Android Studio: customize the “back to parent” ActionBar icon image (homeAsUpIndicator)

Like you probably already know, the ActionBar of an Android App can be set to allow backwards navigation from a child Activity to its parent, assuming that the relationship has been properly configured in the AndroidManifest.xml file:

    <!-- Parent Activity -->
    <!-- Child Activity -->
        <!-- Parent activity meta-data to support 4.0 and lower -->
            android:value="com.example.myfirstapp.MainActivity" />

We won’t go any further: for a full reference guide to Backwards / Up Navigation we strongly suggest reading the official documentation. We’re just pointing out that, in order to show the “up to parent” icon, we need to set up the 


  method accordingly:

public void onCreate(Bundle savedInstanceState) {

This simple command will bring the backwards navigation icon into the leftmost side of the activity ActionBar

In order to replace the default theme icon with a custom drawable image we need to add the following declaration to our theme xml file:

<item name="android:homeAsUpIndicator">@drawable/ic_custom_indicator</item>

The theme file location may vary: it can be 




  or even another file, depending on your app project configuration. Also remember that, if you are supporting pre-11 APIs, the above declaration should be put into the theme file located into the 


 folder, whileast the theme file in 


  would require the old API style syntax instead:

<item name="homeAsUpIndicator">@drawable/ic_custom_indicator</item>


Here’s a couple .rar archives containing some homeAsUpIndicator icons you can use to replace your theme‘s default ones: they are both white, so they could be a nice fit if your ActionBar features a black or dark-colored background color.

Happy coding!

About Ryan

IT Project Manager, Web Interface Architect and Lead Developer for many high-traffic web sites & services hosted in Italy and Europe. Since 2010 it's also a lead designer for many App and games for Android, iOS and Windows Phone mobile devices for a number of italian companies. Microsoft MVP for Development Technologies since 2018.

View all posts by Ryan

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.