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3rd February 2014, 08:30 PM
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Tutorial [GUIDE] Best Practices for Android Java
During recent development of my app (see my signature) I focused a lot on how to optimize the already working code further in order to make it smoother without loosing quality or using too much memory. Well I came across some mistakes I had made in my early days of developing Android so I figured it might help the beginners and intermediate developers. So here I collected my suggestion of common mistakes and best practices in Android. Let me start by making you familiar with a motto which you might know if you have developed Perl before.


There's more than one way to do it, in short TIMTOWTDI is a well known aspect of the Perl language, which aims at giving programmers the freedom to choose their way of doing things. It “doesn't try to tell the programmer how to program.” Well it does have various disadvantages such as possibly messy code and barely readable code, but it offers programmers to use their preferred style.
The only reason why I'm bringing this up here is because it helped me a lot to think that way, since TIMTOWTDI sometimes applies to Java as well and a way somebody else is preferring might not be better than your own way. But it is never bad to have a look at how others code the important tasks and sometimes the performance or readability gain is tremendous. So I'm not telling you to exactly use my way, but advice all beginners to perhaps rethink their code .

Tweaking Android Apps
The first step is always to look at what the awesome Android documentation says about performance, so I can more than advise you to read this straightforward article about what to do and not to do on Android. It covers some very important performance issues like the expensive object creation and method invocations. It is crucial to follow those basic rules while trying to develop fast Android apps. I will cover and further explain some of their suggestions here, but will try to also look at them from a developer's perspective who cares about readability and simplicity.
Now onto the code, let's start with some basic Java practices and then move on to some more Android specific styles and improvements.

Looping wisely
Often it doesn't matter if you write slow code and lose 1 or 2 milliseconds but especially in loops and everything that can be called once a frame you suddenly loose a lot of time. Thus it is crucial to especially pay attention to those repeated parts of your code like the onDraw() method in your custom view implementation (see last section) and start optimizing there. Let's take a look at what kinds of loops we have, the slowest first and the fastest ones towards the end:

The while loop is probably the first complex programming structure you learned, and just writing

Select Code
success = false;
while (!success) {
is extremly readable but can potentially run forever or longer than you need it to. One aspect which is often overlooked is that the condition inside the parentheses will be checked on every run of the loop! So even a simple string.length() call can be optimized (if the String won't change) saving its length as an int and then using that in the condition block.
Its unpredictability and lack of possible tweaking done by the JIT makes the while loop a tool that needs caution but is sometimes crucial to complete the task. Just make sure you only use the while loop if there is no way to predict when your condition is false. For almost all other cases, you can do some calculations and use one of the iteration loops:

for (traditional)
This one is widely used like this:
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for (int i=0; i<getSize(); i++) {
Even though this is more predictable, consider how the program will run: Before every execution of the block, the condition i<getSize() has to be checked, so getSize() is called (and an Android, method calls are expensive!). You could now think, alright, we'll just cache our size upfront like we did with in our while loop, but examine the following fast example of iterating through an array:
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for (int i=getSize()-1; i>=0; i--) {
	array[i] = getNewValue(i);
The trick is starting at the last value and then iterating backwards until 0 is reached. This may not work at all times, where the order of the blocks may be important or it is redundant due to having a fixed end value, but it saves both method calls and memory usage needed to get the last value before going into the loop.
But that is hardly readable and you often have to rethink because of looping backwards, so we can do better can't we?

for (iterator-based: “foreach”)
Dealing with an array, List or other collection of data you can easily do something for every part in that collection using the foreach loop:
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for (Object item : objects) {
That is the fastest way you can iterate through any kind of iterable collection because it can be heavily optimized by the compiler and is also simplistic and readable. The only problem here is that you don't have the index of the item you're getting and you can't write data to the collection. To accomplish that one of the slower for loops must be used.

Keywords do matter
This is a minor one that is overlooked often. Beginners in Java mostly don't use keywords and access modifiers like “private”, “public”, or “final”. That is fine since we all love simplistic code don't we? And an honest word, if you don't write a library or work on your code with a big team, you don't have to know much about the access modifiers, but if you want to, there is always the Java documentation. But the “final” identifier is actually pretty important to both the ones reading the code and also the compiler, since it can just insert its value into the references. That means, that whenever you declare an instance variable, think about if it is likely to change or if you can declare it as final. Within methods, making use of the “final” keyword does not really change much for the compiler, but it sometimes helps you make a clearer design so you directly get a compiler warning whenever you're trying to change a final variable's value.
A side note on making “static” variables and fields – I wouldn't recommend that on Android unless you know what you're doing or you're using it together with “final”. A “static final” instance variable is the best way to declare constants in Android because the compiler can replace it fast and ART can replace it during the install of your app!

Strings are special
Let's talk about something that is fundamental to Java – the String object. Well it's not a real object since it is actually immutable. That means a String can only be created or collected by the garbage collector, it can't be changed (which is very important since object creation is god damn expensive in Android so it would make our apps pretty slow)! Wait, then what happens if I call one of the awesome methods in the String class like substring() or replace()? And here comes the downside: These methods have to create new Strings and the old one is collected by the garbage collector. While this might be totally alright if you're just parsing some basic user input, if you need to perform some heavy String operations like many substrings, a whole lot of unused garbage and overhead is created. This doesn't only mean that you are temporarily using a lot of memory, with the garbage collector needed to kick in it also affects your performance.
So how do we get around this problem? Luckily there is a Java class which can do almost the same as the default String implementation, the StringBuilder. This class will hold a char array with all the chars you had in your String. The class can take care of managing that array like initializing it with a default length of 16 and creating a larger array once you have more characters that would fit into it. Take a look at the constructors as well – with new StringBuilder(length) you can directly make that array as long as it needs to be and with new StringBuilder(string) the array is instantly filled with the string. The big advantage the StringBuilder is that it can modify the array instead of having to create new Strings every time. If you're finished with the heavy modifying, just call toString() to get the String back.
If you want to read more about it, here's a nice article.

Android-specific tips

Bundling is better than trundling
Let me explain this with an example: Let's say you are dealing with some data concerning persons so you are saving their name, age and gender. In any object oriented language like Java you would create a wrapper object holding that data:
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public class Person {
	private String name;
	private int age;
	private boolean isMale;

	public Person (String name, int age, boolean isMale) { = name;
		this.age = age;
		this.isMale = isMale;
	// additional getters and setters go here.	
Of course you could do that in Android as well, but you will encounter this problem: What if you need to save your Person array or need to pass a specific Person to another activity? Well, you have a few options available:
You could override the toString() method in Person so it contains all its data and parse your array into a String array manually. Then another constructor will be needed to get the data back from the String using our beloved String operations. But there is still the problem that when you want to add data to the person like height later, you have to reconsider the toString() method and it's constructor counterpart.
Alternatively, wanting to integrate it better into the system, you might want to implement Parcelable in the Person class. That way you can directly put person extras to your Intent or save it to SharedPreferences. But that seems like more work if you want only a simple container for your data. Once you need have a more complex class it might be advisable to make it Parcelable (perhaps using the Android Studio plugin, thanks @nikwen), but let's start with an easier apporach here.
This is how I do it: I use a Bundle instead of a person class to store all the needed data. The Bundle class already implements Parcelable and and simplifies adding data for you. What is more, you are probably already familiar with it since you get one calling getExtras() on the starting Intent of your activity! Now back to the example, this is how it would be done:
To not get confused about all the keys you need, let's create a class containing some static final keys:
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public class Person {
	public static final String NAME = “person_name”; // will contain a String
	public static final String AGE = “person_age”; // will contain an int
	public static final String ISMALE = “person_ismale”; // will contain a boolean
While this is only needed for consistent keys, here is how you would create the Person:
Select Code
public Bundle getPerson(String name, int age, boolean isMale) {
	Bundle person = new Bundle();
	person.putString(Person.NAME, name);
	person.putInt(Person.AGE, age);
	person.putBoolean(Person.ISMALE, isMale);
	return person;
Similarly, you can get one or more stored values of the Bundle using one of the person.get...() methods. Furthermore, instead of creating an array of Persons you can now create a Bundle of persons using bundle.putBundle()! You just need to find the right key-scheme, here you could either provide an id for each person or just use their names as key (although the key array has to be passed seperately). And what do we get from all this? Well we can now just call intent.putBundleExtra(person) and voilà, we've passed it to another app component.

Resourcing is not outsourcing
One of Android's big advantages is its exceptional resource system. The fact that all your Strings and values are saved in a separate xml file makes your app not only easier to translate, but also keeps your code cleaner and lets you have a complete overview of what amount of constants you use. But you can go further than that. The resources allow for entirely different configurations depending on screen size, resolution, orientation, location and api-level! To learn more about how this can be done, head over to the Android devoper guides.
One thing I wanted to highlight is that it used to be quite hard to make a consistent interface and still support Android 2.1 and above. That is not the case any more since we now the the continuously improving AppCompat library. It is even useful for apps targeting only ICS and above because it contains bugfixes and improvements for those versions as well. Using this library is the best way to get the holo theme and its ActionBar in your app, although if you could also try ActionBarSherlock to accomplish the latter.

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