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Storing Custom Data Types With Custom TypeConverter in Room Database

April 28, 2022

When working with Room database, you may need to store custom data types such as Date, Bitmap, and so on. The @TypeConverter annotation can be applied to the database access methods.

Unfortunately, normal TypeConverters aren’t always sufficient.

Imagine a scenario where you need to store a List of Objects e.g Users, Cars, e.t.c. This requires you to come up with a way that you can convert your data type to something that Room can understand i.e., a List of Objects to a String.

In this tutorial, we will create a custom TypeConverter and use it in the Room database.

Table of contents

Prerequisites

To follow along with this tutorial, you need:

  • Android Studio installed.
  • Good knowledge of implementing Room database.
  • An understanding of the Kotlin programming language.

What are TypeConverters in Room database?

These are methods that tell Room database how to convert custom types to and from kinds that Room understands.

What are custom types in Room?

Room typically stores primitive types such as String, Int, Float, Double, and others. However, a @TypeConverter is very useful when it comes to storing custom types, such as:

  • Date
  • Location
  • Created classes

We will be trying to store a word and its various meanings in Room database (The way a dictionary has a word that has several meanings).

Step 1 - Creating an Android project

Launch your Android Studio and create an empty Android project with Kotlin as its primary language.

Step 2 - Adding the necessary dependencies

Next, add the Gson and Room database dependencies in your app-level build.gradle file:

def room_version = "2.4.1"
implementation "androidx.room:room-runtime:$room_version"
annotationProcessor "androidx.room:room-compiler:$room_version"

implementation 'com.squareup.retrofit2:converter-gson:2.9.0'

Step 3 - Defining a data model

Let’s take a scenario where you have received the following response from an API. This is a response containing the meaning(s) of the word that the user had searched:

"meanings": [
    {
    "partOfSpeech": "",
    "definitions": [
        {
        "definition": "",
        "example": "",
        "synonyms": [],
        "antonyms": []
        },
        {
        "definition": "",
        "example": "",
        "synonyms": [],
        "antonyms": []
          }
        ]
    }
]

If you convert this response to some data classes, you should have something similar to this:

data class Meaning(
    @SerializedName("definitions")
    val definitions: List<Definition>,
    @SerializedName("partOfSpeech")
    val partOfSpeech: String
) {
    data class Definition(
        @SerializedName("antonyms")
        val antonyms: List<String>,
        @SerializedName("definition")
        val definition: String,
        @SerializedName("example")
        val example: String,
        @SerializedName("synonyms")
        val synonyms: List<String>
    )
}

Step 4 - Setting up Room database

Our entity will have a word, a list of its meanings, and a primary key:

@Entity
data class WordEntity(
    val word: String,
    val meanings: List<Meaning>,
    @PrimaryKey(autoGenerate = true)
    val id: Int? = null
)

Our DAO interface has only one method for inserting a Word Entity into the database. Feel free to add other methods for querying, deleting, or updating:

@Insert
suspend fun insertWord(wordEntity: WordEntity)

Step 5 - Storing the custom type

As you have seen from the Entity class, we need to store a list of Meanings in a column and the other data. This can be difficult because Meaning is of a complex type that Room can not understand.

First, let us create a custom JsonParser for parsing String. This is important because later in your project, you may need to switch to a different library to parse strings such as Moshi, Jackson, and Kotlin Serialization.

Create a util package and define an Interface with the following methods:

interface JsonParser {
    fun <T> fromJson(json: String, type: Type): T?
    fun <T> toJson(obj: T, type: Type): String?
}

While still on the util package, create a new class that implements the JsonParser Interface.

class GsonParser(
    private val gson: Gson
): JsonParser {
    override fun <T> fromJson(json: String, type: Type): T? {
        return gson.fromJson(json, type)
    }

    override fun <T> toJson(obj: T, type: Type): String? {
        return gson.toJson(obj, type)
    }
}

Step 6 - Creating the type converter

Create a class called Converters that takes in the JsonParser we created as a parameter:

class Converters(
    private val jsonParser: JsonParser
) {
    ...
}

Make sure you annotate the class with @ProvidedTypeConverter because we need to provide our instance of a TypeConverter.

Inside the Converters class, define the first function that will convert the list of Meaning to String:

fun toMeaningJson(meaning: List<Meaning>) : String {
    return jsonParser.toJson(
        meaning,
        object : TypeToken<ArrayList<Meaning>>(){}.type
    ) ?: "[]"
}

Don’t forget to annotate the method you have created with an @TypeConverter annotation to mark it as a type converter function.

Below that function, define another one that will aid in converting Json back to a list of Meaning:

fun fromMeaningsJson(json: String): List<Meaning>{
    return jsonParser.fromJson<ArrayList<Meaning>>(
        json,
        object: TypeToken<ArrayList<Meaning>>(){}.type
    ) ?: emptyList()
}

Don’t forget to annotate it with an @TypeConverter annotation to mark it as a type converter function.

Your final class should look something similar to this:

@ProvidedTypeConverter
class Converters(
    private val jsonParser: JsonParser
) {
    @TypeConverter
    fun toMeaningJson(meaning: List<Meaning>) : String {
        return jsonParser.toJson(
            meaning,
            object : TypeToken<ArrayList<Meaning>>(){}.type
        ) ?: "[]"
    }

    @TypeConverter
    fun fromMeaningsJson(json: String): List<Meaning>{
       return jsonParser.fromJson<ArrayList<Meaning>>(
            json,
           object: TypeToken<ArrayList<Meaning>>(){}.type
       ) ?: emptyList()
    }
}

Step 7 - Using the type converter

Finally, to use this custom TypeConverter, annotate your Room database abstract class with @TypeConverters and pass it in the Converters class.

@TypeConverters(Converters::class)
abstract class DatabaseName : RoomDatabase() {}

And that is all, now you can store a complex type such as a list of meanings of a word as a string in Room database and convert it back to a list.

Conclusion

With that, you now have an understanding of what type converters are in Room database, examples of custom types, and creating a custom JsonParser. You have also learned how to come up with your custom TypeConverter and use it. Don’t stop there, keep learning more about Room database.

For a clear look at the code, check out this Github repository - RoomTypeConverterDemo.

Further reading

Happy coding!


Peer Review Contributions by: Eric Gacoki