Building a Twitter style autocomplete for Android

I have recently been working on an android app and found myself needing a Twitter style input box that allowed certain words to be looked up using an API driven autocomplete but also supporting freetext (if you have used the compose tweet input on android, like this - free text, but if you type @ then you get a user name autocomplete).



I google'd for a while, and stumbled through a few StackOverflow answers but none of there were 100% clear, and further more, just copy-pasting the code into a dummy project I was working in didn't work. So here is a break down of the what and how this works.

There are four main components:

The XML Layout: MultiAutoCompleteTextView


This is simple - just add the MultiAutoCompleteTextView just like you would any input. The only point of interest here is the "completionThreshold" - this is just the number of characters that have to be typed before auto-complete kicks in. We have set this to one char so it kicks in early.


We then just setup the auto-complete in our Activity onCreate

SetTokeniser: UsernameTokenizer

This is a custom class that implements the Tokenizer interface. This will be used by our autocomplete imput box to work out whether or not it should be displaying a dropdown menu. If you are using a static list for lookups (countries, fixed codes from your app, etc) then this is the only thing you really need to do - then you can just set the fields ArrayAdapter as the list of Strings etc and it will automatically kick in.

In our case, we are using the @ character to identify the start of pieces of text that should be lookedup and spaces to determine the end of the look up token.


The three methods are relatively straight forward - and will drive when your app presents the drop down:
  • terminateToken(CharSequence text) - this basically just provides a presentable version of our token with a proper terminator at the end (e.g. makes sure a trailing single space in this case)
  • findTokenStart(CharSequence text, int cursor) - Just finds the position of the start of the token. It does this by iterating backwards through the provided CharSequence (the text input in the input box) starting from the position of the cursor, which is just the position of the last character edited (this means if you go back and edit text in the middle of a block it still finds the correct token).  If no valid token start is found (e.g. we go backwards and we can't find a @ character) then the current position is returned - no dropdown is displayed.
  • findTokenEnd(CharSequence text, int cursor) - As above, but finds the end position. Iterates forward until a token terminator (in our case a space) or the end of the text is found

As long as you implement these to support your token identification pattern then you will get a dropdown appearing appropriately.


Adding a text changed listener

For ease of use on this one, I have just set the activity to implement the TextWatcher interface - the reason for this is just convenience - the implementation is going to handle calling our API asyncronously, so it is easier if it has the activity context.

There are three methods that need to be implemented - four our case there will be two no-op methods and just one implementation:


The method onTextChanged is implemented - unfortunately the tokenizer will only indicate to the application when to display the dropdown - it doesn't actually call the API, so we have to slightly repeat ourselves here in handling the API invocation.  In this method we need to again check for and find the relevant valid token in the input, and if a valid token found, then pass it to our API to lookup the dataset.

To help with that, I also added some additional methods to help check for the existence of a valid token (reading them should be self explanatory, but comments included inline)


In this case, as it was just an experiment, and I didn't actually have a user lookup API I have just used the LinkedIn skills API (this code also taken in part from a StackOverflow answer).

The Async task should also be straight forward, and can be implemented in whatever pattern you are using for Async calls - but the key point to note is how we are updating our dropdown list.


The API driven, multi-autocomplete/free text field should then be working as expected



rob hinds

I'm on to the next one, on to the next one..

2 comments:

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  2. Fantastic! that was great! But what about user Icon and profile name? how can show them?
    I think we should use custom adapter ( Like adapter that extend Base Adapter) , Am I Right?!

    Can you write more for this reason?!
    Thanks

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