Android Development

Categorizing in RecyclerViews

April 3, 2018

We are all con¬≠stant¬≠ly cat¬≠e¬≠go¬≠riz¬≠ing bits of infor¬≠ma¬≠tion that we receive with¬≠out even real¬≠iz¬≠ing it. This allows us to think about things prac¬≠ti¬≠cal¬≠ly; such as under¬≠stand¬≠ing which tasks need to be com¬≠plet¬≠ed in the next hour, day, or week. But, when it comes to dis¬≠play¬≠ing infor¬≠ma¬≠tion in orga¬≠nized groups on a device‚Äôs screen, archi¬≠tec¬≠tural¬≠ly it can be a bit of a pain. So, how can we more effec¬≠tive¬≠ly group data in a RecyclerView?

Let’s make it hap­pen #

With a basic RecyclerView, we can cat¬≠e¬≠go¬≠rize data by over¬≠rid¬≠ing func¬≠tions in our imple¬≠men¬≠ta¬≠tion of RecyclerView.Adapter. By over¬≠rid¬≠ing getItemViewType, we can cre¬≠ate a dif¬≠fer¬≠ent type of RecyclerView.ViewHolder in our onCreateViewHolder. This is great! It allows us to eas¬≠i¬≠ly imple¬≠ment many dif¬≠fer¬≠ent types of views/‚Äčview hold¬≠ers all with¬≠in the same RecyclerView. But remem¬≠ber, with great pow¬≠er comes great respon¬≠si¬≠bil¬≠i¬≠ty. Man¬≠ag¬≠ing a data struc¬≠ture to han¬≠dle group¬≠ing can quick¬≠ly become error prone as you are like¬≠ly ref¬≠er¬≠enc¬≠ing a Map<Any, List<Any>>. Ref¬≠er¬≠enc¬≠ing an item at posi¬≠tion 101 can¬≠not be done with a sim¬≠ple index, but instead will require iter¬≠at¬≠ing through the groups to count their chil¬≠dren. In the end, you will have a basic struc¬≠ture like this.

class SomeRecyclerAdapter: RecyclerView.Adapter<RecyclerView.ViewHolder>() {
    * Remember, your logic would likely be more complicated to handle
    * a nested data structure. You would probably want to pull this out into its own
    * function so that it could also be used here, in getItemViewType,
    * and in onBindViewHolder as well.
  override fun getItemCount(): Int {
    return data.size

  override fun getItemViewType(position: Int): Int {
    return when (position) {
      0 -> TYPE_HEADER
      else -> TYPE_ITEM

  override fun onCreateViewHolder(parent: ViewGroup, viewType: Int): RecyclerView.ViewHolder {
    val inflater = parent.context.layoutInflater
    return when (viewType) {
      TYPE_HEADER -> HeaderViewHolder(inflater.inflate(R.layout.header, parent, false))
      else -> ItemViewHolder(inflater.inflate(R.layout.item, parent, false))

  override fun onBindViewHolder(holder: RecyclerView.ViewHolder, position: Int) {
    when (holder) {
      is HeaderViewHolder -> {
        // do some Header things
      is ItemViewHolder -> {
        // do some Item things

But wait, I want¬≠ed ani¬≠ma¬≠tions #

You may be think¬≠ing that what has been described so far is pret¬≠ty straight¬≠for¬≠ward. How¬≠ev¬≠er, I chal¬≠lenge you to con¬≠sid¬≠er how you would expand and col¬≠lapse your cat¬≠e¬≠gories. If you‚Äôre like me, your answer like¬≠ly requires you to manip¬≠u¬≠late your data struc¬≠ture, pos¬≠si¬≠bly add new vari¬≠ables to man¬≠age vis¬≠i¬≠bil¬≠i¬≠ty, con¬≠vert these changes into notifyItemRangeInserted and notifyItemRangeRemoved events, and in gen¬≠er¬≠al, make things complicated.

At that point, if you‚Äôre any¬≠thing like me you will have tried a few libraries or maybe even attempt¬≠ed to roll your own. For me, Groupie was the clear front-run¬≠ner in terms of func¬≠tion¬≠al¬≠i¬≠ty and sim¬≠plic¬≠i¬≠ty but just had one issue; the col¬≠lapse ani¬≠ma¬≠tion was just not right ( full dis¬≠clo¬≠sure, I cre¬≠at¬≠ed an issue only to real¬≠ize the error was in my code ). So, I want¬≠ed to under¬≠stand how it worked and hope¬≠ful¬≠ly, pro¬≠vide the fix.

Let’s recon­sid­er what we would like in our code:

  • We want a data struc¬≠ture that is easy to under¬≠stand and manipulate.
  • We want to avoid han¬≠dling mul¬≠ti¬≠ple types when creating/‚Äčbinding views
  • We want to remain eas¬≠i¬≠ly manageable.

With that in mind, I ded¬≠i¬≠cat¬≠ed a week¬≠end to craft¬≠ing the per¬≠fect solu¬≠tion. What I end¬≠ed up with was a func¬≠tion¬≠al solu¬≠tion (Mac¬≠Grouper), and the under¬≠stand¬≠ing that I should prob¬≠a¬≠bly have looked at my own code before blam¬≠ing Groupie for my prob¬≠lems. The premise of Groupie, and Mac¬≠Grouper for that mat¬≠ter, is that a Group (or cat¬≠e¬≠go¬≠ry) is real¬≠ly just an Item that con¬≠tains a List<Item>. When the GroupAdapter (dis¬≠play¬≠ing a List<Item>) reports its size, it is able to ask all of the Items for their size (and they report back 1+).

if (isExpanded) { children.size + 1 } else 1

This means your RecyclerView.Adapter only real¬≠ly cares about Groups. A Group knows its num¬≠ber of chil¬≠dren and han¬≠dles vis¬≠i¬≠bil¬≠i¬≠ty changes. This means it can make the appro¬≠pri¬≠ate item range change calls auto¬≠mat¬≠i¬≠cal¬≠ly for you.

The mag­ic of it all is very clean code that is easy to under­stand. For the full exam­ple refer to my gist to cre­ate an Expand­ableList­Frag­ment.

val phones = mapOf(
  "Google" to listOf(
    "Pixel XL",
    "Pixel 2",
    "Pixel 2 XL"
  "HTC" to listOf(
    "Nexus One"
  "Huawei" to listOf(
    "Nexus 6P"

override fun onViewCreated(view: View, savedInstanceState: Bundle?) {
  super.onViewCreated(view, savedInstanceState)

  val layoutManager = GridLayoutManager(activity, groupAdapter.spanCount)
  layoutManager.spanSizeLookup = groupAdapter.spanSizeLookup

  phones.forEach { (brand, phones) ->
    val brandItem = BrandItem(brand)
    val expandableGroup = ExpandableGroup(brandItem)
    phones.forEach { phone ->

  recyclerView.layoutManager = layoutManager
  recyclerView.adapter = groupAdapter

All this is to say, I high¬≠ly rec¬≠om¬≠mend giv¬≠ing Groupie a shot for any¬≠thing that might require a com¬≠plex RecyclerView lay¬≠out. The pro¬≠vid¬≠ed exam¬≠ples are an excel¬≠lent way to get start¬≠ed or check out my exam¬≠ple gist for an Expand¬≠ableList¬≠Frag¬≠ment.

Scott Schmitz
Scott Schmitz
Software Developer

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