Android Studio 3.0 – Initial Impressions of Tool Support

I have been using Android Studio 3.0 since since the alpha versions, and it is good to see it finally released.

This is just some initial comments on using some common and new Android tools and libraries with the 3.0 version of Android Studio and the associated Android Gradle plugin.

Hopefully this will be useful for anyone thinking of upgrading from Android Studio 2.x.

Java 8 Finally, Maybe

Java 8 was released back in 2014, and with Android Studio 3.0 it is finally supported in Android. Finally I can say goodbye to RetroLambda (although many thanks to the authors for this very useful library).

Just be aware that many of the Java 8 language features will only be available if the minSkdVersion is 24.

Since devices running Nougat or Oreo are still in the minority, supporting older versions will continue to be an issue for a while if you want to use Java 8. Some ideas floated around to support older API version, are to have min API version flavors or  do Build.VERSION checks for the API version in the code to provide alternative code paths.

Desugar

The Jack tool chain has been replaced with the desugar tranformation process to support Java 8. Some older libraries and code may have some problems with this build stage.

JUnit 5

JUnit 5 has also been released recently, and with the help of this plugin you can use it for unit testing in Android Studio.

However if you use JUnit 4 Rules in your tests, there is limited support in JUnit 5 as they are meant to be replaced with extensions. Some Rules may be supported with the JUnit 5 migration support, but if not you will have to wait until the Rules are rewritten as extensions or not use the Rules at all.

Of course this is only for unit testing. Instrumentation tests still depend on JUnit 4 and the AndroidJUnitRunner.

Update (7 Dec 2017)

The authors of the JUnit5 plugin have stated that they now have support for JUnit 5 in instrumentation tests. I won’t be using it for a while since it requires the minSkdVersion to be 26. If anyone has tried this, please let me know how well it works.

Architecture Components, RxJava

I have also been using some of Google’s Architecture Components, but only the ViewModel and LiveData. This is another alternative to design patterns such as MVP or MVVM with Databinding.

If you use RxJava, then this will of course continue to work as it is compatible with Java 6. You may consider replacing RxJava with the more light weight LiveData for activities and fragments, and they can be adapted to each other.

Dependency Injection with Dagger

I have had no problems with Google’s Dagger, but be aware of the API changes for the Android Gradle plugin 3.0 in the gradle build file (e.g. implemention instead of compile, annotationProcessor instead of apt, etc).

See the Android Gradle plugin 3.0 migration guide.

Butterknife, Timber

Some common utilities like Butterknife and Timber for logging are working fine. I’m also using the slf4j binding for Timber without any trouble.

JRebel for Android

During the Android Studio alpha and beta process, JRebel for Android was always playing catch up with the latest version. I still have issues with the current version (2.4.14) of their free edition, so I am using instant run instead at the moment.

I’m a big fan of JRebel so I’m hoping they will have a stable version of their android plugin for Android Studio 3.0 soon.

AOP with AspectJ

There are various AspectJ plugins for Android,  and the one I have been using in Android Studio 2.x was this one. Unfortunately it doesn’t support the Android plugin for Gradle 3.0 yet, but the author seem to be working on it so hopefully the support will be there soon.

Update (15 Nov 2017)

Version 3.2.0 of the GradleAspectJ-Android plugin now supports the Android plugin for Gradle 3.0. I like this plugin because it supports both aj files and annotation style aspects.

Things will get better

Of course since Android Studio 3.0 has only recently got general release, we should expect tool and library support to improve going forward.

I have only scratched the surface with some common Android tools and libraries, and there are many more around. Please let me know of your experiences with others.

Pluggable Tools with Docker Data Containers

There are some apps that have a simple installation process. When using them with other applications in Docker, they may be able to be installed in their own data volume container and used in a pluggable way.

The kind of apps I’m talking about are some Java apps (and in fact, Java itself) which follow this installation process:

  1. Install the contents of the app into a single directory
  2. Set an environmental variable to point to the installation directory, e.g. XXX_HOME
  3. Add the executables of the app to the PATH environmental

 

That’s it.

An example of an app installation that follows this pattern is Gradle:

  1. Uncompress the Gradle files from an archive to a directory.
  2. Set the enviromental variable GRADLE_HOME to point to the gradle installation directory
  3. Add GRADLE_HOME/bin to the PATH

 

Docker

Using Gradle as an example, here is a Dockerfile that installs it in a data volume container:

# Install Gradle as a data volume container. 
#
# The app container that uses this container will need to set the Gradle environmental variables.
# - set GRADLE_HOME to the gradle installation directory
# - add the /bin directory under the gradle directory to the PATH

FROM mini/base

MAINTAINER David Wong

# setup location for installation
ENV INSTALL_LOCATION /opt

# install Gradle version required
ENV GRADLE_VERSION 2.2.1

WORKDIR ${INSTALL_LOCATION}
RUN curl -L -O http://services.gradle.org/distributions/gradle-${GRADLE_VERSION}-bin.zip && \
    unzip -qo gradle-${GRADLE_VERSION}-bin.zip && \
    rm -rf gradle-${GRADLE_VERSION}-bin.zip
    
# to make the container more portable, the installation directory name is changed from the default
# gradle-${GRADLE_VERSION} to just gradle, with the version number stored in a text file for reference
# e.g. instead of /opt/gradle-2.2.1, the directory will be /opt/gradle

RUN mv gradle-${GRADLE_VERSION} gradle && \
    echo ${GRADLE_VERSION} > gradle/version
    
VOLUME ${INSTALL_LOCATION}/gradle

# echo to make it easy to grep
CMD /bin/sh -c '/bin/echo Data container for Gradle'

(From github https://github.com/davidwong/docker/blob/master/gradle/Dockerfile)

Build the image and container from the Dockerfile. Here I’ve tagged the image with the version number of the Gradle installation, and named the container gradle-2.2.1.


docker build -t yourrepo/gradle:2.2.1 .

docker run -i -t --name gradle-2.2.1 yourrepo/gradle:2.2.1

A few things to note about this installation:

  • I have changed the directory name where Gradle is installed from the default, by removing the version number in order to make it generic.
  • no environmental variables have been set, that will be done later
  • you can use any minimal image as the basis for the container, it justs need curl or wget in order to download the Gradle archive file

Now we have the Gradle installation in a docker data volume that can be persisted and shared by other containers.

You can then repeat this process with difference versions of Gradle to create separate data containers for each version (of course giving the containers different names, e.g. gradle-2.2.1, gradle-1.9, etc).

Use Case

I originally got this idea when I was running my Jenkins CI docker container. Some of the Jenkins builds required Gradle 2.x while others were using Gradle 1.x.

So instead of building multiple Jenkins + Gradle images for the different versions of Gradle required, I can now just run the Jenkins container with the appropriate Gradle data container. This is done by using –volumes-from to get access to the Gradle installation directory and setting the require environmental variables.

To use the data container with Gradle 2.2.1 installed:

docker run -i -t --volumes-from gradle-2.2.1 -e GRADLE_HOME=/opt/gradle -e PATH=/usr/local/sbin:/usr/local/bin:/usr/sbin:/usr/bin:/sbin:/bin:/opt/gradle/bin myjenkins</pre>

To use the one with Gradle 1.9:

docker run -i -t --volumes-from gradle-1.9 -e GRADLE_HOME=/opt/gradle -e PATH=/usr/local/sbin:/usr/local/bin:/usr/sbin:/usr/bin:/sbin:/bin:/opt/gradle/bin myjenkins</pre>

Of course there are limitations to this technique since Docker data volume containers were designed to share persistant data rather than application installs. In particular they do not allow sharing of environmental variables.

However this work around that can be useful in some circumstances.

Another Defection to Android Studio

Like many other developers out there, I have been using Eclipse as my main IDE for many years now. However for Android development I have decided to take the plunge and migrate to Android Studio (especially since it has finally been released).

Here is a blog post I found that closely echoes what I have long thought regarding the issues with Eclipse:

http://engineering.meetme.com/2014/02/a-tale-of-migrating-from-eclipse-to-android-studio/

Build, build, build

For me, another reason was that the Ant build files I was using to handle building different versions (free vs paid, dev vs release, etc) were getting too complicated to manage easily. So I can now change over to Gradle at the same time, since that’s what Android Studio uses by default.

Gradle has the concept of build variants to handle building different versions of an Android app.

The Recurring Eclipse Re-install

Here are some other problems that I personally have had with using Eclipse.

  • Plugins, well not the plugins themselves, but having too many plugins. I’ve found that having lots of plugins in one Eclipse installation can cause Eclipse to misbehave , especially after several updates. There are several ways I use to get around this:
    • Keep separate Eclipse installations for different types of development, e.g one for Java, one for Android, one for Cloud, etc. Therefore each installation will only have a few plugins relevant to the type of development. However this is not always convenient if a project does require multiple types of development.
    • Every so often, when Eclipse starts to play up, do a fresh re-install of Eclipse (along with the latest version of the plugins required).
  • Intermittent miscellaneous bugs, e.g. cut and paste stops working, builds not alway done automatically, etc. A lot of these issues are more of a nuisance rather than being a serious problem, but all the same it tends to kill your productivity (and isn’t that why we use IDE’s in the first place?).

No Pain, No …

Make no mistake, despite what the Android Studio documentation might try to tell you, migrating a non-trivial project will take some time and probably involve some pain. But worth the effort I think.