, MySQL and SQL Server are only a few great options.

However, I will always recommend using at least two separate servers when developing an app.

Utilising multiple servers is hugely beneficial as it always for highly flexible scalability and much more easy management of data. And when used in conjunction with a load balancing algorithm such as Round Robin, you’ll find a much smoother communication process as well as reduced downtime.

For a messaging app, I suggest focusing on developing the infrastructure for these database components:

Hot Storage

This is where recent messages are stored. This type of storage is resource heavy as data here is accessed regularly.

Cold Storage

Here, archived messages will be stored. This data is accessed much less frequently.

Microsoft Azure Storage and Amazon S3/S3 Glacier both offer hot and cold storage options.

After this, all that’s left to do is decide on which programming language to use. WhatsApp uses Erlang, but languages such as Python and JavaScript are much more widely used.

2. Instant Messaging

Of course an instant messaging application will need to offer instant messaging services - otherwise it’s not a messaging app at all!

Real-time messaging allows users to have fast conversations and reply to new messages as soon as they appear, making for an easy-to-use and appealing service.

In order to implement an instant messaging system, you will most likely use a real-time messaging software development kit (SDK). There are a whole host of different options available to you, such as Sendbird, ChatSDK and Twilio.

It is also important to consider including typing indicators and ‘receipts’. This gives users the ability to see when the person they are speaking to is currently typing, and whether or not their messages have been seen.

someone reading a text message
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This makes for a much more engaging and interactive experience - improving user satisfaction which, of course, is always the goal.

To include these new features, I suggest attaching a text change listener such as TextWatcher’s afterTextChanged procedure. This will notice when text has been changed, and will adjust accordingly.

For example, let’s say text is changed and the length shows as 1. This indicates that typing has started. When the length shows as 0, typing has stopped.

This will then allow for accurate typing indication when viewed by a user.

3. Push Notifications

The importance of push notifications when developing a chat application cannot be overstated.

They allow users to be immediately notified when they have a new message, and can even show what those text messages contain. Without them, users will have a frustrating experience with your messaging app.

And that’s the last thing you want.

Luckily, implementing push notifications is super easy.

It’s as simple as using Google Firebase for Android and Apple Push for iOS - that’s it!

4. Contact Importation

If you want your messaging app to be as useful as possible, giving users the ability to import contacts is a highly important feature.

Synchronising with a users contact book on their smartphone will allow for quick and easy access, and can even give users the ability to see which contacts are already using the app.

To include this, you will need to implement an API that will fetch contact information and sync automatically. This will allow users to import their contacts easily, and will store all the data involved in this process.

5. Encryption

One major feature often overlooked by first time app developers is security.

This is a big mistake!

In fact, Jan Koum - one of WhatsApp’s founders - considered privacy to be one of the most important features when developing his app.

I would therefore recommend that you incorporate End-to-End Encryption (E2EE).

graphic of end to end Encryption
Here's how you can keep user data under wraps.

E2EE allows complete security and privacy for the two parties involved in a conversation. Aside from those participating, no one else has access to these messages - not even the platform providing the service.

This allows users to feel safe and secure when using your app.

To encrypt data you can use an AES-GCM technique, which will allow you to encrypt messages securely. You can also generate a salt initialisation vector (IV) which can be used for password security.

Just to summarise, here is the tech stack you’ll need to build a messaging app MVP:

1. Choose database management system for servers (e.g. MySQL)

2. Build backend using preferred programming language (e.g. Python)

3. Integrate instant messaging service using an SDK (e.g. ChatSDK)

4. Implement notifications using Apple Push or Google Firebase

5. Sync contacts using an API

6. Make sure your app is secure by introducing E2EE

Now that we are clear on what goes into creating an MVP, we can start to consider what we may need to include in a more advanced product.

Chapter 3
Creating an Advanced Messaging App

These are a few more features you can consider adding to your fully-fledged messaging app:

1. File Sharing

The ability to share files such as images, documents and videos can be a much welcomed feature when it comes to messaging apps.

It gives users the opportunity to communicate much more thoroughly and effectively, and can seriously improve user satisfaction.

When implementing this feature, you need to consider two things: maximum file sizes and upload and download speed.

The easiest way to do this is to allow users to pull directly from their smartphone’s internal storage, and you can use a REST API to accomplish easy upload and download of files.

2. Video and Voice Calling

Most successful messaging apps offer video and voice calling alongside instant messaging.

Implementing these can hugely increase your user base as they will offer a much more thorough communication experience, with all your user’s needs met directly within your one app.

Great, right?

There are a couple of options here…

Remember the messaging SDKs I mentioned before? Well, they also offer a lot more advanced features, including video and voice calling. Accessing these features can save you both time and money, as you will be using the same SDK as for your instant messaging feature.

Another option is to integrate a voice and video calling through the use of a VoIP - a Voice over Internet Protocol.

But the choice is up to you!

executive using phone in an office
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3. Stories

Story features are all the rage in social apps nowadays.

They provide bite-sized, interactive windows into users' daily lives and can be used to communicate in an interesting way.

So implementing this feature into your messaging app can be a good idea - even WhatsApp includes a story feature!

In order to include this feature, you will need to implement a command such as StoriesProgressView and will need to use CSS to animate this feature.

Outpace Competitors

You might know the tricks of the trade - but you need a technology team beside you every step of the way.

Hopefully now you should have a clear idea of how to develop a messaging app, and the technology you will need to use to do so.

However, sometimes you may run into issues with your app.

It happens to everyone - even the most successful apps out there.

I’m going to use all my app development experience to offer you some solutions to some of the most common issues developers face. So if you run into any problems, you’ll be well prepared!

Chapter 4
Developing a Messaging App - How to Tackle Your Biggest Challenges

I find that problems tend to arise in these general areas:

1. Notification Issues

Notifications are a key aspect of a successful messaging app.

So issues with notifications can lead to seriously unhappy users - which you want to avoid at all costs!

One common push notification issue developers find is that users stop receiving them completely.

A reason for this could be that the connection between the server and the push service has been lost. This can be caused by a timed out certificate chain which will then block the validation of connections to the service. Therefore, it is always important to make sure that the root certificate for your push provider is up to date and installed.

Another reason could be related to operating system upgrades.

If you own a smartphone, you’ll be well aware that developers update their operating systems regularly (especially iOS.)

These changes can sometimes have extremely detrimental effects on app performance, especially when it comes to notifications.

Therefore, one of my biggest recommendations is to constantly test your product against any new operating system changes. This will allow you to pick up on issues quickly, giving you the opportunity to fix them as soon as possible.

2. App Launch Times

Slow app launch times can be incredibly frustrating.

Especially when it comes to a messaging app.

Imagine you are in the middle of an important conversation, but the app is taking forever to launch.

You’d be annoyed, right?

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And a frustrated user is much more likely to abandon an app, which can be seriously harmful to your business.

One of the easiest and quickest ways to improve app launch times is to reduce the number of dynamic frameworks.

Dynamic frameworks contain your dynamic libraries and all the resources that come with them.

You’ll find that the more complex and feature-heavy your app is, the more dynamic frameworks you’ll need. This, in turn, will have a negative impact on your app launch times.

Another reason why building an MVP is the best approach to take!

In order to reduce the number of dynamic frameworks, you can convert them to static frameworks.

Doing so will help to drastically improve app launch times, and can also help to reduce the total size of your app.

And that can lead to much better app performance in all aspects - a bonus!

3. Scalability

I know that I keep mentioning it, but having a fully scalable product is so important when developing a mobile app!

I constantly see new developers forget to focus on making their service scalable, and if your product cannot grow alongside your business, you’re inevitably heading for disaster.

That’s why you should really consider carefully when choosing your database management systems.

If you do not choose a database that can be scaled easily right from the beginning, you’ll run the risk of having to spend thousands - and sometimes millions - of dollars to fix this issue down the line.

And something like that can kill a small business - trust me.

Conclusion

You should now have a total understanding of how messaging apps are made, what features to include and what steps you’ll need to take to implement them.

Still looking to create your perfect messaging app?

We can help!

The future is mobile first - are you going to be a part of it?

At Lolly, we pride ourselves on our first-class technical abilities. Our app development team can work alongside you to create a messaging app tailored to your specific business needs

Contact us today and get started with creating your perfect mobile app for your dating business.