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Intents bind individual components to each other at runtime (you can think of them as the messengers that request an action from other components), whether the component belongs to your application or another.

An intent is created with an Intent object, which defines a message to activate either a specific component or a specific type of component—an intent can be either explicit or implicit, respectively.

For activities and services, an intent defines the action to perform (for example, to "view" or "send" something) and may specify the URI of the data to act on (among other things that the component being started might need to know). For example, an intent might convey a request for an activity to show an image or to open a web page. In some cases, you can start an activity to receive a result, in which case, the activity also returns the result in an Intent (for example, you can issue an intent to let the user pick a personal contact and have it returned to you—the return intent includes a URI pointing to the chosen contact).

For broadcast receivers, the intent simply defines the announcement being broadcast (for example, a broadcast to indicate the device battery is low includes only a known action string that indicates "battery is low").

The other component type, content provider, is not activated by intents. Rather, it is activated when targeted by a request from a ContentResolver. The content resolver handles all direct transactions with the content provider so that the component that's performing transactions with the provider doesn't need to and instead calls methods on the ContentResolver object. This leaves a layer of abstraction between the content provider and the component requesting information (for security).

There are separate methods for activiting each type of component:

  • You can start an activity (or give it something new to do) by passing an Intent to startActivity() or startActivityForResult() (when you want the activity to return a result).
  • You can start a service (or give new instructions to an ongoing service) by passing an Intent to startService(). Or you can bind to the service by passing an Intent to bindService().
  • You can initiate a broadcast by passing an Intent to methods like sendBroadcast(), sendOrderedBroadcast(), or sendStickyBroadcast().
  • You can perform a query to a content provider by calling query() on a ContentResolver.

For more information about using intents, see the Intents and Intent Filters document. More information about activating specific components is also provided in the following documents: Activities, Services, BroadcastReceiver and Content Providers.