The Android system tries to maintain an application process for as long as possible, but eventually it will need to remove old processes when memory runs low. To determine which processes to keep and which to kill, Android places each process into an "importance hierarchy" based on the components running in it and the state of those components. Processes with the lowest importance are eliminated first, then those with the next lowest, and so on. There are five levels in the hierarchy. The following list presents them in order of importance:
1. A foreground process is one that is required for what the user is currently doing. A process is considered to be in the foreground if any of the following conditions hold:
o It is running an activity that the user is interacting with (the Activity object's onResumen method has been called).
o It hosts a service that's bound to the activity that the user is interacting with.
o It has a Service object that's executing one of its lifecycle callbacks (onCreate(), onStartn, or onDestrov()).
o It has a BroadcastReceiver object that's executing its onReceiven method.
Only a few foreground processes will exist at any given time. They are killed only as a last resort — if memory is so low that they cannot all continue to run. Generally, at that point, the device has reached a memory paging state, so killing some foreground processes is required to keep the user interface responsive.
2. A visible process is one that doesn't have any foreground components, but still can affect what the user sees on screen. A process is considered to be visible if either of the following conditions holds:
o It hosts an activity that is not in the foreground, but is still visible to the user (its onPause() method has been called). This may occur, for example, if the foreground activity is a dialog that allows the previous activity to be seen behind it.
o It hosts a service that's bound to a visible activity.
A visible process is considered extremely important and will not be killed unless doing so is required to keep all foreground processes running.
3. A service process is one that is running a service that has been started with the startService() method and that does not fall into either of the two higher categories. Although service processes are not directly tied to anything the user sees, they are generally doing things that the user cares about (such as playing an mp3 in the background or downloading data on the network), so the system keeps them running unless there's not enough memory to retain them along with all foreground and visible processes.
4. A background process is one holding an activity that's not currently visible to the user (the Activity object's onStop() method has been called). These processes have no direct impact on the user experience, and can be killed at any time to reclaim memory for a foreground, visible, or service process. Usually there are many background processes running, so they are kept in an LRU (least recently used) list to ensure that the process with the activity that was most recently seen by the user is the last to be killed. If an activity implements its lifecycle methods correctly, and captures its current state, killing its process will not have a deleterious effect on the user experience.
5. An empty process is one that doesn't hold any active application components. The only reason to keep such a process around is as a cache to improve startup time the next time a component needs to run in it. The system often kills these processes in order to balance overall system resources between process caches and the underlying kernel caches.
Android ranks a process at the highest level it can, based upon the importance of the components currently active in the process. For example, if a process hosts a service and a visible activity, the process will be ranked as a visible process, not a service process.
In addition, a process's ranking may be increased because other processes are dependent on it. A process that is serving another process can never be ranked lower than the process it is serving. For example, if a content provider in process A is serving a client in process B, or if a service in process A is bound to a component in process B, process A will always be considered at least as important as process B.
Because a process running a service is ranked higher than one with background activities, an activity that initiates a long-running operation might do well to start a service for that operation, rather than simply spawn a thread — particularly if the operation will likely outlast the activity. Examples of this are playing music in the background and uploading a picture taken by the camera to a web site. Using a service guarantees that the operation will have at least "service process" priority, regardless of what happens to the activity. As noted in the Broadcast receiver lifecycle section earlier, this is the same reason that broadcast receivers should employ services rather than simply put time-consuming operations in a thread.
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