Kotlin For Android: An Introduction

See how Kotlin For Android makes developing Android apps far more enjoyable. Learn how simple it is by creating your very own book searching app. By Matei Suica.

Leave a rating/review
Download materials
Save for later
You are currently viewing page 3 of 3 of this article. Click here to view the first page.

The Elvis Operator

The Elvis Operator (?:) looks like the ternary conditional operator in Java but works differently. It also looks like Elvis Presley’s hair if you tilt your head 90 degrees to the left :] You can see an example of this when trying to get the length of the cover ID:

val len = coverId?.length ?: 0

If the expression to the left of the Elvis operator is not null, it returns the result of the expression. Otherwise, it returns the expression to the right.

Similarly to an if-else statement, Elvis only evaluates the expression on the right if the one on the left side is null. The equivalent would be:

  val len: Int
  if(coverId?.length != null) {
    len = coverId?.length
  } else {
    len = 0

It’s shorter with the Kotlin way, isn’t it?

Type Inference

Kotlin also supports type inference. This means the compiler can deduce variable types from the initializer. You can still declare the type if you want or if the compiler can’t infer it. For example, the types of the imageUrlBase and imageURL variables are inferred from their initializers.

private val imageUrlBase = "http://covers.openlibrary.org/b/id/"
private var imageURL = ""

The compiler tracks the inferred type of each variable, each as a String. Any values assigned after that to the variable must also be of that String type. For numbers, you need to make the type of variable clear to the compiler.

    var longVar = 0L
    var floatVar = 0.0f
    var doubleVar = 0.0
    var integerVar = 0

The Java to Kotlin Converter

I like to call this tool The Kotlinifier. Unfortunately, the JetBrain team isn’t trying to be funny. Still, the converter is the best tool ever made to ease the transition from one programming language to another.

Since Kotlin was made by developers for developers, they knew what language users would want. These tools are what the language developer team used to transition themselves from Java to Kotlin. That’s why the converter is so good!

Try it out. Take this sanity-saving feature for a test drive by converting the DetailActivity.java file to Kotlin.

Open the DetailActivity.java class and go to Code ▸ Convert Java File to Kotlin File or use the shortcut Command + Shift + Option + K:

You will get a notice like shown, click OK. This will replace the Java file with a Kotlin one. This notice however is only showed when necessary, so don’t always expect it.


That’s it. You’ve converted a Java class into a Kotlin class. :]

Compare the converted DetailActivity with the DetailActivityKotlin class. Pay attention to the choices the converter made. It doesn’t always make the best choices, but it does produce working code. Always review the converted code when you use this feature. You can even learn language features from the converter!

Now, reset MainActivity to refer to the converted code:

Intent detailIntent = new Intent(this, DetailActivity.class);

Build and run and go to the detail screen, and you’ll see the converted code works as well as the code you had in DetailActivityKotlin. :]

Kotlin is Evolving

While other programming languages have already reached maturity, Kotlin is still in its infancy. The latest version right now is 1.3, and it came with a lot of new features. Some of the features were already in the language as experimental features and some are all new. Some are also improvements to already existing constructs. Here are some highlights that you should know about.


Coroutines are a more advanced feature of Kotlin that allows developers to run asynchronous code. You might not know about coroutines now, but it’s worth mentioning that the feature is now stable. If you ever need to run a non-blocking piece of code, check out Coroutines.

Improvements to when expression

Kotlin’s equivalent to Java’s switch is when. In Kotlin 1.3, the when subject can be captured on the spot. You no longer need to assign a val right before the block.

when (val response = executeRequest()) {
            is Success -> response.body
            is HttpError -> throw HttpException(response.status)

More Numbers

For some applications, it makes sense to use unsigned number types. Getting the sign out of the way makes room for new possibilities. Kotlin 1.3 brings back the old unsigned concept: UByte, UShort, UInt and ULong are all new and experimental. Use them carefully!

Code Style Support in the IDE

Remember Java Coding Conventions? Yeah, me neither. Kotlin has a pretty solid coding conventions document that all Kotlin developers should read, learn and follow religiously. That’s why now you can set up your IntelliJ-based IDE to format your code The Kotlin Way instead of its default. This will help you keep your code nice and respectful of the recommendations.

There are many more changes in Kotlin 1.3. To check them all out, go to the changelog. Once you’re more advanced in the art of Kotlin, you’ll be amazed at how useful these additions are.

Where To Go From Here?

Congratulations! You’ve learned a lot about Kotlin! You recoded a Java Activity in Kotlin and used the Kotlin plugin to convert a Java source file into a Kotlin source file. Find the final project and compare your results by clicking the Download Materials button at the top or bottom of this tutorial.

I suggest reading further on Null Safety in Kotlin in the documentation.

You can also use the Kotlin online compiler to try out code samples and improve your knowledge of the language.

You’ve only scratched the surface of Kotlin’s amazing possibilities. If you’re excited by what you’ve read here, check out other Kotlin topics. There’s a lot to learn about Data Classes, Extensions, Lambdas, or String Templates.

I hope you enjoyed this Kotlin for Android tutorial. If you have any questions or comments, join the forum discussion below!

Matei Suica


Matei Suica

Author and Author

Nicole Hardina


Over 300 content creators. Join our team.