Creating and managing Android Virtual Devices using the terminal

Sunday, 17 September 2023 / last updated: Sunday, 26 May 2024

As a mobile developer, I create AVDs quite often. I’ve come to hate this experience because:

In this article I’ll show how I manage AVDs from the terminal. You don’t even need to have Android Studio / IntellIJ installed – Android command-line tools are enough.

Creating AVD

To view installed system images:

sdkmanager --list_installed | grep "system-images"

To create an AVD:

avdmanager create avd \
    --sdcard '8192M' \ # or '8G'
    --package 'system-images;android-33;google_apis;arm64-v8a' \
    --name 'Pixel_7_API_33' \
    --device 'pixel_7'

💡 To get the list of available device profiles that can be passed to the --device argument, run avdmanager list devices. Drop in a -c flag to get nicer output.

By default, it will create a new AVD in $HOME/.android/avd. Let’s see:

$ ls -h ~/.android/avd
Pixel_7_API_33.avd    Pixel_7_API_33.ini

Running AVD

To run the newly created AVD:

emulator @Pixel_7_API_33

I don’t like the above command – it logs all output to the terminal tab in which you run it, rendering it unusable. I prefer the below:

(emulator @Pixel_7_API_33 1> /dev/null 2>&1 &) > /dev/null 2>&1

💡 Learn more about [commonly used options] and advanced options of the emulator command.

Customizing AVD

The AVD that we’ve created works, but there are some problems with it. Let’s fix them.

The first problem is that you can’t use your computer’s keyboard to input text in the emulator. The fix is quite simple. Change hw.keyboard = no to hw.keyboard = yes in ~/.android/avd/Pixel_7_API_33.avd/config.ini.

The second problem is that the default values of RAM and VM heap size, which are too low. To increase them, edit hw.ramSize and vm.heapSize in the same config.ini file. Unfortunately, the avdmanager create avd command doesn’t accept options to change these values when creating the AVD.

I find the following values reasonable:

hw.ramSize = 4096M
vm.heapSize = 1024M

Changing GPS coordinates

There’s a AVD.conf file in ~/.android/avd/Pixel_7_API_33.avd which contains the emulator’s GPS coordinates. By default, they point to Google’s HQ in Mountain View, California.

[perAvd]
loc\altitude=5
loc\heading=0
loc\latitude=37.422
loc\longitude=-122.084
loc\velocity=0

You can edit the coordinates with any text editor and the changes will be picked up by the AVD the next time it starts up. To see the changes in real time instead, use this emulator console command:

adb emu geo fix 18.213 50.769

Somewhat counterintuitively, in the command above longitude comes before latitude.

Disabling saving quick-boot state on exit

I don’t like the quick-boot feature. It’s unreliable, has weird bugs, and saving the snapshot always takes too long when closing the emulator.

To disable quick-boot, add this line to AVD.conf:

set\saveSnapshotOnExit=1

Here 1 means “don’t save quick-boot state”, and 0 means “save quick-boot state”. Kind of like Unix exit codes, where 0 means success and non-zero means failure.

Removing snapshots

Snapshots live in the snapshots directory in your AVD’s directory. Removing them is simple:

rm -rf ~/.android/avd/Pixel_7_API_33.avd/snapshots

Learn more


2024-06-04 – My journey to Google I/O ’24
2024-05-11 – GitHub Actions beg for a supply chain attack
2024-03-19 – Writing a custom Dart VM service extension (part 1)
2024-02-08 – On using smartphone for things that make sense
2023-11-30 – Semantics in Flutter - under the hood
2023-11-25 – Flutter Engine notes
2023-09-17 – Creating and managing Android Virtual Devices using the terminal
2023-05-27 – Suckless Android SDK setup
2023-05-26 – Let’s start over
2023-05-21 – Short thought on “The Zen of Unix”
2023-05-15 – Notes about “flutter assemble”
2019-01-07 – Google Code-in 2018