The Fragments fragmentation problem

Way back when Honeycomb was released, Google introduced Fragments to make development for both tablets and phones a bit easier. Activities still remained the way to structure screens but now screens could have multiple fragments inside them, each with its own lifecycle.

The classic example is the List and Detail fragments - each might be alone in an Activity on phones but go together on a tablet.

Fragments are special

In order to give all developers this neat new way of making apps, you’d need to have it backported to older Android versions. Google did that under the name of the Support Library.

The support library is a weird beast - it doesn’t just provide a backward-compatible layer, it entirely reimplements the Fragments infrastucture. Even on post-Honeycomb devices, the Fragment support still comes from the library and not the base OS.

The main problem with using Fragments for anything remotely complicated was that all communication between fragments had to go through the Activity containing them. Nested Fragments were unsupported and led to all sort of lifecycle bugs. Until API level 17, that is.

Jelly Bean 4.2 finally introduced Nested Fragments. And they were added to the Support Library, too! This was an architectural dream come true! Neat encapsulation of visual elements and business logic, no messy Activities, all is great!

Top three most annoying bugs with nested fragments

1. Animating nested fragments is half-impossible

The bug: If you, like me, are working on a relatively modern application, you want your UI to be smoothly animated. The FragmentManager allows you to set transitions for any transaction. Except, the exit animations will always cause the nested fragments to disappear when the animation starts.

The reason: Fragments have a “nested” lifecycle. That is, the nested fragments are stopped before their parent. Because the root fragment manager doesn’t know about them, their View hierarchy is yanked before the animation starts. The root fragment will still animate correctly.

2. setRetainInstance is inherited

The bug: Nested fragments inherit the retain instance status of their parent fragment.

The reason: I’ve not investigated this in detail, just noted it and calmly put down the lock of hair I’d pulled off of my head.

3. onActivityResult is broken

The bug: Activity results will be swallowed up or straight-out misdelivered for any activity started from a nested fragment.

The reason: The support library modifies the requestCode to include a fragment index in the top 16 bits. This index is relative to the fragment’s fragment manager, which might be nested. However, the activity assumes that the index is within its own fragment manager, so will misdeliver the result. Fragments will also not propagate the result to any of their children.

I hope you enjoyed this little gallery. I certainly had fun making it.

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