Sunday, February 2, 2014

Nested Fragment and the BackStack - Part 2

This article is the second in this series about Nested Fragments and the Back Stack in Android. You can read Part 1 here. To get this post into context, take a look at the video embedded in the previous post, if nothing else.

Edit: Later posts in this series at

  1. Part 3

EDIT: Some Google engineers, including the creators of the Android framework have expressed their reservations regarding this article. Read this G+ thread for more details. They point out that using an Application sub-class to save state is not a good idea, but also that saving Fragment instance state explicitly might in itself needs to be considered carefully. I hope to gather their thoughts and write a follow-up post in the coming weeks. Stay Tuned.

At the risk of sounding repetitive, I’ll start off this post by once again stating the gist of the previous post:

A Fragment’s onSaveInstanceState method is not guaranteed to be called when it is “removed”. The Fragment might simply be torn down. The only time its state might be saved is when the hosting Activity saves its state.

We also saw how this could be a problem when you use nested fragments and a FragmentManager doesn’t save its backstack of fragment transactions. In this part, we’ll look at one possible solution to this problem.

Save state in onPause

This is the obvious solution to the problem. The Android docs also state this time and again: it is a best practice to proactively save state. Also, since onPause is the only callback that is guaranteed to be called, it makes sense to save your instance state here.

Having said that, it is easy to save view states, scroll positions and even entire arbitrary objects in onPause. But, how does one save a back stack of fragment transactions?

Enter Fragment.SavedState. You can ask the FragmentManager to save the state of a Fragment using saveFragmentInstanceState. The back stack being managed by a Fragment’s nested FragmentManager is included in the state saved by this method.

The Application sub-class

This post shows how you could use a sub-class of the Application class to save the state, but you might choose another mechanism to do so. The important thing is that the state has to be saved. We use a Map of strings as keys and the saved state as values in this example.

public class NestedFragApp extends Application {

    Map<String, Fragment.SavedState> savedStateMap;

    public void onCreate() {
        savedStateMap = new HashMap<String, Fragment.SavedState>();

    public void setFragmentSavedState(String key, Fragment.SavedState state){
        savedStateMap.put(key, state);

    public Fragment.SavedState getFragmentSavedState(String key){
        return savedStateMap.get(key);


Explicitly saving Fragment state

Then, you save the state of the container fragment when it pauses as follows:

public void onPause() {
    ((NestedFragApp) getActivity().getApplication()).setFragmentSavedState(
            SAVED_STATE_KEY, getFragmentManager().saveFragmentInstanceState(this));

Initializing the fragment transaction

Finally, remember to check whether there is a saved state for this fragment before “initializing” the fragment transaction:

SavedState fragmentSavedState = ((NestedFragApp)getActivity().getApplication())
if(fragmentSavedState == null){
    if (savedInstanceState == null) {
    } else {
        // use savedInstanceState here to restore state saved in onSaveInstance

Note that there are two “saved states” here:

  1. The instance state saved in onSaveInstanceState, which is provided to you by the system via savedInstanceState.
  2. The state you explicitly saved in onPause, which you retrieve from the Application object as fragmentSavedState.

The flow you follow for initializing the fragment is as follows:

  • You first check to see if you had previously explicitly saved state. If true, then you don’t need to do anything.
  • If not, then you proceed to check if the system had saved state for you. If true, then you use the savedInstanceState to restore system-saved state.
  • Only if neither is true, then you initiate the fragment transaction.

Letting go of the saved state

One thing you need to be careful of is to not hold on to the saved fragment state any longer than necessary. For example, when the container Fragment is destroyed, you want to invalidate the back-stack associated with it as well. This sounds obvious but I overlooked it and ended up with strange behaviors.

The best way I found was to “forget” the saved state of a container fragment in its onDestroy:

public void onDestroy() {
    ((NestedFragApp) getActivity().getApplication()).setFragmentSavedState(
            SAVED_STATE_KEY, null);

With all these steps in place, the app now behaves as one would expect it to. Your position within a back-stack, even within a nested fragment, is remembered even when you navigate away and return to the top level fragment.

Here’s a video showing how the app now behaves:

The source code for the entire series is at github.


  • Consider pro-actively saving your Fragment states in onPause, particularly is the Fragment happens to nest other fragments inside of it.
  • Do not rely solely on the system saving state for you in onSaveInstanceState.
  • Use FragmentManager#saveFragmentInstanceState to save the Fragment state including the back-stack of nested fragment transactions for you.
  • Do not hold on to the saved state any longer than necessary.

This article looked at ActionBar tabs with a ViewPager, but this concept applies to other situations where one would use nested Fragments (Navigation Drawers for example).