Android: Building a cloud based quiz application

A long time ago, when Android was still in its infancy (1.5 I think..) I built and open sourced a basic quiz app.  The app was just a basic multiple choice question-answer app, driven from some questions in the database, but it did ok - it has had over 10k downloads on the app store, and the blog post tutorial here is still one of the most popular articles.

But here we are, Android 5.0 is released and the state of Android development is very different now. But I didn't really want to just re-skin/tweak the old app and push it out again - and I also wanted to write up some notes on using parse.com as a backend service - so this seemed like a good opportunity.

The source code for the app is all on GitHub.


The goal

So the aim is to create a an android app quiz game, but rather than using local storage, using the cloud to power the questions. This avoids the need for lots of boiler plate DB code and also makes it easier for us to update questions.  The tutorial will be broken into two parts - the first part will be basic quiz stuff with cloud questions, the second part will enhance the app to support user login and to track scores to allow users to compete against each other.


Parse

Before you start the tutorial, you need to get an account setup at parse.com - its a cloud DB/backend as a service that was recently bought by Facebook. They allow real easy setup of DBs and provide a load of nice libraries/APIs to really easily interact with their endpoints across lots of platforms (its also incredibly well priced -the free tiew is really good and if you find your mobile app is going beyond that then you can probably think about monetising the app!).  All you need to do is head over there, sign-up and then create a new app - all you need to do is give it a name and hey presto!  You can either make a note of the keys then, or come back and grab them later. There are no other changes you need to make now, as that will get handled from our source code. The only other thing to do is to download the parse android library to make use of their sdk in android (if you have grabbed the source code from GitHub then you will not have to worry about these)



OK, lets get started!

Again, I am not going to spend a lot of time covering the real basics of Android and only really mention the things of note or that are different from standard application development - hopefully the code & general explanation will be clear enough to get an understanding of what is going on.


Android manifest
First, lets get our AndroidManifest.xml file configured.  The only things to note here are the permissions we are setting - we will request internet access and network state permissions. Also worth noting that I have set the min sdk for my sample app at version 16.


Our Application class
We will have to create a custom implementation of the Android Application class. This class is instantiated on application startup, and hopefully if you are looking at Android development you should be familiar with this class.  We will do a couple of things in this class:

  1. Register our parse.com application with out secret keys
  2. Initialise the Parse library and our domain objects
  3. Try to fetch all the questions for the quiz and store them for offline usage 
  4. Create a GamePlay object, that will keep track of the state of the current game in progress
First lets look at the Parse setup - this is standard parse boilerplate and is covered in parse docs and sample apps - you just need to add your ID/Key here (also note, we have just registered the Parse object class Question - this is our domain object - like a JPA entity etc - if we add more domain objects they need to be added here too)

Next we will make a call to parse.com to fetch the questions from our cloud API - we will save this in the background (make an asynchronous call) and "pin it" to make it available for offline usage. Also note that we do not un-pin existing questions until we have successfully found new ones - that way users should always have questions once they have successfully loaded them the first time.
Hopefully the above is quite clear - the parse libraries are quite straight forward to understand - we create a query (typed Question) and then call findInBackground and implement an on success handler.


Domain objects: Question
Parse library provides a nice interface to create POJOs to model your domain model, if you are familiar with JPA/Hibernate/etc and the approach of POJOs representing a domain model its much like this. Using these classes you can easily query/load/save data from the cloud by just using these objects. You will have spotted that in the query we use in the application class to load all our questions we just run a plain query with the Question class - this, as you should expect, will just retrieve all Question objects from your cloud table (parse). The domain models are just an annotated POJO, and you just define appropriate getter/setters for the fields you want to include.


Welcome activity
Now we are into Android basic stuff really - we have setup parse and fetched the questions for local usage, now we just need a basic menu to start the quiz and some activities to display the questions and the end results.

We will just apply the layout and then implement a method to handle the button clicks. For this tutorial we are skipping the high score stuff and just playing the quiz.
All we need to do is reset the current GamePlay object and grab the questions from the local store (by this point they should be updated from the cloud so no problems, then kick off the quiz!


Question activity
There is nothing really interesting to see here - it's all on github if you want to take a look in detail (or have already downloaded and working along) - This is just a standard Android activity that pulls out the question and possible answers and presents them.




This just progresses along fairly simply, until it gets to the end of the quiz and then it presents a simple screen saying the score - all this stuff can be tweaked/styled etc - but there are the basics for a cloud powered multiple choice quiz app!


Creating the questions

All the questions will be stored in the cloud in parse.com - once you have a look at the interface, it should be pretty clear - you can easily create the data for questions either manually or by importing a csv/json file.



You will need to login to your parse account and the quiz app and create a Question class. This will just match the domain POJO we have created. Just login, go to "CORE" then "DATA" Then select "+ Add Class", adda a custom class called "Question" (this must be exactly the same as the name provided in the POJO annotation for the Question class).. Then select "Add Col" and add the fields to match the POJO (question[string], option1[string], etc).  Once you have the class/table added on parse, you can simply add data by selecting "Add Row" and just manually entering the data, or using the import function.



Source code

rob hinds

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

7 comments:

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