Android 11 Storage FAQ


Illustration by Molly Hensleynandana

First introduced in Android 10, scoped storage is designed to protect app and user data and reduce file clutter. Since then, you’ve provided a lot of valuable feedback, which has helped us evolve the feature — thank you. Android 11 includes several notable enhancements that are based on your feedback. For example, we’ve enabled direct file path access to media files to improve compatibility of existing code and libraries. We understand that many apps, especially complex ones like Viber, require thoughtful planning to adopt scoped storage in order to continue supporting existing users, ensure adherence to current storage best practices, and maintain backward compatibility. Based on conversations with developers and lively discussions on public forums, we’ve prepared an FAQ to help you better understand various capabilities, behavior changes, and restrictions in scoped storage.

Does Scoped Storage allow apps to access files with file paths, using File API, for example?

  • We recognize that some apps rely on code or libraries that access media file paths directly. Therefore on Android 11, apps with the read external storage permission are able to access files with file paths in the scoped storage environment. On Android 10 devices, this is not available to apps in the scoped storage environment unless they have opted-out by setting the android:requestLegacyExternalStorage manifest attribute. To ensure continuity across Android versions, if your app targets Android 10 or above, you should also opt-out. See scoped storage best practices for details.

How does the performance of file path access compare to Media Store APIs?

  • The performance really depends on the exact use case. For sequential reads like in the case of playback of videos, file path access offers comparable performance to Media Store. However for random reads and writes, using file path can be up to twice as slow. For the fastest and most consistent read and writes we recommend Media Store APIs.

My app needs broad access to shared storage. Is Storage Access Framework the only option available?

  • Storage Access Framework (SAF) is indeed one option that allows the user to grant access to directories and files. However, note that there are access restrictions to certain directories, such as the root and Android/data directories. While the majority of apps that need storage access can use best practices such as SAF or Media Store API, there could be cases where apps need broad access to shared storage or can’t do so efficiently with these best practices. For these cases, we have added the MANAGE_EXTERNAL_STORAGE permission to give access to all files on external storage, except the Android/data and Android/obb directories. Note that in an upcoming policy announcement, Google Play will provide further guidelines on usage of this permission.
  • The MANAGE_EXTERNAL_STORAGE permission is intended for apps that have a core use case that requires broad access of files on a device, but cannot do so efficiently using scoped storage best practices. While it isn’t practical to enumerate all possible use cases, some use cases include file managers, backup and restore, anti-virus apps or productivity file editing apps.

Does using Storage Access Framework require Google Play policy approval?

  • The Storage Access Framework has been in the platform since Android 4.4. Accessing files via Storage Access Framework gives users better control because the user is involved in picking files and it doesn’t require any user permissions. There’s no Google Play policy related to its usage.

Are there any further restrictions to using Storage Access Framework in Android 11 as compared to Android 10?

  • Apps that target Android 11 (API level 30) and use Storage Access Framework will no longer be able to grant access to directories, such as the root directory of the SD card and the Download directory. Regardless of target SDK, Storage Access Framework on Android 11 cannot be used to gain access to Android/data and Android/obb directories. Learn more about these restrictions and ways to test the behaviors.

How can apps test out Scoped Storage changes?

Are apps in scoped storage limited to writing files into their app-specific data directories?

  • In scoped storage, apps can contribute media files to Media Store collections. Media Store will put the files into well organized folders like DCIM, Movies, Download, and so on based on file type. For all such files, apps can also continue to have access via File APIs as well. The OS maintains a system to attribute an app to each media store file, so apps can read/write files that they originally contributed to the Media Store without needing storage permissions.

What is the guidance around using the Media Store DATA column since it’s been deprecated?

  • On Android 10, apps in the scoped storage environment cannot access files using the file path. To be consistent with this design, we deprecated the DATA column then. Based on your feedback on the needs to work with existing native code or libraries, Android 11 now supports file path access for apps in scoped storage. Accordingly, the DATA column could actually be useful for some scenarios. For inserts and updates into the Media Store, apps in Scoped Storage should use DISPLAY_NAME and RELATIVE_PATH columns. They can no longer use the DATA column for this. When reading Media Store entries for files that exist on disk, the DATA column will have a valid file path, which can be used with the File API or NDK file libraries. Apps should however be prepared to handle any file I/O errors from these operations and should not assume the file is always available.

For apps that have opted out of Scoped Storage, when will they have to be compatible with Scoped Storage?

  • On devices running Android 11 or higher, apps will be put into Scoped Storage as soon as they target Android 11 or higher.

What is the recommended way to migrate data that we currently store outside of Scoped Storage?

  • preserveLegacyExternalStorage flag allows an app to retain legacy storage access on upgrades even while targeting Android 11. However beware that on new installs on Android 11, this flag has no effect. Please make code changes to adapt to Scoped Storage before targeting Android 11. Learn more about data migration best practices.

Are there any exceptions for Android/obb directories given that some package installers, like app stores, need access to it?

We hope you find this FAQ useful in planning your adoption of scoped storage. Please visit our best practice documentation for more information.

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