Time to update your support library

Fragmentation is an often cited issue of the Android ecosystem, but the people who really bear the brunt of it are not so much the end users, but the developers who have to create applications to support multiple versions of the platform. It’s for this reason Google created the Android Support Library – used to provide backwards compatibility for newer features of Android.

Originally released in March 2011, just after the introduction of fragments in Honeycomb (Android 3.0), the support library (originally called the “Android Compatibility package”) provided developers the means to use Fragments, LoaderManagers and a few other classes across mostly all versions of the platform, going back to Donut, version 1.6. This library, combined with the excellent ActionBarSherlock , gives developers the means to write a single codebase which can support multiple versions of the platform without having to write platform specific code – the only exception that comes to mind being the ActionBar action view widgets which need specific pre-ICS implementations.

Fast forward a couple of years to Google I/O 2012 and the, now named, Support Library is on revision 9 and has brought with it a lot of updates. Google is slowly implementing functionality which has, up until now, been developed by other people. For example, revision 9 includes a lot of bug fixes and new functionality to the ViewPager class, however note currently the ViewPageIndicator library still offers better functionality. The Notification Builder has also been updated, but again note that a third party library, in the form of the NotificationCompat2 library, is still the recommended way to provide complete support for notifications across all platform versions without sacrificing the newer functionality where available.

Of particular interest, and the reason for the title of this blog post, are the ‘many bug fixes’ for the Fragment class, which by now should be core building blocks used by all Android developers (if you aren’t using them yet – what are you doing?!) – this in itself should be reason enough to update.

Google seems to update Android everytime it release a new Nexus device, and if the rumour-mill is correct then we should be seeing a new Nexus handset at some point towards the end of the year. If past updates are anything to go by, Google should be releasing another updated version of the Support Library sometime in August 2012 or shortly after. It’s strongly adviced to keep an eye on the Support Library updates and implement new versions as soon as they’re released in order to take advantage of the new features and bug fixes.

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