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An activity presents a visual user interface for one focused endeavor the user can undertake. For example, an activity might present a list of menu items users can choose from or it might display photographs along with their captions. A text messaging application might have one activity that shows a list of contacts to send messages to, a second activity to write the message to the chosen contact, and other activities to review old messages or change settings. Though they work together to form a cohesive user interface, each activity is independent of the others. Each one is implemented as a subclass of the Activity base class.An application might consist of just one activity or, like the text messaging application just mentioned, it may contain several. What the activities are, and how many there are depends, of course, on the application and its design. Typically, one of the activities is marked as the first one that should be presented to the user when the application is launched. Moving from one activity to another is accomplished by having the current activity start the next one.Each activity is given a default window to draw in. Typically, the window fills the screen, but it might be smaller than the screen and float on top of other windows. An activity can also make use of additional windows — for example, a pop-up dialog that calls for a user response in the midst of the activity, or a window that presents users with vital information when they select a particular item on-screen.The visual content of the window is provided by a hierarchy of views — objects derived from the base View class. Each view controls a particular rectangular space within the window. Parent views contain and organize the layout of their children. Leaf views (those at the bottom of the hierarchy) draw in the rectangles they control and respond to user actions directed at that space. Thus, views are where the activity's interaction with the user takes place. For example, a view might display a small image and initiate an action when the user taps that image. Android has a number of ready-made views that you can use — including buttons, text fields, scroll bars, menu items, check boxes, and more.A view hierarchy is placed within an activity's window by the Activity.setContentView() method. The content view is the View object at the root of the hierarchy. (See the separate User Interface document for more information on views and the hierarchy.)
A service doesn't have a visual user interface, but rather runs in the background for an indefinite period of time. For example, a service might play background music as the user attends to other matters, or it might fetch data over the network or calculate something and provide the result to activities that need it. Each service extends the Service base class.A prime example is a media player playing songs from a play list. The player application would probably have one or more activities that allow the user to choose songs and start playing them. However, the music playback itself would not be handled by an activity because users will expect the music to keep playing even after they leave the player and begin something different. To keep the music going, the media player activity could start a service to run in the background. The system would then keep the music playback service running even after the activity that started it leaves the screen.It's possible to connect to (bind to) an ongoing service (and start the service if it's not already running). While connected, you can communicate with the service through an interface that the service exposes. For the music service, this interface might allow users to pause, rewind, stop, and restart the playback.Like activities and the other components, services run in the main thread of the application process. So that they won't block other components or the user interface, they often spawn another thread for time-consuming tasks (like music playback). See Processes and Threads, later.
A broadcast receiver is a component that does nothing but receive and react to broadcast announcements. Many broadcasts originate in system code — for example, announcements that the timezone has changed, that the battery is low, that a picture has been taken, or that the user changed a language preference. Applications can also initiate broadcasts — for example, to let other applications know that some data has been downloaded to the device and is available for them to use.An application can have any number of broadcast receivers to respond to any announcements it considers important. All receivers extend the BroadcastReceiver base class.Broadcast receivers do not display a user interface. However, they may start an activity in response to the information they receive, or they may use the NotificationManager to alert the user. Notifications can get the user's attention in various ways — flashing the backlight, vibrating the device, playing a sound, and so on. They typically place a persistent icon in the status bar, which users can open to get the message.
A content provider makes a specific set of the application's data available to other applications. The data can be stored in the file system, in an SQLite database, or in any other manner that makes sense. The content provider extends the ContentProvider base class to implement a standard set of methods that enable other applications to retrieve and store data of the type it controls. However, applications do not call these methods directly. Rather they use a ContentResolver object and call its methods instead. A ContentResolver can talk to any content provider; it cooperates with the provider to manage any interprocess communication that's involved.
Activating components: intents
Content providers are activated when they're targeted by a request from a ContentResolver. The other three components — activities, services, and broadcast receivers — are activated by asynchronous messages called intents. An intent is an Intent object that holds the content of the message. For activities and services, it names the action being requested and specifies the URI of the data to act on, among other things. For example, it might convey a request for an activity to present an image to the user or let the user edit some text. For broadcast receivers, the Intent object names the action being announced. For example, it might announce to interested parties that the camera button has been pressed.There are separate methods for activating each type of component:An activity is launched (or given something new to do) by passing an Intent object to Context.startActivity() or Activity.startActivityForResult(). The responding activity can look at the initial intent that caused it to be launched by calling its getIntent() method. Android calls the activity's onNewIntent() method to pass it any subsequent intents.One activity often starts the next one. If it expects a result back from the activity it's starting, it calls startActivityForResult() instead of startActivity(). For example, if it starts an activity that lets the user pick a photo, it might expect to be returned the chosen photo. The result is returned in an Intent object that's passed to the calling activity's onActivityResult() method.A service is started (or new instructions are given to an ongoing service) by passing an Intent object to Context.startService(). Android calls the service's onStart() method and passes it the Intent object.Similarly, an intent can be passed to Context.bindService() to establish an ongoing connection between the calling component and a target service. The service receives the Intent object in an onBind() call. (If the service is not already running, bindService() can optionally start it.) For example, an activity might establish a connection with the music playback service mentioned earlier so that it can provide the user with the means (a user interface) for controlling the playback. The activity would call bindService() to set up that connection, and then call methods defined by the service to affect the playback.A later section, Remote procedure calls, has more details about binding to a service.An application can initiate a broadcast by passing an Intent object to methods like Context.sendBroadcast(), Context.sendOrderedBroadcast(), and Context.sendStickyBroadcast() in any of their variations. Android delivers the intent to all interested broadcast receivers by calling their onReceive() methods.
Broadcast receiver lifecycle
A broadcast receiver has single callback method:void onReceive(Context curContext, Intent broadcastMsg)When a broadcast message arrives for the receiver, Android calls its onReceive() method and passes it the Intent object containing the message. The broadcast receiver is considered to be active only while it is executing this method. When onReceive() returns, it is inactive.A process with an active broadcast receiver is protected from being killed. But a process with only inactive components can be killed by the system at any time, when the memory it consumes is needed by other processes.This presents a problem when the response to a broadcast message is time consuming and, therefore, something that should be done in a separate thread, away from the main thread where other components of the user interface run. If onReceive() spawns the thread and then returns, the entire process, including the new thread, is judged to be inactive (unless other application components are active in the process), putting it in jeopardy of being killed. The solution to this problem is for onReceive() to start a service and let the service do the job, so the system knows that there is still active work being done in the process.The next section has more on the vulnerability of processes to being killed.
The Android system tries to maintain an application process for as long as possible, but eventually it will need to remove old processes when memory runs low. To determine which processes to keep and which to kill, Android places each process into an "importance hierarchy" based on the components running in it and the state of those components. Processes with the lowest importance are eliminated first, then those with the next lowest, and so on. There are five levels in the hierarchy. The following list presents them in order of importance:
1. A foreground process is one that is required for what the user is currently doing. A process is considered to be in the foreground if any of the following conditions hold:It is running an activity that the user is interacting with (the Activity object's onResume() method has been called).It hosts a service that's bound to the activity that the user is interacting with.It has a Service object that's executing one of its lifecycle callbacks (onCreate(), onStart(), or onDestroy()).It has a BroadcastReceiver object that's executing its onReceive() method.Only a few foreground processes will exist at any given time. They are killed only as a last resort — if memory is so low that they cannot all continue to run. Generally, at that point, the device has reached a memory paging state, so killing some foreground processes is required to keep the user interface responsive.
2. A visible process is one that doesn't have any foreground components, but still can affect what the user sees on screen. A process is considered to be visible if either of the following conditions holds:It hosts an activity that is not in the foreground, but is still visible to the user (its onPause() method has been called). This may occur, for example, if the foreground activity is a dialog that allows the previous activity to be seen behind it.It hosts a service that's bound to a visible activity.A visible process is considered extremely important and will not be killed unless doing so is required to keep all foreground processes running.
3. A service process is one that is running a service that has been started with the startService() method and that does not fall into either of the two higher categories. Although service processes are not directly tied to anything the user sees, they are generally doing things that the user cares about (such as playing an mp3 in the background or downloading data on the network), so the system keeps them running unless there's not enough memory to retain them along with all foreground and visible processes.
4. A background process is one holding an activity that's not currently visible to the user (the Activity object's onStop() method has been called). These processes have no direct impact on the user experience, and can be killed at any time to reclaim memory for a foreground, visible, or service process. Usually there are many background processes running, so they are kept in an LRU (least recently used) list to ensure that the process with the activity that was most recently seen by the user is the last to be killed. If an activity implements its lifecycle methods correctly, and captures its current state, killing its process will not have a deleterious effect on the user experience.
5. An empty process is one that doesn't hold any active application components. The only reason to keep such a process around is as a cache to improve startup time the next time a component needs to run in it. The system often kills these processes in order to balance overall system resources between process caches and the underlying kernel caches.