Data Binding with Kotlin; Why?

I came across the Data Binding resources page for Android, and reading through it got me questioning. Why is such setup necessary, when Kotlin extensions allows for super easy view binding already (example below)?

// Using R.layout.activity_main from the 'main' source set
class MyActivity : Activity() {
override fun onCreate(savedInstanceState: Bundle?) {
// Instead of findViewById<TextView>(
textView.setText("Hello, world!")
view raw exampleActivity.kt hosted with ❤ by GitHub
Example of view binding using Kotlin Extensions (source)

As it turns out, there’s quite a difference as explained on a Reddit comment that I pasted below:

Hey! Developer Advocate for Android at Google here!

I wanted to add a bit of background here. Kotlin Extensions with synthetic views was never intentionally “recommended” though that shouldn’t be taken as a recommendation to not use them. If they’re working for you please feel free to continue using them in your app!

We’ve been shifting away from them (e.g. we don’t teach them in the Udacity course) because they expose a global namespace of ids that’s unrelated to the layout that’s actually inflated with no checks against invalid lookups, are Kotlin only, and don’t expose nullability when views are only present in some configuration. All together, these issues cause the API to increase number of crashes for Android apps.

On the other hand, they do offer a lightweight API that can help simplify view lookups. In this space it’s also worth taking a look at Data Binding which also does automatic view lookups – as well as integrates with LiveData to automatically update your views as data changes.

Today, there’s a few options in this space that work:

  • Data Binding is the recommendation for view lookup as well as binding, but it does add a bit of overhead when compared to Android Kotlin Extensions. It’s worth taking a look to see if this is a good fit for your app. Data Binding also allows you to observe LiveData to bind views automatically when data changes. Compared to Kotlin Extensions, it adds compile time checking of view lookups and type safety.
  • Android Kotlin Extensions is not officially recommended (which is not the same as recommendation against). It does come with the issues mentioned above, so for our code we’re not using them.
  • Butter Knife is another solution that is extremely popular and works for both Kotlin and the Java Programming Language.

Reading through the comments here there’s a lot of developers that are having great luck with Kotlin Extensions. That’s great – and something we’ll keep in mind as we look at ways to continue improving our APIs. If you haven’t taken a look at Data Binding, definitely give it a shot.

As an aside, our internal code style guide is not intended to be directly applied outside of our codebase. For example, we use mPrefixVariables, but there’s no reason that every app should follow that style.

On ButterKnife

The quote mentions ButterKnife, so it’s probably worth mentioning also that the Github page for ButterKnife mentions that development for it is being winded down, and it recommends to use View Binding instead.

Data Binding vs View Binding

Now that these two concepts are being mentioned, what are the differences? From the View Binding documentation page:

View binding and the data binding library both generate binding classes that you can use to reference views directly. However, there are notable differences:

  • The data binding library processes only data binding layouts created using the <layout> tag.
  • View binding doesn’t support layout variables or layout expressions, so it can’t be used to bind layouts with data in XML.

Stack Overflow: Android : Difference between DataBinding and ViewBinding

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