Developing TransportDroidIL for Android


Here are a few words on developing TransportDroidIL, a small utility to query Israeli public transportation sites more easily using an Android phone.

Source control is super important. Mistakes will be made, other coders will want to join in, and experimental features will want to be in their own branches. Git is awesome; it does source control right, gives me powerful tools, and isn’t a hassle to set up - even for a small project like this. Github is also awesome; it makes collaboration with other coders - even just one, in my case - easy, organized, and fun.

One of my favorite git features is revert. It allows you to automatically inverse a previous change. Here’s an example from TransportDroidIL: 0e194de. This commit reverts a previous “cleanup” commit in the autocompletion code - allegedly, I was keeping two copies of the autocompletion option list for no reason: One as a LinkedList<string>, and one internal to the AutoCompleteTextView which I can access via an ArrayAdapter<string>. Turns out that my LinkedList<string> copy is necessary, because the ArrayAdapter<string> always behaves as though it’s empty, so it cannot truly be read from. Despite having performed a few commits since that bad “fix”, git was very helpful in letting me revert that particular change, showing me the conflicts this operation causes, and allowing me to fix them. The lesson is an important one: Make small, manageable commits. Git is optimized for this, as commits are local (no need to contact the server until a push).

Developing for Android makes a lot of sense when using Eclipse. I’m a VIM junkie, and generally dislike IDEs. Eclipse is slow and heavy - but it gets the job done, and it does it very well. It’s a bit weird that a plugin is required to manage color schemes - but it exists. It’s very weird (and quite annoying) that it doesn’t remove end-of-line white-space, and doesn’t have an option to do this. This makes git complain. There is an option to add “clean-up” settings which are activated on every save, but this is far too cumbersome and might change code I didn’t intend to change (which becomes confusing in the revision log). Still, the excellent debugging, JUnit and logcat support are worth it.

Logcat is another awesome feature of Android. Every logged line has both a “Tag” (usually defined per-class) and a severity. Logs can be filtered with a different severity for each tag, and still - one can use the same logcat to show messages from anything running on the Android device at the moment. It’s basically Syslog done better.

One last point is about Hebrew. This has been a problem with Android for quite a while; for example, in a stock Android 2.3.3, numbers embedded in Hebrew string appear backwards. Fixes exist, and are implemented in most Israeli ROMs, especially the ones distributed by phone carriers - but they’re different, and sometimes don’t work for all applications. This causes numbers to appear backwards in TransportDroidIL, which in turn caused me to implement an ugly hack. I hope the upcoming Ice Cream Sandwich release fixes this.