Feeds

Facebook-backed spec lets apps link to other apps on mobes

Look, ma, we've invented the web – only with no browser

The essential guide to IT transformation

Facebook and a handful of partners have lent their support to App Links, a new, cross-platform, open source system for linking content from mobile apps directly to other mobile apps.

Deep linking is easy on the desktop, because every link is handled by the browser. But on mobile platforms, people often prefer to use platform-specific apps to view content. Instead of watching video embedded in a browser window, for example, they'd rather use their device's dedicated YouTube app.

Mobile browsers offer ways of launching apps for specific URLs, but so far there hasn't been any consistent way to launch one app directly from another. App Links, announced at Facebook's F8 developer conference on Wednesday, aims to provide developers an easy way to do just that.

What Facebook and its partners have come up with is more of a protocol than an SDK. Some reference code is available, but what the App Links specification mainly does is define a standard set of procedures for discovering and navigating to mobile apps.

The spec provides a set of metadata tags that developers can add to the HTML of their web pages to specify whether there is an app for a given mobile platform that can be used to view a particular piece of content.

For example, a page might include App Links tags indicating where to find an Android app, an iPhone app, and a separate app for iPads, plus another tag that specifies a fallback web URL. Mobile apps can then use this information to figure out the appropriate way to view that content.

If an app is available and it's installed on the device, it can be launched. Failing that, the web URL can be forwarded to the mobile browser – or, in the case of mobile-only apps, the link can fail, if that's what the developer specifies.

Exactly how this process works depends on the mobile platform. Facebook has provided a reference code library called Bolts for Android and iOS, and it has also published documentation for using App Links on Windows Phone, but the protocol is simple enough that developers shouldn't have trouble writing their own implementations for these or other platforms.

In addition, Facebook has been scouring the web to build its own, public index of App Links metadata. Developers can optionally query this index via Facebook's Graph API to find metadata for arbitrary URLs, which may be faster than scanning the HTML of individual pages for tags.

The catch, of course, is that for App Links to become the norm depends on developers building support into their apps. It's too early yet to know how many will be willing to do so, but a number of prominent companies have already signed on, including Dropbox, Flixster, Hulu, Pinterest, and Spotify, among others – and some were already serving App Links HTML tags on their web pages as of Wednesday. ®

Secure remote control for conventional and virtual desktops

More from The Register

next story
Apple promises to lift Curse of the Drained iPhone 5 Battery
Have you tried turning it off and...? Never mind, here's a replacement
Mozilla's 'Tiles' ads debut in new Firefox nightlies
You can try turning them off and on again
Linux turns 23 and Linus Torvalds celebrates as only he can
No, not with swearing, but by controlling the release cycle
Scratched PC-dispatch patch patched, hatched in batch rematch
Windows security update fixed after triggering blue screens (and screams) of death
This is how I set about making a fortune with my own startup
Would you leave your well-paid job to chase your dream?
prev story

Whitepapers

Endpoint data privacy in the cloud is easier than you think
Innovations in encryption and storage resolve issues of data privacy and key requirements for companies to look for in a solution.
Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Advanced data protection for your virtualized environments
Find a natural fit for optimizing protection for the often resource-constrained data protection process found in virtual environments.
Boost IT visibility and business value
How building a great service catalog relieves pressure points and demonstrates the value of IT service management.
Next gen security for virtualised datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.