Kivy Crash Course 2 - Building an Android APK

Sun 12 January 2014

Introduction

(Original video)

In this writeup of my second Kivy Crash Course video, I describe how to use the buildozer tool to compile a Kivy application into a fully functional standalone Android APK. For reference, you can find the original video here.

This particular article may have some overlap/redundancy with the main Kivy documentation on buildozer, but I wanted to write it up anyway as a standalone guide. I’ll also try to keep it up to date with any future developments if necessary. For reference, the Kivy website has its own page on building an APK, including more information on the tools and methods that I do not cover here.

Background information

Before explaining the build procedure, I’d like to quickly explain a few general things about the Kivy/Android build process. Feel free to skip to the next section if you just want to get started, but this one may contain useful information if you have any problems or would like a little more general information.

Problems and support

First, it’s worth noting that you may hit some problems on the way. You shouldn’t, and don’t worry about the possibility unless it happens, but compiling for Android involves a lot of behind the scenes stuff that can occasionally fail - including potentially for unusual reasons that may be specific to your hardware. If you do happen to hit some problem, don’t panic, Kivy has a great community that’s very good at helping to fix these kinds of problem. In particular you may find it useful to ask questions or report problems at:

This information can also be found on the Kivy website.

I’m also happy to hear about problems with this article, it’s only a quick write-up based on my own experiences and I’d like to improve it to be more general if possible. You can let me know at alexanderjohntaylor@gmail.com.

Different ways to build

For the build process itself, there are effectively two ways to build your Kivy app to a full standalone Android APK. Both use Kivy’s python-for-android project, and actually the first method is to use this directly by calling its component scripts with the right command line options. You can find the basic instructions for this on the linked github page, or on the Kivy website APK building page.

This method is fine, and some users make sole use of it, but I much prefer to use the buildozer tool. This is another project from the Kivy developers, and actually it calls python-for-android behind the scenes, but it adds a useful configuration file layer for setting up all the parameters of your app. It also can automatically download and link many of the Android build dependencies (at least the SDK, NDK, plus python-for-android), which you would have to do manually if using python-for-android directly. This article will cover the basic use of buildozer.

There are also potentially a couple of other ways to run Kivy apps or scripts on Android, most obviously the Kivy Launcher app that can run Kivy scripts uploaded to your sd card or user data partition. This can be useful, but I find buildozer so streamlined that it’s actually easier to build and install a full APK that way - plus that makes your app fully standalone and you can install/use your own modules and advanced features that may not be built into the launcher.

Using buildozer

So, let’s make an APK with buildozer! The first thing to take care of is installing the tool along with any dependencies it requires.

Before anything else, I need to note that buildozer is only confirmed to run on Linux or OS X. It will not run on Windows, and probably won’t in the near future. If you’re using Windows that means you have a couple of options for using it; first, you could install a simple Linux virtual machine, which I encourage anyway on general principle but may not be convenient for you. Second, Kivy runs an online cloud builder that uses python-for-android to compile uploaded code with a few user parameters. This might be useful and even sufficient for basic APK building, though it is probably less flexible and robust than using the tools locally.

The Kivy project does provide a virtual machine image with python-for-android and the associated android build tools preinstalled. You may find this useful, especially if newer to Linux, but if you’re using buildozer it doesn’t offer much advantage over a vanilla Linux distro since buildozer would already handle much of this for you.

You’ll also need to install a few dependencies for buildozer/python-for-android to work. I think the main ones are:

  • git, the version control software.
  • A java jdk, openjdk7 should be good.
  • pip, the python package management tool.
  • virtualenv, used internally by python-for-android

All are standard and popular, and should be available in the repositories of most Linux distros or easy to install on OS X. You can probably install virtualenv via pip.

At this point we can finally get around to installing buildozer itself. You should be able to do this via pip (remember to prefix with sudo if not running as root):

pip install buildozer

Buildozer can change quite quickly so you may instead find it useful to use its git repository directly. This is also very easy, even knowing nothing about the details, with the following instructions:

git clone https://github.com/kivy/buildozer.git
cd buildozer
sudo python2.7 setup.py install

This will install the current master version of buildozer straight to your system.

Now you can go to your app directory, wherever you saved your Kivy application, such as the simple moving text program I made in the previous article. The first vital point is that you must name your main python file main.py. That’s because Android app will look for and run this file when you start the app. You can spread the rest of your app across other python files and folders if you want, but this main.py must exist and will always be the entry point.

The second step is to create a basic buildozer.spec file, a configuration file containing all the different parameters to use when building your app. You can create the file using buildozer itself:

buildozer init

This creates a file called buildozer.spec in the current directory, populated with default values.

Populating your buildozer.spec

Before creating the APK you’ll need to go through your buildozer.spec and set some of the values appropriately. In this section I’ll quickly explain some of the important values. This list is not exhaustive, you can view more information in the comments of the file itself or in buildozer and Kivy’s own documentation, but it’ll be plenty to compile a simple app.

You should at least quickly skim through these settings, you must change at least the version settings or your compilation will fail.

title: The name of your app, this will appear in (for instance) your app drawer. I used ‘Kivy Crash Course 2’.

package.name: A simple string identifier (no spaces etc.), which along with package.domain should be a unique identifier. I used ‘kivycrash2’.

package.domain: Not a real domain name, but along with package.name should be a unique identifier. Using the default org.test is fine for now, or more generally you might use a reversed form of your own domain name.

source.dir: The directory containing your source code, including the main.py file. The default ‘.’ should be fine, this means ‘the current directory’.

source.include_exts: Buildozer will automatically include source files with these extensions in your APK. That means you obviously want to include py files so your python is loaded. By default, buildozer includes a few image formats, ‘kv’ which is kv language (covered in a future article). You can leave this as the default for now.

source.exclude_exts, source.exclude_dirs, source.exclude_patterns: More options for controlling what files are built into the APK. These are commented out by default, which is fine for us.

version.regex, version.filename: These comprise the default way to find your APK’s declared version. Buildozer looks in the given filename (your main.py by default) for a string of the form __version__ = 'some_version'. I did not add such a string in our simple app from the first article, so you should delete or comment out these two settings tokens as they will fail when they try to find the version string.

version: This is another way to set your app version, and is commented out by default. Unless you added a __version__ string (see above), you should uncomment this line. The actual version number or string isn’t important, I left it at 1.0 for now.

requirements: This should be a comma separated list of non-standard python modules to include in your app. You don’t need to change this to use most modules in the standard library, they are included by default. Most pure-python modules will be installed via pip if listed here, though modules with compilation steps need a special compilation recipe in python-for-android. You can see the list of existing recipes here. None of this is important to our simple app, and we can leave only the default entry ‘kivy’, but it’s worth being aware of.

presplash.filename: The filename pointing at the image that will be used on kivy’s loading screen appearing when an app is first run. It is commented out by default (which means it just uses the Kivy logo), and that’s fine for us now so you don’t need to change it.

icon.filename: The filename pointing at the image to use as your app icon in (for instance) your app drawer or launcher. Again, it’s commented out by default and just uses the Kivy logo, which is fine for now so you don’t need to change it.

orientation: The orientation of your app, either ‘landscape’, ‘portrait’, or ‘all’ which means the app is automatically rotated to match how the device is currently being held. I set this to ‘all’ for our simple app, but you can make your own choice. You can also dynamically change the orientation from within your app if you want.

fullscreen: If set to 1 the app will fill as much of the screen as possible (everything except a software navigation bar if there is one), or if set to 0 it leaves the status bar visible. I set it to 0, but either option is fine. At the time of writing this doesn’t support the new screen usage parameters introduced in Android 4.4, you only have a binary choice.

After this there are lots of android options that we don’t need to worry about, the defaults are all fine. There are also iOS build options that obviously aren’t important for Android compilation, though buildozer can perform part of the iOS build process if you’re interested. Actually, there’s only one other important option:

log_level: This controls how much information is printed to your screen as buildozer runs. It defaults to 1, basic information, but I almost always set it to 2 to see more build information including a lot more useful logs if something goes wrong.

Building the APK

That’s it for the configuration file. Assuming you made the minor changes I suggested, you’re ready to build your APK!

The advantage of buildozer is that this part is really easy. All we need to do is type and run in a shell:

buildozer android debug

This calls buildozer, and tells it to build an Android APK in debug mode. The debug part refers to the way the package is signed, it doesn’t need properly signing with a developer key (that isn’t hard but it’s another topic) and you can immediately upload it to a device and run it.

You’ll find that the first time you run buildozer it has to download a lot (the Android SDK and NDK plus some other tools), which are hundreds or thousands of megabytes in size. This isn’t really avoidable if you want to build locally, but it will only happen once, after which buildozer will always use the same ones. If you already have the SDK/NDK installed, you can check out some of the buildozer options I didn’t mention that can point buildozer at the local copies so it doesn’t have to download them again.

If you have a device ready to run your app on, you may instead like enable developer mode and adb in its settings (the method varies by device, you can look it up), which lets your computer interact with the phone to access logs, run commands, install apps etc. The last is the most immediately important here, as it means we can plug the phone into the building computer and run

buildozer android debug deploy

The last argument, ‘deploy’, tells buildozer to automatically install the APK onto your device when the build process is done.

That’s literally everything. Assuming nothing goes wrong, your APK will be built and placed in the ‘bin’ directory in the local path, and you can do whatever you like with it. You can send it to your device via email, adb, dropbox, or lots of other methods.

Debugging

Even if the APK building works, your app may still have problems. Common ones are stuff like forgetting to include images in the APK so the app crashes when Kivy tries to access them. It’s extremely useful to debug this using the logcat tool that comes with the Android SDK. You can run this with

buildozer android logcat

to use the version buildozer installed as part of the build process. More generally, if the SDK tools are in your $PATH you can just run:

adb logcat

Both of these will output the logcat log straight to your terminal. This includes any standard output of your Python code, such as print statements, plus any standard Python tracebacks and errors. This is obviously extremely useful for working out what’s going wrong!

There are also logcat applications in the play store that can show the log from on the device. I think they generally require root nowadays, but they may be useful if you don’t have a computer handy.

That’s everything for this article. It’s a pretty quick guide, but I hope it covers everything you need to quickly and easily build your first Android APK with buildozer. Once it’s all working, you can rebuild your app whenever you like with buildozer android debug, and it only takes a few seconds!

In the next article I’ll go back to covering the features of kivy itself, starting with some more interesting widget interactions.

Category: Kivy Crash Course Tagged: kivy crash course python android