8.2: Scheduling Alarms


You already know how to use broadcast receivers to make your app respond to system events even when your app isn't running. In this chapter, you'll learn how to use alarms to schedule tasks for specific times, whether or not your app is running at the time the alarm is set to go off. Alarms can either be single use or repeating. For example, you can use a repeating alarm to schedule a download every day at the same time.

To create alarms, you use the AlarmManager class. Alarms in Android have the following characteristics:

  • Alarms let you send intents at set times or intervals. You can use alarms with broadcast receivers to start services and perform other operations.
  • Alarms operate outside your app, so you can use them to trigger events or actions even when your app isn't running, and even if the device is asleep.
  • When used correctly, alarms can help you minimize your app's resource requirements. For example, you can schedule operations without relying on timers or continuously running background services.

When not to use an alarm:

  • For timing events such as ticks and timeouts, and for timed operations that are guaranteed to happen during the lifetime of your app, use the Handler class with Timer and Thread. This approach gives Android better control over system resources than if you used alarms.
  • For server sync operations, use SyncAdapter with the Google Cloud Messaging Service.
  • For tasks that can wait until conditions are favorable, such as when the device is connected to WiFi and is charging (for example, updating weather information or news stories), you might not want to use alarms. For these tasks on API 21+ devices, consider using JobScheduler, which you will learn about in an upcoming lesson.

Alarm types

There are two general types of alarms in Android: elapsed real-time alarms and real-time clock (RTC) alarms, and both use PendingIntent objects.

Elapsed real-time alarms

Elapsed real-time alarms use the time, in milliseconds, since the device was booted. Elapsed real-time alarms aren't affected by time zones, so they work well for alarms based on the passage of time. For example, use an elapsed real-time alarm for an alarm that fires every half hour.

The AlarmManager class provides two types of elapsed real-time alarm:

  • ELAPSED_REALTIME: Fires a PendingIntent based on the amount of time since the device was booted, but doesn't wake the device. The elapsed time includes any time during which the device was asleep. All repeating alarms fire when your device is next awake.
  • ELAPSED_REALTIME_WAKEUP: Fires the PendingIntent after the specified length of time has elapsed since device boot, waking the device's CPU if the screen is off. Use this alarm instead of ELAPSED_REALTIME if your app has a time dependency, for example if it has a limited window during which to perform an operation.

Real-time clock (RTC) alarms

Real-time clock (RTC) alarms are clock-based alarms that use Coordinated Universal Time (UTC). Only choose an RTC alarm in these types of situations:

  • You need your alarm to fire at a particular time of day.
  • The alarm time is dependent on current locale.

Apps with clock-based alarms might not work well across locales, because they might fire at the wrong times. And if the user changes the device's time setting, it could cause unexpected behavior in your app.

The AlarmManager class provides two types of RTC alarm:

  • RTC: Fires the pending intent at the specified time but doesn't wake up the device. All repeating alarms fire when your device is next awake.
  • RTC_WAKEUP: Fires the pending intent at the specified time, waking the device's CPU if the screen is off.

Alarm best practices

Alarms affect how your app uses (or abuses) system resources. For example, imagine a popular app that syncs with a server. If the sync operation is based on clock time and every instance of the app connects to the server at the same time, the load on the server could result in delayed response times or even a "denial of service" condition.

To avoid this problem and others, follow these best practices:

  • Add randomness (jitter) to network requests that trigger as a result of a repeating alarm. Here's one way to do this:
    • Schedule an exact alarm that performs any local work. "Local work" means anything that doesn't contact a server over a network or require data from that server.
    • Schedule a separate alarm that contains the network requests, and have this alarm fire after a random period of time. Usually this second alarm is set by whatever component receives the PendingIntent from the first alarm. (You can also set this alarm at the same time as you set the first alarm.)
  • Keep your alarm frequency to a minimum.
  • Don't wake up the device unnecessarily.
  • Use the least precise timing possible to allow the AlarmManager to be the most efficient it can be. For example, when you schedule a repeating alarm, use setInexactRepeating() instead of setRepeating(). For details, see Scheduling a repeating alarm, below.
  • Avoid basing your alarm on clock time and use ELAPSED_REALTIME for repeating alarms whenever possible. Repeating alarms that are based on a precise trigger time don't scale well.

Scheduling an alarm

The AlarmManager class gives you access to the Android system alarm services. AlarmManager lets you broadcast an Intent at a scheduled time, or after a specific interval.

To schedule an alarm:

  1. Call getSystemService(ALARM_SERVICE) to get an instance of the AlarmManager class.
  2. Use one of the set...() methods available in AlarmManager (as described below). Which method you use depends on whether the alarm is elapsed real time, or RTC.

All the AlarmManager.set...() methods include these two arguments:

Scheduling a single-use alarm

To schedule a single alarm, use one of the following methods on the AlarmManager instance:

  • set(): For devices running API 19+, this method schedules a single, inexactly timed alarm, meaning that the system shifts the alarm to minimize wakeups and battery use. For devices running lower API versions, this method schedules an exactly timed alarm.
  • setWindow(): For devices running API 19+, use this method to set a window of time during which the alarm should be triggered.
  • setExact(): For devices running API 19+, this method triggers the alarm at an exact time. Use this method only for alarms that must be delivered at an exact time, for example an alarm clock that rings at a requested time. Exact alarms reduce the OS's ability to minimize battery use, so don't use them unnecessarily.

Here's an example of using set() to schedule a single-use alarm:

             SystemClock.elapsedRealtime() + 1000*300,

In this example:

  • The type is ELAPSED_REALTIME, which means that this is an elapsed real-time alarm. If the device is idle when the alarm is sent, the alarm does not wake the device.
  • The alarm is sent 5 minutes (300,000 milliseconds) after the method returns.
  • alarmIntent is a PendingIntent broadcast that contains the action to perform when the alarm is sent.
    Note: For timing operations like ticks and timeouts, and events that happen more often than once a minute, it's easier and more efficient to use a Handler rather than an alarm.

Doze and App Standby

API 23+ devices sometimes enter Doze or App Standby mode to save power:

  • Doze mode is triggered when a user leaves a device unplugged and stationary for a period of time, with the screen off. During short "maintenance windows," the system exits Doze to let apps complete deferred activities, including firing standard alarms, then returns to Doze. Doze mode ends when the user returns to their device.
  • App Standby mode is triggered on idle apps that haven't been used recently. App Standby mode ends when the user returns to your app or plugs in the device.

To use alarms with Doze and App Standby:

  • If you need an alarm that fires while a device is in Doze or App Standby mode without waiting for a maintenance window, use setAndAllowWhileIdle() for inexact and setExactAndAllowWhileIdle() for exact alarms, or set a user-visible alarm (API 21+).
  • Some alarms can wait for a maintenance window, or until the device comes out of Doze or App Standby mode. For these alarms, use the standard set() and setExact() methods to optimize battery life.

Scheduling a repeating alarm

You can also use the AlarmManager to schedule repeating alarms, using one of the following methods:

  • setRepeating(): Prior to Android 4.4 (API Level 19), this method creates a repeating, exactly timed alarm. On devices running API 19 and higher, setRepeating() behaves exactly like setInexactRepeating().
  • setInexactRepeating(): This method creates a repeating, inexact alarm that allows for batching. When you use setInexactRepeating(), Android synchronizes repeating alarms from multiple apps and fires them at the same time. This reduces the total number of times the system must wake the device, thus reducing drain on the battery. As of API 19, all repeating alarms are inexact.

To decrease possible battery drain:

  • Schedule repeating alarms to be as infrequent as possible.
  • Use inexact timing, which allows the system to batch alarms from different apps together.

Note: while setInexactRepeating() is an improvement over setRepeating(), it can still overwhelm a server if every instance of an app hits the server around the same time. Therefore, for network requests, add some randomness to your alarms, as described in Alarm best practices.

If you really need exact repeating alarms on API 19+, set a single-use alarm with setExact() and set the next alarm once that alarm has triggered. This second alarm is set by whatever component receives the PendingIntent—usually either a service or a broadcast receiver.

Here's an example of using setInexactRepeating() to schedule a repeating alarm:


In this example:

  • The type is RTC_WAKEUP, which means that this is a clock-based alarm that wakes the device when the alarm is sent.
  • The first occurrence of the alarm is sent immediately, because calendar.getTimeInMillis() returns the current time as UTC milliseconds.
  • After the first occurrence, the alarm is sent approximately every 15 minutes.

    If the method were setRepeating() instead of setInexactRepeating(), and if the device were running an API version lower than 19, the alarm would be sent exactly every 15 minutes.


  • alarmIntent is the PendingIntent that contains the action to perform when the alarm is sent. This intent typically comes from IntentSender.getBroadcast().

Checking for an existing alarm

It's often useful to check whether an alarm is already set. For example, you may want to disable the ability to set another alarm if one already exists.

To check for an existing alarm:

  1. Create a PendingIntent that contains the same Intent used to set the alarm, but this time use the FLAG_NO_CREATE flag.

    With FLAG_NO_CREATE, a PendingIntent is only created if one with the same Intent already exists. Otherwise, the request returns null.

  2. Check whether the PendingIntent is null:
    • If it's null, the alarm has not yet been set.
    • If it's not null, the PendingIntent already exists, meaning that the alarm has been set.

For example, the following code returns true if the alarm contained in alarmIntent already exists:

boolean alarmExists =
 (PendingIntent.getBroadcast(this, 0,
       PendingIntent.FLAG_NO_CREATE) != null);

Canceling an alarm

To cancel an alarm, use cancel() and pass in the PendingIntent. For example:


User-visible alarms ("alarm clocks")

For API 21+ devices, you can set a user-visible alarm clock by calling setAlarmClock(). Apps can retrieve the next user-visible alarm clock that's set to go off by calling getNextAlarmClock().

Alarms clocks set with setAlarmClock() work even when the device or app is idle (similar to setExactAndAllowWhileIdle()), which gets you as close to an exact wake up call as possible.

The related exercises and practical documentation is in Android Developer Fundamentals: Practicals.

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