Basic Flutter layout concepts

Welcome to the Flutter layout codelab, where you learn how to build a Flutter UI without downloading and installing Flutter or Dart!

Flutter is different from other frameworks because its UI is built in code, not (for example) in an XML file or similar. Widgets are the basic building blocks of a Flutter UI. As you progress through this codelab, you’ll learn that almost everything in Flutter is a widget. A widget is an immutable object that describes a specific part of a UI. You’ll also learn that Flutter widgets are composable, meaning, that you can combine existing widgets to make more sophisticated widgets. At the end of this codelab, you’ll get to apply what you’ve learned into building a Flutter UI that displays a business card.

Estimated time to complete this codelab: 45-60 minutes.

Row and Column classes

Row and Column are classes that contain and lay out widgets. Widgets inside of a Row or Column are called children, and Row and Column are referred to as parents. Row lays out its widgets horizontally, and Column lays out its widgets vertically.

Example: Creating a Column

Axis size and alignment

So far, the BlueBox widgets have been squished together (either to the left or at the top of the UI Output). You can change how the BlueBox widgets are spaced out using the axis size and alignment properties.

mainAxisSize property

Row and Column occupy different main axes. A Row’s main axis is horizontal, and a Column’s main axis is vertical. The mainAxisSize property determines how much space a Row and Column can occupy on their main axes. The mainAxisSize property has two possible values:

Row and Column occupy all of the space on their main axes. If the combined width of their children is less than the total space on their main axes, their children are laid out with extra space.
Row and Column only occupy enough space on their main axes for their children. Their children are laid out without extra space and at the middle of their main axes.

Example: Modifying axis size

mainAxisAlignment property

When mainAxisSize is set to MainAxisSize.max, Row and Column might lay out their children with extra space. The mainAxisAlignment property determines how Row and Column can position their children in that extra space. mainAxisAlignment has six possible values:

Positions children near the beginning of the main axis. (Left for Row, top for Column)
Positions children near the end of the main axis. (Right for Row, bottom for Column)
Positions children at the middle of the main axis.
Divides the extra space evenly between children.
Divides the extra space evenly between children and before and after the children.
Similar to MainAxisAlignment.spaceEvenly, but reduces half of the space before the first child and after the last child to half of the width between the children.

Example: Modifying main axis alignment

crossAxisAlignment property

The crossAxisAlignment property determines how Row and Column can position their children on their cross axes. A Row’s cross axis is vertical, and a Column’s cross axis is horizontal. Most of the crossAxisAlignment property’s values only work with the Row class. The crossAxisAlignment property has five possible values:

Positions children near the top of the cross axis. (Row only)
Positions children near the bottom of the cross axis. (Row only)
Positions children at the middle of the cross axis. (Row only)
Stretches children across the cross axis. (Top-to-bottom for Row, left-to-right for Column)
Aligns children by their character baselines. (Text class only, and requires that the textBaseline property is set to TextBaseline.alphabetic. See the Text widget section for an example.)

Example: Modifying cross axis alignment

Flexible widget

As you’ve seen, the mainAxisAlignment and crossAxisAlignment properties determine how Row and Column position widgets along both axes. Row and Column first lay out widgets of a fixed size. Fixed size widgets are considered inflexible because they can’t resize themselves after they’ve been laid out.

The Flexible widget wraps a widget, so the widget becomes resizable. When the Flexible widget wraps a widget, the widget becomes the Flexible widget’s child and is considered flexible. After inflexible widgets are laid out, the widgets are resized according to their flex and fit properties.:

Compares itself against other flex properties before determining what fraction of the total remaining space each Flexible widget receives.
Determines whether a Flexible widget fills all of its extra space.

Example: Changing fit properties

Example: Testing flex values

Expanded widget

Similar to Flexible, the Expanded widget can wrap a widget and force the widget to fill extra space.

Example: Filling extra space

SizedBox widget

The SizedBox widget can be used in one of two ways when creating exact dimensions. When SizedBox wraps a widget, it resizes the widget using the height and width properties. When it doesn’t wrap a widget, it uses the height and width properties to create empty space.

Example: Resizing a widget

Example: Creating space

Spacer widget

Similar to SizedBox, the Spacer widget also can create space between widgets.

Example: Creating more space

Text widget

The Text widget displays text and can be configured for different fonts, sizes, and colors.

Example: Aligning text

Icon widget

The Icon widget displays a graphical symbol that represents an aspect of the UI. Flutter is preloaded with icon packages for Material and Cupertino applications.

Example: Creating an Icon

Image widget

The Image widget displays an image. You either can reference images using a URL, or you can include images inside your app package. Since DartPad can’t package an image, the following example uses an image from the network.

Example: Displaying an image

Putting it all together

You’re almost at the end of this codelab. If you’d like to test your knowledge of the techniques that you’ve learned, why not apply those skills into building a Flutter UI that displays a business card!

Completed business card

You’ll break down Flutter’s layout into parts, which is how you’d create a Flutter UI in the real world.

In Part 1, you’ll implement a Column that contains the name and title. Then you’ll wrap the Column in a Row that contains the icon, which is positioned to the left of the name and title.

Completed business card

In Part 2, you’ll wrap the Row in a Column, so the code contains a Column within a Row within a Column. Then you’ll tweak the outermost Column’s layout, so it looks nice. Finally, you’ll add the contact information to the outermost Column’s list of children, so it’s displayed below the name, title, and icon.

Completed business card

In Part 3, you’ll finish building the business card display by adding four more icons, which are positioned below the contact information.

Completed business card

Part 1

Exercise: Create the name and title

Exercise: Wrap the Column in a Row

Part 2

Exercise: Tweak the layout

Exercise: Enter contact information

Part 3

Exercise: Add four icons

What’s next?

Congratulations, you’ve finished this codelab! If you’d like to know more about Flutter, here are a few suggestions for resources worth exploring:

You can download Flutter from the install page.