Activities and Intents

1. Introduction

So far, the apps you've worked on have had only one activity. In reality, many Android apps require multiple activities, with navigation between them.

In this codelab, you'll build out a dictionary app so that it uses multiple activities, uses intents to navigate between them, and passes data to other apps.


You should be able to:

  • Navigate a project in Android Studio.
  • Work with and add XML resources in Android studio.
  • Override and implement methods in an existing class.
  • Create instances of Kotlin classes, access class properties, and call methods.
  • Refer to the documentation on to learn more about specific classes.

What you'll learn

How to:

  • Use an explicit intent to navigate to a specific activity.
  • Use an implicit intent to navigate to content in another app.
  • Add menu options to add buttons to the app bar.

What you'll build

  • Modify a dictionary app to implement navigation between screens using intents and adding an options menu.

What you need

  • A computer with Android studio installed.

2. Starter code

On the next few steps, you'll be working on the Words app. The Words app is a simple dictionary app, with a list of letters, words for each letter, and the ability to look up definitions of each word in the browser.

There's a lot going on, but don't worry—you won't have to build an entire app just to learn about intents. Instead, you've been provided an incomplete version of the project, or starter project.

While all the screens are implemented, you can't yet navigate from one screen to the other. Your task is to use intents so that the entire project is working, without having to build everything from scratch.

Download the starter code for this codelab

This codelab provides starter code for you to extend with features taught in this codelab. Starter code may contain code that is familiar to you from previous codelabs. It may also contain code that is unfamiliar to you, and that you will learn about in later codelabs.

When you download the starter code from GitHub, note that the folder name is android-basics-kotlin-words-app-starter. Select this folder when you open the project in Android Studio.

If you are familiar with git commands, note that the starter code is in a branch called "starter". After you clone the repo, check out the code from the origin/starter branch. If you haven't used git commands before, follow the below steps to download the code from GitHub.

  1. Navigate to the provided GitHub repository page for the project.
  2. Verify that the branch name matches the branch name specified in the codelab. For example, in the following screenshot the branch name is main.


  1. On the GitHub page for the project, click the Code button, which brings up a popup.


  1. In the popup, click the Download ZIP button to save the project to your computer. Wait for the download to complete.
  2. Locate the file on your computer (likely in the Downloads folder).
  3. Double-click the ZIP file to unpack it. This creates a new folder that contains the project files.

Open the project in Android Studio

  1. Start Android Studio.
  2. In the Welcome to Android Studio window, click Open.


Note: If Android Studio is already open, instead, select the File > Open menu option.


  1. In the file browser, navigate to where the unzipped project folder is located (likely in your Downloads folder).
  2. Double-click on that project folder.
  3. Wait for Android Studio to open the project.
  4. Click the Run button 8de56cba7583251f.png to build and run the app. Make sure it builds as expected.

3. Words app overview

Before moving forward, take a moment to familiarize yourself with the project. All the concepts should be familiar from the previous unit. Right now, the app consists of two activities, each with a recycler view and an adapter.


You'll specifically be working with the following files:

  1. LetterAdapter is used by the RecyclerView in MainActivity. Each letter is a button with an onClickListener, which is currently empty. This is where you'll handle button presses to navigate to the DetailActivity.
  2. WordAdapter is used by the RecyclerView in DetailActivity to display a list of words. While you can't navigate to this screen quite yet, just know that each word also has a corresponding button with an onClickListener. This is where you'll add code that navigates to the browser, to show a definition for the word.
  3. MainActivity will also need a few changes. This is where you'll implement the options menu to display a button that allows users to toggle between list and grid layouts.


Once you feel comfortable with the project so far, continue to the next section where you'll learn about intents.

4. Introduction to Intents

Now that you've set up the initial project, let's discuss intents and how you can use them in your app.

An intent is an object representing some action to be performed. The most common, but certainly not only, use for an intent is to launch an activity. There are two types of intents—implicit and explicit. An explicit intent is highly specific, where you know the exact activity to be launched, often a screen in your own app.

An implicit intent is a bit more abstract, where you tell the system the type of action, such as opening a link, composing an email, or making a phone call, and the system is responsible for figuring out how to fulfill the request. You've probably seen both kinds of intents in action without knowing it. Generally, when showing an activity in your own app, you use an explicit intent.

However, for actions that don't necessarily involve the current app—say, you found an interesting Android documentation page and want to share it with friends—you'd use an implicit intent. You might see a menu like this asking which app to use to share the page.


You use an explicit intent for actions or presenting screens in your own app and are responsible for the entire process. You commonly use implicit intents for performing actions involving other apps and rely on the system to determine the end result. You'll use both types of intents in the Words app.


5. Set Up Explicit Intent

It's time to implement your first intent. On the first screen, when the user taps a letter, they should be taken to a second screen with a list of words. The DetailActivity is already implemented, so all that's needed is to launch it with an intent. Because your app knows exactly which activity should be launched, you use an explicit intent.

Creating and using an intent takes just a few steps:

  1. Open LetterAdapter.kt and scroll down to onBindViewHolder(). Below the line to set the button text, set the onClickListener for holder.button.
holder.button.setOnClickListener {

  1. Then get a reference to the context.
val context = holder.itemView.context
  1. Create an Intent, passing in the context and the class name of the destination activity.
val intent = Intent(context,

The name of the activity you want to show is specified with An actual DetailActivity object is created behind the scenes.

  1. Call the putExtra method, passing in "letter" as the first argument and the button text as the second argument.
intent.putExtra("letter", holder.button.text.toString())

What's an extra? Remember that an intent is simply a set of instructions—there's no instance of the destination activity just yet. Instead, an extra is a piece of data, such as a number or string, that is given a name to be retrieved later. This is similar to passing an argument when you call a function. Because a DetailActivity can be shown for any letter, you need to tell it which letter to present.

Also, why do you think it's necessary to call toString()? The button's text is already a string, right?

Sort of. It's actually of type CharSequence, which is something called an interface. You don't need to know anything about Kotlin interfaces for now, other than it's a way to ensure a type, such as String, implements specific functions and properties. You can think of a CharSequence as a more generic representation of a string-like class. A button's text property could be a string, or it could be any object that is also a CharSequence. The putExtra() method, however, accepts a String, not just any CharSequence, hence the need to call toString().

  1. Call the startActivity() method on the context object, passing in the intent.

Now run the app and try tapping a letter. The detail screen is displayed! But no matter which letter the user taps, the detail screen always shows words for the letter A. You still have some work to do in the detail activity so that it shows words for whichever letter is passed as the intent extra.

6. Set Up DetailActivity

You've just created your first explicit intent! Now onto the detail screen.

In the onCreate method of DetailActivity, after the call to setContentView, replace the hard coded letter with code to get the letterId passed in from the intent.

val letterId = intent?.extras?.getString("letter").toString()

There's a lot going on here, so let's take a look at each part:

First, where does the intent property come from? It's not a property of DetailActivity, but rather, a property of any activity. It keeps a reference to the intent used to launch the activity.

The extras property is of type Bundle, and as you might have guessed, provides a way to access all extras passed into the intent.

Both of these properties are marked with a question mark. Why is this? The reason is that the intent and extras properties are nullable, meaning they may or may not have a value. Sometimes you may want a variable to be null. The intent property might not actually be an Intent (if the activity wasn't launched from an intent) and the extras property might not actually be a Bundle, but rather a value called null. In Kotlin, null means the absence of a value. The object may exist or it may be null. If your app tries to access a property or call a function on a null object, the app will crash.To safely access this value, you put a ? after the name. If intent is null, your app won't even attempt to access the extras property, and if extras is null, your code won't even attempt to call getString().

How do you know which properties require a question mark to ensure null safety? You can tell if the type name is followed by either a question mark or exclamation point.


The final thing to note is the actual letter is retrieved with getString, which returns a String?, so toString() is called to ensure it's a String, and not null.

Now when you run the app and navigate to the detail screen, you should see the list of words for each letter.


Cleaning Up

Both the code to perform the intent, and retrieve the selected letter hardcode the name of the extra, "letter". While this works for this small example, it's not the best approach for large apps where you have many more intent extras to keep track of.

While you could just create a constant called "letter", this could get unwieldy as you add more intent extras to your app. And in which class would you put this constant? Remember that the string is used in both DetailActivity and MainActivity. You need a way to define a constant that can be used across multiple classes, while keeping your code organized.

Thankfully, there's a handy Kotlin feature that can be used to separate your constants and make them usable without a particular instance of the class called companion objects. A companion object is similar to other objects, such as instances of a class. However, only a single instance of a companion object will exist for the duration of your program, which is why this is sometimes called the singleton pattern. While there are numerous use cases for singletons beyond the scope of this codelab, for now, you'll use a companion object as a way to organize constants and make them accessible outside of the DetailActivity. You'll start by using a companion object to refactor the code for the "letter" extra.

  1. In DetailActivity, just above onCreate, add the following:
companion object {


Notice how this is similar to defining a class, except you use the object keyword. There's also a keyword companion, meaning it's associated with the DetailActivity class, and we don't need to give it a separate type name.

  1. Within the curly braces, add a property for the letter constant.
const val LETTER = "letter"
  1. To use the new constant, update your hard coded letter call in onCreate() as follows:
val letterId = intent?.extras?.getString(LETTER).toString()

Again, notice that you reference it with dot notation as usual, but the constant belongs to DetailActivity.

  1. Switch over to LetterAdapter, and modify the call to putExtra to use the new constant.
intent.putExtra(DetailActivity.LETTER, holder.button.text.toString())

All set! By refactoring, you just made your code easier to read, and easier to maintain. If this, or any other constant you add, ever needs to change, you only need to do so in one place.

To learn more about companion objects, check out the Kotlin documentation on Object Expressions and Declarations.

7. Set Up Implicit Intent

In most cases, you'll present specific activities from your own app. However, there are some situations where you may not know which activity, or which app, you want to launch. On our detail screen, each word is a button that will show the user definition of the word.

For our example, you're going to use the dictionary functionality provided by a Google search. Instead of adding a new activity to your app, however, you're going to launch the device's browser to show the search page.

So perhaps you'd need an intent to load the page in Chrome, the default browser on Android?

Not quite.

It's possible that some users prefer a third party browser. Or their phone comes with a browser preinstalled by the manufacturer. Perhaps they have the Google search app installed—or even a third-party dictionary app.

You can't know for sure what apps the user has installed. Nor can you assume how they may want to look up a word. This is a perfect example of when to use an implicit intent. Your app provides information to the system on what the action should be, and the system figures out what to do with that action, prompting the user for any additional information as needed.

Do the following to create the implicit intent:

  1. For this app, you'll perform a Google search for the word. The first search result will be a dictionary definition of the word. Since the same base URL is used for every search, it's a good idea to define this as its own constant. In DetailActivity, modify the companion object to add a new constant, SEARCH_PREFIX. This is the base URL for a Google search.
companion object {
   const val LETTER = "letter"
   const val SEARCH_PREFIX = ""
  1. Then, open up WordAdapter and in the onBindViewHolder() method, call setOnClickListener() on the button. Start by creating a Uri for the search query. When calling parse() to create a Uri from a String, you need to use string formatting so that the word is appended to the SEARCH_PREFIX.
holder.button.setOnClickListener {
    val queryUrl: Uri = Uri.parse("${DetailActivity.SEARCH_PREFIX}${item}")

If you're wondering what a URI is, it's not a typo, but stands for Uniform Resource Identifier. You may already know that a URL, or Uniform Resource Locator, is a string that points to a webpage. A URI is a more general term for the format. All URLs are URIs, but not all URIs are URLs. Other URIs, for example, an address for a phone number, would begin with tel:, but this is considered a URN or Uniform Resource Name, rather than a URL. The data type used to represent both is called URI.


Notice how there's no reference to any activity in your own app here. You simply provide a URI, without an indication of how it's ultimately used.

  1. After defining queryUrl, initialize a new intent object:
val intent = Intent(Intent.ACTION_VIEW, queryUrl)

Instead of passing in a context and an activity, you pass in Intent.ACTION_VIEW along with the URI.

ACTION_VIEW is a generic intent that takes a URI, in your case, a web address. The system then knows to process this intent by opening the URI in the user's web browser. Some other intent types include:

  • CATEGORY_APP_MAPS – launching the maps app
  • CATEGORY_APP_EMAIL – launching the email app
  • CATEGORY_APP_GALLERY – launching the gallery (photos) app
  • ACTION_SET_ALARM – setting an alarm in the background
  • ACTION_DIAL – initiating a phone call

To learn more, visit the documentation for some commonly used intents.

  1. Finally, even though you aren't launching any particular activity in your app, you're telling the system to launch another app, by calling startActivity()and pass in the intent.

Now when you launch the app, navigate to the words list, and tap one of the words, your device should navigate to the URL (or present a list of options depending on your installed apps).

The exact behavior will differ among users, providing a seamless experience for everyone, without complicating your code.

8. Set Up Menu and Icons

Now that you've made your app fully navigable by adding explicit and implicit intents, it's time to add a menu option so that the user can toggle between list and grid layouts for the letters.

By now, you've probably noticed many apps have this bar at the top of the screen. This is called the app bar, and in addition to showing the app's name, the app bar can be customized and host lots of useful functionality, like shortcuts for useful actions, or overflow menus.


For this app, while we won't add a fully fledged menu, you'll learn how to add a custom button to the app bar, so that the user can change the layout.

  1. First, you need to import two icons to represent the grid and list views. Add the clip art vector assets called "view module" (name it ic_grid_layout) and "view list" (name it ic_linear_layout). If you need a refresher on adding material icons, take a look at the instructions on this page.


  1. You also need a way to tell the system what options are displayed in the app bar, and which icons to use. To do this, add a new resource file by right-clicking on the res folder and selecting New > Android Resource File. Set the Resource type to Menu and the File name to layout_menu.


  1. Click OK.
  2. Open res/Menu/layout_menu. Replace the contents of layout_menu.xml with the following:
<menu xmlns:android=""
   <item android:id="@+id/action_switch_layout"
       app:showAsAction="always" />

The structure of the menu file is fairly simple. Just like a layout starts with a layout manager to hold individual views, a menu xml file starts with a menu tag, which contains individual options.

Your menu just has one button, with a few properties:

  • id: Just like views, the menu option has an id so that it can be referenced in code.
  • title: This text won't actually be visible in your case, but may be useful for screen readers to identify the menu
  • icon: The default is ic_linear_layout. However, this will be toggled on and off to show the grid icon, when the button is selected.
  • showAsAction: This tells the system how to show the button. Because it's set to always, this button will always be visible in the app bar, and not become part of an overflow menu.

Of course, just having the properties set doesn't mean the menu will actually do anything.

You'll still need to add some code in MainActivity.kt to get the menu working.

9. Implement Menu button

To see your menu button in action, there are a few things to do in MainActivity.kt.

  1. First, it's a good idea to create a property to keep track of which layout state the app is in. That will make it easier to toggle the layout button. Set the default value to true, as the linear layout manager will be used by default.
private var isLinearLayoutManager = true
  1. When the user toggles the button, you want the list of items to turn into a grid of items. If you recall from learning about recycler views, there are many different layout managers, one of which, GridLayoutManager allows for multiple items on a single row.
private fun chooseLayout() {
    if (isLinearLayoutManager) {
        recyclerView.layoutManager = LinearLayoutManager(this)
    } else {
        recyclerView.layoutManager = GridLayoutManager(this, 4)
    recyclerView.adapter = LetterAdapter()

Here you use an if statement to assign the layout manager. In addition to setting the layoutManager, this code also assigns the adapter. LetterAdapter is used for both list and grid layouts.

  1. When you initially set up the menu in xml, you gave it a static icon. However, after toggling the layout, you should update the icon to reflect its new function—switching back to the list layout. Here, simply set the linear and grid layout icons, based on the layout the button will switch back to, next time it's tapped.
private fun setIcon(menuItem: MenuItem?) {
   if (menuItem == null)

   // Set the drawable for the menu icon based on which LayoutManager is currently in use

   // An if-clause can be used on the right side of an assignment if all paths return a value.
   // The following code is equivalent to
   // if (isLinearLayoutManager)
   //     menu.icon = ContextCompat.getDrawable(this, R.drawable.ic_grid_layout)
   // else menu.icon = ContextCompat.getDrawable(this, R.drawable.ic_linear_layout)
   menuItem.icon =
       if (isLinearLayoutManager)
           ContextCompat.getDrawable(this, R.drawable.ic_grid_layout)
       else ContextCompat.getDrawable(this, R.drawable.ic_linear_layout)

The icon is conditionally set based on the isLinearLayoutManager property.

For your app to actually use the menu, you need to override two more methods.

  • onCreateOptionsMenu: where you inflate the options menu and perform any additional setup
  • onOptionsItemSelected: where you'll actually call chooseLayout() when the button is selected.
  1. Override onCreateOptionsMenu as follows:
override fun onCreateOptionsMenu(menu: Menu?): Boolean {
   menuInflater.inflate(, menu)

   val layoutButton = menu?.findItem(
   // Calls code to set the icon based on the LinearLayoutManager of the RecyclerView

   return true

Nothing fancy here. After inflating the layout, you call setIcon() to ensure the icon is correct, based on the layout. The method returns a Boolean—you return true here since you want the options menu to be created.

  1. Implement as shown onOptionsItemSelected with just a few more lines of code.
override fun onOptionsItemSelected(item: MenuItem): Boolean {
   return when (item.itemId) { -> {
           // Sets isLinearLayoutManager (a Boolean) to the opposite value
           isLinearLayoutManager = !isLinearLayoutManager
           // Sets layout and icon

           return true
       //  Otherwise, do nothing and use the core event handling

       // when clauses require that all possible paths be accounted for explicitly,
       //  for instance both the true and false cases if the value is a Boolean,
       //  or an else to catch all unhandled cases.
       else -> super.onOptionsItemSelected(item)

This is called any time a menu item is tapped so you need to be sure to check which menu item is tapped. You use a when statement, above. If the id matches the action_switch_layout menu item, you negate the value of isLinearLayoutManager. Then, call chooseLayout() and setIcon() to update the UI accordingly.

One more thing, before you run the app. Since the layout manager and adapter are now set in chooseLayout(), you should replace that code in onCreate() to call your new method. onCreate() should look like the following after the change.

override fun onCreate(savedInstanceState: Bundle?) {

   val binding = ActivityMainBinding.inflate(layoutInflater)

   recyclerView = binding.recyclerView
   // Sets the LinearLayoutManager of the recyclerview

Now run your app and you should be able to toggle between list and grid views using the menu button.

10. Solution code

The solution code for this codelab is in the project below:

  1. Navigate to the provided GitHub repository page for the project.
  2. Verify that the branch name matches the branch name specified in the codelab. For example, in the following screenshot the branch name is main.


  1. On the GitHub page for the project, click the Code button, which brings up a popup.


  1. In the popup, click the Download ZIP button to save the project to your computer. Wait for the download to complete.
  2. Locate the file on your computer (likely in the Downloads folder).
  3. Double-click the ZIP file to unpack it. This creates a new folder that contains the project files.

Open the project in Android Studio

  1. Start Android Studio.
  2. In the Welcome to Android Studio window, click Open.


Note: If Android Studio is already open, instead, select the File > Open menu option.


  1. In the file browser, navigate to where the unzipped project folder is located (likely in your Downloads folder).
  2. Double-click on that project folder.
  3. Wait for Android Studio to open the project.
  4. Click the Run button 8de56cba7583251f.png to build and run the app. Make sure it builds as expected.

11. Summary

  • Explicit intents are used to navigate to specific activities in your app.
  • Implicit intents correspond to specific actions (like opening a link, or sharing an image) and let the system determine how to fulfill the intent.
  • Menu options allow you to add buttons and menus to the app bar.
  • Companion objects provide a way to associate reusable constants with a type, rather than an instance of that type.

To perform an intent:

  • Get a reference to the context.
  • Create an Intent object providing either an activity or intent type (depending on whether it's explicit or implicit).
  • Pass any needed data by calling putExtra().
  • Call startActivity() passing in the intent object.

12. Learn more