lambda support for Android

Lambda support for Android

Note: big thanks to orfjackal (Esko Luontola), the author of Retrolambda, for making it possible. I just used his tool to produce Android apk.

So, you’re jealous about new JDK8 upcoming to most Java developers except for you, Android coders? Then I have good news - there is a way to use lambdas in Android right now (warning: it’s still a hack)!

But I already have local classes!

Lambdas are very similar to local classes you had since early days of Java.

The code below looks familiar to every Android developer:

// defined in the SDK
interface OnClickListener {
    public void onClick(View v);

// your code
mButton.setOnClickListener(new View.OnClickListener() {
    public void onClick(View v) {
        // do something here

That’s a bit annoying to write such a bloated code for every single asynchronous action (especially if you’re using a plain text editor instead of an IDE).

Now with Java 8 they introduce lambdas that can be treated as syntax sugar for functional interfaces (interfaces with just one abstract method, in Java 8 interfaces may contain non-abstract methods as well).

The code above can be rewritten with lambdas:

mButton.setOnClickListener((View v) -> {
    // do something here

If there is just one statement inside the method then the braces can be omitted. Also, if you refer to some variables outside the functional method - no need to mark them as final anymore.

but android supports only Java 6/7

Java 7 support was added in the KitKat SDK (well, still no support for invokedynamic instruction in Dalvik and ART). So, to achieve Java 8 support we need to backport our code at least to Java 7.

We’ll use retrolambda tool to convert our Java 8 compiled classes into Java 7 bytecode that dx can correctly process.

setup JDK

If you’re already running JDK8 - you can skip this part. Otherwise, download the latest JDK8 and unpack it somewhere.

Modify your Java environment variables to point to the new JDK (e.g. $JAVA_HOME, $JDK_HOME etc) and add bin directory to $PATH.

Ensure you’re running Java 8:

$ java -version
$ javac -version

Next, install Ant of version 1.9.1 or newer (with added support of JDK8). You may install it into separate folder and add bin subdirectory to $PATH.

Download retrolambda-1.1.2.jar or newer.

Copy some useful classes from JRE8 runtime. I don’t know if that can be done automatically somehow. I unpacked them to a directory and packed it back into jar. These files are needed only at the compilation stage, they are not included into the final apk:

$ unzip -x <path to JDK8>/jre/lib/rt.jar java/lang/invoke/\*
$ jar cvf rt8.jar java

Put rt8.jar and retrolambda.jar into your android project directory.

Modify file inside your android project adding these lines:

Here we tell to produce Java 8 code and to include rt8.jar into the classpath.

Create custom_rules.xml:

<?xml version="1.0" encoding="UTF-8"?>
    <target name="-post-compile">
        <exec executable="java">
            <arg value="-Dretrolambda.inputDir=${out.classes.absolute.dir}" />
            <arg value="-Dretrolambda.classpath=${out.classes.absolute.dir}:${}" />
            <arg value="-Dretrolambda.bytecodeVersion=50" />
            <arg value="-javaagent:retrolambda.jar" />
            <arg value="-jar" />
            <arg value="retrolambda.jar" />

Here we add retrolambda processing of the compiled classes before dx-ing them.

I used <exec> task, because <java> task put -jar option in the first place, but retrolambda requires it to be last argument. Maybe that can be fixed somehow, I’m pretty bad at Ant.

Try using lambdas in your code. By the way, I got some other cool things working, too:

package com.example.lambda;

import android.os.Bundle;
import android.util.Log;

public class MainActivity extends Activity {
    public void onCreate(Bundle savedInstanceState) {

        int x = 42;
        runOnUiThread(() -> {
            Log.d("MainActivity", "Hello from lambda! x = " + x);

        try {
            if (false) {
                throw new NullPointerException();
            } else { 
                throw new InterruptedException();
        } catch (NullPointerException|InterruptedException e) {
            // Multiple exceptions work!
            Log.e("MainActivity", "Exception: ", e);

        String s = "fo" + "o";

        // Switch/case for strings works!
        switch (s) {
            case "foo":
                Log.d("MainActivity", "s = foo");
            case "bar":
                Log.d("MainActivity", "s = bar");

Finally, do ant debug and see if it works.

For those who is using AIDE there is a gradle plugin that does pretty much the same.

Also, there was another tool to convert Java 8 sources, but lambdas are supported only in variable declaration. Maybe that can be improved somehow to support lambdas properly.

Anyway, I hope you find it useful and I hope that one day Android will get official support for many Java niceties, like invokedynamic or Java 8 features.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this article. You can follow – and contribute to – on Github, Twitter or subscribe via rss.

Jan 09, 2014

See also: kotlin - a new hope and more.