Chris Umbel

Rich-Style Formatting of an Android TextView

Even a developer-friendly mobile platform like Android can have a developer feeling a little lost when trying to perform simple tasks when you're unfamiliar with the platform.

One of these simple, however poorly documented, tasks is rich-style text formatting within a TextView.


While it's possible to set a TextView's text property to a simple String and configure the TextView to have the formatting you desire you're then limited in how granular you can control the formatting within the TextView itself. The SpannableString class allows you to easily format certain pieces (spans) of a string one way and other pieces another by applying extensions of CharacterStyle (i.e. ForegroundColorSpan) via the setSpan method.

In the end this isn't limited to formatting. It also allows the developer to add behaviors to spans such as reacting to click events.


Here's an example onCreate method of an Activity. This assumes there's a main.xml layout with a TextView identified by "rich_text".

Essentially this code will set a TextView's text to the familiar, "Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet" and perform the following formatting:

  • Make "Lorem" red
  • Make "ipsum" a 1.5 times bigger than what the TextView's setting
  • Make "dolor" display a toast message when touched
  • Strike through "sit"
  • Make "amet" twice as big as the TextView's setting, green and a link to this site

public void onCreate(Bundle icicle) {
    richTextView = (TextView)findViewById(;

    // this is the text we'll be operating on
    SpannableString text = new SpannableString("Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet");

    // make "Lorem" (characters 0 to 5) red
    text.setSpan(new ForegroundColorSpan(Color.RED), 0, 5, 0);

    // make "ipsum" (characters 6 to 11) one and a half time bigger than the textbox
    text.setSpan(new RelativeSizeSpan(1.5f), 6, 11, 0);

    // make "dolor" (characters 12 to 17) display a toast message when touched
    final Context context = this;
    ClickableSpan clickableSpan = new ClickableSpan() {
        public void onClick(View view) {
            Toast.makeText(context, "dolor", Toast.LENGTH_LONG).show();
    text.setSpan(clickableSpan, 12, 17, 0);

    // make "sit" (characters 18 to 21) struck through
    text.setSpan(new StrikethroughSpan(), 18, 21, 0);

    // make "amet" (characters 22 to 26) twice as big, green and a link to this site.
    // it's important to set the color after the URLSpan or the standard
    // link color will override it.
    text.setSpan(new RelativeSizeSpan(2f), 22, 26, 0);
    text.setSpan(new URLSpan(""), 22, 26, 0);
    text.setSpan(new ForegroundColorSpan(Color.GREEN), 22, 26, 0);

    // make our ClickableSpans and URLSpans work

    // shove our styled text into the TextView        
    richTextView.setText(text, BufferType.SPANNABLE);

The results of which will look something like:

Note that we set the TextView's movement method to a LinkMovementMethod instance. Without that the ClickableSpan and URLSpans won't perform their intended actions.

Next Steps

This covers the fundamental concepts, but there are many extensions of CharacterStyle I haven't covered here. Check out the CharacterStyle documentation for more details.

Also note that a SpannableStringBuilder is provided for building large spannables from smaller pieces.

Sat Aug 28 2010 18:25:02 GMT+0000 (UTC)

Follow Chris
RSS Feed