09 May 2014 |

Creating a ListAdapter from a BaseAdapter with sections is fairly easy, though it can be non-trival. Here at Two Toasters we often use SQLite databases with a CursorAdapter. CursorAdapter abstracts getView from you by having you implement newView and bindView instead. This is great because then you don’t have manage any of the view recycling yourself and the cursor is given to you already moved to the position for your list item. This is where things get tricky when you want to add sections.

SectionCursorAdapter was created to make adding sections to the CursorAdapter with fast scroll trival. It is a scientific fact that it’s 348.265% easier to implement compared to adding sections to a BaseAdapter on array data(clinical trial data available on request). The question is, is it really that hard to implement your own sectioning CursorAdapter? Also, is this library really that versatile, and what does this give you over creating one yourself?

How does the SectionCursorAdapter work?

At first your mind might hit the problem like this. bindView gives you the cursor already moved to the current list position. So you can more than likely get the position for the view from cursor.getPosition. Well then newView more than likely needs a different view so you get the position from your cursor there too. Now for the recycler to work correctly you need to override getViewPositionType. Not to bad but you’ll have to handle knowing what are to correct views in both new and bind, and now that you’re adding extra items your count is off so you have to override getCount. How do you know how many sections you’ve added before at the current position: You cannot just keep a counter because the user can scroll up and down? On top of that, how are you going to determine where cursor sections start and stop?

[SectionCursorAdapterSectionCursorAdapter handles all of this for you. It works by overriding getView and delegating to the abstract methods newSectionView, bindSectionView, newItemView and bindItemView. SectionCursorAdapter does this in a similar way to the CursorAdapter but with section checks.

public View getView(int position, View convertView, ViewGroup parent) {
    boolean isSection = isSection(position);
    Context context = parent.getContext();
    Cursor cursor = getCursor();
    View view;

    if (!isSection) {
        int newPosition = getCursorPositionWithoutSections(position);
        if (!cursor.moveToPosition(newPosition)) {
            throw new IllegalStateException("couldn't move cursor to position " + newPosition);

    if (convertView == null) {
        view = isSection ? newSectionView(context, getItem(position), parent)
                : newItemView(context, cursor, parent);
    } else {
        view = convertView;

    if (isSection) {
        bindSectionView(view, context, position, getItem(position));
    } else {
        bindItemView(view, context, cursor);

    return view;

It then uses the abstract method getSectionFromCursor so that it knows which positions are going to be a section. That information is used to build a TreeMap which is used to normalizes cursor positions against section positions.

protected SortedMap<Integer, Object> buildSections(Cursor cursor) {
    TreeMap<Integer, Object> sections = new TreeMap<Integer, Object>();
    int cursorPosition = 0;
    while (cursor.moveToNext()) {
        Object section = getSectionFromCursor(cursor);
        if (cursor.getPosition() != cursorPosition)
            throw new IllegalStateException("Do no move the cursor's position in getSectionFromCursor.");
        if (!sections.containsValue(section))
            sections.put(cursorPosition + sections.size(), section);
    return sections;

The adapter then makes sure to rebuild this information on notifyDataSetChanged and notifyDataSetInvalidated. It also nicely handles getItem, getItemId, getItemViewType, getViewTypeCount and getCount. On top of all of that, SectionCursorAdapter uses this information to implement SectionIndexer, giving you fast scrolling dialogs for free.

How can they implement it?

Building Sections

If you have used CursorAdapter before then the SectionCursorAdapter is dead simple. To reiterate from above the newView and bindView have been removed and replaced with newSectionView, bindSectionView, newItemView and bindItemView. You can use getLayoutInflater to help inflate your new views. The main difference is the abstract method getSectionFromCursor. If your sections are just a number or a String then all you have to do is get it from your cursor and return it. Before returning it you can manipulate it however you want or you can return an object where you’ve overriden the toString method. The following example builds sections by job title.

protected Object getSectionFromCursor(Cursor cursor) {
    int columnIndex = cursor.getColumnIndex(ToasterModel.SHORT_JOB);
    return cursor.getString(columnIndex);

Noob tip: you have to sort your cursor when you query.

FastScroll, it’s free!



<ListView ... 
    android:fastScrollEnabled="true" />

The Power!

Let’s say though you want to do something a little more complicated. You want to make a custom adapter once but you might have a lot of different ways you want to build sections. You can then pass in your own map at the same time that you pass in the cursor so you can easily change up the way sections are being displayed.

SortedMap<Integer, Object> mSectionsMap;
public MyAdapter(Context context) {
    // I recommend using LoaderManager so I'm passing in 0 to not use the data observer.
    super(context, null, 0);
public void setData(Cursor cursor,SortedMap<Integer, Object> sectionsMap) {
    // Order is important as swapCursor will end up calling buildSections.
    mSectionsMap = sectionsMap;
protected SortedMap<Integer, Object> buildSections(Cursor cursor) {
    return sectionsMap;
protected Object getSectionFromCursor(Cursor cursor) {
    throw new IllegalStateException("getSectionFromCursor should not being called in this adapter as buildSections is overriden.");

You could even pass in different maps with different object types for values and just override the toString methods on those objects.


Making a CursorAdapter with sections is fairly complicated but using SectionCursorAdapter is not. It’s easy to implement, versatile and powerful. The github README also has great information on implementation. Make sure to star the github project and don’t forget to tell your friends!