Plugin Development Guide

A plugin is a package of injected code that allows the Cordova webview within which the app renders to communicate with the native platform on which it runs. Plugins provide access to device and platform functionality that is ordinarily unavailable to web-based apps. All the main Cordova API features are implemented as plugins, and many others are available that enable features such as bar code scanners, NFC communication, or to tailor calendar interfaces. You can search for available plugins on Cordova Plugin Search page.

Plugins comprise a single JavaScript interface along with corresponding native code libraries for each supported platform. In essence this hides the various native code implementations behind a common JavaScript interface.

This section steps through a simple echo plugin that passes a string from JavaScript to the native platform and back, one that you can use as a model to build far more complex features. This section discusses the basic plugin structure and the outward-facing JavaScript interface. For each corresponding native interface, see the list at the end of this section.

In addition to these instructions, when preparing to write a plugin it is best to look over existing plugins for guidance.

Building a Plugin

Application developers use the CLI's plugin add command to add a plugin to a project. The argument to that command is the URL for a git repository containing the plugin code. This example implements Cordova's Device API:

cordova plugin add https://git-wip-us.apache.org/repos/asf/cordova-plugin-device.git

The plugin repository must feature a top-level plugin.xml manifest file. There are many ways to configure this file, details for which are available in the Plugin Specification. This abbreviated version of the Device plugin provides a simple example to use as a model:

<?xml version="1.0" encoding="UTF-8"?>
<plugin xmlns="http://apache.org/cordova/ns/plugins/1.0"
        id="cordova-plugin-device" version="0.2.3">
    <name>Device</name>
    <description>Cordova Device Plugin</description>
    <license>Apache 2.0</license>
    <keywords>cordova,device</keywords>
    <js-module src="www/device.js" name="device">
        <clobbers target="device" />
    </js-module>
    <platform name="ios">
        <config-file target="config.xml" parent="/*">
            <feature name="Device">
                <param name="ios-package" value="CDVDevice"/>
            </feature>
        </config-file>
        <header-file src="src/ios/CDVDevice.h" />
        <source-file src="src/ios/CDVDevice.m" />
    </platform>
</plugin>

The top-level plugin tag's id attribute uses the same reverse domain format to identify the plugin package as the apps they're added to. The js-module tag specifies the path to the common JavaScript interface. The platform tag specifies a corresponding set of native code, for the ios platform in this case. The config-file tag encapsulates a feature tag that is injected into the platform-specific config.xml file to make the platform aware of the additional code library. The header-file and source-file tags specify the path to the library's component files.

Validating a Plugin using Plugman

You can use the plugman utility to check whether the plugin installs correctly for each platform. Install plugman with the following node command:

npm install -g plugman

You need a valid app source directory, such as the top-level www directory included in a default CLI-generated project, as described in the Create your first app guide.

Then run a command such as the following to test whether iOS dependencies load properly:

plugman install --platform ios --project /path/to/my/project/www --plugin /path/to/my/plugin

For details on plugman options, see Using Plugman to Manage Plugins. For information on how to actually debug plugins, see each platform's native interface listed at the bottom of this page.

The JavaScript Interface

The JavaScript interface provides the front-facing interface, making it perhaps the most important part of the plugin. You can structure your plugin's JavaScript however you like, but you need to call cordova.exec to communicate with the native platform, using the following syntax:

cordova.exec(function(winParam) {},
             function(error) {},
             "service",
             "action",
             ["firstArgument", "secondArgument", 42, false]);

Here is how each parameter works:

  • function(winParam) {}: A success callback function. Assuming your exec call completes successfully, this function executes along with any parameters you pass to it.

  • function(error) {}: An error callback function. If the operation does not complete successfully, this function executes with an optional error parameter.

  • "service": The service name to call on the native side. This corresponds to a native class, for which more information is available in the native guides listed below.

  • "action": The action name to call on the native side. This generally corresponds to the native class method. See the native guides listed below.

  • [/* arguments */]: An array of arguments to pass into the native environment.

Sample JavaScript

This example shows one way to implement the plugin's JavaScript interface:

window.echo = function(str, callback) {
    cordova.exec(callback, function(err) {
        callback('Nothing to echo.');
    }, "Echo", "echo", [str]);
};

In this example, the plugin attaches itself to the window object as the echo function, which plugin users would call as follows:

window.echo("echome", function(echoValue) {
    alert(echoValue == "echome"); // should alert true.
});

Look at the last three arguments passed to the cordova.exec function. The first calls the Echo service, a class name. The second requests the echo action, a method within that class. The third is an array of arguments containing the echo string, which is the window.echo function's first parameter.

The success callback passed into exec is simply a reference to the callback function of window.echo. If the native platform fires the error callback, it simply calls the success callback and passes it a default string.

Native Interfaces

Once you define JavaScript for your plugin, you need to complement it with at least one native implementation. Details for each platform are listed below, and each builds on the simple Echo Plugin example above:

Publishing Plugins

You can publish your plugin to any npmjs-based registry, but the recommended one is the npm registry. Other developers can install your plugin automatically using either plugman or the Cordova CLI.

To publish a plugin to npm you need to follow these steps:

  • install the plugman CLI:

    $ npm install -g plugman
    
  • create a package.json file for your plugin:

    $ plugman createpackagejson /path/to/your/plugin
    
  • publish it:

    $ npm adduser # that is if you don't have an account yet
    $ npm publish /path/to/your/plugin
    

For more details on npm usage, refer to Publishing npm Packages on the npm documentation site.

Integrating with Plugin Search

To surface the plugin in Cordova Plugin Search, add the ecosystem:cordova keyword to the package.json file of your plugin before publishing.

To indicate support for a particular platform, add a keyword in the format **cordova-<platformName>** to the list of keywords in package.json. Plugman's createpackagejson command does this for you, but if you did not use it to generate your package.json, you should manually edit it as shown below.

For example, for a plugin that supports Android, iOS & Windows, the keywords in package.json should include:

"keywords": [
    "ecosystem:cordova",
    "cordova-android",
    "cordova-ios",
    "cordova-windows"
]

For a more detailed example of a package.json, review the package.json file of cordova-plugin-device.

Specifying Cordova Dependencies

Cordova 6.1.0 added support for specifying the Cordova-related dependencies of a plugin as part of the plugin's package.json file. Plugins may list the dependencies for multiple releases to provide guidance to the Cordova CLI when it is selecting the version of a plugin to fetch from npm. The CLI will choose the latest release of a plugin that is compatible with the local project's installed platforms and plugins as well as the the local Cordova CLI version. If no releases of the plugin are compatible, the CLI will warn the user about the failed requirements and fall back to the old behavior of fetching the latest release.

This feature is intended to eventually replace the engines element in plugin.xml. Listing dependencies is a good way to ensure that your plugin will not appear broken or cause build errors when fetched from npm. If the latest release of the plugin is not compatible with a project, the CLI will give the app developer a list of unmet project requirements so that they are aware of incompatibilites and can update their project to support your plugin. This allows your plugin to respond to breaking changes without fear of confusing devlopers who are building against old platforms and plugins.

To specify Cordova-related dependencies for a plugin, alter the engines element in package.json to include a cordovaDependencies object with the following structure:

engines: {
    cordovaDependencies: {
        PLUGIN_VERSION: {
            DEPENDENCY: SEMVER_RANGE,
            DEPENDENCY: SEMVER_RANGE,
            ...
        },
        ...
    }
}
  • PLUGIN_VERSION specifies the version of your plugin. It should adhere to the syntax for a single version as defined by npm's semver package or an upper bound (see below)
  • DEPENDENCY may be one of the following:
    • The Cordova CLI: "cordova"
    • A Cordova platform: "cordova-android", "cordova-ios", "cordova-windows", etc.
    • Another Cordova plugin: "cordova-plugin-camera", etc.
  • SEMVER_RANGE should adhere to the syntax for a range as defined by npm's semver package

NOTE: A Cordova platform DEPENDENCY refers to the Cordova platform and not the OS, i.e. cordova-android rather than the Android OS.

Your cordovaDependencies may list any number of PLUGIN_VERSION requirements and any number of DEPENDENCY constraints. Versions of your plugin that do not have their dependencies listed will be assumed to have the same dependency information as the highest PLUGIN_VERSION listed below them. For example, consider the following entry:

engines: {
    cordovaDependencies: {
        "1.0.0": { "cordova-android": "<3.0.0"},
        "2.1.0": { "cordova-android": ">4.0.0"}
    }
}

All plugin versions below the lowest entry (1.0.0 in this example) are assumed to have no dependencies. Any version of the plugin between 1.0.0 and 2.1.0 is assumed to have the same dependencies as version 1.0.0 (a cordova-android version less than 3.0.0). This lets you only update your cordovaDependencies information when there are breaking changes.

Upper Bounds

In addition to a single version, a PLUGIN_VERSION in cordovaDependencies may also specify an upper bound to amend entries for older releases of your plugin. This is useful when a breaking change occurs in a DEPENDENCY and a new constraint must be added for all older versions of a plugin that do not support it. These bounds should be written as a < followed by a single semver version (Not an arbitrary range!). This will apply whatever DEPENDENCY values are given to all versions of the plugin below the specified version. For example, consider the following entry:

engines: {
    cordovaDependencies: {
        "0.0.1":  { "cordova-ios": ">1.0.0" },
        "<1.0.0": { "cordova-ios": "<2.0.0" },
        "<2.0.0": { "cordova-ios": "<5.0.0" }
    }
}

Here we specify one plugin version (0.0.1) and two upper bounds (<1.0.0 and <2.0.0) that constrain cordova-ios. The two upper bounds do not override the constraint of 0.0.1, they are combined via AND at evaluation time. When the CLI checks the cordova-ios version of the project, the constraint that will be evaluated for plugin version 0.0.1 will be the combination of these three:

    cordova-ios >1.0.0 AND cordova-ios <2.0.0 AND cordova-ios <5.0.0

Please note that the only PLUGIN_VERSION values allowed are single versions or upper bounds; no other semver ranges are supported.