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Kotlin Android Extensions

Author Yan Zhulanow
Last Updated 18 March 2015
This tutorial describes how to use Kotlin Android Extensions to improve support for Android development.

In this tutorial we'll walk through the steps required to use the Kotlin Android Extensions plugin, enhancing the development experience with Android.


Every Android developer knows well the findViewById() function. It is, without a doubt, a source of potential bugs and nasty code which is hard to read and support. While there are several libraries available that provide solutions to this problem, being libraries dependent on runtime, they require annotating fields for each View.

The Kotlin Android Extensions plugin allows us to obtain the same experience we have with some of these libraries, without having to add any extra code or shipping any additional runtime.

In essence, this would allow for the following code:

// Using R.layout.activity_main from the main source set
import kotlinx.android.synthetic.main.activity_main.*

class MyActivity : Activity() {
    override fun onCreate(savedInstanceState: Bundle?) {
        textView.setText("Hello, world!")
        // Instead of findView(R.id.textView) as TextView

textView is an extension property for Activity, and it has the same type as declared in activity_main.xml.

Using Kotlin Android Extensions

Configuring the dependency

In this tutorial we're going to be using Gradle but the same can be accomplished using either IntelliJ IDEA project structure or Maven. For details on setting up Gradle to work with Kotlin, see Using Gradle.

Android Extensions is a part of the Kotlin IDEA plugin. You do not need to install additional plugins.

All you need is to enable the Android Extensions Gradle plugin in your project-local build.gradle file:

apply plugin: 'kotlin-android-extensions'

Importing synthetic properties

It is convenient to import all widget properties for a specific layout in one go:

import kotlinx.android.synthetic.main.<layout>.*

Thus if the layout filename is activity_main.xml, we'd import kotlinx.android.synthetic.main.activity_main.*.

If we want to call the synthetic properties on View (useful in adapter classes), we should also import kotlinx.android.synthetic.main.activity_main.view.*.

Once we do that, we can then invoke the corresponding extensions, which are properties named after the views in the XML file. For example, for this view:

            android:text="Hello World, MyActivity"

There will be property named hello:


Android Flavors

Android Extensions plugin supports Android flavors. Suppose you have a flavor named free in your build.gradle file:

android {
    productFlavors {
        free {
            versionName "1.0-free"

So you can import all synthetic properties for the free/res/layout/activity_free.xml layout by adding this import:

import kotlinx.android.synthetic.free.activity_free.*

Under the hood

Kotlin Android Extensions is a plugin for the Kotlin compiler, and it does two things:

  1. Adds a hidden caching function and a field inside each Kotlin Activity. The method is pretty small so it doesn't increase the size of APK much.
  2. Replaces each synthetic property call with a function call.

How this works is that when invoking a synthetic property, where the receiver is a Kotlin Activity/Fragment class that is in module sources, the caching function is invoked. For instance, given

class MyActivity: Activity()
fun MyActivity.a() { 

a hidden caching function is generated inside MyActivity, so we can use the caching mechanism.

However in the following case:

fun Activity.b() { 

We wouldn't know if this function would be invoked on only Activities from our sources or on plain Java Activities also. As such, we don’t use caching there, even if MyActivity instance from the previous example is the receiver.