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page.title=Painless Threading
<p>This article discusses the threading model used by Android applications and how applications can ensure best UI performance by spawning worker threads to handle long-running operations, rather than handling them in the main thread. The article also explains the API that your application can use to interact with Android UI toolkit components running on the main thread and spawn managed worker threads. </p>
<h3>The UI thread</h3>
<p>When an application is launched, the system creates a thread called
"main" for the application. The main thread, also called the <em>UI
thread</em>, is very important because it is in charge of dispatching the
events to the appropriate widgets, including drawing events.
It is also the thread where your application interacts with running
components of the Android UI toolkit. </p>
<p>For instance, if you touch the a button on screen, the UI thread dispatches
the touch event to the widget, which in turn sets its pressed state and
posts an invalidate request to the event queue. The UI thread dequeues
the request and notifies the widget to redraw itself.</p>
<p>This single-thread model can yield poor performance unless your application
is implemented properly. Specifically, if everything is happening in a single
thread, performing long operations such as network access or database
queries on the UI thread will block the whole user interface. No event
can be dispatched, including drawing events, while the long operation
is underway. From the user's perspective, the application appears hung.
Even worse, if the UI thread is blocked for more than a few seconds
(about 5 seconds currently) the user is presented with the infamous "<a href="">application not responding</a>" (ANR) dialog.</p>
<p>If you want to see how bad this can look, write a simple application
with a button that invokes <code>Thread.sleep(2000)</code> in its
<a href="">OnClickListener</a>.
The button will remain in its pressed state for about 2 seconds before
going back to its normal state. When this happens, it is very easy for
the user to <em>perceive</em> the application as slow.</p>
<p>To summarize, it's vital to the responsiveness of your application's UI to
keep the UI thread unblocked. If you have long operations to perform, you should
make sure to do them in extra threads (<em>background</em> or <em>worker</em>
threads). </p>
<p>Here's an example of a click listener downloading an image over the
network and displaying it in an <a href="">ImageView</a>:</p>
<pre class="prettyprint">public void onClick(View v) {
new Thread(new Runnable() {
public void run() {
Bitmap b = loadImageFromNetwork();
<p>At first, this code seems to be a good solution to your problem, as it does
not block the UI thread. Unfortunately, it violates the single-threaded model
for the UI: the Android UI toolkit is <em>not thread-safe</em> and must always
be manipulated on the UI thread. In this piece of code above, the
<code>ImageView</code> is manipulated on a worker thread, which can cause really
weird problems. Tracking down and fixing such bugs can be difficult and
<p>Android offers several ways to access the UI
thread from other threads. You may already be familiar with some of
them but here is a comprehensive list:</p>
<li>{@link Activity.runOnUiThread(Runnable)}</li>
<li>{@link android.view.View#post(java.lang.Runnable)}</li>
<li>{@link android.view.View#postDelayed(java.lang.Runnable, long) View.postDelayed(Runnable, long)}</li>
<li>{@link android.os.Handler}</li>
<p>You can use any of these classes and methods to correct the previous code example:</p>
<pre class="prettyprint">public void onClick(View v) {
new Thread(new Runnable() {
public void run() {
final Bitmap b = loadImageFromNetwork(); Runnable() {
public void run() {
these classes and methods could also tend to make your code more complicated
and more difficult to read. It becomes even worse when your implement
complex operations that require frequent UI updates. </p>
<p>To remedy this problem, Android 1.5 and later platforms offer a utility class
called {@link android.os.AsyncTask}, that simplifies the creation of
long-running tasks that need to communicate with the user interface.</p>
<p>An <code>AsyncTask</code> equivalent is also available for applications that
will run on Android 1.0 and 1.1. The name of the class is <a
curiouscreature/android/shelves/util/">UserTask</a>. It offers the
exact same API and all you have to do is copy its source code in your
<p>The goal of <code>AsyncTask</code> is to take care of thread management for
you. Our previous example can easily be rewritten with
<pre class="prettyprint">public void onClick(View v) {
new DownloadImageTask().execute("");
private class DownloadImageTask extends AsyncTask&lt;String, Void, Bitmap&gt; {
protected Bitmap doInBackground(String... urls) {
return loadImageFromNetwork(urls[0]);
protected void onPostExecute(Bitmap result) {
<p>As you can see, <code>AsyncTask</code> <em>must</em> be used by subclassing
it. It is also very important to remember that an <code>AsyncTask</code>
instance has to be created on the UI thread and can be executed only once. You
can read the <a
AsyncTask documentation</a> for a full understanding on how to use this class,
but here is a quick overview of how it works:</p>
<li>You can specify the type, using generics, of the parameters, the progress values and the final value of the task</li>
<li>The method <a href="">doInBackground()</a> executes automatically on a worker thread</li>
<li><a href="">onPreExecute()</a>, <a href="">onPostExecute()</a> and <a href="">onProgressUpdate()</a> are all invoked on the UI thread</li>
<li>The value returned by <a href="">doInBackground()</a> is sent to <a href="">onPostExecute()</a></li>
<li>You can call <a href="">publishProgress()</a> at anytime in <a href="">doInBackground()</a> to execute <a href="">onProgressUpdate()</a> on the UI thread</li><li>You can cancel the task at any time, from any thread</li>
<p>In addition to the official documentation, you can read several complex examples in the source code of Shelves (<a href=""></a> and <a href=""></a>) and Photostream (<a href=""></a>, <a href=""></a> and <a href=""></a>). We highly recommend reading the source code of <a href="">Shelves</a> to see how to persist tasks across configuration changes and how to cancel them properly when the activity is destroyed.</p>
<p>Regardless of whether or not you use <a href="">AsyncTask</a>,
always remember these two rules about the single thread model: </p>
<li>Do not block the UI thread, and
<li>Make sure that you access the Android UI toolkit <em>only</em> on the UI thread.
<p><code>AsyncTask</code> just makes it easier to do both of these things.</p>