Service vs IntentService in the Android platform


I am seeking an example of something that can be done with an IntentService that cannot be done with a Service (and vice-versa)?

I also believe that an IntentService runs in a different thread and a Service does not. So, as far as I can see, starting a service within its own thread is like starting an IntentService. Is that correct?

1/29/2020 5:59:58 PM

Accepted Answer

Tejas Lagvankar wrote a nice post about this subject. Below are some key differences between Service and IntentService.

When to use?

  • The Service can be used in tasks with no UI, but shouldn't be too long. If you need to perform long tasks, you must use threads within Service.

  • The IntentService can be used in long tasks usually with no communication to Main Thread. If communication is required, can use Main Thread handler or broadcast intents. Another case of use is when callbacks are needed (Intent triggered tasks).

How to trigger?

  • The Service is triggered by calling method startService().

  • The IntentService is triggered using an Intent, it spawns a new worker thread and the method onHandleIntent() is called on this thread.

Triggered From

  • The Service and IntentService may be triggered from any thread, activity or other application component.

Runs On

  • The Service runs in background but it runs on the Main Thread of the application.

  • The IntentService runs on a separate worker thread.

Limitations / Drawbacks

  • The Service may block the Main Thread of the application.

  • The IntentService cannot run tasks in parallel. Hence all the consecutive intents will go into the message queue for the worker thread and will execute sequentially.

When to stop?

  • If you implement a Service, it is your responsibility to stop the service when its work is done, by calling stopSelf() or stopService(). (If you only want to provide binding, you don't need to implement this method).

  • The IntentService stops the service after all start requests have been handled, so you never have to call stopSelf().

12/4/2014 9:31:15 AM

If someone can show me an example of something that can be done with an IntentService and can not be done with a Service and the other way around.

By definition, that is impossible. IntentService is a subclass of Service, written in Java. Hence, anything an IntentService does, a Service could do, by including the relevant bits of code that IntentService uses.

Starting a service with its own thread is like starting an IntentService. Is it not?

The three primary features of an IntentService are:

  • the background thread

  • the automatic queuing of Intents delivered to onStartCommand(), so if one Intent is being processed by onHandleIntent() on the background thread, other commands queue up waiting their turn

  • the automatic shutdown of the IntentService, via a call to stopSelf(), once the queue is empty

Any and all of that could be implemented by a Service without extending IntentService.



  • Invoke by startService()
  • Triggered from any Thread
  • Runs on Main Thread
  • May block main (UI) thread. Always use thread within service for long task
  • Once task has done, it is our responsibility to stop service by calling stopSelf() or stopService()


  • It performs long task usually no communication with main thread if communication is needed then it is done by Handler or BroadcastReceiver
  • Invoke via Intent
  • Triggered from Main Thread
  • Runs on the separate thread
  • Can't run the task in parallel and multiple intents are Queued on the same worker thread.

Don't reinvent the wheel

IntentService extends Service class which clearly means that IntentService is intentionally made for same purpose.

So what is the purpose ?

`IntentService's purpose is to make our job easier to run background tasks without even worrying about

  • Creation of worker thread

  • Queuing the processing multiple-request one by one (Threading)

  • Destroying the Service

So NO, Service can do any task which an IntentService would do. If your requirements fall under the above-mentioned criteria, then you don't have to write those logics in the Service class. So don't reinvent the wheel because IntentService is the invented wheel.

The "Main" difference

The Service runs on the UI thread while an IntentService runs on a separate thread

When do you use IntentService?

When you want to perform multiple background tasks one by one which exists beyond the scope of an Activity then the IntentService is perfect.

How IntentService is made from Service

A normal service runs on the UI Thread(Any Android Component type runs on UI thread by default eg Activity, BroadcastReceiver, ContentProvider and Service). If you have to do some work that may take a while to complete then you have to create a thread. In the case of multiple requests, you will have to deal with synchronization. IntentService is given some default implementation which does those tasks for you.
According to developer page

  1. IntentService creates a Worker Thread

  2. IntentService creates a Work Queue which sends request to onHandleIntent() method one by one

  3. When there is no work then IntentService calls stopSelf() method
  4. Provides default implementation for onBind() method which is null
  5. Default implementation for onStartCommand() which sends Intent request to WorkQueue and eventually to onHandleIntent()

Adding points to the accepted answer:

See the usage of IntentService within Android API. eg:

public class SimpleWakefulService extends IntentService {
    public SimpleWakefulService() {

    protected void onHandleIntent(Intent intent) {  ...}

To create an IntentService component for your app, define a class that extends IntentService, and within it, define a method that overrides onHandleIntent().

Also, see the source code of the IntentService, it's constructor and life cycle methods like onStartCommand...

    public int More ...onStartCommand(Intent intent, int flags, int startId) {
       onStart(intent, startId);
        return mRedelivery ? START_REDELIVER_INTENT : START_NOT_STICKY;

Service together an AsyncTask is one of best approaches for many use cases where the payload is not huge. or just create a class extending IntentSerivce. From Android version 4.0 all network operations should be in background process otherwise the application compile/build fails. separate thread from the UI. The AsyncTask class provides one of the simplest ways to fire off a new task from the UI thread. For more discussion of this topic, see the blog post

from Android developers guide:

IntentService is a base class for Services that handle asynchronous requests (expressed as Intents) on demand. Clients send requests through startService(Intent) calls; the service is started as needed, handles each Intent, in turn, using a worker thread, and stops itself when it runs out of work.

Design pattern used in IntentService

: This "work queue processor" pattern is commonly used to offload tasks from an application's main thread. The IntentService class exists to simplify this pattern and take care of the mechanics. To use it, extend IntentService and implement onHandleIntent(Intent). IntentService will receive the Intents, launch a worker thread, and stop the service as appropriate.

All requests are handled on a single worker thread -- they may take as long as necessary (and will not block the application's main loop), but only one request will be processed at a time.

The IntentService class provides a straightforward structure for running an operation on a single background thread. This allows it to handle long-running operations without affecting your user interface's responsiveness. Also, an IntentService isn't affected by most user interface lifecycle events, so it continues to run in circumstances that would shut down an AsyncTask.

An IntentService has a few limitations:

It can't interact directly with your user interface. To put its results in the UI, you have to send them to an Activity. Work requests run sequentially. If an operation is running in an IntentService, and you send it another request, the request waits until the first operation is finished. An operation running on an IntentService can't be interrupted. However, in most cases

IntentService is the preferred way to simple background operations


Volley Library

There is the library called volley-library for developing android networking applications The source code is available for the public in GitHub.

The android official documentation for Best practices for Background jobs: helps better understand on intent service, thread, handler, service. and also Performing Network Operations


I'm sure you can find an extensive list of differences by simply googling something such as 'Android IntentService vs Service'

One of the more important differences per example is that IntentService ends itself once it's done.

Some examples (quickly made up) could be;

IntentService: If you want to download a bunch of images at the start of opening your app. It's a one-time process and can clean itself up once everything is downloaded.

Service: A Service which will constantly be used to communicate between your app and back-end with web API calls. Even if it is finished with its current task, you still want it to be around a few minutes later, for more communication.