Dustin Ingram


Intro #

As mentioned in my previous article, Device Screenshots with the Android Debug Bridge, I’m currently working on an application which required the ability to get a live screenshot of my physical Android device. The second component to that problem, however, involved processing that image, and then automating a UI/Application response exactly like an actual user is (read: automatically touch the screen).

Again, like the ability to grab the device’s current display, I figured this would be simple to do through the Android Debug Bridge. However, as it turned out, this was much simpler than I expected, and unlike the screenshot tool, I could avoid using Java for this.

References #

The first hint that I could send various UI events to the device came from the documentation for the Android UI/Application Exerciser Monkey, although being able to send completely random events proved pretty useless. However, it led me to the Git Repository for the tool, which in turn had a README file which described the Simple Protocol for Automated Network Control.

Using the Network Control Protocol #

From the README:

The Simple Protocol for Automated Network Control was designed to be a
low-level way to programmability inject KeyEvents and MotionEvents into the
input system.  The idea is that a process will run on a host computer that will
support higher-level operations (like conditionals, etc.) and will talk (via
TCP over ADB) to the device in Simple Protocol for Automated Network Control.
For security reasons, the Monkey only binds to localhost, so you will need to
use adb to setup port forwarding to actually talk to the device.

What this means, in a nutshell, is that a developer can use any language to command an ADB device (on loopback) using a simple TCP message.

The first step is to make the ADB forward TCP traffic on the localhost to the device, in this case, port 1080:

$ ./adb forward tcp:1080 tcp:1080

Simple! At this point, the README attempts to discuss all the possible commands. I was purely interested in a touch command (which is, in fact, two commands), so if you’re looking for something else, look at the README file.

If touch is what you want, though, here’s what you need to know:

Note that sending a full button press requires sending both the down and the up
event for that key

This means we need a touch down command followed by a touch up command, separated by a newline, as follows (which touches point (x=30,y=60):

"touch down 30 60\ntouch up 30 60"

Important: In practice, though, this won’t work every single time. It seems that the device may get confused by a series of strung-together commands in quick succession, especially a pair of touch events. In most practical applications, it would make sense send commands individually, and sleep in between – after all, real users don’t move that fast!

A Sample Python Script #

Using our new knowledge of Android’s Simple Protocol for Automated Network Control, here’s a very simple Python script to send a single pair of touch events, using the socket module:

import socket

TCP_IP = ''
TCP_PORT = 1080

s = socket.socket(socket.AF_INET, socket.SOCK_STREAM)
s.connect((TCP_IP, TCP_PORT))
s.send("touch down 30 60\ntouch up 30 60")
data = s.recv(BUFFER_SIZE)

print "Received: ", data

And that’s it!