Design for Notifications

The notification system allows users to keep informed about relevant and timely events in your app, such as new chat messages from a friend or a calendar event. Think of notifications as a news channel that alerts the user to important events as they happen or a log that chronicles events while the user is not paying attention - and one that is synced as appropriate across all their Android devices.

New in L

In L, notifications receive an important structural visual and functional update:

  • Visual changes to notifications as part of material design
  • Notifications are now available on the device lockscreen, yet sensitive content can still be hidden behind it
  • A new presentation format called Heads-up for receiving high priority notifications while using the device
  • Cloud-synced notifications - act on a notification on your Android tablet and it is also dismissed on your phone.
  • And starting now (in Android 4.4W, API Level 20, the platform release for Android Wear), your notifications will bridge to Android Wear devices. You can extend the functionality of notifications on Wear in two different ways. First, you can add speech input and canned responses to Actions on Wear, allowing users to complete tasks from their wrists. Second, you can write Wear apps that hook into your notifications to go even further in terms of creating interactive experiences for users.

Anatomy of a notification

This section goes over basic parts of a notification and how they can appear on different types of devices.

Base Layout

At a minimum, all notifications consist of a base layout, including:

  • The notification's icon, symbolizing the originating app, and also potentially the kind of notification if the app has several substantially different sorts of notifications it can post
  • A notification title and additional text
  • A timestamp

Notifications created with Notification.Builder for versions of Android earlier than L will look and work the same in L, with only minor stylistic changes that the system handles for you.

Base layout of a handheld notification and the same notification on Wear, with a user photo and a notification icon

Expanded layouts

You have the option to provide more details on notifications. You can use this to show the first few lines of a message or show a larger image preview. This provides the user with additional context, and - in some cases - may allow the user to read a message in its entirety. The user can pinch-zoom or perform a single-finger glide in order to toggle between compact and expanded layouts. For single event notifications, Android provides three expanded layout templates (text, inbox, and image) for you to re-use in your application. The following images show you how they look on handhelds and wearables.


Android has supported optional actions that are displayed at the bottom of the notification, as far back as Jelly Bean. With actions, users can handle the most common tasks for a particular notification from within the notification shade without having to open the originating application. This speeds up interaction and, in conjunction with "swipe-to-dismiss", helps users to streamline their notification triaging experience.

Be judicious with how many actions you include with a notification. The more actions you include, the more cognitive complexity you create. Limit yourself to the fewest number of actions possible by only including the most imminently important and meaningful ones.

Good candidates for actions on notifications are actions that:

  • Are essential, frequent and typical for the content type you're displaying
  • Allow the user to accomplish tasks quickly

Avoid actions that are:

  • Ambiguous
  • Duplicative of the default action of the notification (such as "Read" or "Open")

You can specify a maximum of three actions, each consisting of an action icon and an action name. Adding actions to a simple base layout will make the notification expandable, even if the notification doesn't have an expanded layout. Since actions are only shown for expanded notifications and are otherwise hidden, you must make sure that any action a user can invoke from a notification is available from within the associated application as well.

Notifications on Android Wear

Additionally, notifications and their actions are bridged over to Wear devices by default. Developers have control to control which notifications from bridging from the phone to the watch and vice versa. And developers can control which actions bridge as well. If your app includes actions that can't be accomplished with a single tap, either hide these actions on your Wear notification or consider hooking them up to a Wear app to allow the user to finish the action on their watch.

Bridging notifications

Notifications that should be bridged

  • New instant messages

Don't bridge

  • If a podcasting app has new episodes available for download, keep this notification on the phone.

Bridging actions

Actions to bridge

  • Single tap actions such as +1, Like, Heart

Actions not to bridge

  • Actions that map to features that aren't possible on the watch

Unique actions to define for Wear

  • Quick lists of canned responses such as "Be right back"
  • Open on phone
  • A "Comment" or "Reply" action that brings up the speech input screen
  • Actions that can launch Wear-specific apps

Heads-up Notification

Example of a Heads-up notification (incoming phone call, high priority) coming in on top of an immersive app

When notifications with priority set to High (see right) arrives, it is presented to users for a short period of time on the device with an expanded layout with its actions exposed.

After this period of time, it retreats back to the Notification shade. If a notification is flagged as High or Max or a full-screen takeover, it gets a HUN in L.

Good examples of Heads-up notifications


Make it personal

For notifications of items sent by another person (such as a message or status update), include that person's image using setLargeIcon. Also attach information about the person to the notification's metadata (see EXTRA_PEOPLE).

Your notification's main icon will still be shown, so the user can associate it with the icon visible in the status bar.

Notification that shows the person who triggered it and the content they are sending you

When the user touches the body of a notification (outside of the action buttons), open your app to the place where the user can view and act upon the data referenced in the notification. In most cases this will be the detail view of a single data item such as a message, but it might also be a summary view if the notification is stacked (see Stacked notifications below) and references multiple items. If in any of those cases the user is taken to a hierarchy level below your app's top-level, insert navigation into your app's back stack to allow them to navigate to your app's top level using the system back button. For more information, see the chapter on System-to-app navigation in the Navigation design pattern.

Correctly set and manage notification priority

Starting with Jelly Bean, Android supported a priority flag for notifications. It allows you to influence where your notification will appear in comparison to other notifications and help to make sure that users always see their most important notifications first. You can choose from the following priority levels when posting a notification:




Use for critical and urgent notifications that alert the user to a condition that is time-critical or needs to be resolved before they can continue with a particular task.


Use high priority notifications primarily for important communication, such as message or chat events with content that is particularly interesting for the user. High priority notifications will get the Heads-Up Notification display starting in L.


The default priority. Keep all notifications that don't fall into any of the other categories at this priority level.


Use for notifications that you still want the user to be informed about, but that rate low in urgency. LOW notifications will tend to show up at the bottom of the list, which makes them a good choice for things like pubic/undirected social updates: the user has asked to be notified about them, but they should never take precedence over urgent or direct communication.


Contextual/background information (e.g. weather information, contextual location information). Minimum priority notifications will not show in the status bar. The user will only discover them when they expand the notification shade.

How to choose an appropriate priority

Default, High, and Max priority are interruptive priority levels and risk interrupting the user from what they are doing. This should not be taken lightly, so these levels should be reserved for notifications that:

Notifications set to LOW and MIN can still be very valuable for the user. Many if not most notifications just don't need to command the user's immediate attention, or vibrate the user's wrist, yet contain information that they will find valuable when they choose to look for notifications. Criteria for LOW and MIN priority notifications:

Set a notification category

If your notification falls into one of the predefined categories (see below), assign it accordingly. Aspects of the system UI such as the notification shade (or any other notification listener) may use this information to make ranking and filtering decisions.


Incoming call (voice or video) or similar synchronous communication request


Incoming direct message (SMS, instant message, etc.)


Asynchronous bulk message (email)


Calendar event


Promotion or advertisement


Alarm or timer


Progress of a long-running background operation


Social network or sharing update


Error in background operation or authentication status


Media transport control for playback


System or device status update. Reserved for system use.


Indication of running background service


A specific, timely recommendation for a single thing. For example, a news app might want to recommend a news story it believes the user will want to read next.


Ongoing information about device or contextual status

Summarize your notifications

If your app creates a notification while another of the same type is still pending, avoid creating an altogether new notification object. Instead, turn it into a summary notification for the app.

A summary notification builds a summary description and allows the user to understand how many notifications of a particular kind are pending.



You can provide more detail about the individual notifications that make up a summary by using the expanded digest layout. This allows users to gain a better sense of which notifications are pending and if they are interesting enough to be read in detail within the associated app.

Expanded and contracted notification that is a summary (using InboxStyle)

Make notifications optional

Users should always be in control of notifications. Allow the user to disable your app's notifications or change their alert properties, such as alert sound and whether to use vibration, by adding a notification settings item to your application settings.

Use distinct icons

By glancing at the notification area, the user should be able to discern what kinds of notifications are currently pending.


Look at the notification icons Android apps already provide and create notification icons for your app that are sufficiently distinct in appearance.


Use the proper notification icon style for small icons, and the Material Light action bar icon style for your action icons. Do not place any additional alpha (dimming or fading) into your small icons and action icons; they can have anti-aliased edges, but because L uses these icons as masks (that is, only the alpha channel is used), the image should generally be drawn at full opacity.


Keep your icons visually simple and avoid excessive detail that is hard to discern.


Use color to distinguish your app from others. Notification icons should only be a white-on-transparent background image.

Pulse the notification LED appropriately

Many Android devices contain a notification LED, which is used to keep the user informed about events while the screen is off. Notifications with a priority level of MAX, HIGH, or DEFAULT should cause the LED to glow, while those with lower priority (LOW and MIN) should not.

The user's control over notifications should extend to the LED. When you use DEFAULT_LIGHTS, the LED will glow with a white color. Your notifications shouldn't use a different color unless the user has explicitly customized it.

Building notifications that users care about

To create an app that users love, it is important to design your notifications carefully. Notifications embody your app's voice, and contribute to your app's personality. Unwanted or unimportant notifications can annoy the user or make them resent how much attention the app wants from them, so use notifications judiciously.

When to display a notification

To create an application that people enjoy using, it's important to recognize that the user's attention and focus is a resource that must be protected. While Android's notification system has been designed to minimize the impact of notifications on the user's attention, it is nonetheless still important to be aware of the fact that notifications are interrupting the user's task flow. As you plan your notifications, ask yourself if they are important enough to warrant an interruption. If you are unsure, allow the user to opt into a notification using your apps notification settings or adjust the notifications priority flag to LOW or MIN to avoid distracting the user while they are doing something else.

Time sensitive notification examples

While well behaved apps generally only speak when spoken to, there are some limited cases where an app actually should interrupt the user with an unprompted notification.

Notifications should be used primarily for time sensitive events, and especially if these synchronous events involve other people. For instance, an incoming chat is a real time and synchronous form of communication: there is another user actively waiting on you to respond. Calendar events are another good example of when to use a notification and grab the user's attention, because the event is imminent, and calendar events often involve other people.

When not to display a notification

There are however many other cases where notifications should not be used:

Interacting With Notifications

Notifications are indicated by icons in the status bar and can be accessed by opening the notification drawer.

Touching a notification opens the associated app to detailed content matching the notification. Swiping left or right on a notification removes it from the list.

Ongoing notifications

Ongoing notification due to music playback

Ongoing notifications keep users informed about an ongoing process in the background. For example, music players announce the currently playing track in the notification system and continue to do so until the user stops the playback. They can also be used to show the user feedback for longer tasks like downloading a file, or encoding a video. Ongoing notifications cannot be manually removed from the notification drawer.

The L lockscreen doesn't show transport controls for RCC (RemoteControlClient)s anymore. But the lockscreen does show notifications, so each app's playback notification is now the primary way for users to control playback from a locked state. This gives apps more control over which buttons to show and in what way, while providing a consistent experience for the user whether on the lockscreen or unlocked.

Dialogs and toasts are for feedback not notifications

Your app should not create a dialog or toast if it is not currently on screen. Dialogs and Toasts should only be displayed as the immediate response to the user taking an action inside of your app. For further guidance on the use of dialogs and toasts, refer to Confirming & Acknowledging.

Ranking and Ordering

Notifications are "news" and so they are essentially shown in reverse-chronological order, with special consideration given to the app's stated notification priority.

In L, notifications are now a key part of the lockscreen, and are featured prominently every time the device display comes on. Because space on the lockscreen is tight, it is more important than ever to identify the most urgent or relevant notifications.

Therefore, L has a more sophisticated sorting algorithm for notifications, taking into account:

To best take advantage of this sorting, developers should focus on the user experience they want to create rather than aiming for any particular spot on the list.

Gmail notifications are default priority, so they normally sort below messages from an instant messaging app like Hangouts, but Gmail will get a temporary bump when new messages come in.

On the lockscreen

Starting in L, notifications are visible on the lockscreen, and so we must consider the user's privacy. Notifications often contain sensitive information, and we must take care when showing it to anyone who picks up the device and turns on the display.

The user decides what shows on the secure lockscreen

Notifications on the lockscreen followed by the Pattern Unlock when the user attempts to unlock the phone.

When setting up a secure lockscreen, the user can choose to conceal sensitive details from atop the secure lockscreen. In this case the SystemUI considers the notification's visibility level to figure out what can safely be shown.

To control the visibility level, call Notification.Builder.setVisibility() and specify one of these values: