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Plugins

I blogged 2 years ago that Android is a surprisingly modern application platform, I even said that it was the most modern application platform. This is partly due to Android's advanced component features. These features are not always evident to the naked eye so I present here a standard exercise to demonstrate them.

Click here to download the example program.

In this exercise we will implement a plugin framework for an example program. Plugins are components that connect to the main application over a uniform interface and are dynamically deployable. The download package contains two Android applications. The first, pluginapp is the example application that will use the plugins. The second, plugin1 is a plugin package that contains two plugins for pluginapp. Plugin1 package is not visible among the executable applications, it does not expose any activity that may be launched by the end user. If deployed, however, its plugins appear in pluginapp. Plugin deployment/undeployment is dynamic, if you uninstall plugin1 package while pluginapp is running, pluginapp notices the changes and the plugins disappear from the plugin list.




In order to implement these functionalities, the following features of the Android framework were used.


  • Each plugin is a service. Plugin1 exposes two of them. In order to identify our plugins, I defined a specific Intent (aexp.intent.action.PICK_PLUGIN) and I attached an intent filter listening to this intent in plugin1's AndroidManifest.xml. In order to select a particular plugin, I abused the category field again. One plugin can be accessed therefore by binding a service with an intent whose action is aexp.intent.action.PICK_PLUGIN and whose category equals to the category listed in AndroidManifest.xml of the package that exposes the plugin service.
  • Plugins are discovered using the Android PackageManager. Pluginapp asks the PackageManager to return the list of plugins that are bound to aexp.intent.action.PICK_PLUGIN action. Pluginapp then retrieves the category from this list and can produce an intent that is able to bindthe selected plugin.
  • Pluginapp updates the plugin list dynamically by listening to ACTION_PACKAGE_ADDED, ACTION_PACKAGE_REMOVED and ACTION_PACKAGE_REPLACED intents. Whenever any of these intents are detected, it refreshes the plugin list.
Even though Android is not as sophisticated as OSGi when it comes to component framework, it has every necessary element. It has a searchable service registry, packages can be queried for the services they expose and there are deployment events.






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