Tips on Android ListView and custom adapter

What is a ListView?

What’s the difference between a TableLayout and a ListView? Items in a TableLayout are not ‘selectable’ (unless they are buttons or text areas that support keyboard focus), however, each row of a ListView can be selected. It’s just like a Swing JList. You can attach item selection listeners to a ListView to know when the user focuses in on a particular row of a list. The biggest difference between a Swing JList and a ListView is that the model view controller separation in JList is not there in ListView. A ListView’s adapter, holds all the list’s underlying data as well as the Views necessary to render each row of the ListView. However, there are many similarities with JList, for example, when your underlying data model changes, you have to fire an event to notify the adapter’s listeners that the underlying data has changed, and the views should be refreshed. The ListView does not need to be added to a ScrollView since it automatically supports scrolling.

Be careful of the following
You have to be careful between touch mode and D-pad mode input into a ListView, read this for more information. This affects the way your ListView will respond to user input by touch or by D-Pad movement, the gist of it is use the onClickListener to respond to user input, which will work for D-Pad as well as touch input events.

You also have to be careful about setting background colors and 9patch images on a ListView, read this for more information.

Example with source code

In the following example, I will show you how to create a ListView that uses a custom adapter to display weather data. The underlying weather data is stored in a Hashtable of Hashtables. At the top level, the key is a String that represents the zipcode. The Hashtable value for this key (zipcode) contains the current temperature, humidity, and an icon that represents the weather conditions. These are all strings as well. The ListView and adapter work together to display a list of these weather conditions for various zip codes. To render this weather data, the list cell renderer uses a TableLayout to display these weather conditions – each cell is composed of a 2 row table: the first row has 2 cells – icon and temperature, the second row has 1 cell – the humidity.

The following Activity creates a ListView (with this weather data adapter) and displays it:

@Override protected void onCreate(Bundle bundle) {


// window features - must be set prior to calling setContentView...


PanelBuilder is a static class with helper methods to assemble the ListView and it’s underlying adapter:

public static View createList(Activity activity) {

// create the ui components
LinearLayout mainpanel = new LinearLayout(activity);
ListView listview = new ListView(activity);

// setup the mainpanel
// apply view group params for the activity's root pane
// set animation layout on the mainpanel
AnimUtils.setLayoutAnim_slideupfrombottom(mainpanel, activity);

// setup the listview and add to the mainpanel

bindListViewToAdapter(activity, listview);

AnimUtils.setLayoutAnim_slidedownfromtop(listview, activity);


// return the mainpanel
return mainpanel;


Let’s look at the implementation of binListViewToAdapter() next:

/** create the list data, and bind a custom adapter to the listview */
private static void bindListViewToAdapter(Activity ctx, ListView listview) {

final WeatherDataListAdapter listModelView = new WeatherDataListAdapter(ctx, listview);

// bind a selection listener to the view
listview.setOnItemSelectedListener(new AdapterView.OnItemSelectedListener() {
public void onItemSelected(AdapterView parentView, View childView, int position, long id) {
public void onNothingSelected(AdapterView parentView) {

public class WeatherDataListAdapter extends BaseAdapter {

// data members
/** holds all the weather data */
private Hashtable<String, Hashtable<String, String>> _data = new Hashtable<String, Hashtable<String, String>>();

/** holds the currently selected position */
private int _selectedIndex;
private Activity _context;

// constructor

* create the model-view object that will control the listview
* @param context activity that creates this thing
* @param listview bind to this listview
public WeatherDataListAdapter(final Activity context, ListView listview) {

// save the activity/context ref
_context = context;

// bind this model (and cell renderer) to the listview

// load some data into the model
String zip = "12345";
Hashtable<String, String> wd = new Hashtable<String, String>();
_data.put(zip, weatherdata);

Log.i(getClass().getSimpleName(), "loading data set, creating list model, and binding to listview");


// implement ListAdapter - how big is the underlying list data, and how to iterate it...
// the underlying data is a Map of Maps, so this really reflects the keyset of the enclosing Map...
/** returns all the items in the {@link #_data} table */
public int getCount() {
return _data.size();

/** returns the key for the table, not the value (which is another table) */
public Object getItem(int i) {
Object retval = _data.keySet().toArray()[i];
Log.i(getClass().getSimpleName(), "getItem(" + i + ") = " + retval);
return retval;

/** returns the unique id for the given index, which is just the index */
public long getItemId(int i) {
return i;

// handle list selection

* called when item in listview is selected... fires a model changed event...
* @param index index of item selected in listview. if -1 then it's unselected.
public void setSelected(int index) {

if (index == -1) {
// unselected
else {
// selected index...

_selectedIndex = index;

// notify the model that the data has changed, need to update the view

"updating _selectionIndex with index and firing model-change-event: index=" + index);


The notifyDataSetChanged() method is called in the UI thread, in this case, since the setSelected(int) method gets called from a listener that’s attached to the ListView.
Finally, here’s the cell renderer code:

// custom cell renderer

@Override public View getView(int index,
View cellRenderer,
ViewGroup parent)

CellRendererView cellRendererView = null;

if (cellRenderer == null) {
// create the cell renderer
Log.i(getClass().getSimpleName(), "creating a CellRendererView object");
cellRendererView = new CellRendererView();
else {
cellRendererView = (CellRendererView) cellRenderer;

// update the cell renderer, and handle selection state
_selectedIndex == index);

return cellRendererView;


Here’s the CellRendererView class, which itself is just a TableLayout container that renders the weather data Hashtable:

/** this class is responsible for rendering the data in the model, given the selection state */
private class CellRendererView extends TableLayout {

// ui stuff

private TextView _lblName;
private ImageView _lblIcon;
private TextView _lblDescription;

public CellRendererView() {




/** create the ui components */
private void _createUI() {

// make the 2nd col growable/wrappable
setColumnShrinkable(1, true);
setColumnStretchable(1, true);

// set the padding
setPadding(10, 10, 10, 10);

// single row that holds icon/flag & name
TableRow row = new TableRow(_context);

// fill the first row with: icon/flag, name
_lblName = new TextView(_context);
_lblName.setPadding(10, 10, 10, 10);

_lblIcon = AppUtils.createImageView(_context, -1, -1, -1);
_lblIcon.setPadding(10, 10, 10, 10);


// create the 2nd row with: description
_lblDescription = new TextView(_context);
_lblDescription.setPadding(10, 10, 10, 10);

// add the rows to the table

Log.i(getClass().getSimpleName(), "CellRendererView created");


/** update the views with the data corresponding to selection index */
public void display(int index, boolean selected) {

String zip = getItem(index).toString();
Hashtable<String, String> weatherForZip = _data.get(zip);

Log.i(getClass().getSimpleName(), "row[" + index + "] = " + weatherForZip.toString());

String temp = weatherForZip.get("temperature");

String icon = weatherForZip.get("icon");
int iconId = ResourceUtils.getResourceIdForDrawable(_context, "com.developerlife", "w" + icon);

String humidity = weatherForZip.get("humidity");

_lblName.setText("Feels like: " + temp + " F, in: " + zip);
_lblDescription.setText("Humidity: " + humidity + " %");

Log.i(getClass().getSimpleName(), "rendering index:" + index);

if (selected) {
Log.i(getClass().getSimpleName(), "hiding descripton for index:" + index);
else {
Log.i(getClass().getSimpleName(), "showing description for index:" + index);