Uri Access Lifetime: Shorter Than You Might Think

UPDATE 2020-08-08: Four years later, I have published an updated version of this post.

Your app gets a Uri from some outside source. Perhaps you used ACTION_GET_CONTENT or ACTION_OPEN_DOCUMENT to get a Uri to some user-selected content. Perhaps you have an activity with an <intent-filter> set up to respond to ACTION_VIEW or ACTION_SEND or something, and you got a Uri that way.

How long can you use that Uri to access the content that it points to?

Some developers think that you have indefinite access to it, and that the Uri value can be saved safely to persistent storage. For a file: Uri, that might almost work, though the file could always be moved or deleted.

However, you do not have long-term access to the content identified by a content: Uri. It is best to think of a content: Uri as being akin to an HTTPS URL to some content, where that content can only be accessed if the session is authenticated (e.g., via a session cookie). Just because you can download content from that URL today does not mean that you can download content from that URL tomorrow, as the session may well have timed out.

So, how long do we have for content: Uri values?

I always thought that access was scoped to the lifetime of your process. It turns out that I was wrong, and that it’s much shorter than I had been thinking.

Ian Lake pointed out that access is tied to the component that received the Uri. Once that component is destroyed, access to the content identified by the Uri lapses.

For example, suppose that you use ACTION_OPEN_DOCUMENT to allow the user to pick a document via the Storage Access Framework. That has to be done by an activity, using startActivityForResult(), where you get the Uri in onActivityResult(). You can use that Uri successfully from within that activity instance. Once that activity is destroyed, though, you can no longer access the content identified by the Uri.

If you need incrementally longer access — say, long enough for you to process the content — the recipe is:

  • Use a service for doing that processing work

  • Pass the Uri to the service via the data facet of the Intent (i.e., setData())


Now the service will have access to the content identified by the Uri until the service is destroyed (or until the service uses similar techniques to pass access along to some other component).

(passing the Uri via an extra should also work on Android 5.0+, though I have not tried that with this specific scenario)

If you need durable access — such as being able to access the content tomorrow — you have two main options that I know of:

  1. If you used ACTION_OPEN_DOCUMENT, ACTION_CREATE_DOCUMENT, or similar Storage Access Framework mechanisms, you can try using takePersistableUriPermissions() on ContentResolver to get long-term access to the content.

  2. Otherwise, before your component is destroyed, make a local copy of the content in your app’s portion of internal storage. This approach sucks, as it duplicates the content, and changes to the original edition of the content will not be reflected in the copy. Use appropriate UI terms (e.g., “import”) to help the user understand that this is what is going on.