Publishers of technology books, eBooks, and videos for creative people

Home > Articles

This chapter is from the book

The IntentService

The IntentService is an excellent way to move large amounts of data around without relying on any specific activity or even application. The AsyncTask will always take over the main thread at least twice (with its pre- and post-execute methods), and it must be owned by an activity that is able to draw to the screen. The IntentService has no such restriction. To demonstrate, I’ll show you how to download the same image, this time from the IntentService rather than the AsyncTask.

Declaring a Service

Services are, essentially, classes that run in the background with no access to the screen. In order for the system to find your service when required, you’ll need to declare it in your manifest, like so:

<?xml version="1.0" encoding="utf-8"?>
<manifest xmlns:android=""
    <!—Rest of the application declarations go here -->
        <service android:name=".ImageIntentService"/>

At a minimum, you’ll need to have this simple declaration. It will then allow you to (as I showed you earlier with activities) explicitly launch your service. Here’s the code to do exactly that:

Intent i = new Intent(this, ImageIntentService.class);
i.putExtra("url", getIntent().getExtras().getString("url"));

At this point, the system will construct a new instance of your service, call its onCreate method, and then start firing data at the IntentService’s handleIntent method. The intent service is specifically constructed to handle large amounts of work and processing off the main thread. The service’s onCreate method will be called on the main thread, but subsequent calls to handleIntent are guaranteed by Android to be on a background thread (and this is where you should put your long-running code in any case).

Right, enough gabbing. Let me introduce you to the ImageIntentService. The first thing you’ll need to pay attention to is the constructor:

public class ImageIntentService extends IntentService{
    public ImageIntentService() {

Notice that the constructor you must declare has no string as a parameter. The parent’s constructor that you must call, however, must be passed a string. Eclipse will make it seem that you must declare a constructor with a string when, in reality, you must declare it without one. This simple mistake can cause you several hours of intense face-to-desk debugging.

Once your service exists, and before anything else runs, the system will call your onCreate method. onCreate is an excellent time to run any housekeeping chores you’ll need for the rest of the service’s tasks (more on this when I show you the image downloader).

At last, the service can get down to doing some heavy lifting. Once it has been constructed and has had its onCreate method called, it will then receive a call to handleIntent for each time any other activity has called startService.

Fetching Images

The main difference between fetching images and fetching smaller, manageable data is that larger data sets (such as images or larger data retrievals) should not be bundled into a final broadcast intent (another major difference to the AsyncTask). Also, keep in mind that the service has no direct access to any activity, so it cannot ever access the screen on its own. Instead of modifying the screen, the IntentService will send a broadcast intent alerting all listeners that the image download is complete. Further, since the service cannot pass the actual image data along with that intent, you’ll need to save the image to the SD card and include the path to that file in the final completion broadcast.

The Setup

Before you can use the external storage to cache the data, you’ll need to create a cache folder for your application. A good place to check is when the IntentService’s onCreate method is called:

public void onCreate(){
    String tmpLocation = 
        + CACHE_FOLDER;
    cacheDir = new File(tmpLocation);

Using Android’s environment, you can determine the correct prefix for the external file system. Once you know the path to the eventual cache folder, you can then make sure the directory is in place. Yes, I know I told you to avoid file-system contact while on the main thread (and onCreate is called on the main thread), but checking and creating a directory is a small enough task that it should be all right. I’ll leave this as an open question for you as you read through the rest of this chapter: Where might be a better place to put this code?

The Fetch

Now that you’ve got a place to save images as you download them, it’s time to implement the image fetcher. Here’s the handleIntent method:

protected void onHandleIntent(Intent intent) {
    String remoteUrl = intent.getExtras().getString("url");
    String location;
    String filename = 
    File tmp = new File(cacheDir.getPath() 
            + File.separator +filename);
        location = tmp.getAbsolutePath();
        notifyFinished(location, remoteUrl);
        URL url = new URL(remoteUrl);
        HttpURLConnection httpCon = 
        if(httpCon.getResponseCode() != 200)
            throw new Exception("Failed to connect");
        InputStream is = httpCon.getInputStream();
        FileOutputStream fos = new FileOutputStream(tmp);
        writeStream(is, fos);
        fos.flush(); fos.close();
        location = tmp.getAbsolutePath();
        notifyFinished(location, remoteUrl);
    }catch(Exception e){

This is a lot of code. Fortunately, most of it is stuff you’ve seen before.

First, you retrieve the URL to be downloaded from the Extras bundle on the intent. Next, you determine a cache file name by taking the last part of the URL. Once you know what the file will eventually be called, you can check to see if it’s already in the cache. If it is, you’re finished, and you can notify the system that the image is available to load into the UI.

If the file isn’t cached, you’ll need to download it. By now you’ve seen the HttpUrlConnection code used to download an image at least once, so I won’t bore you by covering it. Also, if you’ve written any Java code before, you probably know how to write an input stream to disk.

The Cleanup

At this point, you’ve created the cache file, retrieved it from the web, and written it to the aforementioned cache file. It’s time to notify anyone who might be listening that the image is available. Here’s the contents of the notifyFinished method that will tell the system both that the image is finished and where to get it.

public static final String TRANSACTION_DONE = 
private void notifyFinished(String location, String remoteUrl){
    Intent i = new Intent(TRANSACTION_DONE);
    i.putExtra("location", location);
    i.putExtra("url", remoteUrl);

Anyone listening for the broadcast intent com.haseman.TRANSACTION_DONE will be notified that an image download has finished. They will be able to pull both the URL (so they can tell if it was an image it actually requested) and the location of the cached file.

Rendering the Download

In order to interact with the downloading service, there are two steps you’ll need to take. You’ll need to start the service (with the URL you want it to fetch). Before it starts, however, you’ll need to register a listener for the result broadcast. You can see these two steps in the following code:

public void onCreate(Bundle extras){
    IntentFilter intentFilter = new IntentFilter();
    registerReceiver(imageReceiver, intentFilter);
    Intent i = new Intent(this, ImageIntentService.class);
    pd =, "Fetching Image", 
"Go intent service go!"); 

This code registered a receiver (so you can take action once the download is finished), started the service, and, finally, showed a loading dialog to the user.

Now take a look at what the imageReceiver class looks like:

private BroadcastReceiver imageReceiver = new BroadcastReceiver() {
    public void onReceive(Context context, Intent intent) {
        String location = intent.getExtras().getString("location");
        if(location == null || location.length() ==0){
            Toast.makeText(context, "Failed to download image", 
        File imageFile = new File(location);
                "Unable to Download file :-(", 
        Bitmap b = BitmapFactory.decodeFile(location);
        ImageView iv = (ImageView)findViewById(;

This is a custom extension of the BroadcastReceiver class. This is what you’ll need to declare inside your activity in order to correctly process events from the IntentService. Right now, there are two problems with this code. See if you can recognize them.

First, you’ll need to extract the file location from the intent. You do this by looking for the “location” extra. Once you’ve verified that this is indeed a valid file, you’ll pass it over to the BitmapFactory, which will create the image for you. This bitmap can then be passed off to the ImageView for rendering.

Now, to the things done wrong (stop reading if you haven’t found them yet. No cheating!). First, the code is not checking to see if the intent service is broadcasting a completion intent for exactly the image originally asked for (keep in mind that one service can service requests from any number of activities).

Second, the bitmap is loading from the SD card...on the main thread! Exactly one of the things I’ve been warning you NOT to do.

Checking Your Work

Android, in later versions of the SDK tools, has provided a way to check if your application is breaking the rules and running slow tasks on the main thread. You can, in any activity, call StrictMode.enableDefaults, and this will begin to throw warnings when the system spots main thread violations. StrictMode has many different configurations and settings, but enabling the defaults and cleaning up as many errors as you can will work wonders for the speed of your application.

Peachpit Promotional Mailings & Special Offers

I would like to receive exclusive offers and hear about products from Peachpit and its family of brands. I can unsubscribe at any time.


Pearson Education, Inc., 221 River Street, Hoboken, New Jersey 07030, (Pearson) presents this site to provide information about Peachpit products and services that can be purchased through this site.

This privacy notice provides an overview of our commitment to privacy and describes how we collect, protect, use and share personal information collected through this site. Please note that other Pearson websites and online products and services have their own separate privacy policies.

Collection and Use of Information

To conduct business and deliver products and services, Pearson collects and uses personal information in several ways in connection with this site, including:

Questions and Inquiries

For inquiries and questions, we collect the inquiry or question, together with name, contact details (email address, phone number and mailing address) and any other additional information voluntarily submitted to us through a Contact Us form or an email. We use this information to address the inquiry and respond to the question.

Online Store

For orders and purchases placed through our online store on this site, we collect order details, name, institution name and address (if applicable), email address, phone number, shipping and billing addresses, credit/debit card information, shipping options and any instructions. We use this information to complete transactions, fulfill orders, communicate with individuals placing orders or visiting the online store, and for related purposes.


Pearson may offer opportunities to provide feedback or participate in surveys, including surveys evaluating Pearson products, services or sites. Participation is voluntary. Pearson collects information requested in the survey questions and uses the information to evaluate, support, maintain and improve products, services or sites; develop new products and services; conduct educational research; and for other purposes specified in the survey.

Contests and Drawings

Occasionally, we may sponsor a contest or drawing. Participation is optional. Pearson collects name, contact information and other information specified on the entry form for the contest or drawing to conduct the contest or drawing. Pearson may collect additional personal information from the winners of a contest or drawing in order to award the prize and for tax reporting purposes, as required by law.


If you have elected to receive email newsletters or promotional mailings and special offers but want to unsubscribe, simply email

Service Announcements

On rare occasions it is necessary to send out a strictly service related announcement. For instance, if our service is temporarily suspended for maintenance we might send users an email. Generally, users may not opt-out of these communications, though they can deactivate their account information. However, these communications are not promotional in nature.

Customer Service

We communicate with users on a regular basis to provide requested services and in regard to issues relating to their account we reply via email or phone in accordance with the users' wishes when a user submits their information through our Contact Us form.

Other Collection and Use of Information

Application and System Logs

Pearson automatically collects log data to help ensure the delivery, availability and security of this site. Log data may include technical information about how a user or visitor connected to this site, such as browser type, type of computer/device, operating system, internet service provider and IP address. We use this information for support purposes and to monitor the health of the site, identify problems, improve service, detect unauthorized access and fraudulent activity, prevent and respond to security incidents and appropriately scale computing resources.

Web Analytics

Pearson may use third party web trend analytical services, including Google Analytics, to collect visitor information, such as IP addresses, browser types, referring pages, pages visited and time spent on a particular site. While these analytical services collect and report information on an anonymous basis, they may use cookies to gather web trend information. The information gathered may enable Pearson (but not the third party web trend services) to link information with application and system log data. Pearson uses this information for system administration and to identify problems, improve service, detect unauthorized access and fraudulent activity, prevent and respond to security incidents, appropriately scale computing resources and otherwise support and deliver this site and its services.

Cookies and Related Technologies

This site uses cookies and similar technologies to personalize content, measure traffic patterns, control security, track use and access of information on this site, and provide interest-based messages and advertising. Users can manage and block the use of cookies through their browser. Disabling or blocking certain cookies may limit the functionality of this site.

Do Not Track

This site currently does not respond to Do Not Track signals.


Pearson uses appropriate physical, administrative and technical security measures to protect personal information from unauthorized access, use and disclosure.


This site is not directed to children under the age of 13.


Pearson may send or direct marketing communications to users, provided that

  • Pearson will not use personal information collected or processed as a K-12 school service provider for the purpose of directed or targeted advertising.
  • Such marketing is consistent with applicable law and Pearson's legal obligations.
  • Pearson will not knowingly direct or send marketing communications to an individual who has expressed a preference not to receive marketing.
  • Where required by applicable law, express or implied consent to marketing exists and has not been withdrawn.

Pearson may provide personal information to a third party service provider on a restricted basis to provide marketing solely on behalf of Pearson or an affiliate or customer for whom Pearson is a service provider. Marketing preferences may be changed at any time.

Correcting/Updating Personal Information

If a user's personally identifiable information changes (such as your postal address or email address), we provide a way to correct or update that user's personal data provided to us. This can be done on the Account page. If a user no longer desires our service and desires to delete his or her account, please contact us at and we will process the deletion of a user's account.


Users can always make an informed choice as to whether they should proceed with certain services offered by Adobe Press. If you choose to remove yourself from our mailing list(s) simply visit the following page and uncheck any communication you no longer want to receive:

Sale of Personal Information

Pearson does not rent or sell personal information in exchange for any payment of money.

While Pearson does not sell personal information, as defined in Nevada law, Nevada residents may email a request for no sale of their personal information to

Supplemental Privacy Statement for California Residents

California residents should read our Supplemental privacy statement for California residents in conjunction with this Privacy Notice. The Supplemental privacy statement for California residents explains Pearson's commitment to comply with California law and applies to personal information of California residents collected in connection with this site and the Services.

Sharing and Disclosure

Pearson may disclose personal information, as follows:

  • As required by law.
  • With the consent of the individual (or their parent, if the individual is a minor)
  • In response to a subpoena, court order or legal process, to the extent permitted or required by law
  • To protect the security and safety of individuals, data, assets and systems, consistent with applicable law
  • In connection the sale, joint venture or other transfer of some or all of its company or assets, subject to the provisions of this Privacy Notice
  • To investigate or address actual or suspected fraud or other illegal activities
  • To exercise its legal rights, including enforcement of the Terms of Use for this site or another contract
  • To affiliated Pearson companies and other companies and organizations who perform work for Pearson and are obligated to protect the privacy of personal information consistent with this Privacy Notice
  • To a school, organization, company or government agency, where Pearson collects or processes the personal information in a school setting or on behalf of such organization, company or government agency.


This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that we are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of each and every web site that collects Personal Information. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this web site.

Requests and Contact

Please contact us about this Privacy Notice or if you have any requests or questions relating to the privacy of your personal information.

Changes to this Privacy Notice

We may revise this Privacy Notice through an updated posting. We will identify the effective date of the revision in the posting. Often, updates are made to provide greater clarity or to comply with changes in regulatory requirements. If the updates involve material changes to the collection, protection, use or disclosure of Personal Information, Pearson will provide notice of the change through a conspicuous notice on this site or other appropriate way. Continued use of the site after the effective date of a posted revision evidences acceptance. Please contact us if you have questions or concerns about the Privacy Notice or any objection to any revisions.

Last Update: November 17, 2020