Opening an installed app from a browser is often referred to as “deep linking”, and with this guide you’ll learn how to deep link into your Android app for yourself. We’ll focus exclusively on how to trigger an app open from a website page, rather than from the click of a link inside other apps. For a more detailed look at all of the different deep linking standards required for complete Android coverage, please see our Android deep linking series: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4.

Android is, by far, one of the most fragmented platforms that developers have ever had to manage, due to Google’s decision to force device manufacturers to be responsible for porting the OS, which requires backwards compatibility and support of a multitude of devices. In this ecosystem, we, the app developers, are left to pick up the pieces. Deep linking on Android is unfortunately no different—over the years, we’ve seen a plethora of technical requirements that must be used depending on the circumstance and context of the user.

Note that Branch will implement all of this complexity for you, host the deep links, and even give you robust analytics behind clicks, app opens, and down funnel events. You can play around with Branch links for free by signing up here. We highly recommend using our tools instead of trying to rebuild them from scratch, since we give them all away for free.

Overview of Changes

There are two places where changes will need to be made in order to successfully open your Android app: your website and your Android app. You can find the details of each change in the corresponding sections below.

Adding Support for URI Schemes to Your App

A URI scheme can be any string without special characters, such as http, pinterest, fb or myapp. Once registered, if you append ://  to the end (e.g. pinterest://) and click this link, the Pinterest app will open up. If the Pinterest app is not installed, you’ll see a ‘Page Not Found’ error.

It is simple to configure your app for a URI scheme. To start, you need to pick an Activity within your app that you’d like to open when the URI scheme is triggered, and register an intent filter for it. Add the following code within the <activity /> tag within your manifest that corresponds to the Activity you want to open.

<script src="https://gist.github.com/aaustin/be57a482daceec621045.js"></script>

You can change your_uri_scheme to the URI scheme that you’d like. Ideally, you want this to be unique. If it overlaps with another app’s URI scheme, the user will see an Android chooser when clicking on the link. You see this often when you have multiple browsers installed, as they all register for the http URI.

Next, you’ll want to confirm that your app was opened from the URI scheme. To handle the deep link in the app, you simply need to grab the intent data string in the Activity that was opened via the click. Below is an example:

<script src="https://gist.github.com/aaustin/09dd849486c431da9a34.js"></script>

From here, you’ll need to do string parsing to read the values appended the URI scheme that will be very specific to your use case and implementation.

Adding Javascript to Your Website to Open Your App

Now that your Android app is ready to be triggered from a URI scheme, the next part is simple. You merely need to add some Javascript to your website that will auto trigger your app open. The function below, triggerAppOpen, will attempt to open your app’s URI scheme once you replace your_uri_scheme with the one you added in the manifest above.

<script src="https://gist.github.com/aaustin/6da229a81fc2a6d1ece071b7b489967e.js"></script>

You could call triggerAppOpen into window.onload if you wanted to do it on page load, or you could make it the onclick of a link somewhere on your site. Either works and the you’ll get the intended results.

Android is incredibly complicated, and there are edge cases everywhere. You’ll think everything is going well until you get that one user complaining that his links aren’t working on Facebook while running Android 4.4.4. That’s why you should use a tool like Branch—to save you this nightmare and ensure that your links work everywhere. Be sure to request a Branch demo if you’re interested in learning more.

Branch is a mobile linking platform providing unified mobile experiences and measurement for more than 50,000 mobile apps, including Airbnb, Ticketmaster, Reddit, Tinder and Amazon. Branch’s linking platform can help you grow your mobile app through features like deep linking, sharing, referrals, mobile banners and interstitials, custom app onboarding, and unified attribution across platforms and channels. Learn more about Branch or request a demo today.
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