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multithreading – Android AsyncTask context behavior

Posted by: admin April 23, 2020 Leave a comment


I’ve been working with AsyncTasks in Android and I am dealing with an issue.

Take a simple example, an Activity with one AsyncTask. The task on the background does not do anything spectacular, it just sleeps for 8 seconds.

At the end of the AsyncTask in the onPostExecute() method I am just setting a button visibility status to View.VISIBLE, only to verify my results.

Now, this works great until the user decides to change his phones orientation while the AsyncTask is working (within the 8 second sleep window).

I understand the Android activity life cycle and I know the activity gets destroyed and recreated.

This is where the problem comes in. The AsyncTask is referring to a button and apparently holds a reference to the context that started the AsyncTask in the first place.

I would expect, that this old context (since the user caused an orientation change) to either become null and the AsyncTask to throw an NPE for the reference to the button it is trying to make visible.

Instead, no NPE is thrown, the AsyncTask thinks that the button reference is not null, sets it to visible. The result? Nothing is happening on the screen!

Update: I have tackled this by keeping a WeakReference to the activity and switching when a configuration change happens. This is cumbersome.

Here’s the code:

public class Main extends Activity {

    private Button mButton = null;
    private Button mTestButton = null;

    public void onCreate(Bundle savedInstanceState) {

        mButton = (Button) findViewById(R.id.btnStart);
        mButton.setOnClickListener(new OnClickListener () {
            public void onClick(View v) {
                new taskDoSomething().execute(0l);
        mTestButton = (Button) findViewById(R.id.btnTest);   

    private class TaskDoSomething extends AsyncTask<Long, Integer, Integer> 
        protected Integer doInBackground(Long... params) {
            Log.i("LOGGER", "Starting...");
            try {
            } catch (InterruptedException e) {
            return 0;

        protected void onPostExecute(Integer result) {
            Log.i("LOGGER", "...Done");

Try executing it and while the AsyncTask is working change your phones orientation.

How to&Answers:

AsyncTask is not designed to be reused once an Activity has been torn down and restarted. The internal Handler object becomes stale, just like you stated. In the Shelves example by Romain Guy, he simple cancels any currently running AsyncTask’s and then restarts new ones post-orientation change.

It is possible to hand off your Thread to the new Activity, but it adds a lot of plumbing. There is no generally agreed on way to do this, but you can read about my method here : http://foo.jasonhudgins.com/2010/03/simple-progressbar-tutorial.html


If you only need a context and won’t use it for ui stuff you can simply pass the ApplicationContext to your AsyncTask.You often need the context for system resources, for example.

Don’t try to update the UI from an AsyncTask and try to avoid handling configuration changes yourself as it can get messy. In order to update the UI you could register a Broadcast receiver and send a Broadcast.

You should also have the AsyncTask as a separate public class from the activity as mentioned above, it makes testing a lot easier. Unfortunately Android programming often reinforces bad practices and the official examples are not helping.


This is the type of thing that leads me to always prevent my Activity from being destroyed/recreated on orientation change.

To do so add this to your <Activity> tag in your manifest file:


And override onConfigurationChanged in your Activity class:

public void onConfigurationChanged(final Configuration newConfig)
    // Ignore orientation change to keep activity from restarting


To avoid this you can use the answer givin here: https://stackoverflow.com/a/2124731/327011

But if you need to destroy the activity (different layouts for portrait and landscape) you can make the AsyncTask a public class (Read here why it shouldn’t be private Android: AsyncTask recommendations: private class or public class?) and then create a method setActivity to set the reference to the current activity whenever it is destroyed/created.

You can see an example here: Android AsyncTask in external class