My Android cheat sheet

This document is my Android cheat sheet. It's something of a summary of what I know about Android as of today (late February, 2015). I don't offer much discussion here; this is mostly just a quick Android reference page. If you're looking for deep discussion, please check out my Android tutorials.

Getting started with Android

The main concepts

The main concepts you need to grasp are:

  • AndroidManifest.xml - your app starts with the "main" method you declare in this file; declare all your activities here
  • Activity - an Activity is a Java controller class that typically corresponds to one screen in your app
  • Fragment - a Fragment is Java controller that typically corresponds to a widget in a screen (or possibly the full screen)
  • Intent - you launch new activities with Intents
  • Service - background services, like notifications
  • The R class - generated for you by the Android build process
  • BroadcastIntent, BroadcastReceiver
  • Content Providers

More important concepts

  • View - widgets like TextView, ImageView, Button ...
  • ViewGroup - containers for other views
  • Layouts: FrameLayout, LinearLayout, RelativeLayout, TableLayout, ListView, GridView
  • Menus (ActionBar, Toolbar)
  • AsyncTask, Handler - proper ways of handling background tasks
  • Notifications
  • Understanding screen densities and sizes
    • dp, sp (and px, in, mm, pt)
    • ldpi, mdpi, hdpi, xhdpi, xxhdpi
    • good ui/designer cheat sheet on
    • Android Virtual Devices (AVD)
    • Android command line (adb, shell, logcat, push, pull)

Even more important concepts

  • Timer, TimerTask
  • MediaPlayer, WebView, GPS
  • SharedPreferences, PreferenceManager
  • LocationManager
  • Need to request permissions for certain things in AndroidManifest.xml
  • Testing best practices (todo)
  • Native code (JNI)?
  • Nine-patch images: a stretchable bitmap image; Android automatically resizes to accommodate the view size
  • Themes: Holo Light, Holo Dark, Holo Light with dark action bar
  • Styles: you can create styles and apply them to widgets in a manner similar to CSS
  • Logging (Log.i, Log.e, etc.)
  • REST services, internet access
  • SQL databases (SQLite)

Android files and folders

  • AndroidManifest.xml
    • You describe your application in AndroidManifest.xml
    • As its name implies, this is an XML configuration file
  • Folders in an Android project
    • src
    • res/drawable - static images
    • res/layout - layout files
    • res/menu - menu layout files
    • res/values - strings.xml

Activity class

  • The API Guide on Activities is a great resource
  • an Activity is a controller class (in the MVC sense)
  • an Activity generally corresponds to an Android screen
  • need to add each Activity to AndroidManifest.xml
  • you specify the "launcher" activity for your class in the AndroidManifest.xml file
  • all other activities are launched with Intents

The Activity lifecycle

  • it's important to know the Android Android lifecycle, i.e., which methods are available, and when they are called
  • in my own experience Android is like Drupal or Sencha in that you implement predefined "callback" methods to do your work
  • an activity can be in one of four states (more or less):
    • Active - started, and running in the foreground
    • Paused - started, is running and visible, but something is overlaying part of the screen
    • Stopped - started, running, but hidden by another activity the user is using
    • Dead - activity was terminated, such as due to insufficient ram

Working with state changes

(Most of these notes come from the book, Busy Coder's Guide to Android Development.)

  • you need to be able to save your application instance state quickly and cheaply
  • activities can be killed off at any time, so you have to save state more often than you might expect
  • think of this process as "establishing a bookmark," so when the user returns the state will be as they left it
  • saving instance state is handled by onSaveInstanceState(Bundle)
  • the default implementation of onSaveInstanceState will (probably) save things like the mutable state of widgets that are being displayed, like the text in a TextView (but it won't save whether or not a Button is enabled or disabled, or, as i've learned, a background image on a widget)
  • you can get that instance state in onCreate(Bundle) and onRestoreInstanceState(Bundle)
  • in some activities you won't have to implement onSaveInstanceState at all; this depends on your activity and what data it needs, etc.

The Activity onCreate method

  • onCreate is called when an Activity is created
  • OS calls this method "after the Activity instance is created but before it's put on a screen"
  • things you can/should do in this method include:
    • inflate widgets
    • put widgets on screen
    • get references to widgets
    • set listeners on widgets
    • connect to external data models
  • note: never call onCreate yourself
  • onCreate is called in three situations:
    • when the activity is first started, onCreate is called with a null parameter
    • if the activity was running and then killed, onCreate will be invoked with the Bundle you saved with a call to onSaveInstanceState
    • when the device orientation changes and you have accounted for that with different layouts

setContentView method

  • you will often call setContentView in your onCreate methods
  • setContentView inflates a layout and puts it on screen


The onDestroy method may be called:

  • when the activity is shutting down, because the activity called finish()
  • onDestroy is mostly used for cleanly/properly releasing resources you created in onCreate
  • because Android shut it down (such as when needing ram)
  • note: onDestroy may not get called if the need for ram is urgent.

onStart, onRestart, onStop

  • onStart is called (a) when an activity is first launched, or (b) when it's brought back to the foreground after having been hidden
  • onRestart is called when the activity is stopped and is now restarting (just after onStart)
  • onStop is called when the activity is about to be stopped

onPause and onResume


  • onPause is called when the user is taken away from your activity, such as the starting of another activity
  • if you have resources locked up, release them here (background threads, camera, etc.).


  • onResume is called just before your activity comes to the foreground, either after:
    • initial launch
    • being restarted from a stopped state
    • after a pop-up dialog was shown
  • onResume is a good place to refresh the UI, such as when polling a service, or if a pop-up dialog affects the view, etc.


  • a Bundle is passed into the onCreate method
  • as you'll see, it's also passed into other Android lifecycle methods
  • a Bundle is a map/dictionary data structure that maps keys to values (key/value pairs)
  • a Bundle can contain the saved state of your views (among other things)
  • you can save additional data to a bundle and then read it back later
  • has methods like putInt, putSerializable, getInt, etc.

Fragment class

  • The API Guide to Fragments is very good
  • like an Activity, a Fragment is a controller class
  • fragments were introduced in Android 3.0 when they began to support tablets
  • tablets required more complicated/flexible layouts, and fragments were the solution
  • fragments let you create small widgets that you can plug into larger views
  • said another way, fragments help separate the ui into building blocks
  • usually a fragment manages a ui, or part of a ui
  • an activity's view contains a place where a fragment will be inserted
    • an activity is said to "host" a fragment by providing a spot in its view where the fragment can place its view
    • an activity may have several places for fragments
  • an activity can replace one fragment with another fragment
  • the Big Nerd book offers this advice: always use fragments (AUF)
  • a Fragment can use getActivity() to get a reference to its Activity
  • fragments are managed by the FragmentManager of the hosting Activity

Layouts (Containers)

  • you can create your UI views using XML or Java code, but XML is the preferred approach
  • of course XML layouts are verbose, but a nice thing is that they work well with the Android Studio designer
  • Android Studio also gives you helpful hints when you're searching for attributes to control your views (so it's not like you have to memorize every possible attribute)
  • widgets in your layouts are managed by either an Activity or a Fragment
  • Android has the following types of layouts (there may be a few more; i've used these so far):
    • LinearLayout
    • RelativeLayout
    • FrameLayout
    • ListView
    • GridView


  • in a LinearLayout, widgets and child containers are lined up in either a column or a row, like a FlowLayout in Swing
  • a LinearLayout has five main controls:
    • orientation
    • fill model
    • weight
    • gravity
    • padding


  • a RelativeLayout lays out widgets based on their relationship to other widgets in the container
  • RelativeLayout has many configuration options that let you position widgets relative to each other, including these boolean values:
    • android:layout_alignParentTop - the widget's top should align with the top of the container
    • android:layout_alignParentBottom - the widget's bottom should align with the bottom of the container
    • android:layout_alignParentLeft - the widget's left side should align with the left side of the container
    • android:layout_alignParentRight - the widget's right side should align with the right side of the container
    • android:layout_centerHorizontal - the widget should be positioned horizontally at the center of the container
    • android:layout_centerVertical - the widget should be positioned vertically at the center of the container
    • android:layout_centerInParent - the widget should be positioned both horizontally and vertically at the center of the container
  • it also lets you specify a widget's position relative to other widgets:
    • android:layout_above - the widget should be placed above the widget referenced in the property
    • android:layout_below - the widget should be placed below the widget referenced in the property
    • android:layout_toLeftOf - the widget should be placed to the left of the widget referenced in the property
    • android:layout_toRightOf - the widget should be placed to the right of the widget referenced in the property
  • (there are more attributes than those. those came from an old version of a book titled, "The Busy Coder's Guide to Android Development")

Common attributes in layouts

  • match_parent - the view will be as big as its parent
  • wrap_content - the view will be as big as its contents require
  • @+id - the actual id will be in gen/, inside a public static final class id { ...
  • gravity
  • more (todo) ...

UI Components/Widgets

  • ActionBar -
  • Dialogs -
  • Toasts - short lived popup messages
  • Menus - don't use these any more, use the ActionBar

Standard widgets are:

  • Button
  • TextView
  • EditText - input field
  • Checkbox
  • RadioButton, RadioGroup
  • ToggleButton
  • Spinner ...
  • Picker (DatePicker, TimePicker)


  • a Toast is a short-lived message that appears in a little popup window. Create a Toast like this:
Toast.makeText(getActivity(), "Click!", Toast.LENGTH_SHORT).show();
  • you use Toasts to show messages to users, such as indicating that something was saved.
  • i also use Toasts for testing new code, like this:
public void onListItemClick(ListView listView, View view, int position, long id) {
    Crime crime = (Crime)(getListAdapter()).getItem(position);
        Toast.makeText(getActivity(), "Click!", Toast.LENGTH_SHORT).show();
  • you can set the gravity on a Toast:
Toast t = Toast.makeText(getActivity(), "Click!", Toast.LENGTH_LONG);
t.setGravity(Gravity.TOP, 0, 0);;


  • the ActionBar was introduced in Android 3.0
  • it lets you put button/icon controls on your views. a typical button on a ListView is an "add" button, to let you add a new item
  • the ActionBar is still supported, but i think it's being replaced by a Toolbar
  • you used to have to use an ActionBarActivity to use an ActionBar, but you don't have to do that any more (as of Version ? (todo))


  • you use an Intent to launch other activities
  • here's a simple example:
Intent i = new Intent(getActivity(), ImagePagerActivity.class);
  • here's another example where i pass an "extra" when starting a new Activity:
Intent i = new Intent(getActivity(), ImagePagerActivity.class);
i.putExtra("POSITION", position);
startActivityForResult(i, 0);

Command Line

I'm pretty weak on the command line right now, so I'll just list a few of the commands I have used:

adb logcat
adb shell
adb push image1.jpg /data/data/com.alvinalexander.myapp/files

I see Android Studio run some of the following commands. It uses a command like this to install a new version of my app onto the emulator or physical device I use for testing:

pm install -r "/data/local/tmp/"

Code snippets

This section contains a collection of common Android code snippets.

How to convert an value into a String:

final String foo = getString(R.string.fooKey);

(The value is actually an int.)

I've also seen people use this approach, which may be needed when you're not in an Activity or Fragment:

String mystring = getResources().getString(R.string.mystring);

How to use findViewById (and how to get an "extra" from an activity's intent)

public View onCreateView(LayoutInflater inflater,
                         ViewGroup container,
                         Bundle savedInstanceState) {

    // this first line gets an 'extra' from the activity's intent (not important for this example)
    String quote = (String)getActivity().getIntent().getStringExtra(PollingService.INTENT_KEY);

    // the layout file is named 'res/layout/fragment_show_full_quote.xml'
    View rootView = inflater.inflate(R.layout.fragment_show_full_quote, container, false);
    TextView quoteLabel = (TextView)rootView.findViewById(;

    // change the text on the TextView
    return rootView;

Here's my tutorial on creating a menu item in an ActionBar. That recipe is too long to include here.

How to determine which item in a ListView was selected

public void onListItemClick(ListView listView, View view, int position, long id) {
    Crime crime = (Crime)(getListAdapter()).getItem(position);
        Toast.makeText(getActivity(), "Click!", Toast.LENGTH_SHORT).show();

Toast messages

This code shows one way to show a Toast message:

Toast.makeText(getActivity(), "Click!", Toast.LENGTH_SHORT).show();

There are more Toast examples earlier in this document.

Get your app's root data directory (/data/data/...)

// /data/data/com.alvinalexander.mynewapp/files
File rootDataDir = getActivity().getFilesDir();

Access a menu item from Java code

public void onCreateOptionsMenu(Menu menu, MenuInflater menuInflater) {
    menuInflater.inflate(, menu);
    super.onCreateOptionsMenu(menu, menuInflater);
    MenuItem pinMenuItem = menu.findItem(;

Set a style for a TextView

// xml in res/values/styles.xml
    <style name="fontForNotificationLandingPage">
        <item name="android:textStyle">italic</item>
        <item name="android:fontFamily">sans-serif-light</item>
        <item name="android:textColor">#333333</item>
        <item name="android:textSize">32sp</item>
        <item name="android:padding">2dip</item>

// java code


I'll add more to this Android cheat sheet as time goes on, but for now I hope this is a pretty good start, and helpful.

This is Alvin Alexander, reporting live from Boulder, Colorado (er, technically Louisville, Colorado today).