Layouts in views

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Jetpack Compose is the recommended UI toolkit for Android. Learn how to work with layouts in Compose.

A layout defines the structure for a user interface in your app, such as in an activity. All elements in the layout are built using a hierarchy of View and ViewGroup objects. A View usually draws something the user can see and interact with. A ViewGroup is an invisible container that defines the layout structure for View and other ViewGroup objects, as shown in figure 1.

Figure 1. Illustration of a view hierarchy, which defines a UI layout.

View objects are often called widgets and can be one of many subclasses, such as Button or TextView. The ViewGroup objects are usually called layouts and can be one of many types that provide a different layout structure, such as LinearLayout or ConstraintLayout.

You can declare a layout in two ways:

  • Declare UI elements in XML. Android provides a straightforward XML vocabulary that corresponds to the View classes and subclasses, such as those for widgets and layouts. You can also use Android Studio's Layout Editor to build your XML layout using a drag-and-drop interface.

  • Instantiate layout elements at runtime. Your app can create View and ViewGroup objects and manipulate their properties programmatically.

Declaring your UI in XML lets you separate the presentation of your app from the code that controls its behavior. Using XML files also makes it easier to provide different layouts for different screen sizes and orientations. This is discussed further in Support different screen sizes.

The Android framework gives you the flexibility to use either or both of these methods to build your app's UI. For example, you can declare your app's default layouts in XML, and then modify the layout at runtime.

Write the XML

Using Android's XML vocabulary, you can quickly design UI layouts and the screen elements they contain, in the same way that you create web pages in HTML with a series of nested elements.

Each layout file must contain exactly one root element, which must be a View or ViewGroup object. After you define the root element, you can add additional layout objects or widgets as child elements to gradually build a View hierarchy that defines your layout. For example, here's an XML layout that uses a vertical LinearLayout to hold a TextView and a Button:

<?xml version="1.0" encoding="utf-8"?>
<LinearLayout xmlns:android=""
              android:orientation="vertical" >
    <TextView android:id="@+id/text"
              android:text="Hello, I am a TextView" />
    <Button android:id="@+id/button"
            android:text="Hello, I am a Button" />

After you declare your layout in XML, save the file with the .xml extension in your Android project's res/layout/ directory so it properly compiles.

For more information about the syntax for a layout XML file, see Layout resource.

Load the XML resource

When you compile your app, each XML layout file is compiled into a View resource. Load the layout resource in your app's Activity.onCreate() callback implementation. Do so by calling setContentView(), passing it the reference to your layout resource in the form: R.layout.layout_file_name. For example, if your XML layout is saved as main_layout.xml, load it for your Activity as follows:


fun onCreate(savedInstanceState: Bundle) {


public void onCreate(Bundle savedInstanceState) {

The Android framework calls the onCreate() callback method in your Activity when the Activity launches. For more information about activity lifecycles, see Introduction to activities.


Every View and ViewGroup object supports its own variety of XML attributes. Some attributes are specific to a View object. For example, TextView supports the textSize attribute. However, these attributes are also inherited by any View objects that extend this class. Some are common to all View objects, because they are inherited from the root View class, like the id attribute. Other attributes are considered layout parameters, which are attributes that describe certain layout orientations of the View object, as defined by that object's parent ViewGroup object.


Any View object can have an integer ID associated with it to uniquely identify the View within the tree. When the app is compiled, this ID is referenced as an integer, but the ID is typically assigned in the layout XML file as a string in the id attribute. This is an XML attribute common to all View objects, and it is defined by the View class. You use it very often. The syntax for an ID inside an XML tag is the following:


The at symbol (@) at the beginning of the string indicates that the XML parser parses and expands the rest of the ID string and identifies it as an ID resource. The plus symbol (+) means this is a new resource name that must be created and added to your resources in the file.

The Android framework offers many other ID resources. When referencing an Android resource ID, you don't need the plus symbol, but you must add the android package namespace as follows:


The android package namespace indicates that you're referencing an ID from the android.R resources class, rather than the local resources class.

To create views and reference them from your app, you can use a common pattern as follows:

  1. Define a view in the layout file and assign it a unique ID, as in the following example:
    <Button android:id="@+id/my_button"
  2. Create an instance of the view object and capture it from the layout, typically in the onCreate() method, as shown in the following example:


    val myButton: Button = findViewById(


    Button myButton = (Button) findViewById(;

Defining IDs for view objects is important when creating a RelativeLayout. In a relative layout, sibling views can define their layout relative to another sibling view, which is referenced by the unique ID.

An ID doesn't need to be unique throughout the entire tree, but it must be unique within the part of the tree you search. It might often be the entire tree, so it's best to make it unique when possible.

Layout parameters

XML layout attributes named layout_something define layout parameters for the View that are appropriate for the ViewGroup it resides in.

Every ViewGroup class implements a nested class that extends ViewGroup.LayoutParams. This subclass contains property types that define the size and position of each child view, as appropriate for the view group. As shown in figure 2, the parent view group defines layout parameters for each child view, including the child view group.

Figure 2. Visualization of a view hierarchy with layout parameters associated with each view.

Every LayoutParams subclass has its own syntax for setting values. Each child element must define a LayoutParams that is appropriate for its parent, though it might also define a different LayoutParams for its own children.

All view groups include a width and height, using layout_width and layout_height, and each view is required to define them. Many LayoutParams include optional margins and borders.

You can specify width and height with exact measurements, but you might not want to do this often. More often, you use one of these constants to set the width or height:

  • wrap_content: tells your view to size itself to the dimensions required by its content.
  • match_parent: tells your view to become as big as its parent view group allows.

In general, we don't recommend specifying a layout width and height using absolute units such as pixels. A better approach is using relative measurements, such as density-independent pixel units (dp), wrap_content, or match_parent, because it helps your app display properly across a variety of device screen sizes. The accepted measurement types are defined in Layout resource.

Layout position

A view has rectangular geometry. It has a location, expressed as a pair of left and top coordinates, and two dimensions, expressed as a width and height. The unit for location and dimensions is the pixel.

You can retrieve the location of a view by invoking the methods getLeft() and getTop(). The former returns the left (x) coordinate of the rectangle representing the view. The latter returns the top (y) coordinate of the rectangle representing the view. These methods return the location of the view relative to its parent. For example, when getLeft() returns 20, this means the view is located 20 pixels to the right of the left edge of its direct parent.

In addition, there are convenience methods to avoid unnecessary computations: namely getRight() and getBottom(). These methods return the coordinates of the right and bottom edges of the rectangle representing the view. For example, calling getRight() is similar to the following computation: getLeft() + getWidth().

Size, padding, and margins

The size of a view is expressed with a width and height. A view has two pairs of width and height values.

The first pair is known as measured width and measured height. These dimensions define how big a view wants to be within its parent. You can obtain the measured dimensions by calling getMeasuredWidth() and getMeasuredHeight().

The second pair is known as width and height, or sometimes drawing width and drawing height. These dimensions define the actual size of the view on screen, at drawing time and after layout. These values might, but don't have to, differ from the measured width and height. You can obtain the width and height by calling getWidth() and getHeight().

To measure its dimensions, a view takes into account its padding. The padding is expressed in pixels for the left, top, right and bottom parts of the view. You can use padding to offset the content of the view by a specific number of pixels. For instance, a left padding of two pushes the view's content two pixels to the right of the left edge. You can set padding using the setPadding(int, int, int, int) method and query it by calling getPaddingLeft(), getPaddingTop(), getPaddingRight(), and getPaddingBottom().

Although a view can define a padding, it doesn't support margins. However, view groups do support margins. See ViewGroup and ViewGroup.MarginLayoutParams for more information.

For more information about dimensions, see Dimension.

Besides setting margins and padding programmatically, you can also set them in your XML layouts, as shown in the following example:

  <?xml version="1.0" encoding="utf-8"?>
  <LinearLayout xmlns:android=""
                android:orientation="vertical" >
      <TextView android:id="@+id/text"
                android:text="Hello, I am a TextView" />
      <Button android:id="@+id/button"
              android:text="Hello, I am a Button" />

The preceding example shows margin and padding being applied. The TextView has uniform margins and padding applied all around, and the Button shows how you can apply them independently to different edges.

Common layouts

Each subclass of the ViewGroup class provides a unique way to display the views you nest within it. The most flexible layout type, and the one that provides the best tools for keeping your layout hierarchy shallow, is ConstraintLayout.

The following are some of the common layout types built into the Android platform.

Create a linear layout

Organizes its children into a single horizontal or vertical row and creates a scrollbar if the length of the window exceeds the length of the screen.

Build web apps in WebView

Displays web pages.

Build dynamic lists

When the content for your layout is dynamic or not pre-determined, you can use RecyclerView or a subclass of AdapterView. RecyclerView is generally the better option, because it uses memory more efficiently than AdapterView.

Common layouts possible with RecyclerView and AdapterView include the following:


Displays a scrolling single column list.


Displays a scrolling grid of columns and rows.

RecyclerView offers more possibilities and the option to create a custom layout manager.

Fill an adapter view with data

You can populate an AdapterView such as ListView or GridView by binding the AdapterView instance to an Adapter, which retrieves data from an external source and creates a View that represents each data entry.

Android provides several subclasses of Adapter that are useful for retrieving different kinds of data and building views for an AdapterView. The two most common adapters are:

Use this adapter when your data source is an array. By default, ArrayAdapter creates a view for each array item by calling toString() on each item and placing the contents in a TextView.

For example, if you have an array of strings you want to display in a ListView, initialize a new ArrayAdapter using a constructor to specify the layout for each string and the string array:


    val adapter = ArrayAdapter<String>(this, android.R.layout.simple_list_item_1, myStringArray)


    ArrayAdapter<String> adapter = new ArrayAdapter<String>(this,
            android.R.layout.simple_list_item_1, myStringArray);

The arguments for this constructor are the following:

  • Your app Context
  • The layout that contains a TextView for each string in the array
  • The string array

Then call setAdapter() on your ListView:


    val listView: ListView = findViewById(
    listView.adapter = adapter


    ListView listView = (ListView) findViewById(;

To customize the appearance of each item you can override the toString() method for the objects in your array. Or, to create a view for each item that's something other than a TextView—for example, if you want an ImageView for each array item—extend the ArrayAdapter class and override getView() to return the type of view you want for each item.

Use this adapter when your data comes from a Cursor. When using SimpleCursorAdapter, specify a layout to use for each row in the Cursor and which columns in the Cursor you want inserted into the views of the layout you want. For example, if you want to create a list of people's names and phone numbers, you can perform a query that returns a Cursor containing a row for each person and columns for the names and numbers. You then create a string array specifying which columns from the Cursor you want in the layout for each result and an integer array specifying the corresponding views that each column need to be placed:


    val fromColumns = arrayOf(ContactsContract.Data.DISPLAY_NAME,
    val toViews = intArrayOf(,


    String[] fromColumns = {ContactsContract.Data.DISPLAY_NAME,
    int[] toViews = {,};

When you instantiate the SimpleCursorAdapter, pass the layout to use for each result, the Cursor containing the results, and these two arrays:


    val adapter = SimpleCursorAdapter(this,
            R.layout.person_name_and_number, cursor, fromColumns, toViews, 0)
    val listView = getListView()
    listView.adapter = adapter


    SimpleCursorAdapter adapter = new SimpleCursorAdapter(this,
            R.layout.person_name_and_number, cursor, fromColumns, toViews, 0);
    ListView listView = getListView();

The SimpleCursorAdapter then creates a view for each row in the Cursor using the provided layout by inserting each fromColumns item into the corresponding toViews view.

If during the course of your app's life you change the underlying data that is read by your adapter, call notifyDataSetChanged(). This notifies the attached view that the data has been changed and it refreshes itself.

Handle click events

You can respond to click events on each item in an AdapterView by implementing the AdapterView.OnItemClickListener interface. For example:


listView.onItemClickListener = AdapterView.OnItemClickListener { parent, view, position, id ->
    // Do something in response to the click.


// Create a message handling object as an anonymous class.
private OnItemClickListener messageClickedHandler = new OnItemClickListener() {
    public void onItemClick(AdapterView parent, View v, int position, long id) {
        // Do something in response to the click.


Additional resources

See how layouts are used in the Sunflower demo app on GitHub.