Android Emulator on CircleCI’s MacOS Executor

The Android Emulator, unfortunately, doesn’t work in CircleCI’s conventional (Docker-based) Android build environment. With a little tinkering, though, we can make it work in another environment!

What Doesn’t Work

Since CircleCI 2.0, the recommended build environment for most projects is the Docker Executor. Overall, it’s great: Docker images are fast, portable, and cacheable. Chances are you can start with a prebuilt one.

One of the jobs in our current workflow boots up the circleci/android:api-29-node image in about four seconds with all the build tools we need. For building and publishing, this is fantastic.

Unfortunately, when you begin configuring your tests, you’ll soon realize that this environment can’t run the Emulator.


To achieve reasonable performance, the Android Emulator needs hardware acceleration, which depends on supporting capabilities from the processor and operating system. We can use the Emulator’s -accel-check flag to interrogate a system’s compatibility. Here’s what it says in a CircleCI Docker environment:

circleci@b52cf4976e06:~$ uname -a
Linux b52cf4976e06 4.15.0-1043-aws #45-Ubuntu SMP Mon Jun 24 14:07:03 UTC 2019 x86_64 GNU/Linux
circleci@b52cf4976e06:~$ emulator -accel-check
KVM requires a CPU that supports vmx or svm

(That means “no.”)

But wait! Docker is but one of several executors available on CircleCI. What if we use a conventional Linux VM instead of Docker? (This is called the machine executor).

circleci@default-aa5e8f01-b158-409c-864d-3c5048959c7f:~/repo/App$ uname -a
Linux default-aa5e8f01-b158-409c-864d-3c5048959c7f 4.15.0-1027-gcp #28~16.04.1-Ubuntu SMP Fri Jan 18 10:10:51 UTC 2019 x86_64 x86_64 x86_64 GNU/Linux
circleci@default-aa5e8f01-b158-409c-864d-3c5048959c7f:~/repo/App$ emulator -accel-check
KVM requires a CPU that supports vmx or svm

That doesn’t work either. Bummer.

At this point, you might heed CircleCI’s advice and pursue a third-party service like Firebase Test Lab or AWS Device Farm, but I wasn’t ready to give up yet.

What Works

We were already using CircleCI’s MacOS support to build and test our React Native app for iOS. I had one last wacky idea to try: could we run the Android Emulator on MacOS?

bash-3.2$ uname -a
Darwin static. 19.0.0 Darwin Kernel Version 19.0.0: Wed Sep 25 20:18:50 PDT 2019; root:xnu-6153.11.26~2/RELEASE_X86_64 x86_64
bash-3.2$ emulator -accel-check
Hypervisor.Framework OS X Version 10.15

It works!


Without the convenience of an externally-maintained Docker image, it’s on you to install the Android tools. If you want to try Android testing on MacOS, hopefully our configuration can save you some time:

      xcode: "11.2.0"
    working_directory: ~/repo/App
      - checkout:
          path: ~/repo

      - run:
          name: set ANDROID_SDK_ROOT
          command: |
            echo 'export ANDROID_SDK_ROOT=$HOME/android-tools'  >> $BASH_ENV

      - restore_cache:
          key: android=tools-v1-{{ checksum "scripts/install-android-tools.sh" }}-{{ arch }}

      - run:
          name: install android tools
          command: |
            sh scripts/install-android-tools.sh
            echo 'export PATH=$ANDROID_SDK_ROOT/tools/bin:$PATH'  >> $BASH_ENV
            echo 'export PATH=$ANDROID_SDK_ROOT/tools:$PATH'  >> $BASH_ENV
            echo 'export PATH=$ANDROID_SDK_ROOT/platform-tools:$PATH'  >> $BASH_ENV
            echo 'export PATH=$ANDROID_SDK_ROOT/emulator:$PATH'  >> $BASH_ENV
            source $BASH_ENV
            sdkmanager --list

      - save_cache:
          key: android=tools-v1-{{ checksum "scripts/install-android-tools.sh" }}-{{ arch }}
            - /Users/distiller/android-tools

      - run:
          name: create AVD
          command: make create-avd

      - run:
          name: start AVD
          command: emulator-headless -avd android-tablet
          background: true

      - run:
          name: wait for emulator
          command: adb wait-for-device shell 'while [[ -z $(getprop dev.bootcomplete) ]]; do sleep 1; done;'

      - run: adb shell screencap -p > screenshots/before.png

      # (insert testing here)

      - store_artifacts:
          path: screenshots

And here’s install-android-tools.sh:

    echo "Directory $ANDROID_SDK_ROOT already exists so we're skipping the install. If you'd like to install fresh tools, edit this script to invalidate the CI cache."
    exit 0

curl https://dl.google.com/android/repository/sdk-tools-darwin-4333796.zip -o sdk-tools.zip

unzip sdk-tools.zip

mkdir -p "$ANDROID_SDK_ROOT/licenses"

echo "24333f8a63b6825ea9c5514f83c2829b004d1fee" > "$ANDROID_SDK_ROOT/licenses/android-sdk-license"
echo "84831b9409646a918e30573bab4c9c91346d8abd" > "$ANDROID_SDK_ROOT/licenses/android-sdk-preview-license"
echo "d975f751698a77b662f1254ddbeed3901e976f5a" > "$ANDROID_SDK_ROOT/licenses/intel-android-extra-license"


$SDKMANAGER "platform-tools"
$SDKMANAGER "platforms;android-29"
$SDKMANAGER "build-tools;29.0.2"
$SDKMANAGER "ndk-bundle"
$SDKMANAGER "system-images;android-29;google_apis;x86_64"
$SDKMANAGER "emulator"


It’s unorthodox, but this approach has worked reasonably well so far for our small React Native project. One set of Appium tests can run against both iOS and Android, and they run the same way in CircleCI that they do locally.

I’d be interested to hear about your experiences with Android UI tests in CircleCI, whether via a third-party service, a CI host that supports the Emulator, or another approach altogether.