Wednesday, December 9, 2009

communicate with service on android

While doing android programming, it's a common sense to use Activity to interact with users and use Service to perform time consuming tasks (actually, such tasks are usually performed on a new thread spawned by the service). A classic example is media player. It's composed of several Activities and a playing-back Service. Through Activities, users can pick a media file to play, or control (start, pause, fast forward, set volume, etc) the playing-back Service. And the Service is responsible for playing the media file. The service can run in background even no Activity of the player application is active. It's also possible that the Service is implemented and hosted in another application other than the one where Activities are implemented.
In order to allow Activities to control the behavior of the Service, there should be an mechanism to allow they talk to each other. And by following the Process Agnostic feature of Android platform, this communication mechanism should also be able to handle Inter-Process and Inside-Process communication consistently. Such that from the upper layer application code's point of view, it's making communications between components independent of which process these components run in.
Luckily, Android has already provided such a RPC mechanism which has been briefly introduced here: Android application fundamentails - remote procedure calls. And the document Designing a Remote Interface Using AIDL also shows a tutorial about how to perform RPC.
But the documents above don't include a complete yet simple example for us to follow, so I'd like to explore how to do Inside-Process as well as Inter-Process with an example.
This example is composed of two applications. The first application (app1) will bind to a service runs in another application (app2) when a button is clicked, thus demonstrates Inter-Process communication. app2 can bind to the service too, which demonstrates Inside-Process communication.

There are two buttons on each application's Activity. First, you need to click button titled start svc to bind to service and get a reference to Binder object. Then, you can click button titled call rpc to invoke a method in service.

It's trivial to repeat the tutorial of designing remote interface. So I'd like to just post some findings during my exploration.

  1. The onBind method of service should return a non-null IBinder. Otherwise, the callback function onServiceConnected won't be fired.
  2. Add two aidl interface with the same name to both projects (ISvcController.aidl in our example). And the interface can be used in both projects to manipulate the IBinder object returned by the service. These two interfaces can have different member functions, but any function to be used must have the same signature and be placed at the same place (index) in these interfaces.
  3. When access the service in the same process, the original IBinder returned in onBind method is passed to onServiceConnected callback method. When access the service in a different process, a proxy for the IBinder is passed to onServiceConnected callback method.
  4. It's necessary to call unbindService to avoid connection leaking. This can be done upon specific event handler such as a button click. A better choice is to unbind in one of Activity's life cycle events, for example, onStop. So that the connection will be freed no matter in which way the user leaves the Activity.

Source Code
browse code here:
or via command:
svn co

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