Beginner’s guide to Tasker, part 1.5: Tasker basics (New UI)
Back in 2012, I wrote a beginner’s guide to Tasker that currently consists of 7 parts. With the UI overhaul that Tasker got a couple of months ago, however, a lot of the references, screenshots, and videos from that guide are now hard to follow, since it’s in many ways a new app. The basic concepts still apply, but it looks and is organized differently. Since this first part of the guide is many Tasker user’s first stop after getting the app, I wanted to post an updated version.
This article contains the same information as the original, just based around the new UI. Since the old UI is still being used on older versions of Android, I’m leaving the original article as it is, and just adding this one on top. So, if you’re using Tasker with the new UI, read this one, and if you’re using Tasker with the old UI (i.e. on an Android version lower than 4.0), read the original version of this article. If you’re not sure which version you’re using, look at the screenshots and see which matches what you have.
A part 0 has been added to the guide, talking about what Tasker is and how you can go about learning it. It’s available here. This part of the guide therefore jumps straight into talking about how Tasker itself works.
Tasks, profiles, projects, contexts, scenes, variables, and actions
These seven terms are important to understand in order to use Tasker. When reading through the over 100 (and counting) Tasker articles on the site, as well as the rest of the guide, these terms will be used to refer to very specific things, so common mistakes like confusing “task” and “action” can throw someone completely off.
An action is the most basic part of Tasker, a thing that the app does. Switching off WiFi is an action, going back to the home screen is an action, starting Angry Birds is an action, turning down the media volume is an action. Tasker have over 200 basic actions, and most of them have configuration options that make them capable of doing different things, like how the Media Controls action has five different options for which button it should emulate. Linking actions together allows you to do some truly amazing things with Tasker, things that go far beyond changing a setting or two when you leave the house.
Actions are grouped in tasks. A task can have a single action, or it can have hundreds, it all depends on what that task needs to achieve. Tasks can also be triggered with actions, so that a task can have several actions that run individual tasks, each with their own actions. This way you can group actions together into more meaningful tasks, and it allows you to reference a set of actions from different tasks. For instance, you might have a set of actions that set screen brightness, volume, WiFi settings, and so on a certain way. If you need to use those settings in more than one task, you can turn them into a task of their own, and then simply run that task from within the other tasks, instead of having to copy each individual action.
Tasks can be triggered either by contexts, or directly using shortcuts, widgets, and other methods, like through third party apps.
Contexts and profiles
A context is a trigger. An incoming notification, the opening of an app, or connecting to a certain WiFi network are all examples of contexts which can be used to trigger a task. If you want the GPS to turn on when you leave the house, you could for instance use not being connected to your home WiFi as the context, and have that trigger a task with an action that turns on GPS.
Unlike tasks, contexts can’t “live on their own.” They’re always the first part of a profile, and a profile consists of up to four contexts and one or two tasks. A profile is what links tasks and contexts together, deciding which task should run when the context triggers.
There are two types of contexts, state contexts and event contexts.
A state context makes a profile be active as long as the context is, so if the context is being connected to a specific WiFi network, the profile will be active for as long as the device is connected. State contexts have two types of tasks, enter tasks and exit tasks. An enter task is the default, and runs when the profile becomes active. An exit task on the other hand runs when the profile is deactivated.
It’s important to understand that Tasker doesn’t enforce anything you specify in the enter task while the profile is active. By that I mean that if you change the screen brightness in your enter task, and then change it to something else using the system settings, Tasker won’t change it back until the profile has been deactivated and then reactivated. Think of it as a door that rings a bell when it opens; it will ring that bell every time it opens, but leaving the door open won’t make the bell ring continuously.
Another important thing to know about state contexts is that some settings will automatically be reverted when the profile is deactivated. So if you change the brightness in your enter task, it will change it back when the profile exits, without you having to tell it that. You can disable this by long pressing on the profile name, clicking the settings button that appears on top, and then uncheck “Restore Settings”. Not all settings are automatically restored, however, and it’s mostly limited to system settings like brightness.
Event contexts on the other hand is never continuously active. It makes the task attached to it run once, and then it’s done. An example of an event context is Received text, which is when you receive an SMS. Receiving an SMS is something that happens instantaneous, meaning it’s not something that becomes active and then later becomes inactive, which is what makes it an event (there’s no practical difference between when you start receicing an SMS message and you’re finished receiving it). Profiles with event contexts don’t have exit tasks, and they don’t restore settings.
In cases where there are multiple contexts in a single profile, the relationship between them is AND (e.g. context 1 and context 2), meaning that both contexts have to be fulfilled in order for the profile to trigger. If a mix of event and state contexts are used, the profile will follow event profile rules. An example is a combination of a WiFi state context and a Received Text context, which when combined, creates the trigger “when I receive a text message while I’m connected to this WiFi network”. If you then specify your work WiFi network in the WiFi Connected context, you suddenly have a profile that triggers when you get SMS messages at work, but not anywhere else!
To add multiple contexts to a profile, you first create your profile with a single context, then long press on that context in the profile list (tap the profile name to expand it if the context and task is not visible), and select Add. To add an exit task to a profile, or to turn an enter task into an exit task, long press on the task in the same manner.
You can have multiple state contexts in a profile, but only one event context. This is logical, because since event contexts are instantaneous, it’s practically impossible that two of them happen at the exact same moment.
A variable is like a virtual text file within Tasker, or like a variable (X, Y, A, B) in math. A variable is represented by a % symbol followed by a name, like for instance %Variable1. Variables are used to get access to system information, transfer information between parts of Tasker, and even work as settings and options. The variable %DATE will for instance always be the current date, so if you were to tell Tasker to create a notification with the text %DATE, then %DATE would be replaced by the actual date when the notification appears. Variables are key to advanced Tasker use, and is a huge topic to cover in itself. I go through it in other parts of this guide, starting with part 2.
A scene is essentially a customized user interface. You can user Tasker’s scene functionality to create menus, pop-ups, settings boxes, and much more. This is a very useful and complex feature that I also cover in greater detail in a later part of this guide.
A project is the final grouping in Tasker. Think of it as a folder capable of holding all of the above, so that you can keep everything related to a specific Tasker system in one place. The more complex Tasker setups often use multiple profiles, multiple tasks, and even multiple scenes all working together. You can group all of those together in a single project to stay organized, and projects are also vital when using Tasker’s app export capability, since they allow you to export a whole range of tasks, scenes and profiles as one single app.
The Tasker screen
Tasker has a beginner mode that is designed to make the app easier to use for beginners, by disabling certain features. It’s a good idea, but unfortunately you won’t find many people referencing this version of the UI when you read about Tasker online, so I recommend disabling it. You do this in Tasker’s main preferences.
As such, I’ll be basing this guide on the normal Tasker look, not beginner mode. Since this article is a rewrite of a guide for the pre-ICS version of Tasker, it also goes without saying that this and any future versions of the guide based on the new UI will be based on the ICS+ design. More specifically, the theme I use is the Light theme, which is selectable in the UI section of Tasker’s preferences.
Knowing the difference between the various terms I explained above is half the battle when it comes to understanding how the UI works. The image above should help explain what everything is, but it’s worth mentioning that holding down or single tapping on parts of the UI is the way to access a lot of features. It’s the way to import and export items, add more contexts to a profile, switch out tasks, turn enter tasks into exit tasks (or vice versa), and so on. Also, to delete items, you grab the right part of the screen besides their name (where the enable/disable toggle is for profiles) and drag them down to the trash can that appears. This is also how you sort items and transfer them to other projects: drag and drop.
What Tasker requires to work
When Tasker is active, there will be a persistent notification icon present in your notification bar. This is to make sure the system will never close Tasker, as Tasker obviously needs to run at all times to work. You can also look at this notification in the notification drop-down to see which state profiles are currently active. To prevent a profile’s status to show here, long press its name in Tasker, go into its settings, and disable the Show in Notification Pulldown option.
Some features in Tasker, specifically the ability to read notifications from other apps, require that Tasker has accessibility access. This is a system-level access that you have to manually give to Tasker by going to the device’s main system settings, accessibility section. This, along with Tasker’s long list of required permissions, might sound scary because of Google’s way of phrasing its warnings, but every permission Tasker requires is there for a very good reason, and it’s not malicious.
Tasker also requires device administrator privileges for certain features, like manipulating the status of the lock code. This also has to be enabled manually, and if you do enable it, you will have to manually disable it to uninstall Tasker. This is another system level Android thing that you can read more about here.
There are dozens of plug-ins for Tasker, giving Tasker lots of new abilities. These plug-ins are available in the Play Store, and install as normal apps. Tasker shares the plug-in system with another automation app, Locale, and so many Tasker-compatible plug-ins are listed as Locale plug-ins. Furthermore, some apps have Tasker compatibility built in, meaning that installing the main app also unlocks the plug-in components in Tasker. The plug-ins can be accessed from either the third party or plug-in parts of Tasker (in the list of other actions/contexts) depending on whether the plug-in was built into Tasker or got installed on the side. If the accompanying app is installed, there’s no practical difference between actions listed in the third party section and those listed in the plug-in section, other than the name of the category they’re listed in.
Being rooted is not required for Tasker, but it does give it more abilities. The availability of certain actions and contexts is dependent on the device and software version/ROM, and being rooted can unlock features that are otherwise unavailable on a certain device. Tasker can also use root to kill apps, manipulate files, and so on. The plug-in Secure Settings allows you do access a lot of otherwise blocked features via root, and is a valuable tool.
Please note that Tasker taps into so many features that differences between devices and ROMs is sometimes a problem. You might read about an awesome Tasker creation online, go to replicate it, and find that some part of it isn’t working. This doesn’t mean Tasker is broken, or that you did anything wrong, it likely means that the feature you’re trying to use doesn’t work properly on your device or ROM. In those cases it’s more productive to complain to your device or ROM creator, not the Tasker dev, or the person whose creation you’re trying to copy. The truth is that you’re much better off by reading about how things can be done in Tasker, and then explore that on your own, than to try to copy someone else’s creation step by step. That’s because that will teach you why something works, and in the process help you understand why something doesn’t work, and maybe even how to fix it.
Creating your first profile
The best way to learn Tasker is to tinker with it and explore, like I just said. The configuration for each context, each action is different, and so it’s hard to generalize. The image below explains some of the buttons and options that are fairly common in the configuration screen for actions, while skipping those that are more unique to that particular task. Each action and context has different options however, and with the amount of contexts and actions in Tasker, not to mention plug-ins, explaining each and every one is impossible. The harsh truth is that if you expect there to be a 20 page user’s guide to every single option in Tasker, you’re better off just uninstalling the app right away.
There is however some documentation for more or less all the features and settings in Tasker, though often it’s just very quick explanations.
I simply cannot emphasize enough how important self study is for using Tasker. This article, the more than 100 others I’ve written, and posts and articles from people around the web are great resources, but at the end of the day, you’re the person who needs to set up Tasker the way you want it. Is it worth the hassle? Oh, definitely!
The video below shows the creation of a simple state profile with an enter task and (later) an exit task. My advise is to play around with the various contexts and actions and see what happens.
So where do you go from here? The banner below links to our Tasker portal page, which has a boatload of articles that you can look at. It also has links to the other parts of the beginner’s guide. So far only this first part is available in a version for the new UI though, so I advise playing around with basic features in Tasker before reading further. While there are some notable changes to the UI in the new version, Tasker hasn’t really changed, so the top priority of any new Tasker user should be to understand the basics, in order to be able to understand information written for the old UI.
If you ever need to import anything into Tasker, please see this video for instructions.
Download: Google Play