Android – What’s the difference between the various methods to get an Android Context


In various bits of Android code I've seen:

 public class MyActivity extends Activity {
    public void method() {
       mContext = this;    // since Activity extends Context
       mContext = getApplicationContext();
       mContext = getBaseContext();

However I can't find any decent explanation of which is preferable, and under what circumstances which should be used.

Pointers to documentation on this, and guidance about what might break if the wrong one is chosen, would be much appreciated.

Best Solution

I agree that documentation is sparse when it comes to Contexts in Android, but you can piece together a few facts from various sources.

This blog post on the official Google Android developers blog was written mostly to help address memory leaks, but provides some good information about contexts as well:

In a regular Android application, you usually have two kinds of Context, Activity and Application.

Reading the article a little bit further tells about the difference between the two and when you might want to consider using the application Context (Activity.getApplicationContext()) rather than using the Activity context this). Basically the Application context is associated with the Application and will always be the same throughout the life cycle of your app, where as the Activity context is associated with the activity and could possibly be destroyed many times as the activity is destroyed during screen orientation changes and such.

I couldn't find really anything about when to use getBaseContext() other than a post from Dianne Hackborn, one of the Google engineers working on the Android SDK:

Don't use getBaseContext(), just use the Context you have.

That was from a post on the android-developers newsgroup, you may want to consider asking your question there as well, because a handful of the people working on Android actual monitor that newsgroup and answer questions.

So overall it seems preferable to use the global application context when possible.