BuildContext Class

The build method in every Flutter widget takes an argument of BuildContext.

class CartItemWidget extends StatelessWidget {

  
  Widget build(BuildContext context) {
  // ...

tldr

In one sentence, the BuildContext is simply the location of the widget in the widget tree.

Each widget has its own build context. This BuildContext is the parent of the widget returned by the build method.

In other words, the buildContext of the Widget that calls build is not the same as the build context of the widget returned by build.

class _MyHomePageState extends State<MyHomePage> {
  _MyHomePageState() {
    print(context.hashCode);
    // prints 2011
  }

  
  Widget build(BuildContext context) {
    return new Scaffold(
      appBar: new AppBar(
        title: new Text(widget.title),
      ),
      body: new Container(),
      floatingActionButton:
          new FloatingActionButton(onPressed: () => print(context.hashCode)),
          // prints 63
    );
  }
}

If you did this exact experiment, your print statements would be different, but those are the actual numbers that I got.

But what does this actually mean?

This comes with one big gotcha: It's easy to reference the wrong build context, and that can cause unexpected situations, specifically when using the of method.

The 'of' Method

In Flutter, widgets can look up and down the widget tree, in some cases, to reference other Widgets. This is required for some functionality.

In particular, widgets that want to use the State of inherited widgets need to be able to reference those inherited widgets. This usually comes in the form of the of method.

For example:


Widget build(context) {
  return new Text('Hello, World',
    style: new TextStyle(color: Theme.of(context).primaryColor),
  );
}

Under the hood, that of method is looking up the tree for the next parent widget that is of type Theme, and grabbing that primary color property. The framework can find the correct Theme object because it knows the tree in relation to this build context.

The Gotcha

When creating some widgets, such as a snackbar, you have to grab the nearest Scaffold context so that Flutter knows how to paint the snackbar, since Scaffold is the widget that actually gives us access to displaying snackbars.

Consider this:

(hint: it doesn't work)

  
  Widget build(BuildContext context) {
    return new Scaffold(
        appBar: new AppBar(
          title: new Text(widget.title),
        ),
        body: new Container(),
        /// Scaffold doesn't exist in this context here
        /// because the context thats passed into 'build'
        /// refers to the Widget 'above' this one in the tree,
        /// and the Scaffold doesn't exist above this exact build method
        ///
        /// This will throw an error:
        /// 'Scaffold.of() called with a context that does not contain a Scaffold.'
        floatingActionButton: new FloatingActionButton(onPressed: () {
          Scaffold.of(context).showSnackBar(
                new SnackBar(
                  content: new Text('SnackBar'),
                ),
              );
        }));
  }

Flutter does give us a nice way to solve this problem, though.

Builder Methods

Builder is a widget that takes a closure and uses it to build its child widgets. In laymans, you can use it to pass the context from a build method directly to children being returned in that build method.

Using the example above:

  
  Widget build(BuildContext context) {
    return new Scaffold(
      appBar: new AppBar(
        title: new Text(widget.title),
      ),
      body: new Container(),
      /// Builders let you pass context
      /// from your *current* build method
      /// Directly to children returned in this build method
      ///
      /// The 'builder' property accepts a callback
      /// which can be treated exactly as a 'build' method on any
      /// widget
      floatingActionButton: new Builder(builder: (context) {
        return new FloatingActionButton(onPressed: () {
          Scaffold.of(context).showSnackBar(
                new SnackBar(
                  backgroundColor: Colors.blue,
                  content: new Text('SnackBar'),
                ),
              );
        });
      }),
    );
  }

tip: You could also solve this by simply making your build methods smaller, and returning a Scaffold in a 'higher' widget. When in doubt, stick with smaller return methods.