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Robolectric works by creating a runtime environment that includes the real Android framework code. This means when your tests or code under test calls into the Android framework you get a more realistic experience as for the most part the same code is executed as would be on a real device. There are limitations however:

  1. Native code - Android native code cannot execute on your development machine.
  2. Out of process calls - There are no Android system services running on your development machine.
  3. Inadequate testing APIs - Android includes next to no APIs suitable for testing

Robolectric fills these gaps with a set of classes known as Shadows. Each shadow can modify or extend the behavior of a corresponding class in the Android OS. When an Android class is instantiated, Robolectric looks for a corresponding shadow class, and if it finds one it creates a shadow object to associate with it.

Using byte code instrumentation Robolectric is able to weave in cross platform fake implementations to substitute for native code and add additional APIs to make testing possible.

What's in a Name?

Why "Shadow?" Shadow objects are not quite Proxies, not quite Fakes, not quite Mocks or Stubs. Shadows are sometimes hidden, sometimes seen, and can lead you to the real object. At least we didn't call them "sheep", which we were considering.

Shadow Classes

Shadow classes always need a public no-arg constructor so that the Robolectric framework can instantiate them. They are associated to the class that they Shadow with an @Implements annotation on the class declaration.

Shadow classes should mimic the production classes' inheritance hierarchy. For example, if you are implementing a Shadow for ViewGroup, ShadowViewGroup, then your Shadow class should extend ViewGroup's superclass's Shadow, ShadowView.

  public class ShadowViewGroup extends ShadowView {


Shadow objects implement methods that have the same signature as the Android class. Robolectric will invoke the method on a Shadow object when a method with the same signature on the Android object is invoked.

Suppose an application defined the following line of code:


Under test the ShadowImageView#setImageResource(int resId) method on the Shadow instance would be invoked.

Shadow methods must be marked with the @Implementation annotation. Robolectric includes a lint test to help ensure this is done correctly.

public class ShadowImageView extends ShadowView {
  protected void setImageResource(int resId) {
    // implementation here.

Robolectric supports shadowing all methods on the original class, including private, static, final or native.

Typically @Implementation methods should also have the protected modifier. The intention is to reduce the API surface area of the Shadows; the test author should always call such methods on the Android framework class directly.

It is important that shadow methods are implemented on the corresponding shadow of the class in which they were originally defined. Otherwise Robolectric's lookup mechanism will not find them (even if they have been declared on a shadow subclass.) For example, the method setEnabled() is defined on View. If a setEnabled() method is defined on ShadowViewGroup instead of ShadowView then it will not be found at run time even when setEnabled() is called on an instance of ViewGroup.

Shadowing Constructors

Once a Shadow object is instantiated, Robolectric will look for a method named __constructor__ and annotated with @Implementation which has the same arguments as the constructor that was invoked on the real object.

For instance, if the application code were to invoke the TextView constructor which receives a Context:

new TextView(context);

Robolectric would invoke the following __constructor__ method that receives a Context:

public class ShadowTextView {
  protected void __constructor__(Context context) {
    this.context = context;

Getting access to the real instance

Sometimes Shadow classes may want to refer to the object they are shadowing, e.g. to manipulate fields. A Shadow class can accomplish this by declaring a field annotated @RealObject:

public class ShadowPoint {
  @RealObject private Point realPoint;
  public void __constructor__(int x, int y) {
    realPoint.x = x;
    realPoint.y = y;

Robolectric will set realPoint to the actual instance of Point before invoking any other methods.

It is important to note that methods called on the real object will still be intercepted and redirected by Robolectric. This does not often matter in test code, but it has important implications for Shadow class implementors. Since the Shadow class inheritance hierarchy does not always mirror that of their associated Android classes, it is sometimes necessary to make calls through these real objects so that the Robolectric runtime will have the opportunity to route them to the correct Shadow class based on the actual class of the object. Otherwise methods on Shadows of base classes would be unable to access methods on the Shadows of their subclasses.

Methods on your shadow class are able to call through to the Android OS code, using Shadow.directlyOn().

Custom Shadows

Robolectric is a work in progress and we rely, welcome and strongly encourage contributions from the community for bug fixes and feature gaps. However, if you wish to modify shadow behaviour in a way that is not appropriate for sharing, or you can't wait for a new release to include a critical fix we do support custom shadows.

Writing a Custom Shadow

Custom shadows are structured much the same as normal shadow classes. They must include the @Implements(AndroidClassName.class) annotation on the class definition. You can use the normal shadow implementation options, such as shadowing instance methods using @Implementation or shadowing constructors using public void __constructor__(...). Your shadow class may also extend one of the stock Robolectric shadows if you like.

public class MyShadowBitmap {
  @RealObject private Bitmap realBitmap;
  private int bitmapQuality = -1;

  public boolean compress(Bitmap.CompressFormat format, int quality, OutputStream stream) {
    bitmapQuality = quality;
    return realBitmap.compress(format, quality, stream);

  public int getQuality() {
    return bitmapQuality;

Using a Custom Shadows

Custom Shadows get hooked up to Robolectric using the @Config annotation on the test class or test method, using the shadows array attribute. To use the MyShadowBitmap class mentioned in the previous section, you would annotate the test in question with @Config(shadows={MyShadowBitmap.class}), and to include multiple custom shadows: @Config(shadows={MyShadowBitmap.class, MyOtherCustomShadow.class}). This causes Robolectric to recognize and use your custom shadow when executing code against the class you shadowed.

If you would like your custom shadows to be applied to all tests in your suite or a certain package you can configure shadows through the file.

Note, by default Shadows.shadowOf() method will not work with custom shadows. You can instead use Shadow.extract() and cast the return value to the custom Shadow class you implemented.

Building a library of Custom Shadows.

If you find yourself building a library of custom shadows you should consider running Robolectric's shadow annotation processor on your library of shadows. This provides a number of benefits such as

  1. Generating shadowOf methods for each of your shadows.
  2. Generating a ServiceLoader so your custom shadows are automatically applied if found on the classpath
  3. Invoking any static @Resetter methods on teardown to enable you to reset static state.
  4. Perform additional validation and checking on your shadows.
android {
    defaultConfig {
        javaCompileOptions {
            annotationProcessorOptions {
                className 'org.robolectric.annotation.processing.RobolectricProcessor'
                arguments = [ 'org.robolectric.annotation.processing.shadowPackage' : 'com.example.myshadowpackage' ]


dependencies {
    annotationProcessor 'org.robolectric:processor:<version>'

When you write your shadows in Kotlin, configure kapt:

plugins {
    id 'kotlin-kapt'

kapt {
    arguments {
        arg('org.robolectric.annotation.processing.shadowPackage', 'com.example.myshadowpackage')

dependencies {
    kapt  'org.robolectric:processor:<version>'

Best practices

Limit API surface area of shadows.

Since Robolectric 3.7 @Implementation methods including __constructor__ methods can be made protected. This is desirable as test code has no business calling these methods, by making your @Implementation methods protected you encourage test writers to call the public Android APIs instead.

Don't use useinheritImplementationMethods

This is usually unnecessary and will be removed in Robolectric 3.8

Don't override equals, hashCode and toString in shadows.

Avoid this unless you are mimicking behaviour in the class being shadowed. To test equality for comparisons in tests prefer helpers or assertion library extensions. prefer adding a describe() method instead of shadowing toString()

Write high quality shadows that promote testing behavior rather than implementation.

Rather than using shadows as glorified argument captors prefer writing a shadow that encourages testing behaviour. For example, don't add a method that exposes registered listeners, rather add an @Implementation for a method that would invoke those listeners.

Use caution when shadowing your own code.

Robolectric provides a lot of power which requires responsible usage. Shadows are ideal for testing interaction with the Android framework as the framework doesn't support dependency injection and makes liberal use of static code. Before writing custom shadows for your own code, consider if you can't better refactor your code and use a popular mocking library such as Mockito.

Support the community

Please please contribute your enhancements for sharing with the community and reducing the bloat in your own codebase.