ListView Inside a ListView Inside a ListView on Android

October 11, 2015 / Google, Android, programming, mobile, Mad Coding

Suppose you need to produce an interface involving multiple levels of ListViews similar to the following wireframe. How do you do that on Android?

It’s not an ideal UX and can very easily be done wrong, but let’s say that’s the requirement and you must make it work. I dug into it and figured it out. Feel free to jump to the end for the example project if you just want to see it on a device/emulator.

There are three major steps to making this UX. First, you need to make a horizontal ListView.

Horizontal ListView

Using a vertical ListView is fairly easy on Android and there are lots of resources online for that. However, Google didn’t provide an implementation for horizontal ListView, so people mostly resorted to forking the vertical ListView and try to get it to do what they want. With the introduction of RecyclerView it’s now much easier to get a horizontal ListView going.

To use RecyclerView, you need to first add it to the list of dependencies of your project. Edit your app’s build.gradle to add

dependencies {
    compile fileTree(dir: 'libs', include: ['*.jar'])
    compile ''
    compile ''

Then in your layout file, you would need to add the RecyclerView to where you want it to show up:

<?xml version="1.0" encoding="utf-8"?>
<LinearLayout ...>
        android:id="@+id/recyclerView" />

Lastly you need to configure the RecyclerView so that it uses a horizontal LinearLayoutManager.

recyclerView = (RecyclerView)convertView.findViewById(;

// Give it a horizontal LinearLayoutManager to make it a horizontal ListView
LinearLayoutManager layoutManager = new LinearLayoutManager(this.getContext(),
        LinearLayoutManager.HORIZONTAL, false);


Since the UX we want has a top-level vertical scrolling ListView containing a bunch of horizontal ListViews, you’d put the code for configuring recyclerView inside the adapter for the vertical ListView. Each item of the red ListView as shown in wireframe contains a horizontal ListView. That means the getView() of the adapter driving the red ListView would be configuring the blue horizontal ListViews.

public View getView (final int position, View convertView, ViewGroup parent) {

    if (convertView == null) {
        LayoutInflater inflater = (LayoutInflater)getContext()
        convertView = inflater.inflate(resourceId, parent, false);

        ViewHolder viewHolder = new ViewHolder();
        viewHolder.recyclerView = (RecyclerView)convertView

        // Give it a horizontal LinearLayoutManager to make it a horizontal ListView
        if (viewHolder.recyclerView != null) {
            LinearLayoutManager layoutManager = new LinearLayoutManager(this.getContext(),
                    LinearLayoutManager.HORIZONTAL, false);


    final HorizontalScrollableItem item = getItem(position);
    VerticalScrollableItemAdapter verticalScrollableItemAdapter = item.getAdapter();

    ViewHolder viewHolder = (ViewHolder)convertView.getTag();

    if (viewHolder.recyclerView != null && verticalScrollableItemAdapter != null) {

    return convertView;

Once you’ve got a vertical ListView containing horizontal ListViews working, the next step is to have each horizontal ListView to also be populated with vertical ListViews.

Third Level (vertical) ListViews

The third-level ListViews is shown in the wireframe in green colour. It isn’t all that different than the top-level red ListView. The complicated part is that you need to somehow tell those green ListViews what to show by providing it with their own adapters. How you do that depends on your application and design.

For my example project, I chose to create four helper classes:

These classes can be made such that you can reuse them for however many levels of ListViews you want. I’m not satisfied with the naming, but it’s what I have for now while keeping things generic. If you have a better suggestion, please do tell! Also, I expect a project specific naming might be more helpful too.

Below is how each class is used in the hierarchy of ListViews.

The top-level red ListView uses HorizontalScrollableItemAdapter as its adapter, which produces a bunch of items capable of being scrolled horizontally as well.

The HorizontalScrollableItem is what’s behind each second-level blue ListViews. Each HorizontalScrollableItem also contains a VerticalScrollableItemAdapter which provides it with the items to show.

The VerticalScrollableItem is what’s behind each third-level green ListViews. In my example project, it just uses a regular adapter and terminates the embedding.

These naming are really confusing. For a real project, I’d suggest using names that makes sense in the context and alias one of the above for better readability.

Disable Touch on the Top ListView

Once you’ve got all the hierarchy sorted out, one of the issues you’ll run into is when you scroll the green ListViews up and down, the red ListView also wants to scroll. The behaviour we want is that when scrolling green ListView, red ListView shouldn’t move. To make this happen I created another helper class named MultiLevelListView and swapped instance of ListView with it.

The MultiLevelListView simply extends from ListView but maintains a reference to the higher level ListView. This is so that when the green ListView is scrolling, the green ListView can tell the red ListView to ignore touch events. The main gist of how that works is shown below. When green ListView gets onTouchEvent, it disables touch on the higher level ListView. Once the touch event finishes, then touch on higher level ListView is re-enabled.

private void setTouchInterceptEnabled(boolean value) {
    mEnableTouchIntercept = value;

public boolean onTouchEvent(MotionEvent ev) {

    if (mParentListView != null) {
        if (ev.getAction() == MotionEvent.ACTION_DOWN) {
            // Disable intercepting touch to allow children to scroll
        } else if (ev.getAction() == MotionEvent.ACTION_UP ||
                ev.getAction() == MotionEvent.ACTION_CANCEL) {
            // Re-enable after children handles touch

    return super.onTouchEvent(ev);

public boolean onInterceptTouchEvent(MotionEvent ev) {
    if (mEnableTouchIntercept) {
        return super.onInterceptTouchEvent(ev);
    return false;

Performance Considerations

Typically for performance reasons you’ll want to offload as much as you can to a separate thread instead of the UI thread when rendering the items. You typically also will want to stop doing anything while a ListView is scrolling quickly or being flicked. While there is no performance issues with the simplistic example project I made, I expect that you’ll need to figure it out for a real project and deal with propagating those decisions across multiple levels of ListViews.

You want to stop child ListViews’ tasks when the top-level ListView is being flicked for example. That’ll be an exercise for another day.

Example Project

See code on github. The final product looks like this: