Permissions

Quickview

  • If your app targets the M Preview SDK, it prompts users to grant permissions at runtime, instead of install time.
  • Users can revoke permissions at any time from the app Settings screen.
  • Your app needs to check that it has the permissions it needs every time it runs.

In this document

  1. Overview
  2. Coding for Runtime Permissions
  3. Testing Runtime Permissions
  4. Best Practices and Usage Notes

Video

Google I/O 2015—Android M Permissions: Best Practices for Developers

The M Developer Preview introduces a new app permissions model which streamlines the process for users to install and upgrade apps. If an app running on the M Preview supports the new permissions model, the user does not have to grant any permissions when they install or upgrade the app. Instead, the app requests permissions as it needs them, and the system shows a dialog to the user asking for the permission.

If an app supports the new permissions model, it can still be installed and run on devices running older versions of Android, using the old permissions model on those devices.

Overview

With the M Developer Preview, the platform introduces a new app permissions model. Here's a summary of the key components of this new model:

  • Declaring Permissions: The app declares all the permissions it needs in the manifest, as in earlier Android platforms.
  • Permission Groups: Permissions are divided into permission groups, based on their functionality. For example, the CONTACTS permission group contains permissions to read and write the user's contacts and profile information.
  • Limited Permissions Granted at Install Time: When the user installs or updates the app, the system grants the app all permissions listed in the manifest that fall under PROTECTION_NORMAL. For example, alarm clock and internet permissions fall under PROTECTION_NORMAL, so they are automatically granted at install time. For more information about how normal permissions are handled, see Normal Permissions.

    The system may also grant the app signature permissions, as described in System components and signature permissions. The user is not prompted to grant any permissions at install time.

  • User Grants Permissions at Run-Time: When the app requests a permission, the system shows a dialog to the user, then calls the app's callback function to notify it whether the user granted the permission.

This permission model changes the way your app behaves for features that require permissions. Here's a summary of the development practices you should follow to adjust to this model:

  • Always Check for Permissions: When the app needs to perform any action that requires a permission, it should first check whether it has that permission already. If it does not, it requests to be granted that permission. You do not need to check for permissions that fall under PROTECTION_NORMAL.
  • Handle Lack of Permissions Gracefully: If the app is not granted an appropriate permission, it should handle the failure cleanly. For example, if the permission is just needed for an added feature, the app can disable that feature. If the permission is essential for the app to function, the app might disable all its functionality and inform the user that they need to grant that permission.
  • Figure 1. Permission screen in the app's Settings.

  • Permissions are Revocable: Users can revoke an app's permissions at any time. If a user turns off an app's permissions, the app is not notified. Once again, your app should verify that it has needed permissions before performing any restricted actions.

Note: If an app targets the M Developer Preview, it must use the new permissions model.

As of the launch of the M Developer Preview, not all Google apps fully implement the new permissions model. Google is updating these apps over the course of the M Developer Preview to properly respect Permissions toggle settings.

Note: If your app has its own API surface, do not proxy permissions without first ensuring the caller has the requisite permissions to access that data.

Permission groups

Related permissions are divided into permission groups to allow users to grant related permissions to an app in a single action. The user only has to grant permission once per app for each permission group. If the app subsequently requests a permission from the same permission group, the system automatically grants the permission without any action from the user. The system calls your app's onRequestPermissionsResult() method just as if the user had granted permission through the dialog box.

For example, suppose an app lists in its manifest that it needs the SEND_SMS and RECEIVE_SMS permissions, which both belong to android.permission-group.SMS. When the app needs to send a message, it requests the SEND_SMS permission. The system shows the user a dialog box asking if the app can have access to SMS. If the user agrees, the system grants the app the SEND_SMS permission it requested. Later, the app requests RECEIVE_SMS. The system automatically grants this permission, since the user had already approved a permission in the same permission group.

System components and signature permissions

Ordinarily, when the user installs an app, the system only grants the app the permissions listed in the manifest that fall under PROTECTION_NORMAL. However, under some circumstances the system grants the app more permissions:

  • System components automatically receive all the permissions listed in their manifests.
  • If the app requests permissions in the manifest that fall under PROTECTION_SIGNATURE, and the app is signed with the same certificate as the app that declared those permissions, the system grants the requesting app those permissions on installation. Apps cannot request signature permissions at runtime.

Forwards and backwards compatibility

If an app does not target the M Developer Preview, the app continues to use the old permissions model even on M Preview devices. When the user installs the app, the system asks the user to grant all permissions listed in the app's manifest.

Note: On devices running the M Developer Preview, a user can turn off permissions for any app (including legacy apps) from the app's Settings screen. If a user turns off permissions for a legacy app, the system silently disables the appropriate functionality. When the app attempts to perform an operation that requires that permission, the operation will not necessarily cause an exception. Instead, it might return an empty data set, signal an error, or otherwise exhibit unexpected behavior. For example, if you query a calendar without permission, the method returns an empty data set.

If you install an app using the new permissions model on a device that is not running the M Preview, the system treats it the same as any other app: the system asks the user to grant all declared permissions at install time.

Note: For the preview release, you must set the minimum SDK version to the M Preview SDK to compile with the preview SDK. This means you will not be able to test such apps on older platforms during the developer preview.

Permissions versus intents

In many cases, you can choose between two ways for your app to perform a task. You can have your app ask for permission to perform the operation itself. Alternatively, you can have the app use an intent to have another app perform the task.

For example, suppose your app needs to be able to take pictures with the device camera. Your app can request the android.permission.CAMERA permission, which allows your app to access the camera directly. Your app would then use the camera APIs to control the camera and take a picture. This approach gives your app full control over the photography process, and lets you incorporate the camera UI into your app.

However, if you don't need such control, you can just use an ACTION_IMAGE_CAPTURE intent to request an image. When you start the intent, the user is prompted to choose a camera app (if there isn't already a default camera app), and that app takes the picture. The camera app returns the picture to your app's onActivityResult() method.

Similarly, if you need to make a phone call, access the user's contacts, and so on, you can do that by creating an appropriate intent, or you can request the permission and access the appropriate objects directly. There are advantages and disadvantages to each approach.

If you use permissions:

  • Your app has full control over the user experience when you perform the operation. However, such broad control adds to the complexity of your task, since you need to design an appropriate UI.
  • The user is prompted to give permission once, the first time you perform the operation. After that, your app can perform the operation without requiring additional interaction from the user. However, if the user doesn't grant the permission (or revokes it later on), your app becomes unable to perform the operation at all.

If you use an intent:

  • You do not have to design the UI for the operation. The app that handles the intent provides the UI. However, this means you have no control over the user experience. The user could be interacting with an app you've never seen.
  • If the user does not have a default app for the operation, the system prompts the user to choose an app. If the user does not designate a default handler, they may have to go through an extra dialog every time they perform the operation.

Coding for Runtime Permissions

If your app targets the new M Developer Preview, you must use the new permissions model. This means that in addition to declaring your needed permissions in the manifest, you must also check to see if you have the permissions at run time, and request the permissions if you do not already have them.

Enabling the new permissions model

To enable the new M Developer Preview permissions model, set the app's targetSdkVersion attribute to "MNC", and compileSdkVersion to "android-MNC". Doing so enables all the new permissions features.

For the preview release, you must set minSdkVersion to "MNC" to compile with the preview SDK.

Designating a permission for the M Preview only

You can use the new <uses-permission-sdk-m> element in the app manifest to indicate that a permission is only needed on the M Developer Preview. If you declare a permission this way, then whenever the app is installed on an older device, the system does not prompt the user or grant the permission to the app. By using the <uses-permission-sdk-m> element, you can add new permissions to updated versions of your app without forcing users to grant permissions when they install the update.

If the app is running on a device with the M Developer Preview, <uses-permission-sdk-m> behaves the same as <uses-permission>. The system does not prompt the user to grant any permissions when they install the app, and the app requests permissions as they are needed.

Prompting for permissions

If your app uses the new M Developer Preview permissions model, the user is not asked to grant all permissions when the app is first launched on a device running the M Preview. Instead, your app requests permissions as they are needed. When your app requests a permission, the system shows a dialog to the user.

If your app runs on a device that has SDK 22 or lower, the app uses the old permissions model. When the user installs the app, they are prompted to grant all the permissions your app requests in its manifest, except for those permissions which are labeled with <uses-permission-sdk-m>.

Check what platform the app is running on

This permissions model is only supported on devices running the M Developer Preview. Before calling any of these methods, the app should verify what platform it's running on by checking the value of Build.VERSION.CODENAME. If the device is running the M Developer Preview, CODENAME is "MNC".

Check if the app has the needed permission

When the user tries to do something that requires a permission, the app checks to see if it currently has permission to perform this operation. To do this, the app calls Context.checkSelfPermission(permission_name). The app should perform this check even if it knows the user has already granted that permission, since the user can revoke an app's permissions at any time. For example, if a user wants to use an app to take a picture, the app calls Context.checkSelfPermission(Manifest.permission.CAMERA).

Table 1. Permissions and permission groups.

Permission Group Permissions
android.permission-group.CALENDAR
  • android.permission.READ_CALENDAR
  • android.permission.WRITE_CALENDAR
android.permission-group.CAMERA
  • android.permission.CAMERA
android.permission-group.CONTACTS
  • android.permission.READ_CONTACTS
  • android.permission.WRITE_CONTACTS
  • android.permission.READ_PROFILE
  • android.permission.WRITE_PROFILE
android.permission-group.LOCATION
  • android.permission.ACCESS_FINE_LOCATION
  • android.permission.ACCESS_COARSE_LOCATION
android.permission-group.MICROPHONE
  • android.permission.RECORD_AUDIO
android.permission-group.PHONE
  • android.permission.READ_PHONE_STATE
  • android.permission.CALL_PHONE
  • android.permission.READ_CALL_LOG
  • android.permission.WRITE_CALL_LOG
  • com.android.voicemail.permission.ADD_VOICEMAIL
  • android.permission.USE_SIP
  • android.permission.PROCESS_OUTGOING_CALLS
android.permission-group.SENSORS
  • android.permission.BODY_SENSORS
  • android.permission.USE_FINGERPRINT
android.permission-group.SMS
  • android.permission.SEND_SMS
  • android.permission.RECEIVE_SMS
  • android.permission.READ_SMS
  • android.permission.RECEIVE_WAP_PUSH
  • android.permission.RECEIVE_MMS
  • android.permission.READ_CELL_BROADCASTS
android.permission-group.STORAGE
  • android.permission.READ_EXTERNAL_STORAGE
  • android.permission.WRITE_EXTERNAL_STORAGE

Explain why the app needs permissions

In some circumstances, you might want to help the user understand why your app needs a permission. For example, if a user launches a photography app, the user probably won't be surprised that the app asks for permission to use the camera. But if the user turns down that permission request, then launches the photography app again, that might indicate that the user needs some help understanding why the permission is needed.

To help find the situations where you need to provide extra explanation, the system provides the Activity.shouldShowRequestPermissionRationale(String) method. This method returns true if the app has requested this permission previously and the user denied the request. That indicates that you should probably explain to the user why you need the permission.

If the user turned down the permission request in the past and chose the Don't ask again option in the permission request system dialog, this method returns false. The method also returns false if the device policy prohibits the app from having that permission.

Request permissions if necessary

If the app doesn't already have the permission it needs, the app calls the Activity.requestPermissions(String[], int) method to request the appropriate permission or permissions. The app passes the permission or permissions it wants, and also an integer "request code". This method functions asynchronously: it returns right away, and after the user responds to the dialog box, the system calls the app's callback method with the results, passing the same "request code" that the app passed to requestPermissions().

The following code code checks if the app has permission to read the user's contacts, and requests the permission if necessary:

if (checkSelfPermission(Manifest.permission.READ_CONTACTS)
        != PackageManager.PERMISSION_GRANTED) {
    // Should we show an explanation?
    if (shouldShowRequestPermissionRationale(
            Manifest.permission.READ_CONTACTS)) {
        // Explain to the user why we need to read the contacts
    }
    requestPermissions(new String[]{Manifest.permission.READ_CONTACTS},
            MY_PERMISSIONS_REQUEST_READ_CONTACTS);
    // MY_PERMISSIONS_REQUEST_READ_CONTACTS is an
    // app-defined int constant
    return;
}

Handle the permissions request response

When an app requests permissions, the system presents a dialog box to the user. When the user responds, the system invokes your app's Activity.onRequestPermissionsResult(int, String[], int[]) passing it the user response. Your app needs to override that method. The callback is passed the same request code you passed to requestPermissions(). For example, if an app requests READ_CONTACTS access it might have the following callback method:

@Override
public void onRequestPermissionsResult(int requestCode,
        String permissions[], int[] grantResults) {
    switch (requestCode) {
        case MY_PERMISSIONS_REQUEST_READ_CONTACTS: {
            if (grantResults[0] == PackageManager.PERMISSION_GRANTED) {
                // permission was granted, yay! do the
                // calendar task you need to do.
            } else {
                // permission denied, boo! Disable the
                // functionality that depends on this permission.
            }
            return;
        }
        // other 'switch' lines to check for other
        // permissions this app might request
    }
}

If the user denies a permission request, your app should take appropriate action. For example, your app might show a dialog explaining why it could not perform the user's original request.

When the system asks the user to grant a permission, the user has the option of telling the system not to ask for that permission again. In that case, when an app uses requestPermissions() to ask for that permission, the system immediately denies the request. In this case, the system calls your onRequestPermissionsResult() the same way it would if the user had explicitly rejected your request again. For this reason, your app cannot assume that any direct interaction with the user has taken place.

Testing Runtime Permissions

If your app targets the M Developer Preview, you must test that it handles permissions properly. You cannot assume that your app has any particular permissions when it runs. When the app is first launched, it is likely to have no permissions, and the user can revoke or restore permissions at any time.

You should test your app to make sure it behaves properly under all permission situations. With the M Preview SDK, we have provided new Android Debug Bridge (adb) commands to enable you to test your app with whatever permissions settings you need to try.

New adb commands and options

The M Preview SDK Platform-tools provides several new commands to let you test how your app handles permissions.

Install with permissions

You can use the adb install command's new -g option, which installs the app and grants all permissions listed in its manifest:

$ adb install -g <path_to_apk>

Grant and revoke permissions

You can use new ADB package manager (pm) commands to grant and revoke permissions to an installed app. This functionality can be useful for automated testing.

To grant a permission, use the package manager's grant command:

$ adb pm grant <package_name> <permission_name>

For example, to grant the com.example.myapp package permission to record audio, use this command:

$ adb pm grant com.example.myapp android.permission.RECORD_AUDIO

To revoke a permission, use the package manager's revoke command:

$ adb pm revoke <package_name> <permission_name>

Best Practices and Usage Notes

The new permissions model gives users a smoother experience, and makes it easier for them to install apps and feel comfortable with what the apps are doing. We recommend the following best practices to take full advantage of the new model.

Only ask for permissions you need

Every time you ask for a permission, you force the user to make a decision. If the user turns down the request, that reduces your app's functionality. You should minimize the number of times you make these requests.

For example, quite often your app can get needed functionality by using an intent instead of asking for permissions. If your app needs to take pictures with the phone's camera, your app can use a MediaStore.ACTION_IMAGE_CAPTURE intent. When your app executes the intent, the system prompts the user to choose an already-installed camera app to take the picture.

Don't overwhelm the user

If you confront the user with a lot of requests for permissions at once, you may overwhelm the user and cause them to quit your app. Instead, you should ask for permissions as you need them.

In some cases, one or more permissions might be absolutely essential to your app. In that case, it might make sense to ask for all the permissions as soon as the app launches. For example, if you make a photography app, the app would need access to the device camera. When the user launches the app for the first time, they won't be surprised to be asked for permission to use the camera. But if the same app also had a feature to share photos with the user's contacts, you probably should not ask for that permission at first launch. Instead, wait until the user tries to use the "sharing" feature and ask for the permission then.

If your app provides a tutorial, it may make sense to request the app's essential permissions at the end of the tutorial sequence.

Explain why you need permissions

The permissions dialog shown by the system when you call requestPermissions() says what permission your app wants, but doesn't say why. In some cases, the user may find that puzzling. It's a good idea to explain to the user why your app wants the permissions before calling requestPermissions().

For example, a photography app might want to use location services, so it can geotag the photos. A typical user might not understand that a photo can contain location information, and would be puzzled why their photography app wanted to know the location. So in this case, it's a good idea for the app to tell the user about this feature before calling requestPermissions().

One way to do this is to incorporate these requests into an app tutorial. The tutorial can show each of the app's features in turn, and as it does this, it can explain what permissions are needed. For example, the photography app's tutorial can demonstrate its "share photos with your contacts" feature, then tell the user that they need to give permission for the app to see the user's contacts. The app can then call requestPermissions() to ask the user for that access. Of course, not every user is going to follow the tutorial, so you still need to check for and request permissions during the app's normal operation.

Normal Permissions

Many permissions are designated as PROTECTION_NORMAL, which indicates that there's no great risk to the user's privacy or security in letting apps have those permissions. For example, users would reasonably want to know whether an app can read their contact information, so users have to grant this permission explicitly. By contrast, there's no great risk in allowing an app to vibrate the device, so that permission is designated as normal.

If an app declares in its manifest that it needs a normal permission, the system automatically grants the app that permission at install time. The system does not prompt the user to grant normal permissions, and users cannot revoke these permissions.

If your app declares that it needs normal permissions, the app does not need to call Activity.checkSelfPermission() or Activity.requestPermissions() for those permissions. Since you declared the permissions in the manifest, you can be sure your app was granted those permissions at install time.

Currently, the following permissions are classified as PROTECTION_NORMAL:

  • android.permission.ACCESS_LOCATION_EXTRA_COMMANDS
  • android.permission.ACCESS_NETWORK_STATE
  • android.permission.ACCESS_WIFI_STATE
  • android.permission.ACCESS_WIMAX_STATE
  • android.permission.BLUETOOTH
  • android.permission.BLUETOOTH_ADMIN
  • android.permission.BROADCAST_STICKY
  • android.permission.CHANGE_NETWORK_STATE
  • android.permission.CHANGE_WIFI_MULTICAST_STATE
  • android.permission.CHANGE_WIFI_STATE
  • android.permission.DISABLE_KEYGUARD
  • android.permission.EXPAND_STATUS_BAR
  • android.permission.FLASHLIGHT
  • android.permission.GET_ACCOUNTS
  • android.permission.GET_PACKAGE_SIZE
  • android.permission.INTERNET
  • android.permission.KILL_BACKGROUND_PROCESSES
  • android.permission.MODIFY_AUDIO_SETTINGS
  • android.permission.NFC
  • android.permission.PERSISTENT_ACTIVITY
  • android.permission.READ_SYNC_SETTINGS
  • android.permission.READ_SYNC_STATS
  • android.permission.READ_USER_DICTIONARY
  • android.permission.RECEIVE_BOOT_COMPLETED
  • android.permission.REORDER_TASKS
  • android.permission.SET_TIME_ZONE
  • android.permission.SET_WALLPAPER
  • android.permission.SET_WALLPAPER_HINTS
  • android.permission.SUBSCRIBED_FEEDS_READ
  • android.permission.TRANSMIT_IR
  • android.permission.VIBRATE
  • android.permission.WAKE_LOCK
  • android.permission.WRITE_SETTINGS
  • android.permission.WRITE_SYNC_SETTINGS
  • android.permission.WRITE_USER_DICTIONARY
  • com.android.alarm.permission.SET_ALARM
  • com.android.launcher.permission.INSTALL_SHORTCUT