Monday, September 29, 2014

Starting From Scratch: Android - Action Bar

This week we're continuing the Starting From Scratch series. Today we're going to take a look at the Action Bar. The action bar UI was first defined in Android 3.x (API 11+). It provided a consistent navigation paradigm for applications as well as a convenient way to present context specific calls to action (like sharing, search, and etc).

Because Android only supported the Action Bar APIs on Android 11+ an open source project called ActionBarSherlock provided support for earlier versions of Android.  ActionBarSherlock is a great project and very useful and eventually Android added a similar Appcompat project to it's v7 support library. While I'm a big fan of ActionBarSherlock I'm going to be using Android's Appcompat project in my example code for consistency.

Creating a project that has an Action Bar.

Setup the support appcompat project as a library. Note, for purposes of this series i'm using android-14 as my target version. You'll want this to match whatever Android version your app is targeting.
$ cd /path/to/android-sdk/extras/android/support/v7/appcompat
$ android update project -p . -t android-14
Make sure that the file has the android library project property set.
Now that we have our pre-requisites complete let's create an app that will use an Action Bar.
$ cd ~
$ mkdir MyActionBarProject
$ cd MyActionBarProject
$ cp /path/to/android-sdk/extras/android/support/v4/android-support-v4.jar libs/
$ android create project -t android-14 -k com.example. myactionbarproject -p . -n MyActionBarProject -a MainActivity
In order to actually use the support library you need to add a reference to the Android Support Appcompat Library in your Note that the path is relative NOT absolute.
At this point you've got your application setup so that it can use an Action Bar, but it's not using one yet. In order to actually use an Action Bar you'll need to update your Android manifest to use a theme with an Action Bar. This can be done by using either Theme.AppCompat.Light or Theme.AppCompat (dark theme) as the theme of your activity in your AndroidManifest.xml. For example:
<activity android:name="MainActivity"
You'll also want to hint Android that you're going to support an older version of Android. You can do that by adding the following in your AndroidManifest.xml
<uses-sdk android:minSdkVersion="14" android:targetSdkVersion="19" />
At this point you can compile your app and install it on your test device or emulator and you'll see an Action Bar. Make sure you either have an emulator running or a device attached in debug mode and run:
$ ant clean && ant debug && ant installd

Action Bar Menu

One of the great things about the Action Bar is that you can provide menu items directly in the action bar. This allows you to provide context specific menu options in a place that is convenient and easy for your users to access.

If you are planning on supporting the Action Bar via the Support Library then the first thing to do is to update your Activity to extend ActionBarActivity instead of Activity.

Android provides an Action Bar Icon Pack which you can download and use in your application. Simply copy the resources from the theme your app is using into your res/drawable folders. For this example we'll use the refresh icon.

$ mkdir ./res/drawable-xxhdpi
$ cp /path/to/icons/holo_light/01_core_refresh/drawable-xxhdpi/ic_action_refresh.png ./res/drawable-xxhdpi/
$ cp /path/to/icons/holo_light/01_core_refresh/drawable-xhdpi/ic_action_refresh.png ./res/drawable-xhdpi/
$ cp /path/to/icons/holo_light/01_core_refresh/drawable-hdpi/ic_action_refresh.png ./res/drawable-hdpi/
$ cp /path/to/icons/holo_light/01_core_refresh/drawable-mdpi/ic_action_refresh.png ./res/drawable-mdpi/

The first thing you need to do to add a menu in your Action Bar is to define the menu layout. In my layout I'll be referencing an icon. Here's what our main_activity_menu.xml looks like.

$ mkdir res/menu
$ vim res/menu/main_activity_menu.xml
<menu xmlns:android=""
    <item android:id="@+id/menu_refresh"
              myapp:showAsAction="ifRoom" />

Now that we've defined the Action Bar menu we need to inflate it into our Action Bar. This is done via the Activity's onCreateOptionsMenu event.
public boolean onCreateOptionsMenu(Menu menu) {
    MenuInflater inflater = getMenuInflater();
    inflater.inflate(, menu);
              return super.onCreateOptionsMenu(menu);

When a user selects a menu item the onOptionsItemSelected method will be called. This method is called regardless of which Menu Item was selected. So you'll need to check the id of the item before you handle the action. Here's an example of handling our refresh action.
public boolean onOptionsItemSelected(MenuItem item) {
    if(item.getItemId() == {
        Toast.makeText(this, "Refresh selected", Toast.LENGTH_LONG).show();
        return true;

    return super.onOptionsItemSelected(item);
At this point you can compile your app and install it on your test device or emulator and you'll see an Action Bar with a refresh menu button. Selecting the refresh button will display message saying Refresh select.
$ ant clean && ant debug && ant installd

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