In this blog, we will draw out a detailed differentiation between Jetpack Compose and XML, both of which are used for creating Android apps. As app development of all kinds undergoes continuous evolution and growth, modern UI development has become essential. Jetpack Compose and XML play an impactful role in this ever-transforming world of app development.
We will compare both methods and analyze the distinct strengths and capabilities of Jetpack Compose with regard to UI development. We will also make use of a list view-based practical example to show the direct advantages of using Android Jetpack and how it can be beneficial in modern UI development.
Jetpack Compose is a new tool for making Android apps that look and feel great. It simplifies the process of building interactive and dynamic user interfaces by employing a straightforward and clear method to describe the desired interface appearance. Instead of writing complex XML code, you can use Kotlin functions to create UI components in a concise and easily comprehensible manner. Plus, you get to see your changes instantly with real-time previews, and there are built-in features for handling how things move and change on the screen. It’s a modern and enjoyable way to develop Android apps!
Jetpack Compose was launched by Google in May 2019 at Google I/O. Ever since its introduction, this approach has become quite popular among the developers’ community and its utilization has increased. Its latest version 1.5.0 was released on August 9, 2023.
Traditional XML views have been the longstanding method for crafting user interfaces in Android apps. By defining layouts, visual styles, and behaviors through XML files, developers have the flexibility to customize UI elements. Despite requiring more manual coding, this reliable approach remains widely used in Android app development.
XML-based layouts were launched during the release period of Android in 2008. They quickly gained popularity for designing user interfaces. The Android ecosystem has been seeing many critical updates and improvements since its release and XML has acted as one of the pillars during this phase by staying relevant. Its utilization in various applications has also been continuous and constant.
XML play an important role in defining the visual structure of user interface. It lays down the structuring and defines the properties of UI elements like TextViews, ImageViews, Buttons, and many more. XML keeps the layout information separate from the code logic. By doing this, XML is able to support easy collaboration between developers and designers and it also enables fast upgradation or changes in the design process.
However, even with extensive usage, XML faces a few limitations. Android apps with time have become more complicated and their features have also increased. This results in the XML code becoming bulky and extensive, leading to an increase in maintenance efforts proportionally. The management of intricate UI interactions and animations also becomes complex and requires manual efforts as well.
In this comparison, we explore the key differences between these two methodologies. Discover how Android Jetpack Compose revolutionizes UI development.
Jetpack Compose utilizes a declarative method, where you express the desired UI state, and the framework manages its rendering. In contrast, the XML view approach is imperative, requiring manual manipulation of view hierarchies and state changes.
Jetpack Compose offers a more concise and intuitive way to build UIs with less boilerplate code. It leverages Kotlin’s language features and allows you to create UI components as functions, resulting in more readable and maintainable code. Traditional XML views involve writing XML files and using separate Java/Kotlin code to handle logic and interactions.
Jetpack Compose has an amazing real-time preview feature that allows you to instantly see any changes you make to the user interface. You can even check how the UI interacts using the “Interactive Mode,” which makes it easier to refine and improve your designs. On the other hand, when using XML, you can preview the UI, but to test the interactions, you’ll need to run the app.
Jetpack Compose embraces reactive programming principles, allowing you to easily manage UI state and handle UI updates based on data changes. XML requires manual management of view state and event handling.
Jetpack Compose offers a simplified way to create animations and transitions, with built-in support for common animations. XML views require additional XML attributes and separate animation files to achieve similar effects.
Compose leverages a highly optimized rendering engine, which can result in better UI performance and efficiency compared to XML views. Compose’s state management also helps reduce unnecessary UI updates and improves overall performance.
Jetpack Compose is part of the official Android Jetpack library and is actively supported by Google. It benefits from regular updates, bug fixes, and new features. While XML views will still be supported, Google’s focus is on advancing Jetpack Compose, making it a future-proof choice for UI development.
Developers have a variety of options in terms of architectural frameworks when they initiate the design of user interfaces in Android app development. The two most common choices here are Jetpack Compose and XML architecture. Both approaches have a number of advantages and disadvantages that need to be considered when zeroing in on one because they have a huge impact on the overall development process, code maintainability, and user experience.
Jetpack Compose involves a comparatively more modern, declarative, and composable architecture that ensures UI components’ definition during development with the use of simple and brief Kotlin functions. The framework majorly centers on the notion of constructing UI elements as reusable and independent building blocks.
UI is defined as a function of the app’s state in Jetpack Compose. This means that the UI automatically updates its features in proportion to any changes in the state. The major point to be noted is that it only updates the affected parts and not the entire framework. This kind of reactive ability in the UI development framework makes the management of UI state convenient and guarantees that the UI framework always showcases the current state of the app.
Jetpack Compose also simplifies the management of UI interactions and handling of difficult animations. Developers are also able to create customized functions to summarize specific UI behaviors. This makes the codebase more integrated and sustainable. This architectural style also syncs well with reactive programming principles and permits cleaner and more testable code.
XML architecture is used with traditional XML. It differs from Jetpack Compose majorly as it follows an imperative and hierarchical approach to define UI layouts. XML files serve as outlines for the UI, and they lay down the structuring and properties of individual UI components. The XML-based approach depends on view hierarchies majorly, where views are put close together to create the overall UI structure.
XML architecture requires manual efforts for the management of UI state and interaction handling. This increases the complexity and length of codes, specifically in larger apps with elaborate UIs. Developers need to keep a clear approach to managing view state changes and updates because they are more susceptible to errors and make the code more difficult to maintain.
|Aspect||Jetpack Compose||XML Architecture|
|Approach to UI design and structure||Contemporary, declarative, and composable||Imperative and hierarchical|
|UI Description||Defined using Kotlin functions||Specified in XML files|
|Reactivity||Reactive approach based on app’s state||Requires manual management of view state changes and updates|
|Reusability||Composable UI elements as reusable blocks||View hierarchies for layout arrangement|
|UI Interactions and Animations||Easier and more convenient management through composable functions||Manual handling, more complex and verbose code|
|Modularity and Maintainability||Encapsulation of behaviors in custom composable functions||Code may become tougher to maintain as the app grows|
|Testability||Allows for cleaner and more testable code||May require more effort in testing|
|Learning Curve||May have a sharper learning curve for developers new to declarative UI||Familiar to developers who are familiar with XML and imperative approach|
|Performance||Efficient and potentially better performance due to UI optimization techniques||May have performance overhead in large and complex layouts|
|Development Community||Growing community and active development support||Mature and well-established community with extensive resources|
|IDE Support||Good IDE support with Android Studio||Fully integrated support with Android Studio|
|Backward Compatibility||Potential challenges in maintaining backward compatibility||Relatively better backward compatibility with older devices|
When it comes to building user interfaces in Android apps, the list view is a fundamental component that allows for the efficient display of data in a scrollable format. Here in this section, we’ll take a closer look at the list view case and explore two popular approaches for implementing it.
In the traditional way of building dynamic lists in Android, developers had to deal with complicated and repetitive code. They had to handle RecyclerViews, adapters, and view holders to display data correctly. However, this approach often led to messy and confusing code, making it hard to understand and maintain. To demonstrate the difficulties involved, let’s take a look at how a book list would typically be created using this traditional approach.
First, you’ll need to define your book item layout (book_item.xml) that represents the individual book view in the list:
Next, create the adapter class (BookListAdapter) that extends RecyclerView.Adapter and manages the book data:
Finally, you can use the adapter in your activity or fragment to display the book list
Jetpack Compose brings a refreshing change to Android development with its straightforward and easy-to-understand approach. It allows us to create user interface components using a simple function-based approach. Now, let’s explore how we can harness the power of Jetpack Compose to effortlessly create a dynamic book list.
First, create a composable function BookList that takes a list of books as a parameter and displays them:
In the code above, BookList is a composable function that uses LazyColumn to efficiently handle large lists. It uses the items function to iterate over the list of books and calls the BookItem composable for each book.
The BookItem composable represents the layout of an individual book item. It uses the Column composable to arrange the Text composable components that display the book’s title and author.
To display the book list in your activity or fragment, use the setContent function:
In this example, MainActivity sets the content view using setContent and directly calls the BookList composable, passing in the bookList data.
As you can see, the Jetpack Compose implementation is much simpler and more concise compared to the traditional approach. You don’t need to deal with adapters, view holders, or complex XML layouts. Instead, you define composable functions that represent your UI components and compose them together to build the UI hierarchy.
Jetpack Compose leverages Kotlin’s concise and expressive syntax, allowing you to create dynamic and interactive UIs with minimal boilerplate code.
With Jetpack Compose, building a book list becomes a straightforward and enjoyable process, empowering you to focus on the actual UI design and functionality of your app.
Both Jetpack Compose and Traditional XML Views work well in different scenarios. Therefore, it is important to understand their practical use circumstances and their utilization in the same for making any decision about their implementation in the Android app development process. In this section, we will discover various situations where one outshines the other and may help the developers in making a good sustainable choice between both:
|Use Cases and Applicability||Jetpack Compose||Traditional XML Views|
|When Jetpack Compose Shines:|
|Dynamic and Interactive UIs||Surpasses in creating dynamic and interactive user interfaces.||Restricted support for managing complex UI interactions|
|Complex UI Customization||Offers maintainable and readable codebase for complex UI designs||Customizations may require more verbose XML code|
|Rapid Prototyping and Iteration||Real-time preview and Interactive Mode allow rapid prototyping||Limited support for real-time preview in XML layouts|
|UI Testing and Debugging||Provides testability features for more straightforward UI testing||Testing can be more challenging and less isolated|
|Seamless State Management||Streamlines state management with built-in state and animation APIs||Requires manual handling of view state and animations|
|Custom Theming and Styling||Offers a composable and flexible approach to theming and styling||Styling may be more rigid and challenging to customize|
|Handling Complex Animations||Easier to create complex animations using composable functions||XML animations may require more boilerplate code|
|Performance Optimization||Optimizes UI performance with recomposition and minimal UI updates||May have performance overhead in complex layouts|
|When Traditional XML Views Remain Viable:|
|Legacy Projects||May be impractical to refactor legacy projects entirely||Suitable for existing codebase with XML-based layouts|
|Team Familiarity and Expertise||Learning curve may be a concern for experienced XML developers||Familiar approach for teams with extensive XML expertise|
|Specific UI Behavior||Some UI behaviors and animations may be easier to implement using XML||Offers flexibility in handling specific UI cases|
|Lightweight and Simple UIs||May provide a simple and lightweight solution for small UIs||XML layouts can handle straightforward UI requirements|
|Fragment Compatibility||May not offer complete support for fragments||Fully compatible with existing fragment-based projects|
|Custom View Components||Provides flexibility in creating custom views and layouts||Limited to predefined XML views and layouts|
|Backward Compatibility||May require less effort to maintain backward compatibility||XML-based layouts can adapt to various Android versions|
|Third-Party Library Integration||May have better compatibility with newer third-party libraries||XML layouts may require adaptation for newer libraries|
|Offline UI Design||Allows offline designing with code-based previews||Often requires a connected layout editor|
Jetpack Compose completely transforms how we create user interfaces in Android apps, and its advantages become particularly clear when dealing with lists. Through our example of a book list, we have demonstrated how Jetpack Compose simplifies the entire process and boosts developer efficiency. With its declarative approach, elimination of excessive code, and robust state management capabilities, Jetpack Compose undoubtedly represents the future of Android UI development.
To further explore Jetpack Compose and its capabilities, check out these Jetpack Compose Samples.
If you are considering implementing Jetpack Compose into your app projects, our specialized Android app developers at Aubergine Solutions can guide you every step of the way. Whether you want to optimize your existing app’s UI, create a new dynamic interface, or explore the full potential of Jetpack Compose, we can help deliver engaging and innovative user interfaces that captivate your audience.