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Creating an Options Menu in Android

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Creating an Options Menu in Android

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Almost every application will need a menu in order to facilitate a user to perform actions on the application. In Android there are three types of menus possible.

  1. Options Menu
  2. Context Menu
  3. Sub Menu

The Options menu is the one that appears when a user touches the menu button on the mobile. This is something that is associated with an activity.  In 3.0 and later, this is available in the Action Bar itself for quick access.

In this article, I am showing how to create an Options Menu for devices having Android 2.3 or below.

The Context Menu is a floating list of menu items that appears when a user touches and holds a particular item displayed in the view, which has a menu associated with it.

The Sub Menu is a floating list of menu items that appears when the user touches a menu item that contains a nested menu.

There are two ways of creating an Options Menu in your application. One is by instantiating the  Menu  class and the other is by inflating a Menu from an XML menu resource.  Based on best practices it is always better to define the Menu in an XML and inflate it in your code.

Now, let us start with the example.

I am going to just define 3 menu items in the XML. Inflate it in my code. And when a user clicks on any of the menu items, I just  Toast  a message on what has been clicked.

NOTE: This is as usual not a practically useful piece, but sticking to my style, I want to keep it as uncluttered and as simple as possible so that the learning happens easily. And the focus is only on what concept we are trying to learn.

So, here is my  options_menu.xml  that is created in the  res/menu  folder:
<?xml version="1.0" encoding="utf-8"?>
<menu xmlns:android="http://schemas.android.com/apk/res/android">
<item android:id="@+id/next"
android:title="@string/next" />
<item android:id="@+id/previous"
android:title="@string/previous" />
<item android:id="@+id/list"
android:title="@string/list" />

You see that the  Menu  root node consists of 3  item  leaf nodes. Each of the  items  consists of an  id icon  and  title . The resource  id  is unique to that  item  and it allows the application to recognize which item has been clicked by the user. The  icon  is a drawable that should exist in the  res/drawable  folder and is the one shown in the menu item. The  string  is the item’s title.

The above assumes that you have three images  ic_next, ic_previous  and  ic_list  copied into the  drawable  folder. It goes without saying that these image sizes should be kept as small as possible.
Once this is ready, we will create a class called  ViewOptionsMenu.  It’s  onCreate(…)  method would be a simple one calling the super method and displaying the content as shown below.
    public void onCreate(Bundle savedInstanceState) {

The  main.xml  just shows the message: “ Click on the Options Menu to view the available Menu Options ”.  This message as per the norm is defined in the  strings.xml  file that exists in the  res/values  folder. Here are the contents of the  main.xml
<?xml version="1.0" encoding="utf-8"?>
<LinearLayout xmlns:android="http://schemas.android.com/apk/res/android"
android:textSize="20sp" android:textStyle="bold" android:capitalize="none" android:typeface="sans"/>

Now, I need to override the method:   onCreateOptionsMenu(Menu menu).  This method is called by Android the first time the activity is loaded. This is so for Android 2.3 and below.  Here is the code:
    public boolean onCreateOptionsMenu(Menu menu) {
MenuInflater inflater = getMenuInflater();
inflater.inflate(R.menu.options_menu, menu);
return true;

This method is getting a handle to the  MenuInflater  and using it to inflate the options menu that we have defined earlier in  options_menu.xml  in the  res/menu  folder.  That is it. The Menu is created. Isn’t is so simple?

Now, that the menu is created, how do we respond to the user when he clicks on the menu. This is done by overriding the  onOptionsItemSelected(MenuItem item)  method in the Activity itself as shown below:
public boolean onOptionsItemSelected(MenuItem item) {
switch (item.getItemId()) {
case R.id.next:
Toast.makeText(this, "You have chosen the " + getResources().getString(R.string.next) + " menu option",
return true;

return super.onOptionsItemSelected(item);

Here, the Android system calls this method by passing a handle to the  MenuItem  that has been clicked by the user. So, within this method, I check which item has been clicked by retrieving the item id through  item.getItemId().   Then I use the  switch  statement to take action based on the  id . If it is  R.id.next  that has been selected, then we toast a message that the “Next” menu option has been selected. In real apps, it is here that you can call the appropriate method that should take action according to the menu clicked.

Similarly I toast messages for “previous” as well as “list” menus. The complete code is downloadable here.

See the images below for how the options menu appears

 and what happens when you click on the options menu:

The whole of options menu works slightly differently for Android 3.0 and above.

And if you want to change the menu options, at runtime, you must override the onPrepareMenuOptions() method. This is called by Android each time the user clicks on the menu. This is useful for enabling, disabling, adding or removing menu items based on the current state of your application. 

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