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Last updated: 23 Oct 2020

Email notifications: how they work

High-level overview

The purpose of the email notifications system is to inform users when content they are interested in is added to or changed on GOV.UK. Users indicate their interest by subscribing to receive updates for an area of interest, such as topic or government department.

The applications that comprise the email notifications system are:

Email Alert API

  • Stores the persistent data involved in email alerts, such as processed content changes, subscribers and their subscriptions.
  • Provides an HTTP JSON API to alter stored data, such as: create alerts, set up lists and set up subscription preferences.
  • Coordinates sending of notifications with the underlying email sending service, which is currently GOV.UK Notify.

Frontend applications use Email Alert API to create new mailing lists and as a redirect destination for signing up. Publishing apps tend not to use email alert API, instead relying on Email Alert Service to be triggered by Publishing API. The exceptions are Travel Advice Publisher and Specialist Publisher, which require a greater degree of control, so communicate directly with the Email Alert API.

To have a near real-time overview of the status of data passing through the Email Alert API, view the metrics dashboard.

For more information about how content changes trigger emails, as well as common issues and troubleshooting, view Email Alert API docs.

Email Alert Frontend

  • Provides a user interface to sign up to a mailing list.
  • Provides a user interface for a user to manage their subscriptions.
  • Communicates with Email Alert API to make changes.

Email Alert Service

  • Listens to the Publishing API message queue.
  • Communicates with Email Alert API when an appropriate Publishing API event occurs to trigger an alert. This is usually a ‘major’ edit to some content.

GOV.UK Notify

  • Used as a means to send emails.
  • Does not know about subscribers or lists.

Email Alert API will request Notify to send an email and at a later time Notify will inform the Email Alert API whether that was successful.

Notify also informs the Email Alert API whenever a subscriber reports an email as spam. Email Alert API will then unsubscribe the affected subscriber from all emails.

Communication from Email Alert API to Notify is done via a HTTP API which is authenticated by an API key. Communication from Notify to Email Alert API is done via a verified HTTP callback with a bearer token. Email Alert API is an internal application, so to enable callbacks two endpoints are exposed publicly through