Android: Managing Multiple BroadcastReceivers

When I was developing the Presently Android client I ran into an interesting problem. If a user is in the main timeline activity and a new message comes in, the active timeline just needs to update with the new message. However, if the user is in another activity stream, (like viewing @ replies or DM's for example) and a new message comes in to the main stream the application should not only update the main stream but should also show the user a notification so they can be aware that new messages are coming into another activity.

In this post I will show you how I solved this problem.

There is a background service to pull new messages from the server. When the service receives a new message, a broadcast will be sent:

Then, we have a BroadcastReceiver in TimelineActivity to receive the broadcast.

Now, when new messages come in the user can see the messages update to listview and get a notification in the status bar. But there is a small problem: it only works in TimelineActivity, because when the user opens a new activity or presses the Home button, the BroadcastReceiver is unregistered in the onPause() method.

So I tried to put the register/unregister operation in the onCreate()/onDestroy() methods. This fixed the problem of new messages and notifications not showing in other activities. But then there was another problem: in TimelineActivity, the user receives an additional and unnecessary notification. So I set out to fix this particular problem.

The first question I asked myself was, “Can I only use one BroadcastReceiver?” The answer was “No!” So, I used two BroadcastReceiver(s) to fix this problem.

In this code there are some key points I want to outline:

  • Broadcast the new messages with sendOrderedBroadcast() instead of sendBroadcast(). It will be passed one by one unless you stop it by abortBroadcast().

  • Register/unregister RefreshTimelineReceiver in onResume()/onPause(), and RefreshTimelineAndNotifyReceiver in onCreate()/onDestroy(). This makes certain there is no RefreshTimelineReceiver in other activities.

  • Give FILTER_HIGH_PRIORITY to RefreshTimelineReceiver and FILTER_LOW_PRIORITY to RefreshTimelineAndNotifyReceiver. In TimelineActivity, RefreshTimelineReceiver receives the broadcast first.

  • AbortBroadcast after showNewMessages() in RefreshTimelineReceiver. Don't pass the broadcast to next receiver.

And this is how I solved the problem of notifying a Presently Android user of new incoming messages to the main activity if they are active in a separate activity stream. Hopefully this might help someone else out who might be working through a similar problem!