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)

39 Comments Comment Feed - Permalink
Thanks a lot for this article , need this for my project 

And for concatenation we can use TextUtils.concat() which keep the spans
by Arialia on Fri Apr 15 2011 08:39:12 GMT+0000 (UTC)
Very interesting article.
I thank you so much to have proposed this pratical example that enables to understand this notion which is not well developped in the Android's documentation.
Hope you're keep on doing such good stuff ! ;o)
by Android's beginner on Wed Nov 09 2011 20:35:13 GMT+0000 (UTC)
Thanks a lot for this article , need this for my project 

And for concatenation we can use TextUtils
by chloe bags on Sat Nov 26 2011 07:15:42 GMT+0000 (UTC)
Thanks a lot. 
Very nice example
by Gaurang Patel on Tue Feb 07 2012 09:36:53 GMT+0000 (UTC)
Thanks a bunch, great example and exactly what I was after.
by Jason on Thu Feb 16 2012 10:54:45 GMT+0000 (UTC)
Thanks a lot!
Finally a clear answer and how to!!
by Noel on Mon Mar 26 2012 21:10:43 GMT+0000 (UTC)
by anon on Thu May 03 2012 07:45:56 GMT+0000 (UTC)
Gr8 Article
by Sumit K on Tue Jun 26 2012 08:59:34 GMT+0000 (UTC)
by anon on Tue Jul 17 2012 09:47:15 GMT+0000 (UTC)
Great post Chris! Keep it up!!!
by Greg on Thu Aug 23 2012 10:21:04 GMT+0000 (UTC)
The font family you use on your website is not pleasing to the eye.
by Ben on Tue Sep 11 2012 11:34:55 GMT+0000 (UTC)
I'm sorry you don't like it, Ben.
by Chris Umbel on Sat Nov 17 2012 21:41:26 GMT+0000 (UTC)
Nice Article Chris. Keep doing it , it cleary explains about Spannable string and spans.
by Raj on Thu Jun 27 2013 18:16:47 GMT+0000 (UTC)
Thanks - really helpful.
by Uwais on Tue Dec 17 2013 11:51:23 GMT+0000 (UTC)
Thanks , it's really helpful.
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Thanks, simple and clean explanation
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Thank you, sir! Very helpful article.
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is this possible in ontouch event ?
because i tried its selected all the string instead of selected word from textview

do you have any idea about what it is ?

thanks in advance
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