Custom URL Schemes - How do they work?

Have you ever wondered what custom URL schemes are? It's one of those things that you use everyday but probably haven't heard about it until today unless you are a developer or a software provider. For example, when you get as a hyperlink in your document, you know instinctively that clicking on it will open the link in a browser. It feels simple and intuitive but there are several things happening under the hood to make this kind of interaction possible.

Before understanding the details, it may be worthwhile to refresh your memories about components of a URL. In the above link, "http" is the protocol, "www" is the web portion of the service from the URL also called subdomain, largely unnecessary these days and "" is the domain name. When you click on the link in your document, your document software (MS Word, Adobe Acrobat Reader) launches the app that has registered itself as the handler for the "http" portion of the URL which happens to be your browser.

iPhone/Droid devices also have support for custom URL schemes. This allows us to send links to our customers that will open the surveys in our app instead of opening it in the browser. Doing so enables us to engage our customers with richness of a native app instead of having to build a mobile optimized offering for our product. You can take advantage of this feature too if you use SurveySwipe Communities to build your own mobile panel.