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Diving Deep into WebViews

Learn how to handle webpages in your Flutter application using WebViews.

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Version

  • Dart 2.13, Flutter 2.2, Android Studio 4.2

Do you have a feature on your website that you don’t want to implement again for your app? Does your app need to view a webpage without having to open a browser? Have you integrated a third-party service that requires you to use their webpages in your app? WebView can accomplish all that for you in your Flutter app!

In this tutorial, you’ll play with WebView as you build a simple app that randomly displays webpages and lets you save the ones you like.

By the end of this tutorial, you’ll know:

  • What WebView is.
  • How to send and receive data with a webpage opened in WebView.
  • When to use GestureRecognizer.
Note: This tutorial assumes that you have some experience with Flutter and Flutter widgets. If you don’t, check out our Getting Started with Flutter tutorial, our Flutter UI Widgets video course or our Flutter Apprentice book.

Getting Started

Download the starter project by clicking the Download Materials button at the top or bottom of the tutorial.

Note: Some of the screenshots in this tutorial are specific to Android Studio 4.1, but you can follow along with Visual Studio Code or IntelliJ as well.

You’ll work on URL Gems App, a single-page app that displays a WebView of a random website in one tab and a list of saved websites in another. Here’s what you’ll be able to do:

  • Discover: Reload the WebView with a random URL, navigate backward and forward, save a webpage, prevent navigation outside the displayed page’s domain, and display and communicate with a help page in HTML format.
  • Saved: View a vertical list of the saved webpages.

Here’s how the pages will look when you’re done:

Url Gems Final Discover Page
Url Gems Final Saved Page

Now, it’s time to take a look at the project.

Setting up the Starter Project

The starter project already contains the logic to get random URLs, save the URLs to the cache and read them from the cache.

Open Android Studio and choose Open an Existing Project. Then, choose the starter folder from the downloaded materials.

Choose Open an Existing Project

Before you fetch the dependencies declared in pubspec.yaml, you’ll add the WebView dependency to the file. This is the plugin you’ll use to demonstrate WebView functionalities in this project. Replace # TODO: Add dependency for WebView Plugin with:

webview_flutter: ^2.0.8

Click on Pub get at the top of the pane when you’re in pubspec.yaml to fetch the dependencies declared in the file.

Fetch dependencies declared in pubspec.yaml file

For this tutorial, the most important files in the project are:

  1. lib/presentation/discover_page/discover_page.dart: The page that displays a single webpage and allows you to save it or reload it.
  2. lib/presentation/discover_page/widgets/navigation_controls_widget.dart: The widget class that is part of the footer where you can navigate forward and backward and reload.
  3. assets/help_page.html: An HTML page that loads the instructions for using the app when you route to an invalid URL.
  4. lib/presentation/saved_urls_page/saved_urls_page.dart: The page where you display a vertical list of saved webpages.

Build and run. The app launches with the Discover tab selected. It shows a placeholder for now.

Url Gems Starter

Now that you know what the starter project contains, you’ll take a deeper look at WebView.

Understanding WebViews

Flutter provides you with a way to view webpages inside your app without having to open a browser. Using WebView, you can simply pass a URL and it loads as a widget inside your app. Flutter WebViews use a technology known as Platform Views. On iOS, the WebView These are special widgets that embed native views into Flutter. Platform Views can be expensive so use them carefully. On iOS, the WebViews uses the native WKWebView and on Android, the standard native Android WebView is used.

Note: The WebView plugin doesn’t support Flutter web, since everything is already a web view. For that, you might use HtmlElementView.

Viewing the WebView

Start by going to lib/presentation/discover_page/discover_page.dart, and add an import to the WebView package at the top of the file:

import 'package:webview_flutter/webview_flutter.dart';

Now you can replace the body of buildWebView in the same file with:

return WebView(
  // 1
  initialUrl: url,

  // 2
  javascriptMode: JavascriptMode.unrestricted,
  
  // 3
  onProgress: onProgressWebView,
  onPageFinished: onPageFinishedWebView,

  // 4
  gestureNavigationEnabled: true,
);

Here’s what you did:

  1. You specified an initialUrl for what page to display first.
  2. javascriptMode allows you to control what kind of JavaScript can run in your web view. By default, JavaScript execution is disabled. You set it to JavascriptMode.unrestricted to enable it.
  3. onProgress and onPageFinished are callback functions that you trigger when the page is loading and finished loading, respectively. You passed onProgressWebView to set the isLoading state, and onPageFinishedWebView to check if the URL is valid and toggle isLoading.
  4. By setting gestureNavigationEnabled to true, you can use horizontal swipe gestures to trigger back-forward list navigations on the WebView for iOS.

Build and run. You’ll see a webpage displayed inside the Discover tab. You’ve implemented your first WebView!

Url gems with added WebView

Now you know how to load webpages with WebView. Next, you’ll look at controlling it.

Controlling the WebView

There’s a lot of different things you can do with a WebView, but before you surf through all of the options you’ll have to learn how to exert a bit more control over WebView.

Understanding Futures and Completers

A Future in Flutter is an object that represents delayed computation — a value that will be available sometime in the future. For example, you can wait for the Future to get a random URL from the cache as follows:

final fetchedUrl = await widget.repository.getRandomUrl(exclude: url);

getRandomUrl returns a Future that you’ll wait for to get your fetchedUrl

A Completer is a way provided by Flutter to produce Futures and to complete them later. It’s mostly used when you want to convert a callback-based API into a Future. To use a Completer, you have to:

  1. Create a new completer
  2. Use its Future
  3. Invoke either complete or completeError

You’ll need to know about Completers to work with WebViewControllers. The WebView package provides you with a WebViewController. However, WebView doesn’t take the controller as an argument. In the next section, you’ll learn how to use WebViewController and how to specify when the WebViewController has completed loading.

Loading URLs with WebViewController

Now that you’ve added a WebView to DiscoverPage, you want to load URLs when the user clicks on I’m feeling lucky!. Add WebViewController to _DiscoverPageState by replacing //TODO: add WebViewController here with

final Completer<WebViewController> _controller = 
Completer<WebViewController>();

You’ll trigger the controller you added. In the WebView you added earlier, pass complete and completeError as follows:

return WebView(
  ..
  onWebViewCreated: _controller.complete,
  onWebResourceError: _controller.completeError,
);

At last, you want to use the controller to load the URL. Replace //TODO: load url to be displayed on WebView with:

final controller = await _controller.future;
controller.loadUrl(url);

Here, loadUrl triggers the WebView to load the new URL you pass.

Build and run. You can click I’m feeling lucky!, and the WebView loads the new URL.

using I am feeling lucky

Adding Bottom Navigation Controls

Now, you can load URLs using WebViewController. You can use the same controller to navigate forward, backward and reload the webpages.

Add an import to NavigationControls at the top of lib/presentation/discover_page/discover_page.dart:

import 'widgets/navigation_controls_widget.dart';

Replace the Placeholder widget at the FooterWidget as follows:

navigationControls: NavigationControls(
  webViewController: _controller.future,
  isLoading: isLoading,
),

Here, you pass the WebViewController to the NavigationControls. You still want to trigger the respective functions in the controller inside the NavigationControls.

In lib/presentation/discover_page/widgets/navigation_controls_widget.dart, replace the onPressed block where the //TODO: Refresh page using WebViewController text is with the following:

onPressed: !isReady ? null : controller.reload,

controller.reload allows you to reload the page in your WebView.

Similarly, replace //TODO: Route Forward using WebViewController with:

await controller.goForward();

and //TODO: Route Backward using WebViewController with

await controller.goBack();

Now, you can navigate backward and forward using the WebViewController callback functions.

Build and run. When you click backward, forward or reload, they function as you’d expect.

URL gems with controls

What if you want to prevent navigation to certain domains for your WebView? You’ll handle that next.

Handling Navigation to Certain Domains

You have a WebView that you can control. However, by default, all navigation actions are allowed. If you want to decide which pages to allow or prohibit, you’ll need to make some modifications. Fortunately, WebView provides NavigationDelegate.

Say you want to navigate only to URLs that contain the domain name you opened. Otherwise, you’ll consider the URL as invalid and navigate to the help page.

To implement that behavior, in DiscoverPage, replace ///TODO: Add Navigation Delegate to prevent navigation to certain domains with:

Future<NavigationDecision> getNavigationDelegate(
    NavigationRequest request) async {
  if (request.url.contains(domainName)) {
    // 1
    return NavigationDecision.navigate;
  }

  if (!request.isForMainFrame) {
    // 2
    return NavigationDecision.prevent;
  }

  // 3
  setState(() {
    invalidUrl = request.url;
  });

  // 4
  await routeToHelpPage();
  
  // 5
  return NavigationDecision.prevent;
}

Here’s what’s happening above:

  1. In case the URL was valid, you return NavigationDecision.navigate. You give the green light to the WebView to proceed with the navigation.
  2. Some pages you view change the URL in order to open modals or ads. When this happens, the request.isForMainFrame boolean is false. To prevent navigation in that case, you return NavigationDecision.prevent.
  3. You set invalidUrl with the URL you get from the NavigationRequest.
  4. Since you detected navigation to an invalid URL, you force navigating to the help page.
  5. You prevent navigation to the requested invalid URL.

Now that you specified your NavigationDelegate, you can pass it to your WebView.

return WebView(
  ..
  navigationDelegate: getNavigationDelegate,
);

Build and run. You navigate automatically to the help page when you try to navigate outside the domain of the open webpage.

URL gems with navigation delegate

Would it be possible to trigger JavaScript functions from Flutter side? You’ll learn more in the next section.

Sending Data to a Webpage

Sometimes, you’ll want to evaluate JavaScript expressions of a webpage that you’re viewing in a WebView. You can do that using WebViewController by passing data to the page you are viewing.

A user might find it confusing to see the help page while navigating. To avoid this confusion, you can pass the invalid URL to the help page and display it as the reason for why the navigation was interrupted.

In DiscoverPage, replace //TODO: Send data to webpage function with:

void sendUrlToHelpPageJavascriptFunction(
    String invalidUrlToBeDisplayed, String urlToBeDisplayed) async {
  _controller.future.then((controller) {
   // 1 
   controller.evaluateJavascript(
      // 2
      '''displayInvalidUrl('$invalidUrlToBeDisplayed', '$urlToBeDisplayed')''',
    ).then((result) {});
  });
}

Here, you:

  1. Called evaluateJavascript, which evaluates the passed string as JavaScript inside the HTML page that you load.
  2. Passed a raw string that calls a JavaScript function named displayInvalidUrl. You passed both the invalid URL and the domain name that you should navigate within.
Note: When evaluating JavaScript in a WebView, it’s best practice to wait for the WebView.onPageFinished callback to guarantee that all the JavaScript embedded in the main frame HTML has been loaded. The Future completes with an error if a JavaScript error occurred.

You trigger sendUrlToHelpPageJavascriptFunction when the page is loaded with an invalid URL. Replace //TODO: Send url to webpage with:

sendUrlToHelpPageJavascriptFunction(invalidUrl!, url!);

Since you call the JavaScript function, displayInvalidUrl in the help page, you’ll implement this function in JavaScript.

In assets/help_page.html, replace <!--TODO: Display Invalid URL function --> with a little bit of JavaScript:

function displayInvalidUrl(invalidUrl, validUrl) {
    document.getElementById("invalid-url").innerHTML = "It looks like you routed to an invalid url: "
    + invalidUrl + ", while you should keep browsing: " + validUrl;
    document.getElementById("invalid-url").style.visibility = "visible";
}

Here, you display the passed invalid and valid URLs and toggle the visibility of the div.

Hot restart. You can now see the invalid URL when you automatically navigate to the help page.

URL gems sending data to HTML page

Next, you’ll learn how to trigger functions from the webpage in your Flutter app.

Listening to Javascript Channel

You can call JavaScript functions from your Flutter app. Guess what? you can do the opposite as well using JavascriptChannel from WebView package. You want the Discover a new website and Check your saved websites buttons in the Help Page to function as you’d expect.

In assets/help_page.html, replace <!--TODO: Trigger reload url Flutter function --> with:

    RefreshUrl.postMessage("");

and similarly replace <!--TODO: Trigger route to saved websites Flutter function --> with:

    RouteToSavedWebsites.postMessage("");

Here, you trigger two channels, RefreshUrl and RouteToSavedWebsites, in order for the WebView to listen to them. You call postMessage on each of the two objects so it passes a message to the WebView. Since you’re only triggering the channels, you pass empty messages.

In lib/presentation/discover_page/discover_page.dart, replace //TODO: receive RefreshUrl message from webpage with:

  JavascriptChannel refreshUrlJavascriptChannel(BuildContext context) {
    return JavascriptChannel(
        name: 'RefreshUrl',
        onMessageReceived: (_) {
          onImFeelingLuckyPressed();
        });
  }

Here, you specify a JavascriptChannel with name RefreshUrl. When you call postMessage, You pass the message to JavascriptChannel.onMessageReceived and it triggers onImFeelingLuckyPressed();

Similarly, replace //TODO: receive RouteToSavedWebsites message from webpage with:

  JavascriptChannel routeToSavedWebsitesJavascriptChannel(
      BuildContext context) {
    return JavascriptChannel(
        name: 'RouteToSavedWebsites',
        onMessageReceived: (_) {
          widget.routeToSavedUrlsTab();
        });
  }

Now, when postMessage for RouteToSavedWebsites is called, it triggers widget.routeToSavedUrlsTab(); and it routes to the saved URLs tabs.

You have two JavascriptChannels that you’ll pass as a set to the WebView
as follows:

return WebView(
  ...
  javascriptChannels: <JavascriptChannel>{
    refreshUrlJavascriptChannel(context),
    routeToSavedWebsitesJavascriptChannel(context),
  },
);

Build and run. From the help page, you can trigger JavaScript functions to refetch random URLs and route to another tab.

URL gems receiving messages from HTML page

Working with Gesture Recognizer

Sometimes you want to act on your WebView with different gestures, like swipes. Luckily, the WebView package has you covered! In this section, you’ll learn about using gestures with WebViews, starting with GestureArena.

Understanding the GestureArena

In order to understand GestureArena, you first need to understand the gesture system in Flutter. It consists of two elements: Pointer and Gesture.

  1. Pointer: Represents raw data about your interaction with your screen. It describes the location and movement of various interactions, like touches or mouse movements.
  2. Gesture: Represents actions of different combinations of Pointers. Multiple Pointers could represent, for instance, a tap or a drag.

Gesture system in Flutter

Most Material Components respond to Gesture and claim part of the screen to detect these Gestures. You may have multiple Gesture detectors listening to the stream of Pointers.

GestureArena is like a battle between different Gesture recognizers — only one will win, and it depends on the priority of its widget and the behavior of the stream of Pointer events.

When you find that by default the Gestures that are recognized are not what you expect, you can claim your own Gesture recognizer. This changes the prioritization of your widget in GestureArena.

Viewing a List of Horizontal WebViews

You want to view all the saved websites in a vertical list. By default, a WebView only responds to a gesture if no other widgets claimed it. In this case, ListView widget claims vertical drag gestures and you can’t scroll the pages in your WebView. To change this behavior, you’ll pass Gesture recognizers to the WebView.

In lib/presentation/saved_urls_page/widgets/saved_website_card.dart, you’ll add the following import:

import 'package:flutter/gestures.dart';

Next, you’ll replace //TODO: Add Gesture Recognizers with:

gestureRecognizers: <Factory<OneSequenceGestureRecognizer>>{
  // 2
  Factory<VerticalDragGestureRecognizer>(
    () => VerticalDragGestureRecognizer()),
},

Here’s what’s happening above:

  1. You passed a set of Factory of OneSequenceGestureRecognizer. This class is a base class for gesture recognizers that can only recognize one gesture at a time.
  2. By specifying VerticalDragGestureRecognizer as the gesture recognizer, you want Flutter to prioritize this gesture in the GestureArena.

Build and run. Now, you can scroll each WebView without affecting the scrollability of the vertical ListView.

URL gems gesture recognizer

Where to Go From Here?

Download the completed project files by clicking the Download Materials button at the top or bottom of the tutorial.

You now have a deeper understanding of WebView, and more importantly, when and how to use it. When you find the need, you can control the WebView or specify your own NavigationDelegate. And, you can send data to and receive data from a webpage.

Check out the following links to learn more about some of the concepts in this tutorial:

We hope you enjoyed this tutorial. If you have any questions or comments, please join the forum discussion below!

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