Android Sync Adapter or Direct API Access

I am starting to develop a new Android application and am torn between using Androids Sync Adapter or just calling the API directly like I did with pervious applications. I can see benefits to each. I see some applications use Sync Adapters while others seem just as fast and are not using Sync adapters. It doesn’t seem like Android really has a standard of which one to choose and which situation you should choose one over the other. It seemed from my readings that Sync Adapters are the new standard but I just don’t see many applications using them. I see benefits and consequences to using each. I am having trouble choosing as I want this application to do everything to the Android standard. I see a lot of benefits to using direct API access again.

First I have been using direct API access for some years now so for me I already know what I need to do to connect to the API. I already have the code needed to perform json encoding tasks. Another benefits as I never have to worry about the data getting out of sync. The process will happen as the user saves the form or deletes the record. So the web server and application will always have the same data along with primary keys. Also if the user looses their device or gets a new device they don’t have to worry about the syncing not working. Their data is always safe on the server. To me it just feels a little more safe as I know the users data is up on the server if they get the saved response back. Otherwise they will get an error right away of errors they need to fix.

There are also some consequences to using direct API access. The biggest one is that it requires the user to always have a network connection while using the application. Some of that can be minimized by caching though. I tend to think phone networks are getting faster and have more coverage but there are some users that are unable to connect for some reason. Even with WiFi hotspots being all around again some users are unable to find them when using the application. This leave a negative impact to the user as they find the application useless without that connection. This makes it hard to complete with applications that do not require a network connection to work. Even though the data is not being sync to the cloud and therefore could be lost easily. The end user does not see this benefit in some cases.

There are benefits to going with the sync adapter method from my initial research. Which to be honest with you wasn’t a ton maybe three or four hours reading through the Android documentation. The first benefits with the sync adapter as you don’t have to worry about the network connection at all. The sync adapter handles that for you. It will check if the network is available and if it’s not it will wait tell it’s available This will give your users an offline mode while still getting the data backed up when it’s possible. Also this is built into the Android framework so it is relatively easy to learn and use. There are plenty of examples of how to use it on the web.

There are also some consequences to using the sync adapter. The first one that I see is you have to create a local schema using SQLLite that basically mirrors what your web server is doing. So every time you make a database change on your server you have to make that same change to the Android application. Also any business logic that your web server is performing has to be done the same way on the Android application. Since the sync adapter may not run the second the users submits the data you need to have your Android application verify that the data being saved will save on the web server. You could get around this by checking that the syncing process finishing successfully and if it doesn’t pass the failure onto the user at that time. The problem I see with that is it could end up frustrating the user. They might not remember exactly what they intended to do at the time. Depending on how long their device was offline for. It could be a day it could be weeks who knows. So maybe they entered a number incorrectly but have since forgotten what it was. Seems like you would have to be repeating business logic across the environments.

These are the thoughts that have going through my mind as I am starting this new application. According to Google using the sync adapter is considered the best approach. At least it seemed that way although the documentation did not say so. An example that I found on my device that uses sync adapters is Dropbox. I am not sure that my application would need such a thing. I almost feel like sync adapters are made for applications that are always looking to get data like an email client or Dropbox. You can setup syncing times or intervals. Is there a better way of getting data in and out other than these two options? Also if you go the direct API route can you cache it locally still and sync the next time the application starts up?

2 thoughts on “Android Sync Adapter or Direct API Access

  1. Arvind

    Hi ,

    The Idea behind sync adapter is to abstract your application from low level logics such as retries , having data always irrespective of where you are . Sharing these data across other applications . Lets take an example of your application.

    user fills all the data and submits it includes heavy images and the user is struck in a place where there is no network or very weak signal in which case if the data he chose to upload is gone , it does not retry when there is available network. if each application has to think about retrying , they might use a alarm manager coupled with the service think about the battery usage for keeping a service long running. Sync adapter gives the applications a free hand to not bother about these techniques and rather allow them write what is needed for the app and assign sync manager to do this job , Isn’t this good .


    1. wallerjake Post author

      You make some really good points here. When I think about a sync adapter though I think of data not being time sensitive. For example if a user saves the record on there phone but are not in a coverage area. Then they go to their computer that has Wifi and they don’t see the record. They may end up getting concern that it’s not there.

      I looked into it a little bit and thought it added too much complexity for what it does. I think of a sync adapter is something like fetching email. It’s time sensitive but in all honesty if the email sits on your device for a couple of hours it’s not a big deal. Looking at my Android device I do not a see a ton of applications that use the Sync Adapters. So maybe it’s really being under utilize up to this point in the Android community. It’s something I should really look into again to see if it could work.

      Thanks for your comment. Are you an Android developer?


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