The curious case of crashing Workers

27 Apr 2022

The curious case of crashing Workers

3 minute read

WorkManager is great to schedule background work on Android. However, since scheduled work lives outside of the app lifecycle, you might run into unexpected crashes.

Read on to learn why and how to prevent this.

How to crash WorkManager

Reading the documentation, it is clear that WorkManager is a worry-free solution to background work:

WorkManager is the recommended solution for persistent work. Work is persistent when it remains scheduled through app restarts and system reboots.

That’s very neat!

So if we schedule some work, for instance upload a crash:

val workerClass = CrashUploadWorker::class.java
WorkManager.getInstance(application)
    .enqueue(OneTimeWorkRequest.Builder(workerClass).build())

We can be sure that WorkManager will handle it for us, even when the app closes it self immediately after the crash.

However, WorkManager assumes that the Worker class will always exist in our application. So if we ship a new version of our application that either:

  • removes the CrashUploadWorker
  • renames the CrashUploadWorker to CrashReportWorker
  • moves the CrashUploadWorker to a new package

We might get a ClassNotFoundException crash after installing the update!

java.lang.Error: java.lang.ClassNotFoundException: com.example.CrashUploadWorker
        at java.util.concurrent.ThreadPoolExecutor.runWorker(ThreadPoolExecutor.java:1119)
        at java.util.concurrent.ThreadPoolExecutor$Worker.run(ThreadPoolExecutor.java:588)
        at java.lang.Thread.run(Thread.java:818)

This happens, because WorkManager lives in a separate process (Google Play Services) and will always try to complete its work. It will try to instantiate CrashUploadWorker, but that no longer exists in our application.

Unfortunately I had to learn this the hard way.

Notice the usage of “might”: a crash isn’t guaranteed and will only happen if there was unfinished work pending while the app got updated.

How not to crash WorkManager

The first thing you can try is to cancel all pending work for the Worker you removed/renamed:

workManager.cancelAllWorkByTag("crash_upload")

This approach can be subject to race conditions as Workmanager might still retry to execute the scheduled work before you had the chance to cancel. (depending on where you call this)

Another downside of this approach is that this will drop scheduled work, causing data loss. Depending on your unique use case that may or may not be acceptable.

An alternative approach is to keep the original CrashUploadWorker class and modify that to handle the changing requirements:

  • drop the work (empty implementation)
  • migrate and schedule the new worker class
internal class CrashUploadWorker(
  appContext: Context,
  workerParams: WorkerParameters
) : CoroutineWorker(appContext, workerParams) {

  override suspend fun doWork(): Result {
    // Schedule new worker class
    val workerClass = CrashReportWorker::class.java
    WorkManager.getInstance(appContext)
      .enqueue(OneTimeWorkRequest.Builder(workerClass).build())
    return Result.success()
  }
}

Once you stop scheduling work using the old Worker, you can mark it to be removed after all your customers have updated and migrated.

Finally, here’s what a migration plan could look like:

  • Release 1: Add new worker and migrate all work
  • Release 5: Cancel all remaining work using old Worker (causes data loss!)
  • Release 10: Remove old Worker (causes crashes!)

Using WorkerFactory

An alternative approach is to provide a custom WorkerFactory to handle the migration to the new class.

Thanks to Pietro Maggi and Steffan Davies for suggesting this approach

To do so, first disable automatic WorkManager initialization:

<provider
   android:name="androidx.startup.InitializationProvider"
   android:authorities="${applicationId}.androidx-startup"
   android:exported="false"
   tools:node="merge">
   <!-- If you are using androidx.startup to initialize other components -->
   <meta-data
       android:name="androidx.work.WorkManagerInitializer"
       android:value="androidx.startup"
       tools:node="remove" />
</provider>

Then initialize the WorkManager in your Application#onCreate or ContentProvider:

val configuration = Configuration.Builder()
    .setWorkerFactory(MigrateWorkerFactory())
    .build()
WorkManager.initialize(appContext, configuration)

And create your own WorkerFactory that schedules the new worker:

class MigrateWorkerFactory() : WorkerFactory() {

  override fun createWorker(
    appContext: Context,
    workerClassName: String,
    workerParameters: WorkerParameters
  ): ListenableWorker? {
    if (workerClassName = "com.example.CrashUploadWorker") {
      return CrashReportWorker(appContext, workerParameters)
    }
    ...
  }
}

This has the upside of not needing to keep the old Worker class around, but comes with some extra complexity of manual WorkManager initialization.

Wrap-up

WorkManager is a very handy tool to handle background work, but be careful with removing or renaming Workers.

If you’ve made it this far you should probably Twitter . Feel free to leave a comment below!

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