Easy Android system-level file browser

Hey Android developers, there is a very easy way to browse most of the system files on your droid. No rooting is required for this and it should work on most stock retail Androids. If you are reading this it’s probably because you hit the wall with the crippled functionality in most mainstream device file browsers. To fix that frustration, here’s what you need to do.

First, in Eclipse make sure DDMS got installed when you installed the Android Developer Tools (ADT). DDMS also comes with ADT Bundle.

Then follow these three easy steps:

1)   Connect your phone to laptop.

2)   Change your Window perspective to DDMS. If you don’t see it try going to Window > Open Perspective > Other > DDMS.

3)   In the DDMS view click on the “File Explorer” tab. And, that’s all you need to do.

Once you are in File Explorer you can browse, for example, all the apps installed on the device (/System/app/). Note, depending on your phone you may not be able to open all folders that you can see.

DDMS File Explorer

And, depending on where you are in the file system you can copy files to and from the device using the icons in the upper right of the File Explorer window. On some devices you may not be able to copy certain system files from the device to your laptop and vice-versa.

Copy and paste

You can also (Caveat Emptor!!) delete files, using the red minus button, and make new folders using the green plus button.

Delete files and add folders

Compare this to the very limited capabilities of a typical Android file browser, as shown in the screen shot below. By the way, if you have other tips-and-tricks please leave a comment and share your experience.

Typical file browser

Debugging Web Apps on Android’s Mobile Browser – Part 2

In addition to the suggestions listed in Part 1, I forgot to mention one more tool. There is a lesser known browser that can be quite handy for debugging: Firefox mobile. This relatively unknown sibling of the full-blown desktop browser actually has a fairly nice, built in debugger. The one major caveat is that it doesn’t work as well as the native browser for HTML5, CSS3 and some JavaScript, but it may be just the tool you need for some quick debugging, on-the-fly. Besides it fits in your pocket along with your other mobile apps, and you don’t need Logcat.

Step 1 – place your finger in the middle of the screen and drag it to the left. Click the gears icon at the bottom right of the screen.

Step 2 – In the upper right hand corner of the next screen, click the bug icon

Step 3 – Scroll down the datagrid to view errors.

Debugging Web Apps on Android’s Mobile Browser

For some unknown reason, Google did not include a debugger in their native browser, at least for versions up to v2.3.x. I don’t have a phone that supports a version greater than that, yet, so I can’t speak about the latest releases. Unfortunately this can be a huge productivity killer. The good news is there is a solution – you can debug the native Android browser using what’s called the DDMS, or Dalvik Debug Monitor Server, and the ADB, or Android Debug Bridge. I can also tell you this works great.

Yes, it’s true that JavaScript development forces you to have an armada’s worth of tools, tricks, libraries, phones and browsers. This is just another hammer to place into your growing toolkit. Debugging via ADB was good news for me since I do native Android development and I already have the software installed when I installed the full Android SDK. If you don’t do native development then it’s a real pain.

But, if you want to do your best to deliver bug free apps, then your best bet is to install at least ADB. I believe, but I’m not 100% certain, that you can this without having to install Eclipse along with the entire Android SDK. Yes, I agree that installing the entire SDK would seem entirely ridiculous and complete overkill for mobile web development, especially if you are not using Eclipse as your primary IDE. I’m aware that in the past I’d seen a few stand-alone versions of this floating around for both Windows and Linux. I’m not even remotely certain about Mac’s. If you do know something about this, then I encourage you to please post a comment.

How to use ADB. My suggestion, once you’ve installed it, is to filter by the tag “console” if you are using Android v2.x and above.  Instructions on how to do filtering can be found in the ADB link below and scroll towards the very bottom of the page.

Caveat: You will have to install the Android USB device driver on your machine in order for ADB to work.  And, you will also have to have a USB cable that will connect your device to your dev machine. The drivers are different for every device. I’ve included a link to Google’s device drivers below. On a related note, for several of my Motorola Androids I had to go directly to the Motorola website to find a device driver that finally worked.

Another Possibility – Adobe Shadow! You should also be aware of a very cool development from Adobe called Shadow. As of today, I believe you can still download it for free from Adobe labs. I mention this last because, well…I haven’t tried it out. However, my good friend Kevin Hoyt, from Adobe, says it’s very, very promising. And, it’s supported on both Mac and Windows. As I write this I’m thinking that I really do need to download it and test drive it. If you have tried it, then post your thoughts…don’t by shy!


Adobe Shadow + sneak peak video

Google’s ADB

Android Device Drivers

Google’s Guidelines for Web app developers