Monday, February 24, 2014

iOS Background Fetch

David Smith:

There is, however, an intrinsic danger in applying this ability without fully thinking through the implications. When enabled within your applications you are essentially building a massively distributed botnet. Each copy of your application will be periodically awoken and sent on a mission to seek and assimilate internet content with only the OS safeguards holding it back. As your app grows in popularity this can lead to some rather significant increases in activity.


My first example of this was when I added Background Fetch to Check the Weather. A weather app’s primary function is displaying up-to-the-minute, constantly changing data so in my initial iOS 7 update I experimented with adding highly frequent background updates. The result was far more dramatic than I’d expected. Here are my weather API requests (which cost 0.01¢ per request) per day once the update went live. I saw an immediate jump in traffic, roughly 16x normal. Suffice to say I immediately had to scale back on my requested update frequency.


The background fetch API is a game-changer for iOS developers. It has the potential to free us of significant server and infrastructure overheads. This is particularly relevant at a time when many developers are wondering how to stay independent. For Castro, the decision was an easy one and we strongly advocate that other developers take full advantage of this new API as well.

Marco Arment:

Service-backed apps still have a lot of advantages and exclusive capabilities over iOS 7’s Background Fetch. I think server-side crawling is still the best choice for podcast apps and feed readers, for which users want fast updates to collections of infrequently updated feeds.

Overcast has been crawling tens of thousands of podcast feeds every few minutes for the last 6 months using standard HTTP caching headers. In the last week, 62% of all requests have returned 304 (“Not Modified”). Many of the rest returned the entire “new” feed, but none of the episodes had actually changed, making the server download and process hundreds of kilobytes unnecessarily.


The entire Overcast feed-crawling infrastructure can run on a $40/month Linode VPS.

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