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Migrating to WebView in Android 4.4

Android 4.4 (API level 19) introduces a new version of WebView that is based on Chromium. This change upgrades WebView performance and standards support for HTML5, CSS3, and JavaScript to match the latest web browsers. Any apps using WebView will inherit these upgrades when running on Android 4.4 and higher.

This document describes additional changes to WebView that you should be aware of if you set your targetSdkVersion to "19" or higher.

Note: If your targetSdkVersion is set to "18" or lower, WebView operates in "quirks mode" in order to avoid some of the behavior changes described below, as closely as possible—while still providing your app the performance and web standards upgrades. Beware, though, that single and narrow column layouts and default zoom levels are not supported at all on Android 4.4, and there may be other behavioral differences that have not been identified, so be sure to test your app on Android 4.4 or higher even if you keep your targetSdkVersion set to "18" or lower.

To help you work through any issues you may encounter when migrating your app to WebView in Android 4.4, you can enable remote debugging through Chrome on your desktop by calling setWebContentsDebuggingEnabled(). This new feature in WebView allows you to inspect and analyze your web content, scripts, and network activity while running in a WebView. For more information, see Remote Debugging on Android.

User Agent Changes

If you serve content to your WebView based on the user agent, you should to be aware of the user agent string has changed slightly and now includes the Chrome version:

Mozilla/5.0 (Linux; Android 4.4; Nexus 4 Build/KRT16H) AppleWebKit/537.36
(KHTML, like Gecko) Version/4.0 Chrome/ Mobile Safari/537.36

If you need to retrieve the user agent but don't need to store it for your app or do not want to instantiate WebView, you should use the static method, getDefaultUserAgent(). However, if you intend to override the user agent string in your WebView, you may instead want to use getUserAgentString().

Multi-threading and Thread Blocking

If you call methods on WebView from any thread other than your app's UI thread, it can cause unexpected results. For example, if your app uses multiple threads, you can use the runOnUiThread() method to ensure your code executes on the UI thread:

runOnUiThread(new Runnable() {
    public void run() {
        // Code for WebView goes here

Also be sure that you never block the UI thread. A situation in which some apps make this mistake is while waiting for a JavaScript callback. For example, do not use code like this:

// This code is BAD and will block the UI thread
while(result == null) {

You can instead use a new method, evaluateJavascript(), to run JavaScript asynchronously.

Custom URL Handling

The new WebView applies additional restrictions when requesting resources and resolving links that use a custom URL scheme. For example, if you implement callbacks such as shouldOverrideUrlLoading() or shouldInterceptRequest(), then WebView invokes them only for valid URLs.

If you are using a custom URL scheme or a base URL and notice that your app is receiving fewer calls to these callbacks or failing to load resources on Android 4.4, ensure that the requests specify valid URLs that conform to RFC 3986.

For example, the new WebView may not call your shouldOverrideUrlLoading() method for links like this:

<a href="showProfile">Show Profile</a>

The result of the user clicking such a link can vary:

  • If you loaded the page by calling loadData() or loadDataWithBaseURL() with an invalid or null base URL, then you will not receive the shouldOverrideUrlLoading() callback for this type of link on the page.

    Note: When you use loadDataWithBaseURL() and the base URL is invalid or set null, all links in the content you are loading must be absolute.

  • If you loaded the page by calling loadUrl() or provided a valid base URL with loadDataWithBaseURL(), then you will receive the shouldOverrideUrlLoading() callback for this type of link on the page, but the URL you receive will be absolute, relative to the current page. For example, the URL you receive will be "" instead of just "showProfile".

Instead of using a simple string in a link as shown above, you can use a custom scheme such as the following:

<a href="example-app:showProfile">Show Profile</a>

You can then handle this URL in your shouldOverrideUrlLoading() method like this:

// The URL scheme should be non-hierarchical (no trailing slashes)
private static final String APP_SCHEME = "example-app:";

public boolean shouldOverrideUrlLoading(WebView view, String url) {
    if (url.startsWith(APP_SCHEME)) {
        urlData = URLDecoder.decode(url.substring(APP_SCHEME.length()), "UTF-8");
        return true;
    return false;

If you can't alter the HTML then you may be able to use loadDataWithBaseURL() and set a base URL consisting of a custom scheme and a valid host, such as "example-app://<valid_host_name>/". For example:

webView.loadDataWithBaseURL("example-app://", HTML_DATA,
        null, "UTF-8", null);

The valid host name should conform to RFC 3986 and it's important to include the trailing slash at the end, otherwise, any requests from the loaded page may be dropped.

Viewport Changes

Viewport target-densitydpi no longer supported

Previously, WebView supported a viewport property called target-densitydpi to help web pages specify their intended screen density. This property is no longer supported and you should migrate to using standard solutions with images and CSS as discussed in Pixel-Perfect UI in the WebView.

Viewport zooms in when small

Previously, if you set your viewport width to a value less than or equal to "320" it would be set to "device-width", and if you set the viewport height to a value less than or equal to the WebView height, it would be set to "device-height". However, when running in the new WebView, the width or height value is adhered and the WebView zooms in to fill the screen width.

Multiple viewport tags not supported

Previously, if you included multiple viewport tags in a web page, WebView would merge the properties from all the tags. In the new WebView, only the last viewport is used and all others are ignored.

Default zoom is deprecated

The methods getDefaultZoom() and setDefaultZoom() for getting and setting the initial zoom level on a page have are no longer supported and you should instead define the appropriate viewport in the web page.

Caution: These APIs are not supported on Android 4.4 and higher at all. Even if your targetSdkVersion is set to "18" or lower, these APIs have no effect.

For information about how to define the viewport properties in your HTML, read Pixel-Perfect UI in the WebView.

If you cannot set the width of the viewport in the HTML, then you should call setUseWideViewPort() to ensure the page is given a larger viewport. For example:

WebSettings settings = webView.getSettings();

Styling Changes

The background CSS shorthand overrides background-size

Chrome and other browser have behaved this way for a while, but now WebView will also override a CSS setting for background-size if you also specify the background style. For example, the size here will be reset to a default value:

.some-class {
  background-size: contain;
  background: url('images/image.png') no-repeat;

The fix is to simply switch the two properties around.

.some-class {
  background: url('images/image.png') no-repeat;
  background-size: contain;

Sizes are in CSS pixels instead of screen pixels

Previously, size parameters such as window.outerWidth and window.outerHeight returned a value in actual screen pixels. In the new WebView, these return a value based on CSS pixels.

It's generally bad practice to try and calculate the physical size in pixels for sizing elements or other calculations. However, if you've disabled zooming and the initial-scale is set to 1.0, you can use window.devicePixelRatio to get the scale, then multiply the CSS pixel value by that. Instead, you can also create a JavaScript binding to query the pixel size from the WebView itself.

For more information, see

NARROW_COLUMNS and SINGLE_COLUMN no longer supported

The NARROW_COLUMNS value for WebSettings.LayoutAlgorithm is not be supported in the new WebView.

Caution: These APIs are not supported on Android 4.4 and higher at all. Even if your targetSdkVersion is set to "18" or lower, these APIs have no effect.

You can handle this change in the following ways:

  • Alter the styles of your application:

    If you have control of the HTML and CSS on the page, you may find that altering the design of your content may be the most reliable approach. For example, for screens where you cite licenses, you may want wrap text inside of a <pre> tag, which you could do with the following styles:

    <pre style="word-wrap: break-word; white-space: pre-wrap;">

    This may be especially helpful if you have not defined the viewport properties for your page.

  • Use the new TEXT_AUTOSIZING layout algorithm:

    If you were using narrow columns as a way to make a broad spectrum of desktop sites more readable on mobile devices and you aren't able to change the HTML content, the new TEXT_AUTOSIZING algorithm may be a suitable alternative to NARROW_COLUMNS.

Additionally, the SINGLE_COLUMN value—which was previously deprecated—is also not supported in the new WebView.

Handling Touch Events in JavaScript

If your web page is directly handling touch events in a WebView, be sure you are also handling the touchcancel event. There are a few scenarios where touchcancel will be called, which can cause problems if not received:

  • An element is touched (so touchstart and touchmove are called) and the page is scrolled, causing a touchcancel to be thrown.
  • An element is touched (touchstart is called) but event.preventDefault() is not called, resulting earlier enough that touchcancel is thrown (so WebView assumes you don't want to consume the touch events).