Tabbed Layouts with the ActionBar

Using the ActionBar for Tabs in Xamarin.Android

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last updated: 2017-05

This guide introduces and explains how to use the ActionBar APIs to create a tabbed user interface in a Xamarin.Android application.


The action bar is an Android UI pattern that is used to provide a consistent user interface for key features such as tabs, application identity, menus, and search. In Android 3.0 (API level 11), Google introduced the ActionBar APIs to the Android platform. The ActionBar APIs introduce UI themes to provide a consistent look and feel and classes that allow for tabbed user interfaces. This guide discusses how to add Action Bar tabs to a Xamarin.Android application. It also discusses how to use the Android Support Library v7 to backport ActionBar tabs to Xamarin.Android applications targeting Android 2.1 to Android 2.3.

Note that Toolbar is a newer and more generalized action bar component that you should use instead of of ActionBar (Toolbar was designed to replace ActionBar). For more information, see Toolbar.


Any Xamarin.Android application that targets API level 11 (Android 3.0) or higher has access to the ActionBar APIs as a part of the native Android APIs.

Some of the ActionBar APIs have been back ported to API level 7 (Android 2.1) and are available via the V7 AppCompat Library, which is made available to Xamarin.Android apps via the Xamarin Android Support Library - V7 package.

Introducing Tabs in the ActionBar

The action bar tries to display all of its tabs concurrently and make all the tabs equal in size based on the width of the widest tab label. This is illustrated by the following screenshot:

Example screenshot of ActionBar with all equal-sized tabs shown

When the ActionBar can't display all of the tabs, it will set up the tabs in a horizontally scrollable view. The user may swipe left or right to see the remaining tabs. This screenshot from Google Play shows an example of this:

Example screenshot of tabs in a horizontally scrollable view

Each tab in the action bar should be associated with a fragment. When the user selects a tab, the application will display the fragment that is associated with the tab. The ActionBar is not responsible for displaying the appropriate fragment to the user. Instead, the ActionBar will notify an application about state changes in a tab through a class that implements the ActionBar.ITabListener interface. This interface provides three callback methods that Android will invoke when the state of the tab changes:

  • OnTabSelected - This method is called when the user selects the tab. It should display the fragment.

  • OnTabReselected - This method is called when the tab is already selected but is selected again by the user. This callback is typically used to refresh/update the displayed fragment.

  • OnTabUnselected - This method is called when the user selects another tab. This callback is used to save the state in the displayed fragment before it disappears.

Xamarin.Android wraps the ActionBar.ITabListener with events on the ActionBar.Tab class. Applications may assign event handlers to one or more of these events. There are three events (one for each method in ActionBar.ITabListener) that an action bar tab will raise:

  • TabSelected
  • TabReselected
  • TabUnselected

Adding Tabs to the ActionBar

The ActionBar is native to Android 3.0 (API level 11) and higher and is available to any Xamarin.Android application that targets this API as a minimum.

The following steps illustrate how to add ActionBar tabs to an Android Activity:

  1. In the OnCreate method of an Activity – before initializing any UI widgets – an application must set the NavigationMode on the ActionBar to ActionBar.NavigationModeTabs as shown in this code snippet:

    ActionBar.NavigationMode = ActionBarNavigationMode.Tabs;
  2. Create a new tab using ActionBar.NewTab().

  3. Assign event handlers or provide a custom ActionBar.ITabListener implementation that will respond to the events that are raised when the user interacts with the ActionBar tabs.

  4. Add the tab that was created in the previous step to the ActionBar.

The following code is one example of using these steps to add tabs to an application that uses event handlers to respond to state changes:

protected override void OnCreate(Bundle bundle)
    ActionBar.NavigationMode = ActionBarNavigationMode.Tabs;

    ActionBar.Tab tab = ActionBar.NewTab();
    tab.TabSelected += (sender, args) => {
                           // Do something when tab is selected

    tab = ActionBar.NewTab();
    tab.TabSelected += (sender, args) => {
                           // Do something when tab is selected

Event Handlers vs ActionBar.ITabListener

Applications should use event handlers and ActionBar.ITabListener for different scenarios. Event handlers do offer a certain amount of syntactic convenience; they save you from having to create a class and implement ActionBar.ITabListener. This convenience does come at a cost – Xamarin.Android performs this transformation for you, creating one class and implementing ActionBar.ITabListener for you. This is fine when an application has a limited number of tabs.

When dealing with many tabs, or sharing common functionality between ActionBar tabs, it can be more efficient in terms of memory and performance to create a custom class that implements ActionBar.ITabListener, and sharing a single instance of the class. This will reduce the number of GREF's that a Xamarin.Android application is using.

Backwards Compatibility for Older Devices

The Android Support Library v7 AppCompat back ports ActionBar tabs to Android 2.1 (API level 7). Tabs are accessible in a Xamarin.Android application once this component has been added to the project.

To use the ActionBar, an activity must subclass ActionBarActivity and use the AppCompat theme as shown in the following code snippet:

[Activity(Label = "@string/app_name", Theme = "@style/Theme.AppCompat", MainLauncher = true, Icon = "@drawable/ic_launcher")]
public class MainActivity: ActionBarActivity

An Activity may obtain a reference to its ActionBar from the ActionBarActivity.SupportingActionBar property. The following code snippet illustrates an example of setting up the ActionBar in an Activity:

[Activity(Label = "@string/app_name", Theme = "@style/Theme.AppCompat", MainLauncher = true, Icon = "@drawable/ic_launcher")]
public class MainActivity : ActionBarActivity, ActionBar.ITabListener
    static readonly string Tag = "ActionBarTabsSupport";

    public void OnTabReselected(ActionBar.Tab tab, FragmentTransaction ft)
        // Optionally refresh/update the displayed tab.
        Log.Debug(Tag, "The tab {0} was re-selected.", tab.Text);

    public void OnTabSelected(ActionBar.Tab tab, FragmentTransaction ft)
        // Display the fragment the user should see
        Log.Debug(Tag, "The tab {0} has been selected.", tab.Text);

    public void OnTabUnselected(ActionBar.Tab tab, FragmentTransaction ft)
        // Save any state in the displayed fragment.
        Log.Debug(Tag, "The tab {0} as been unselected.", tab.Text);

    protected override void OnCreate(Bundle bundle)
        SupportActionBar.NavigationMode = ActionBar.NavigationModeTabs;

    void AddTabToActionBar(int labelResourceId, int iconResourceId)
        ActionBar.Tab tab = SupportActionBar.NewTab()


In this guide we discussed how to create a tabbed user interface in a Xamarin.Android using the ActionBar. We covered how to add tabs to the ActionBar and how an Activity can interact with tab events via the ActionBar.ITabListener interface. We also saw how the Android Support Library v7 AppCompat component backports the ActionBar tabs to older versions of Android.

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