Singletons vs. Application Context in Android?


Recalling this post enumerating several problems of using singletons and having seen several examples of Android applications using singleton pattern, I wonder if it's a good idea to use Singletons instead of single instances shared through global application state (subclassing android.os.Application and obtaining it through context.getApplication()).

What advantages/drawbacks would both mechanisms have?

To be honest, I expect the same answer in this post Singleton pattern with Web application, Not a good idea! but applied to Android. Am I correct? What's different in DalvikVM otherwise?

EDIT: I would like to have opinions on several aspects involved:

  • Synchronization
  • Reusability
  • Testing
5/23/2017 11:54:51 AM

Accepted Answer

I very much disagree with Dianne Hackborn's response. We are bit by bit removing all singletons from our project in favor of lightweight, task scoped objects which can easiliy be re-created when you actually need them.

Singletons are a nightmare for testing and, if lazily initialized, will introduce "state indeterminism" with subtle side effects (which may suddenly surface when moving calls to getInstance() from one scope to another). Visibility has been mentioned as another problem, and since singletons imply "global" (= random) access to shared state, subtle bugs may arise when not properly synchronized in concurrent applications.

I consider it an anti-pattern, it's a bad object-oriented style that essentially amounts to maintaining global state.

To come back to your question:

Although the app context can be considered a singleton itself, it is framework-managed and has a well defined life-cycle, scope, and access path. Hence I believe that if you do need to manage app-global state, it should go here, nowhere else. For anything else, rethink if you really need a singleton object, or if it would also be possible to rewrite your singleton class to instead instantiate small, short-lived objects that perform the task at hand.

3/16/2018 3:24:43 PM

I very much recommend singletons. If you have a singleton that needs a context, have:

MySingleton.getInstance(Context c) {
    // ... needing to create ...
    sInstance = new MySingleton(c.getApplicationContext());

I prefer singletons over Application because it helps keep an app much more organized and modular -- instead of having one place where all of your global state across the app needs to be maintained, each separate piece can take care of itself. Also the fact that singletons lazily initialize (at request) instead of leading you down the path of doing all initialization up-front in Application.onCreate() is good.

There is nothing intrinsically wrong with using singletons. Just use them correctly, when it makes sense. The Android framework actually has a lot of them, for it to maintain per-process caches of loaded resources and other such things.

Also for simple applications multithreading doesn't become an issue with singletons, because by design all standard callbacks to the app are dispatched on the main thread of the process so you won't have multi-threading happening unless you introduce it explicitly through threads or implicitly by publishing a content provider or service IBinder to other processes.

Just be thoughtful about what you are doing. :)

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