Saturday, February 11, 2012

Android Merging Layouts

Android Merging Layouts

The articles showed you how to use the <include /> tag in XML layouts, to reuse and share your layout code. This article explains the <merge /> tag and how it complements the <include /> tag.

The <merge /> tag was created for the purpose of optimizing Android layouts by reducing the number of levels in view trees. It's easier to understand the problem this tag solves by looking at an example. The following XML layout declares a layout that shows an image with its title on top of it. The structure is fairly simple; a FrameLayout is used to stack a TextView on top of an ImageView:


<FrameLayout xmlns:android="http://schemas.android.com/apk/res/android"
    android:layout_width="fill_parent"
    android:layout_height="fill_parent">

    <ImageView  
        android:layout_width="fill_parent" 
        android:layout_height="fill_parent" 
    
        android:scaleType="center"
        android:src="@drawable/golden_gate" />
    
    <TextView
        android:layout_width="wrap_content" 
        android:layout_height="wrap_content" 
        android:layout_marginBottom="20dip"
        android:layout_gravity="center_horizontal|bottom"

        android:padding="12dip"
        
        android:background="#AA000000"
        android:textColor="#ffffffff"
        
        android:text="Golden Gate" />
</FrameLayout>
 
Since our FrameLayout has the same dimension as its parent, by the virtue of using the fill_parent constraints, and does not define any background, extra padding or a gravity, it is totally useless. We only made the UI more complex for no good reason. But how could we get rid of this FrameLayout? After all, XML documents require a root tag and tags in XML layouts always represent view instances.
That's where the <merge /> tag comes in handy. When the LayoutInflater encounters this tag, it skips it and adds the <merge /> children to the <merge /> parent. Confused? Let's rewrite our previous XML layout by replacing the FrameLayout with <merge />:

<merge xmlns:android="http://schemas.android.com/apk/res/android">

    <ImageView  
        android:layout_width="fill_parent" 
        android:layout_height="fill_parent" 
    
        android:scaleType="center"
        android:src="@drawable/golden_gate" />
    
    <TextView
        android:layout_width="wrap_content" 
        android:layout_height="wrap_content" 
        android:layout_marginBottom="20dip"
        android:layout_gravity="center_horizontal|bottom"

        android:padding="12dip"
        
        android:background="#AA000000"
        android:textColor="#ffffffff"
        
        android:text="Golden Gate" />
</merge> 
Optimized view hierarchy using the merge tag
Obviously, using <merge /> works in this case because the parent of an activity's content view is always a FrameLayout. You could not apply this trick if your layout was using a LinearLayout as its root tag for instance. The <merge /> can be useful in other situations though. For instance, it works perfectly when combined with the <include /> tag. You can also use <merge /> when you create a custom composite view. Let's see how we can use this tag to create a new view called OkCancelBar which simply shows two buttons with customizable labels. You can also download the complete source code of this example. Here is the XML used to display this custo

 <merge
    xmlns:android="http://schemas.android.com/apk/res/android"
    xmlns:okCancelBar="http://schemas.android.com/apk/res/com.example.android.merge">

    <ImageView  
        android:layout_width="fill_parent" 
        android:layout_height="fill_parent" 
    
        android:scaleType="center"
        android:src="@drawable/golden_gate" />
    
    <com.example.android.merge.OkCancelBar
        android:layout_width="fill_parent" 
        android:layout_height="wrap_content" 
        android:layout_gravity="bottom"

        android:paddingTop="8dip"
        android:gravity="center_horizontal"
        
        android:background="#AA000000"
        
        okCancelBar:okLabel="Save"
        okCancelBar:cancelLabel="Don't save" />
</merge>

 The source code of OkCancelBar is very simple because the two
buttons are defined in an external XML file, loaded using a
LayoutInflate. As you can see in the following snippet, the XML
layout R.layout.okcancelbar is inflated with the
OkCancelBar as the parent:
public class OkCancelBar extends LinearLayout {
    public OkCancelBar(Context context, AttributeSet attrs) {
        super(context, attrs);
        setOrientation(HORIZONTAL);
        setGravity(Gravity.CENTER);
        setWeightSum(1.0f);
        
        LayoutInflater.from(context).inflate(R.layout.okcancelbar, this, true);
        
        TypedArray array = context.obtainStyledAttributes(attrs, R.styleable.OkCancelBar, 0, 0);
        
        String text = array.getString(R.styleable.OkCancelBar_okLabel);
        if (text == null) text = "Ok";
        ((Button) findViewById(R.id.okcancelbar_ok)).setText(text);
        
        text = array.getString(R.styleable.OkCancelBar_cancelLabel);
        if (text == null) text = "Cancel";
        ((Button) findViewById(R.id.okcancelbar_cancel)).setText(text);
        
        array.recycle();
    }
} 

The two buttons are defined in the following XML layout. As you can see, we use the <merge /> tag to add the two buttons directly to the OkCancelBar. Each button is included from the same external XML layout file to make them easier to maintain; we simply override their id:
<merge xmlns:android="http://schemas.android.com/apk/res/android">
   
<include
       
layout="@layout/okcancelbar_button"
       
android:id="@+id/okcancelbar_ok" />
       
   
<include
       
layout="@layout/okcancelbar_button"
       
android:id="@+id/okcancelbar_cancel" />
</merge>
We have created a flexible and easy to maintain custom view that generates an efficient view hierarchy:
The resulting hierarchy is simple and efficient
The <merge /> tag is extremely useful and can do wonders in your code. However, it suffers from a couple of limitations:
  • <merge /> can only be used as the root tag of an XML layout
  • When inflating a layout starting with a <merge />, you must specify a parent ViewGroup and you must set attachToRoot to true (see the documentation for inflate(int, android.view.ViewGroup, boolean) method)

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