Bitesize Android KitKat: Week 3: Text editor for the cloud

Written by Sam Davies

The new storage access framework in KitKat provides a unified interface to a multitude of file storage options – from on disk to cloud storage services. This means that it’s easy for any apps to view, edit and create apps across a wide range of of storage providers.

In this article we’ll take a look at how to access the storage access framework as a consumer – i.e. providing access to storage endpoints. The framework also supports creating new storage endpoints (document providers) – as a cloud storage provider (e.g. dropbox) might want to. We’re going to create a really simple text-editor app, which will be able to open a text document stored in the cloud, edit it and save the changes.

The code is available as part of the KitKat: finger-by-finger repo on Github at The project is a gradle project, and should be easy to import into Android Studio. It has been tested with Android Studio 0.4.4.

This post is part of a series of articles – Bitesize Android KitKat, which takes a look at some of the new features available to developers as part of the KitKat release of Android. Each article is backed up with a sample app which demonstrates how to use the feature in a real scenario, with all the source code available on GitHub. Check the index for a list of all the articles published so far.

Opening a file

Pre-KitKat, accessing files provided by other apps required selecting an app which had provided a user-interface for interacting with the files it provides access to. In KitKat a new intent has been created ACTION_OPEN_DOCUMENT, which will provide persistent access to a document provided by a document provider. This means that it should be used for opening a file for editing or the suchlike. If you wish to just import a copy of an image for display then ACTION_GET_CONTENT continues to be the best choice.

The following code demonstrates how simple it is to present the user with an activity for navigation to and selection of a document:

Intent openFileIntent = new Intent(Intent.ACTION_OPEN_DOCUMENT);

// Only want those items which can be opened

// Only want to see files of the plain text mime type

startActivityForResult(openFileIntent, READ_REQUEST_CODE);

First we create the intent, and then add some restrictions to the types of documents we wish to be shown. We should be able to open the files (CATEGORY_OPENABLE) and we’re only interested in plain text files. Then we start the activity with startActivityForResult()READ_REQUEST_CODE is a static int which we have previously defined:

public static final int READ_REQUEST_CODE = 135;

When the document selection activity completes it will call onActivityResult() on our activity, and therefore this request code is used to identify the specific request we’ve kicked off.

This will present an activity as follows:

File Selection

As you can see, we already have document storage providers for the local disk and Google Drive. If you have your own storage service then the Storage Access Framework makes it pretty easy to write a Document Provider to enable access though this dialog. This is outside the scope of this article, but there is good guide available on the android developer site at

Once the user has completed the file selection in the document provider activity then our activity will get a callback to OnActivityResult(). The following demonstrates how to open the specified file:

protected void onActivityResult(int requestCode, int resultCode, Intent data) {
    if(requestCode == READ_REQUEST_CODE && resultCode == Activity.RESULT_OK) {
        // Let's see the URI
        currentOpenFileUri = null;
        if (data != null) {
            currentOpenFileUri = data.getData();
            Log.i(TAG, "URI: " + currentOpenFileUri.toString());
            // Get hold of the content of the file
            AsyncStringReader stringReader = new AsyncStringReader(getContentResolver(), textEditorFragment);

Once we’ve checked that the completed activity is the one we expect (via comparison of requestCode) and that the activity completed successfully (as opposed to being canceled) then we go ahead an attempt to read the file content. One of the arguments provided is an Intent, which has as its data property a URI through which the document can be accessed. Here we extract the URI, and then instantiate an AsyncStringReader which will read the content from the URI asynchronously. This reader is a custom class, and we’ll take a brief look at it in the next section.

Asynchronous String Reader

Although it’s not part of the main thrust of this article, the AsyncStringReader class is sufficiently interesting that it warrants further description. Android provides an abstract class (AsyncTask) for performing tasks on a background thread. It provides facility for starting a task, updating the user on progress, and firing a completion method back on the main thread, without ever having to deal with any threading issues.

Here we’ll use an AsyncTask to read a string from a specified Uri:

public class AsyncStringReader extends AsyncTask<Uri, Void, String>

When subclassing we fix the 3 generic types – defining the task start parameters, the progress update return type, and the result type. Here, we provide a Uri to read from, don’t care about progress updates and want a String of the document’s content in return.

To construct an AsyncStringReader we require a ContentResolver to allow the file to be opened, and an AsyncStringReaderCompletionHandler which will be notified when the file has been read:

private AsyncStringReaderCompletionHandler mCompletionHandler;
private ContentResolver mContentResolver;

public AsyncStringReader(ContentResolver contentResolver,
                         AsyncStringReaderCompletionHandler completionHandler) {
    mContentResolver   = contentResolver;
    mCompletionHandler = completionHandler;

Where AsyncStringReaderCompletionHandler is an interface:

public interface AsyncStringReaderCompletionHandler {
        public void setText(String s);

There are 4 possible methods we could override, but we actually need only two – the first being doInBackground(), which describes the task which is performed on the background thread:

protected String doInBackground(Uri... params) {
    String resultString = "";
        InputStream inputStream = mContentResolver.openInputStream(params[0]);
        if(inputStream != null) {
            BufferedReader reader = new BufferedReader(new InputStreamReader(inputStream));
            StringBuilder stringBuilder = new StringBuilder();
            String line;
            while((line = reader.readLine()) != null) {
            resultString = stringBuilder.toString();
    } catch (IOException e) {
    return resultString;

Here we use the ContentResolver to get an InputStream from the provided Uri, before using a BufferedReader to construct aString which is the content of the file.

The other method is onPostExecute(), which is run back on the main thread, and we use to send the file content to the completion handler:

protected void onPostExecute(String s) {

Using the string reader

If you cast your mind back to when we used this string reader in the onActivityResult() method you’ll remember that we passed in a Fragment subclass as the completion handler:

public class TextEditorFragment extends Fragment implements AsyncStringReaderCompletionHandler

In the TextEditorFragment when we receive new text we save it in a member variable:

private String mText;
public void setText(String mOriginalText) {
    this.mText = mOriginalText;

And ensure that the text view is updated appropriately:

private void UpdateTextView() {
    // Update the text view

private void setEditTextContent(String content) {

private EditText getEditText() {
    return (EditText)getView().findViewById(;

There are some additional complexities associated with the interaction between the fragment and the activity, but they’re out of scope for this article. If you run up the app at this point, then you’ll be able to open a text document from Google Drive, and get it to load into view for editing:

Text Edit Before

Saving a file

Once you’ve edited a file you’ll want to save it. This is actually completely seamless, since the all the cleverness of the storage access framework is hidden away behind the Uri that you’ve been provided. Therefore, to save our updated string:

ParcelFileDescriptor pfd = mContentResolver.openFileDescriptor(params[0].uri, "w");
FileOutputStream fileOutputStream = new FileOutputStream(pfd.getFileDescriptor());

We first get a file descriptor which enables write access from the a content resolver, before creating a FileOutputStream and writing the contents of the String. This really is simplicity itself – excellent.

Asynchronous String Writer

In the same way that we created an async string reader, we’re going to use a writer as well.

public class AsyncStringWriter extends AsyncTask<AsyncStringWriterParams, Void, Boolean>

The Param type is a custom class which encapsulates the Uri of the document to save, and String of the new content:

public class AsyncStringWriterParams {
    public Uri uri;
    public String newContent;

    public AsyncStringWriterParams(Uri uri, String newContent) {
        this.uri = uri;
        this.newContent = newContent;

The constructor will again require a ContentResolver, as well as an AsyncStringWriterCompletionHandler:

private ContentResolver mContentResolver;
private AsyncStringWriterCompletionHandler mCompletionHandler;
public AsyncStringWriter(ContentResolver contentResolver,
                         AsyncStringWriterCompletionHandler completionHandler) {
    mContentResolver = contentResolver;
    mCompletionHandler = completionHandler;


public interface AsyncStringWriterCompletionHandler {
    public void StringSaved(Boolean success);

The doInBackground() method performs the actual saving of the document, as detailed above:

protected Boolean doInBackground(AsyncStringWriterParams... params) {
    Boolean success = false;
    try {
        ParcelFileDescriptor pfd = mContentResolver.openFileDescriptor(params[0].uri, "w");
        FileOutputStream fileOutputStream = new FileOutputStream(pfd.getFileDescriptor());
        success = true;
    } catch (FileNotFoundException e) {
    } catch (IOException e) {
    return success;

and on completion, we return a Boolean specifying whether or not the save was successful:

protected void onPostExecute(Boolean aBoolean) {

Using the writer

In our activity we have a SaveText() method which creates an AsyncStringWriter and uses it to save the new text to the open file’s location:

public void SaveText(String text) {
    Log.i(TAG, "Save the updated text");
    AsyncStringWriter stringWriter = new AsyncStringWriter(getContentResolver(), textEditorFragment);
    AsyncStringWriterParams params = new AsyncStringWriterParams(currentOpenFileUri, text);

This method is wired in to a button on the activity bar inside the editor fragment:

public boolean onOptionsItemSelected(MenuItem item) {
    if(item.getItemId() == {
        if(mText != null) {
        return true;
    return super.onOptionsItemSelected(item);

There are some additional details involving the interaction between the fragment and the activity – you can see them in the source code without much difficulty.

Checking it works

So now, if you edit an open document:

Text Edit After

and hit the save button, then the document will be saved, irrespective of where it actually lives. The document above is on my Google Drive, and I can confirm that it works by taking a look on web:

Text Edit Desktop


I think this is really quite cool – editing cloud documents is now as easy as it would be to edit a document on the local disk. The storage access framework nicely abstracts away the complexities of dealing with different storage providers into a simple Uri-based scheme.

There is a lot more that is possible with the SAF – including creating new documents, deleting documents and handling document metadata. There are extensive details available on the developer pages at

Hopefully all the cloud storage providers will take the opportunity to implement storage providers so that it’s really easy for users to interact with their different sources.

Don’t forget that the source code for this simple cloud text editor is all available on Github at If you have any questions or comments, don’t hesitate to pop them in below, on Github or hit me up on twitter @iwantmyrealname.