How to Create a Messaging Application from Scratch

30 min read
How to Create a Messaging Application from Scratch
Are you interested in developing software for messaging? Possibly you require a new chat app to streamline business processes inside your own organization? Or simply want to innovate the messaging app market?

Online communication has become a new normal these days. Communication software like WhatsApp, Viber, Telegram, and other tools that are an integral part of our lifestyle.

As of May 2020, 2.52 billion people use chat apps regularly and this number keeps growing and is expected to reach 3 billion in 2022.

Just imagine, 41 million messages are sent out each minute globally, stated by Statista. It makes no wonder that the messaging app market will grow rapidly.

Chat apps take a notable place at your smartphone. Aren’t they?

How many messengers are using smartphone owners

The current state of thing with coronavirus crisis also underlines the importance of stable, secure, and high-quality online messengers.

If you have a concept of creating a unique messenger, this article is a complex guide into the tech and business details, as follows:

  • what features are must-have in messaging software these days
  • advance functionality that will help you to stand out
  • tech stack to use and technologies applied in the market leaders (WhatsApp, Telegram, Skype)
  • building the revenue stream in a messenger
  • challenges during messaging app development

Get right into the key insights.

If you have a concept of creating a unique messenger, this article is a complex guide into the tech and business details, as follows:

  • what features are must-have in messaging software these days
  • advance functionality that will help you to stand out
  • tech stack to use and technologies applied in the market leaders (WhatsApp, Telegram, Skype)
  • building the revenue stream in a messenger
  • challenges during messaging app development

Get right into the key insights.

Feature-Set Included into a Messaging App

For starters, let’s outline what functionality you should implement to develop a feasible product.

These days, it is necessary to include the must-have features that would make the system work as well as apply some sort of innovation to make the app appealing to the target users.

The idea is to start a messaging app with core features and some unique selling points represented by the unique experience and interesting feature. The next step is to scale this chat app MVP further based on the real-user feedback.

Key Features in Messaging Apps

Here we list those messaging app functions that the app cannot exist without.

1. User Authorization

Clearly, app users should have the possibility to create a personal account. A wise idea is to implement user sign up option in one-click via social media (e.g Facebook, Twitter, Instagram).

Depending on the app’s objectives, you may include authorization via email, phone number. For increased security, it is possible to interconnect with the device with the help of confirmation SMS.

2. Contact importing

For enhanced user experience, your messaging app should access the existing user contacts and get them imported to the messaging app automatically. A strategic step is to highlight for end-users what their contacts already use this messenger.

As well, it is a wise aspect, if users can engage others to join the messenger with a simple invitation.

3. Messaging functionality

This is the cornerstone functionality of any messaging app. This feature should have a simple, clear, and intuitive experience.

There are a few ways you can implement instant messages, depending on the way the information transmissions.

  • Client-server-client model

This is when the data go through the server and the information is stored there. It is vital to ensure that the messages pass in a secure and encrypted way. For that, you should apply HTTPS and SSL protocols since security is the most important function of any app type.

Extra level of cryptography ensures that the messages go to the server in an encrypted format and then transmitted to the user who has the necessary keys to decode the message.

 Client-server-client model of the messaging application
  • Client-to-client model

In this method, the messages are not kept on the server. They are rather delivered via the wireless mesh networks. Prior to that, the message is again encrypted by a specific algorithm (public-key cryptography).

For you to note, this method requires more skilled developer’s work and it takes more time and cost to get implemented.

Data transferring without using a server

4. Sharing of photos and files

These days, users need to have the possibility to exchange files, videos, photos, and other content. Therefore, make sure that your messaging app supports different app attachments.

This feature can be implemented by using distinct APIs. Do not forget that your app should have an option to send files from the device as well as capture the real-life moments from the app directly.

5. Location tracking

In many apps, users can share their location with others like parking spots, offices, restaurants, etc. This feature is developed by utilizing packages of CLLocationManager Class on iOS and Android.location.

Telegram messenger has implemented this feature, which provides great user experience and simple use. App users can even create routes from the starting to the destination point.

6. Notifications

This is an important element in any messaging app development. This is the function that allows the user to check whether someone sends a message or not. Developers use Google Cloud Messaging and Apple Push Notifications to implement this functionality.

7. Synchronization across devices

If you plan to build a messenger that is available on multiple platforms (iOS, Android, Web) and suitable for a range of devices, make sure that the user has identical experience and interface.

Advanced Features for Messaging App Development

In any case, you need to advance your messaging app. You may consider implementing some of the following features.

1. Support video and audio content

If you plan that your chat app includes audio and video messaging, ensure that the app can be stabilized via the necessary system codecs. This allows the system to provide good quality despite potential issues like low internet speed. Please note, that this functionality is time and effort-consuming.

2. High-end encryption

Users value security as the biggest value and won’t think of using a product if it does not keep their personal data protected and confident. It is supported by the fact that 62% of American citizens are worried in terms of attacks by hackers. Thus, ensure solid app encryption.

For instance, the Telegram app has the following encryption functions:

  • cloud messages, being a standard option
  • secret chats – once the user switches this mode, all the messages are encrypted and can be decoded only with a particular smartphone. Other functions include ban to forwarding messages to users outside a secret group, ban the possibility of screenshot taking, and similar actions.
Scheme of End-to-End Encryption to Secure a Chat App

3. Video and audio calls

These days, it makes sense not only to deliver high-end texting functionality but also the option of video conversations.

This one can be utilized in one of the following ways:

  • recorded audio messages – users can dictate short texts and send like a message
  • video messages – users can deliver instant messages as short, filmed videos
  • video and audio calls – users can communicate real-time inside the messenger

The next level is to build group video chats.

This is a rather complex feature to implement, which requires a solid time and monetary investments. On the other hand, this can be a great strategic decision to implement these chats since users love to interact this way. This is especially a clear advantage of services that provide group chats during the coronavirus pandemic.

Please note, that such a solution should be well-planned and have a proper system architecture to cover stability, fault tolerance, and high load of servers. Just imagine, each user transmits some number of information (in bytes) each second. This takes loads of traffic and puts a high load on servers.

4. Channels

As you have noticed, some popular messengers like WhatsApp, Telegram, Viber allow users to create channels. Many make specific communities and groups to communicate on distinct topics. This is a new sort of media and news sharing where users keep updated on what interests them.

5. Self-destructing messages

This is a unique chat app feature, and Snapchat is known for this type of functionality. The deletion of media files and messages over time is a great property. This allows users to have more control over their personal data. In some way, it also gives more privacy and data security.

6. Messages sent on a schedule

We suppose that you forgot to reply or text something important on time. The feature of message scheduling can resolve this issue. This extra functionality helps to stand out from the competitors and be your unique selling point.

7. Invisible ink

This is definitely a special feature to include in the messaging application. The function was designed by researchers from Columbia University, which represents the idea of hiding the real meaning of texts. In its turn, the real meaning of messages can be discovered with the help of a phone camera and with specific keys (codes to decode the message).

8. Emoji and stickers

Personalized emoji and addition of stickers can make your messenger very appealing to the end-users. Well-known messages like Viber, Telegram even allow users to create their own packs of stickers.

9. Calendar and event

This function helps to add events to the personal agenda with a simple gesture of holding the date in the chat. You may review how this function works in WhatsApp on iOS.

10. Protection by biometrics

This feature adds to the security of chat apps. Those who have a smartphone with fingerprint protection can emplace the same pattern to the messaging application. Alternatively, this can be utilized via PIN code. This ensures another layer of personal data protection that will be highly valued by app users.

11. Synchronization with a cloud

The integration of cloud technologies has its use in any digital project. Messaging apps can synchronize with services like Google Drive, Dropbox, and so on.

There, users can transmit media files as well as store message history in a cloud, if there is such a need. Users can restore some deleted texts as well. Cloud technologies will be more and more used in such projects to provide advanced experience.

12. Few other ideas for chat app functionality

Customizable profiles, offerings of some useful content (in collaboration with influencers, well-known bloggers), in-app games – these can also become a unique selling point of a chat app, once you work these ideas in greater detail.

To conclude this section, as you can see, it makes sense to develop a messaging app starting from the MVP by blending standardized functionality with one unique feature. Definitely, it is a wrong strategy to duplicate the existing, well-known messengers since this leads only to losing money and resources.

Technology Stack to Build Apps like WhatsApp and Telegram

In this section, we list tech stacks used for some popular messaging applications. For starters, you can review the map below and understand what app dominated what region.

Map of the top messaging apps in the world

First, we list possible tech stacks to utilize in chat app creation followed by the examples of a few successful messaging apps. It makes sense to understand how these applications are created.

Let’s dive right into these insights.

Tech Stack to Build Your Messaging App

Depending on your product’s goals and functionality you should understand whether to create a cross-platform or native messaging app. The difference lies in the app availability of the app across the majority of platforms simultaneously or individually for each operating system

Both options have their pros and cons. Native app development ensures higher system performance, stability, security but requires more investments.

As mentioned, native apps correspond to a product that is fully compliant with its operating system. Thus, it is possible to utilize the following tech stack.

Web platform  iOS platform Android platform
  • Markup languages: HTML5, CSS3
  • Programming languages: JavaScript + frameworks Angular, React, Vue, etc.
  • Nodejs
  • Programming language: Swift, Objective-C
  • Development OS: Latest Mac OS X
  • IDE: Xcode 11, AppCode 
  • Platform SDK: iOS SDK, Cocoa Touch, etc.
  • Programming language: Kotlin, Java
  • Development OS: Ubuntu, Mac OS
  • IDE: Latest Android Studio
  • Platform SDK: Latest Android SDK

Server-side of software can be coded in PHP, Ruby, Erlang, and similar. Your software development vendor should advise you of what is more suitable to use in your case.

Also, one of the most common product architecture is a software bundle of LAMP. Linux as the operating system, Apache- web server, MySQL database, PHP as a back-end language.

Alternatively, you can use a PostgreSQL database, Nginx web server, Nodejs, Ruby, or JavaScript for the backend development.

It is also necessary to use distinct services and libraries, namely:

  • Amazon services – for data storing
  • Socket.io – library for real-time communication between a browser and server
  • Social media integration- Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc.
  • Analytical tools- Flurry, Google Analytics, Firebase, MixPanel, etc.
  • Maps & Navigation- Google Maps, Google Places
  • SMS services- Twilio
  • Email marketing – MailChimp, Elastic emails
  • Payment gateways- Braintree, Stripe, PayPal, etc.
  • Push notifications- APNS (iOS), FCM (Android)

A general idea is to go for open-source technologies, which prevent building everything from scratch. Rather it is possible to use existing well-proven libraries and frameworks.

When selecting a tech stack for your messaging app, put users and their experience in a priority, as well as consider speed, performance, and security of the chat app.

Technologies Used to Build a WhatsApp Messaging App

Operating system FreeBSD is used in this app. Its developers believe that the Linux system is more bug-creating, which is a rather debatable statement.

Initially, the system used XMPP (Extensive Messaging, Presence Protocol) to manage one to one and group communications. Further, the team created the internal protocol to support communication with end-to-end encryption.

WhatsApp uses YAWS (Yet Another Web Server) for data storing and HTML5 WebSockets to create a solid connection between a server and messenger.

The system uses LYCE/LYME architecture consisting of the open-source solutions to develop highly available and dynamic pages.

  • Operating system- Linux
  • Web server – Yaws
  • Databases – Mnesia, CouchDB
  • Programming language- Erlang

To note, Elixir programming and its Phoenix framework are great to utilize for complex and high load projects. These technologies ensure smooth system operation, great efficiency, and the ability to handle lots of traffic.

Architecture of WhatsApp Messaging App

Tech Stack within the Telegram App

Telegram is one of the greatest messaging apps with the greatest protection and smooth performance. As far as it is known, the messenger was coded with the following technologies:

  • iOS app – build by utilizing Objective C and partly Swift
  • Android app – created with Java programming language
  • Windows Phone app – uses C#
  • Web platform – uses Javascript and Node.js
  • Mac app – is developed with Objective C

Also, the team of Telegram developed a specific data protocol, MTProto Mobile Protocol, that ensures the speed and security of its service.

Technologies Utilized in the Skype Product

Before Microsoft purchased Skype, the product used C++ for the back-end in Debian servers. Further, the team included new services by using Azure Suite (written in C#).

The client Skype apps include the C library to support the low-level app functionality. To mention Skype is a cross-platform product, and only a thin layer of client apps (UI layer) uses Java and Objective-C for Android and iOS apps correspondingly.

Chat App Monetization Strategies

How can you monetize your messaging application?

We have an answer for you with a few options to build revenue streams in this app type. These strategies include:

  • advertising – these are multiple ways to include ads inside the messaging application. This can be a banner ad, pop up ad, native ad, and similar. Viber messenger uses this strategy and shows targeted ads and messages and earns millions.
  • in-app purchases – this model implies users to pay for some advanced app feature, access specific content, remove the ads in the messaging app, the possibility to purchase sticker packs, or games. The latter option is used in the LINE chat app, where users play just right in the messenger.
  • in-app payments – corresponds to the typical monetization strategy, where users make payments inside chat applications.
  • integration of a chatbot – this is an advance monetization possibility once your app gets user interest and base. This allows you to gain revenue from CTR (click-through rate) by providing relevant recommendations.
  • sponsorship – in this model, revenue is generated via the in-app sponsorship to create brand awareness. This method is best to utilize once you have enough pull of app users.
  • pay per download – you may use this method if you a sure to provide a unique and new app functioning and you tested the hypothesis that users will purchase the app. In general, users buy only those apps that are very specific and have top performance.
  • subscription fee – similar to pay per download but the payment is done on a regular basis, only when clients use a messaging app (e.g monthly, annual basis). Interesting fact, that the WhatsApp initial cost $0.99 per year after a year trial period.

Either method you select, base your monetization strategy on the market analysis, current user experience. Also, these days users demand top-notch app performance and service quality to pay for it.

Challenges of Building a Chat Application

Before you proceed with actual development of messaging app, consider the following challenges on the way and further. This information will help to overcome potential pitfalls, remove risks and future troubles in a messaging app functioning.

1. Security issues

High-end app security and protection is the number one tasks during messaging app development. It is necessary to provide personal data protection, message encryption, and build secure project architecture.

Ensure that you provide as much protection as possible, namely:

  • end-to-end encryption via protocols (e.g XMPP)
  • usage of cryptographic keys
  • plan the product architecture for secure data storing
  • include privacy policies when using your chat app
  • develop extra functionality, which users can enable, for messenger protection

2. Overload of the server

This issue may arise with the growing number of app users. Optimization of an app like WhatsApp requires loads of technical efforts and capable developers.

Choose the server setup and capacity, also supported by proper hardware, that will ensure quick app scalability quickly. Make sure, that servers are tuned-up to provide stable work during the peak load periods.

It is highly recommended to plan and create a list of potential server bottlenecks with a precise plan of action.

3. Flawless app updates

Messaging apps have a constant connection with their users and constantly process their personal data. During deployment of new functionality and app updates, makes sure not to lose existing data by careful servers and architecture configuration.

Scalability of the real-time chat apps is a rather tough assignment, which is highly dependent on the set architecture.

4. Stable connection

Many reasons can influence the network loss and switch from smartphone internet and Wi-Fi. To note, during such losses the last message can be lost in case of a quick disruption.

Thus, you should create your messaging app in a way to outline your app as a reliable tool that keeps the connection stable and reproduces lost messages during disconnection.

How Long Does it Take to Develop a Chat App

The timeline required to develop your messaging app depends on the number of factors. These include but not limited to:

  • number of platforms you plan to develop your product for
  • the complexity of features and design
  • number of features included
  • attributes of the selected software development vendor (location, rates)
  • number and peculiarities of 3rd party services to integrate

Any software development consists of distinct services like UX/UI design, Architecture planning, iOS development, Android development, Backend development, Quality Assurance, and so on.

In general, be prepared that it takes around 3-5 months to develop an MVP of the chat app. Note, that in most cases, this involves only basic app functionality. In terms of the budget, the sum is highly dependent on the development vendor you choose.

The 3-5 month of development corresponds to $30,000 – $50,000 for one platform (iOS or Android). At this cost, usually, you receive a team of 4-6 specialists like iOS/ Android developer, Backend developer, QA engineer, Project manager, Designer.

Thus, plan your timeline and budget accordingly. A wise strategy is first to finalize your product concept, business vision, and prioritize app functionality.

Concluding Ideas for Chat App Development

Online communication is a core part of our daily life – 80% of adults, 91% of youngsters text each day. This area will evolve and innovate each year, which has a wide potential for your investment today. The more modes of communication exist, the greater social satisfaction is.

Global statistics for messaging apps market

You can start your journey by creating a business strategy. The Business Model Canvas tool is a great tool to use for this stage.

Here you can check an example of WhatsApp-like apps:

The chat applications business model

(what are the critical problems faced by your customers?)

— Users can’t keep in touch with the nearest and dearest ones while they are apart
— Expensive phone calls & SMS

— SMS & phone calls
— Emails

(what are your solutions for your customers’ problems?)

— Cheaper SMS & voice calls via internet

Value propositions
(what value do you deliver to your customer?)

— Free application
— Real-time messenger — Be reachable by everyone
— Simple, intuitive interface
— Secure messaging

High-level concept
— Simple & secure real-time messenger

Key metrics
(which metrics indicate how well your company is doing)

— Monthly active users
— Customer retention rate
— Audience engagement

(Though which channels do your customer segments want to be reached?)

— Word of mouth advertising
— Whatsapp web application
— App Store/Google Play
— Social Media

Customer segments
(who is your intended customer?)

— Families and friends who are apart but have smartphones to stay in touch)

Unfair advantage
(what is your advantage over competitors?)

— First app to market
— Technology solutions

Cost structure
(what are the expected costs to run your business?)

— Product development & maintenance
— Company formation
— Software licensing fee

Revenue streams
(how will you generate income?)

— $1 annual subsrcibtion fee

Follow the next procedure when starting a messaging application

  1. Prepare a solid and complex market analysis. Review what the competitive products do, the functionality they have, and check on how you can offer the improved service
  2. Figure out a unique selling proposition of your messaging app
  3. Finalize your strategy, business objectives, and define a course of actions
  4. Find and partner with a highly experienced and capable IT vendor
  5. Develop and launch the MVP of the chat app to test user feedback
  6. Launch a creative promotional campaign to spread the word about your product
  7. Collect and analyze user feedback to continuous chat app updating and improvement

As a final word, success pursues only the brave.

The messaging app market has unrealized functions and experiences that the clients will be fully engaged with.

You can simply start by studying WhatsApp, Facebook, Slack, Telegram products and contact the Addevice team.

We can elaborate on the project development process, define app functionality together with you based on your goals, and estimate your project cost and timeline roughly. In the end, you will have a solid plan of how to develop a unique messaging application.

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