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Android User Interface Design: Basic Buttons

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This post is part of a series called Android User Interface Design.
Android User Interface Design: Layout Basics
Android User Interface Design: Linear Layouts

This quick tip shows you the steps to create a simple Button or ImageButton control in your Android application. First, you learn how to add button controls to your layout files. Next, you learn how to handle button clicks from the user in two different ways. Finally, we discuss some of the other features available to button controls in Android.

Step 1: Create an Android Application

Begin by creating an Android project. Implement your Android application as normal. Once you have a project set up and the application running, decide under what screen you want to add Button controls to. Perhaps you’ve simply created a new Android project with its default Activity and layout (main.xml). This will work for this tutorial. Once you have gotten your Android project set up, you are ready to proceed with this quick tip.

You can follow along with our project: BasicButtons, which is available as an open source project.

Step 2: Working with Button Controls

The Android SDK includes two simple button controls for use within your layouts: Button (android.widget.Button) and ImageButton (android.widget.ImageButton). These controls function in a similar way so we can discuss them pretty much interchangeably. The difference between the controls is mostly visual; the Button control has a text label, whereas the ImageButton uses an image drawable resource instead. A good example of Button usage would be a simple button with a text label “Save”. A good example of ImageButton usage would a set of musically-inspired buttons with the symbols for Play (), Pause () and Stop ( ).

Here is an example of a screen with both a Button control (left) and an ImageButton control (right).

Android screen with two types of button controlsAndroid screen with two types of button controlsAndroid screen with two types of button controls

The Android SDK also includes several other lesser-known button-like controls derived from these two basic button types, including CompoundButton, RadioButton, ToggleButton, and ZoomButton. For more information on these controls, see the Android documentation. You can also create custom controls yourself by deriving from the appropriate class and implementing the control’s behavior.

Step 3: Adding a Button Control to a Layout

Button controls are usually included as part of your Activity’s layout resource file. For example, to add a Button control to the main.xml layout resource associated with your application, you must edit the layout file. You can do this within Eclipse using the Layout Resource designer, or by editing the XML directly. Controls such as buttons can also be created programmatically and added to your screen at runtime. Simply create the appropriate control from its class and add it to your layout within your Activity.

To add a Button control to a layout resource file, open the /res/layout/main.xml layout file that is part of your Android project. Click on the LinearLayout (or parent layout control, such as a RelativeLayout or FrameLayout) that you wish to add the Button control to. In Eclipse, you can click on the parent layout within the Outline tab, and then add a new control using the green button with the plus sign. Choose the control you want to add—in this case, a Button control.

Adding a Button control to a Layout Resource in EclipseAdding a Button control to a Layout Resource in EclipseAdding a Button control to a Layout Resource in Eclipse

To configure how the Button control looks, adjust the control’s properties by selecting the control (either in the Outline tab or the Preview window) and changing its properties in the Properties Tab. Specific properties you will want to be aware of:

  • Give the Button or ImageButton control a unique name using the id property.
  • Set the text displayed on the Button control using the text property; set the image displayed on the ImageButton control using the src property.
  • Set the layout height and layout width properties of the control to wrap_content.
  • Set any other properties you desire to adjust the control’s appearance. For example, adjust the font of a Button using the Text color, text size, and text style properties.

Here is the content of the layout resource file used to generate the screen shown in the previous section. It contains three controls. The RelativeLayout organizes the controls on the screen,namely the two child controls, a Button and an ImageButton, as shown here:

Step 4: Handling Clicks – The Easy Way

For now, if you launch this application, the button controls are displayed, but nothing happens if you click on them. Now it’s time to handle clicks on the controls. There are several ways to do this.

Let’s start with the easy way. Button and ImageButton controls have a property called onClick (shown as "On Click" in the properties pane).. You set the name of the method that will handle the click with this property, and then implement that method within your Activity. For example, you could set the property of your Button control to onMyButtonClick. In XML, this property would appear as:

Then, in your Activity class, you need to implement this method. It should be a public void method with a single parameter, a View object. For example, the following button click implementation generates a Toast message on the screen when the Button control is clicked:

When you click on the Button control, the onMyButtonClick() method is called, displaying the Toast message on the screen. The details of what your Button control does is up to you. Here’s what the Toast message would look like when you pressed the Button control:

Handling a Button control click with a ToastHandling a Button control click with a ToastHandling a Button control click with a Toast

Step 5: Handling Clicks – Implementing an OnClickListener

The other way to implement your click handling is to register a new View.OnClickListener with your button control using the setOnClickListener() method. Instead of setting the On Click property of your button control in your layout resource to a method you must implement, you do this programmatically within your Activity. While this might seem like a lot of extra code to write, it’s important to at least understand it, as clicks are not the only event worth handling on certain controls. The programmatic method we are about to show you applies to other events such as long clicks.

To use this method, you must update your Activity class to register for control clicks. This is typically done within the onCreate() method of your Activity. Retrieve the control using the findViewById() method and then use its the setOnClickListener() method to define the behavior of the control when clicked. You will need to implement the onClick() method of the interface yourself. For example, the following code (placed in the onCreate() method of the Activity) registers a click handler for our ImageButton control.

Similarly, you can use this technique to implement long click handling using the control’s setOnLongClickListener() method.


Button controls are commonly used in Android application user interfaces. In this quick tip you learned how to create two different types of Android button controls: the Button and the ImageButton. You also learned several ways to implement button click handlers for these types of controls.

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