Build a Messaging App Demo Proof of Concept with the Twilio Conversations API

Coworkers building a messaging API PoC on a laptop
December 01, 2022
Written by
Twilion
Reviewed by
Twilion
Twilion
Twilion
Twilion
Twilion

Twilio’s Conversations API is described as A single API for seamless conversational messaging”. That sounds really cool, but what kind of things can you actually build with the Conversations API?

Appfueled used Conversations API to build an engagement portal which resulted in 90% or greater retention rate, 46% more visits per year, and 15% spend for shops – what can it do for your business?

For starters, the Conversations API is a foundational component in Twilio’s offering and our industry leading software applications, Twilio Flex, and Twilio Frontline, are built on top of the Conversations API.

But the Conversations API can also be used to power your own multi-party or multi-channel applications. In this blog post, I will walk through configuring and deploying a digital channel Support and Messaging Application powered by Twilio Conversations.

Applications Architecture

Before we start building, let me show you the end result. Here is a short video that shows the Conversations API’s functionality:

 

And here’s an overview of the architecture of our app:

Deployable Conversations Demo architecture

The Deployable Conversations Demo enables end users and agents to communicate over SMS, Chat, WhatsApp, and even with a bot (via Twilio Studio, for example).

Twilio products used in this code base are the Conversations API, Twilio Sync, Twilio Functions, and Twilio Assets.

The Customizable Code Base holds all of the application logic and are packaged together in a Twilio Serverless Project and deployed as Single Page Applications (SPAs). The SPAs are written in Vue.js and already built, so you will not need to do anything with them. The source code is available if you want to check out the code and play around with the functionality.

Prerequisites

Let’s Build it!

Here are the basic steps of our serverless multichannel build today.

  1. Download the Twilio Serverless Project
  2. Provision and Configure the Twilio Resources
  3. Update the Project Environment Variables
  4. Deploy the Serverless Project
  5. Update the Application Datasource (Twilio Sync)
  6. Try it out!

Here is an instructional video showing these steps in action:

1. Download the Twilio Serverless Project

Download and clone this repo: https://github.com/danbartlett-twilio/twilio-dcd

From the main directory, run the following to install all of the dependencies:

$ npm install

Make a copy of the file sample.env and rename it to .env. Next, we will go and provision the necessary resources in Twilio and we will update this .env file as we go. Your .env file will look like this now:

Environment variables for a Conversations app

…but we will replace all of the values in the next step.

2. Provision and Configure the Twilio Resources

In this section we will buy a Twilio Phone number and create:

  1. a Twilio Conversation Service
  2. a Twilio Sync Service
  3. a Twilio Messaging Service
  4. an API Key & Token.  

I am going to assume that you have an empty Twilio project, and your Twilio console page looks like this:

Explore Products in the Twilio Console

Click on the Explore Products link.

From the next page, you can “PIN” the following products by pushing on the pushpin icon for each:

  • Messaging
  • Conversations
  • Phone Numbers
  • Sync
  • Functions and Assets

You should then have those products in the left column of your screen like this:

Phone Numbers in the Twilio Console sidebar

Now, we can purchase a Twilio Phone Number. Click on on Active Numbers under # Phone Numbers in the left column and then select Buy a Number in the upper right corner.

Find your active Twilio numbers

Make sure you purchase a number with SMS capabilities. Copy the phone number and format it into E.164 format and then paste it into the .env file next to the TWILIO_PHONE_NUMBER property.

Next, we will create a Conversation Service. In the left column, click Conversations, then Services, and then select Create a new Service.

Create a new service

You can enter whatever you like for the friendly name (for example “DCD Conversation Service”). When you save your changes, copy the Service SID and paste it into the .env file next to the CHAT_SID property.

Next, we will create a new Sync Service to store data for our application.  Go to Services under Sync and click on Create a new Sync Service.

Create a new Sync service

You can enter whatever you like for the friendly name, but, as above, copy the new Service SID and paste it into the .env file next to the TWILIO_SYNC_SERVICE_SID property.

Changing a Sync Service configuration

We are almost there!

We need an API Key to be able to create access tokens for web clients. Under Account in the upper right hand corner, select API keys & tokens.

Twilio API Keys and credentials in the console

Click the Create API key button and then enter a friend name like ConversationsDemoKey and set the Key type to Standard. The next screen will look like this:

Secret Key in the Twilio Console

Copy the SID and paste it into the .env file next to the API_KEY property.

Copy the Secret and paste it into the .env file next to the API_SECRET property.

The last step is to create a Messaging Service. Select Services under Messaging and then click on Create Messaging Service.

Create a Messaging Service

Enter a friendly name like “ConversationsDemoMessagingService” in Step 1, and then in Step 2, add the Phone Number that you created to the Sender Pool of this new Messaging Service. Click the checkbox next to the phone number and then click Add Senders.

Numbers in the Sending Pool

Once you have successfully added your phone number to the Sender Pool, click on Skip setup.

The last thing we need to do in this section is connect the Messaging Service to the Conversations Service…

From the left column, select Defaults under Conversations and do the following:

  1. Set Handle inbound Messages with Conversations to Unlocked
  2. Set the Default Messaging Service to the Messaging Service you just created
  3. Set the Default Conversations Service to the Conversation Service you created earlier
  4. Click the Save button

Handle inbound messages with Conversations setting

Now, click on Services under Messaging and select the Messaging Service you created earlier.

Enter the Service you created

Once in that Messaging Service, click Integration in the left column and then select the Autocreate a Conversation radio button, and then save your changes.

Whew!

We just provisioned and configured a Conversations Service, a Messaging Service, a Sync Service, an API Key, and a Phone Number!

3. Update the Project Environment Variables

If you have been copying and pasting the Twilio variables into your .env file from the previous section, your .env file should look like this:

Update your .env file with your SIDs, secrets, and keys

If you missed some properties, you can go back and fill them in. Otherwise, let’s deploy!

4. Deploy the Serverless Project

You are now ready to deploy the Twilio Serverless Project which will upload all of the Twilio Functions and Assets needed to run the application.

From the root of the repo directory…

$ twilio login
$ twilio serverless:deploy

Once the deployment is complete, the command will list all of the Functions and Assets that have been deployed. Copy the urls of the three files ending in index.html

HTML files to find

5. Update the Application Datasource (Twilio Sync)

Before we start playing with the application, we need to finish setting up the data layer.  This application uses Twilio Sync, Twilio's state synchronization service, as the application’s persistence layer.

Sync Helper is a collection of GUI tools and Twilio Functions that makes it easier to manage tables and data with Twilio Sync.

Paste the URL ending with /sync-helper/index.html into a web browser.

Select Lists in the Sync Helper

Under Lists select All Lists.

Create TwilioTableMain

Then click the green button to Create “TwilioTableMain” – this will create a Sync List to hold metadata about all of the other tables.

Under Lists select New List, and then click the Add from JSON button...

Create a New List from JSON

In the code repository, open the folder /sync-json and then open the file AgentList.json and copy the contents.

Paste the contents into the form and then click Save New List From JSON.

Save a JSON entered list

This will create a new list containing agent names. Follow the same steps for the other two files in that directory (ChatButtonList.json and WebhookList.json).

6. Try it out!

We are ready to roll!

Paste the URL ending with /agent-view/index.html into a web browser tab.

Paste the URL ending with /end-user-view/index.html into another web browser.

Deploying to production

While you can get this system working pretty quickly, it is not production ready. The intent of this project is to quickly show the type of awesome things that you can build using Twilio Conversations.

Webhooks

This demo supports webhooks. Watch the video below to see how to configure and use webhooks:

WhatsApp

WhatsApp is supported in this demo, but you need to provision a WhatsApp Sender and add it to the Messaging Service.

Customizing and Local Development

The source code for the single page applications SPAs are included in the repo under the /client-src directory.

If you want to customize the SPAs, you can go into a folder and run…

$ npm install

Each directory has a file called .env.development. To be able to run the SPA from your local machine, open that file and enter your Twilio domain for your deployed serverless project (step 4).

You can then run…

$ npm run dev

…to run the SPA locally. You can make changes and play around all you like.

If you want to deploy your changes, run

$ npm run build

…and that will update the files in the /assets directory. You would then run twilio serverless:deploy (from step 4) to update the files deployed to Twilio.

Conclusion

In short order you just created a multichannel messaging and support application!

Next up – you could take this application and customize it to your specific needs. Use the patterns introduced here to build your awesome application!

Need more inspiration? See how AppFueled used Conversations API to build a two-way portal that helps auto repair shops support automated and conversational engagement. 

Need even more inspiration? Using Conversations API, CLOUDWORK|PRO built a messaging app that makes it easy for users on both sides of their marketplace to connect, get questions answered, schedule work, and complete jobs.

Ready to start writing code? Check out our awesome Conversations API docs!

Dan Bartlett has been building web applications since the first dotcom wave. The core principles from those days remain the same but these days you can build cooler things faster. He can be reached at dbartlett [at] twilio.com.