Category Archives: Presentation Server

Contains posts about the OpenInsight Presentation Server, which is the module responsible for managing GUI windows and controls on the Windows Desktop.

The DIRWATCHER control

With the release of version 10.1 a new control type called DIRWATCHER (“Directory Watcher”) has been added to OpenInsight. This is a fairly simple control which allows you to monitor one or more directories on your system and then receive notifications when the contents are changed.

Using the control is very straightforward:

  • Use the WATCHDIR method to add a directory to monitor for changes.
  • Handle the CHANGED event to receive notifications of directory changes.
  • Use the STOP method to stop monitoring directories.

We’ll take a quick look at each of these methods and events below along with a couple of important properties:

The WATCHDIR method

This method allows you to specify a directory to monitor along with some optional flags. It may be called multiple times to watch more than one directory.

bSuccess = Exec_Method( CtrlEntID, "WATCHDIR", DirName, bSubtree, Flags )
ParameterDescription
DirName(required) Specifies the name of the directory to watch. It should be a fully qualified, non-relative directory path.
bSubtree(optional) Set to TRUE$ to monitor all sub-directories beneath DirName as well. Defaults to FALSE$.
Flags(optional) A bit-mask value containing a set of flags that denote the events to monitor in the directories. It defaults to the following flags:

FILE_NOTIFY_CHANGE_FILE_NAME$
FILE_NOTIFY_CHANGE_LAST_WRITE$
FILE_NOTIFY_CHANGE_CREATION$

The flag values are specified in the MSWIN_FILENOTIFY_EQUATES insert record,

This method returns TRUE$ if successful, or FALSE$ otherwise.

The STOP method

This method stops the control monitoring its specified directories.

bSuccess = Exec_Method( CtrlEntID, "STOP" )

This method returns TRUE$ if successful, or FALSE$ otherwise.

(Note – to resume directory monitoring after the STOP method has been called the WATCHDIR method(s) must be executed again).

The CHANGED event

This event is raised when changes have been detected in the monitored directories.

bForward = CHANGED( NewData )

This event passes a single parameter called NewData which contains an @vm-delimited list of changed items (i.e. notifications). Each item in the list comprises an “action code” and the name and path of the affected file, delimited by an @svm.

Action codes are defined in the MSWIN_FILENOTIFY_EQUATES insert record like so:

   equ FILE_ACTION_ADDED$               to 0x00000001   
   equ FILE_ACTION_REMOVED$             to 0x00000002   
   equ FILE_ACTION_MODIFIED$            to 0x00000003   
   equ FILE_ACTION_RENAMED_OLD_NAME$    to 0x00000004   
   equ FILE_ACTION_RENAMED_NEW_NAME$    to 0x00000005 

Remarks

If a monitored directory experiences a high volume of changes (such as copying or removing thousands of files) it could generate a correspondingly high number of CHANGED events, which in turn could produce an adverse affect on your application and slow it down. In order to deal with this potential issue it is possible to “bundle up” multiple notifications with the NOTIFYTHRESHOLD property into a single CHANGED event so they may be processed more efficiently.

The NOTIFYTHRESHOLD property

The NOTIFYTHRESHOLD property is an integer that specifies the maximum number of notifications that should be bundled before a CHANGED event is raised.

CurrVal = Get_Property( CtrlEntID, "NOTIFYTHRESHOLD" )
PrevVal = Set_Property( CtrlEntID, "NOTIFYTHRESHOLD", NewVal )

By default it is set to 100.

The NOTIFYTIMER property

The NOTIFYTIMER property is an integer that specifies the number of milliseconds before a CHANGED event is raised if the NOTIFYTHRESHOLD property value is not met.

CurrVal = Get_Property( CtrlEntID, "NOTIFYTIMER" )
PrevVal = Set_Property( CtrlEntID, "NOTIFYTIMER", NewVal )

By default it is set to 50 (ms).

Remarks

If the NOTIFYTHRESHOLD property is set to a value greater than 1 then the control will try to bundle that number of notifications together before raising a CHANGED event. However, when this is set to a high value it is possible that the threshold may not be reached in a timely fashion and the CHANGED event not actually raised.

E.g. If the NOTIFYTHRESHOLD is set to 1000, and only 200 notifications are received then the CHANGED event would not be raised.

To prevent this problem the NOTIFYTIMER property may be used to specify the amount of time after receiving the last notification before a CHANGED event is raised even if the NOTIFYTHRESHOLD is not met.

E.g. in the example above, if the control had a NOTIFYTIMER of 50, then a CHANGED event would be raised 50ms after the last notification (200) was received, even though the NOTIFYTHRESHOLD of 1000 has not actually been met.

Developer Notes

The DIRWATCHER control is intended as a “non-visual” control and should probably be hidden at runtime in your own applications. However, it is actually derived from a normal STATIC control so all of the properties and methods that apply to a STATIC apply to the DIRWATCHER as well, and you may use them as normal if you wish.

Yield or Die!

When executing a long running process in a desktop environment, such as selecting records from a large table, it is important for the user to be able to interact with the application even though it is busy. A common example of this is displaying a dialog box that shows the progress of an operation and allowing the user to cancel it if they wish. Failure to provide this ability generally results in user frustration, or causes the dreaded “Window Ghosting” effect where Windows changes a form’s caption to “Not Responding” (this is never a good look, and usually ends in a quick visit to the Task Manager to kill the application).

In order to avoid this problem we have to allow the application to check for user interaction, a process usually referred to as “yielding” (hence the awful title of this post), and this time we’ll take a look at the various options available to accomplish this and the differences between them. Before we go any further however, here’s a little background information on how OpenInsight runs beneath the hood so that you can appreciate how messages and events are handled.

Under the hood

OpenInsight.exe (aka. the “Presentation Server”, or “PS”) has a main thread (the “UI thread”) with a Windows message loop that manages all of the forms and controls, and it also has an internal “event queue” for storing Basic+ events that need to be executed. The PS also creates an instance of the RevEngine virtual machine (“the engine”), which has its own thread (the “engine thread”) with a Windows message loop, and is responsible for executing Basic+ code.

When the PS needs to execute an event it passes it to the engine directly if possible, otherwise it adds the details to the event queue and then posts a message to itself so the queue can be checked and processed when the engine is not busy. When the engine receives the event data it is executed on the engine thread. Stored procedures such as Get_Property, Set_Property, and Exec_Method provide a way for the Basic+ event to communicate back to the PS to interact with the user interface controls and forms during its execution.

The key point to note here is that Basic+ event code runs in a different thread to the UI, so while the engine thread is processing the event, the UI thread is basically waiting for it to finish, and this means that it may or may not get chance to process it’s own message loop. This is where the problems can begin, and why the need for a yielding ability, because:

  1. The engine thread needs to be paused or interrupted in some fashion so that the UI thread can check and process its own Windows message queue for things like mouse, keyboard and paint messages. If this queue is not checked at least every 10 seconds then Windows assumes that the PS is hung and the “Not Responding” captions are shown on the application forms.
  2. While the engine is processing an event, the PS cannot pass it a new one, so it is added to the event queue. If we are waiting to process some Basic+ event code like a button CLICK to cancel the current operation, then we need some way for this to be retrieved and executed before the current event is finished.

So, now we know why “window ghosting” happens we can take a look at the various options to deal with it.

Options for yielding

MSWin_Sleep stored procedure

This is a direct call to the Windows API Sleep function, and it puts the engine thread to sleep for at least the specified number of milliseconds. However, while calling this will allow Windows to schedule another thread to run, there’s no guarantee that this would be the UI thread, so it’s not really a good solution.

WinYield stored procedure

This is a simple wrapper around the Windows API Sleep function, with a sleep-time of 10ms. This suffers from the same disadvantages discussed for MSWin_Sleep above (This function remains for backwards compatibility with early versions of of OI and Windows).

MSWin_SwitchToThread stored procedure

This is a direct call to the Windows API SwitchToThread function which forces Windows to schedule another thread for execution. Like MSWin_Sleep and WinYield there’s no guarantee that this would cause the UI thread to run, so again it’s not a great solution.

SYSTEM PROCESSEVENTS method (a.k.a Yield stored procedure)

This is a new method in version 10.1 that performs two tasks that solve the problem:

  1. It explicitly tells the UI thread to process its message queue (which will avoid the “ghosting” issue), and
  2. It allows the UI thread to process the event queue so waiting events can be executed as well.

One possible drawback here is that waiting events are also processed, and this might not be a desirable outcome depending on what you are doing. In this case there is another method called PROCESSWINMGS that should be used instead.

(FYI – The PROCESSEVENTS method is essentially a wrapper around the venerable Yield() stored procedure, but allows the same functionality to be called via the standard object-based method API rather than as a “flat” function. Yield() itself is still and will be fully supported in the product).

SYSTEM PROCESSWINMSGS method

This is a new method in version 10.1 that tells the PS to process it’s Windows message queue but it does not process any Basic+ events, i.e. it prevents the “ghosting” effect but does not cause events to fire before your application is ready for them.

Conclusion

Version 10.1 has added more functionality to help you avoid the dreaded “Not Responding” message via the PROCESSWINMGS and PROCESSEVENTS methods, and hopefully, armed with the information above, this will help you to write better integrated desktop-applications.

The Case of the Extra Pixel

In the current OpenInsight 10.1 Beta program, Martyn at RevSoft UK had reported a bug about the Height property creeping up by a pixel each time he opened a form. This was traced to the point when the menu structure was parsed and created: it was actually inserting an extra pixel, so this was fixed and the form Height now stayed the same between each opening.

However, a little more testing against a form without a menu revealed another issue – in some cases a pixel was added to the Height but it didn’t creep up on each subsequent opening:

E.g. when set to a Height of 400 and saved, the form would re-open with a Height of 401, but it would stay at the same value afterwards; not the same bug as before but it did need investigating

The Height and the ClientHeight properties

As some of you will know, Windows forms are split into two areas (1):

  1. The “Nonclient area” which contains items such as the borders, menus and title bars, and
  2. The “Client area”, which is the part that contains the controls.

When an OpenInsight form definition is saved the actual Width and Height properties are not used. Instead, the ClientWidth and ClientHeight properties (i.e. the dimensions of the Client area) are saved because Windows can change the size of the Nonclient parts when a form is run on different systems with different visual styles, and this can make the form’s Client area the wrong size when created from a saved Width and Height (as we all found out many years ago when Windows XP was released). In our particular case above, when the form was saved and reopened, the ClientWidth and ClientHeight properties were correct, but the Height had gained a pixel.

E.g. When set to a Height of 400, the saved form ClientHeight was 365. When the same form was reopened the ClientHeight was still 365, but the Height was now reported as 401.

Height, ClientHeight and High DPI

I run my primary and secondary monitors at different DPI settings to ensure that scaling works correctly, and in this case, at 192 DPI (i.e. scaled to 200%), it transpired that the integer rounding used during scaling was the issue because:

  • Setting the Height to 400 resulted in a ClientHeight of 365.
  • Setting the Height to 401 also resulted in a ClientHeight of 365.
  • Setting the ClientHeight to 365 resulted in a Height of 401.

I.e. setting the ClientHeight to a specific value, and then retrieving the form’s actual height in real pixels, and then scaling it back to 96 DPI (all values in the Form designer are shown and stored at 96 DPI), gave the extra pixel. Because we don’t record the Height in the form definition we have no way of knowing that the ClientHeight was set from a value of 400 rather than 401 when the form was reopened in the designer, so we have to go with the 401. Mystery solved!

Of course, this looks odd, but it’s just an artifact of the scaling calculations. The crucial value is the ClientHeight because this is the value that is recorded and used, and this is what needs to be preserved when forms are saved and reopened. To help put your mind at ease about this, the ClientWidth and ClientHeight properties have now been exposed (for forms only) in the Form Designer, so you can be confident that the correct size is always being maintained (ClientWidth and ClientHeight are normally runtime only properties).

E.g. In the following two images (saved and reopened) you can see that the pixel height has increased, but in both cases the ClientHeight (365) is preserved and is correct:

Image of form with a saved Height property of 400
Form saved with a Height of 400
Image of reopened form with a Height property of 401
Form reopened, now with a Height of 401

Conclusion

  • Windows XP taught us many years ago that the Width and Height properties are not reliable when creating a forms as they can produce inconsistent results on different systems, so we always rely on the ClientWidth and ClientHeight properties instead.
  • Don’t be concerned if you see a slightly different Height value when you reopen a form if you’re running at a high DPI setting – the crucial property is the ClientHeight value – as long as this is consistent there is no actual problem.
  • To make sure you can monitor this yourself the ClientWidth and ClientHeight properties have been exposed in the Form Designer, and you can edit these directly if you wish.

(Note: the ClientHeight and ClientWidth properties are only exposed after builds later than the current Beta 3 release)

(1) If you are not familiar with Client and Nonclient areas in Windows GUI programming you can find out more information here).

The Case of the Jumping Dialog

We recently noticed a new bug in the IDE where a dialog that hadn’t been updated for quite some time suddenly started misbehaving: it would appear at the wrong coordinates (0,0), and then jump to the proper ones.

At first glance this this looked like a classic case of creating the dialog in a visible state, and then moving it during the CREATE event, but checking the dialog properties in the Form Designer showed that the dialog’s Visible property was “Hidden”, so this wasn’t the source of the problem.

Stepping through the CREATE event in the debugger showed that the dialog was indeed created hidden, but then became visible during an RList() call that performed a SELECT statement, ergo RList() was allowing some queued event code to execute (probably from an internal call to the Yield() procedure) and that was changing the dialog’s VISIBLE property.

Checking the other events revealed that the SIZE event contained the following code:

Call Set_Property( @Window, "REDRAW", FALSE$ )

// Move some controls around

Call Set_Property( @Window, "REDRAW", TRUE$ )

The REDRAW property works by toggling an object’s WS_VISIBLE style bit – when set to FALSE$ the style bit is removed but the object is not redrawn. When set to TRUE$ the object is marked as visible and redrawn.

So, putting all this together: creating the dialog generated a queued SIZE event, which under normal circumstances would run after the CREATE event. However, the Yield() call in RList() executed the SIZE event before the dialog was ready to be shown, and the REDRAW operation made the dialog visible before the CREATE event had moved it to the correct position.

The fix for this was to ensure that the REDRAW property wasn’t set to TRUE$ if it’s original value wasn’t TRUE$, like so:

bRedraw = Set_Property( @Window, "REDRAW", FALSE$ )

// Move some controls around

If bRedraw Then
   Call Set_Property( @Window, "REDRAW", TRUE$ )
End

Conclusion

  • Always protect calls to the REDRAW property by checking its state before you set it, and then only turn it back on again if it was set to TRUE$ originally.
  • Calling Yield() can cause events to run out of the normal sequence, and you should be aware of this when writing your application.

PDF files and the FILEPREVIEW control

The next release of OpenInsight (version 10.1) includes a couple of updates to the FILEPREVIEW control as a result of using it extensively “out in the field”, and in this post we thought we’d look at these changes and why we made them in case you encounter the same issues yourself.

The Adobe problem

As mentioned in this previous post, the FILEPREVIEW control relies on third-party DLLs to provide “preview handlers” that OpenInsight uses to display the contents of files such as Word or PDF documents. However, what we found is that not all of these handlers are created equal and some can be quite problematic – in our case the Adobe PDF preview handler (supplied with the Adobe PDF Reader) proved to be one of these.

When the handler is loaded by OpenInsight one of the things that must be specified is the context in which it is created – this can be “in-process” (which means it runs in the same address space as OpenInsight) or “out-of-process” (which runs as a separate executable). This is done internally by a set of flags, and when you use the FILENAME property these flags are set to their default values which, until recently, had proved sufficient. However, extensive testing (by Martyn at RevSoft) found that the Adobe PDF preview handler had stopped working, and further investigation revealed that at some point recent versions of this had become sensitive to these context flags, so the first change we made was to provide a new SETFILENAME method, which allows you to set the flags yourself if need be:

The SETFILENAME method

RetVal = Exec_Method( CtrlEntID, "SETFILENAME", FileName, FileExtn, |
                      ContextFlags )
ParameterRequiredDescription
FileNameNoContains the name and path of the file to preview (can be null to remove the preview).
FileExtnNoSpecifies an explicit extension to use, overriding the extension passed in the FileName parameter.
ContextFlagsNoSpecifies a bit-mask of “CLSCTX_” flags used to create the preview handler. Defaults to:

  BitOr( CLSCTX_INPROC_SERVER$, CLSCTX_LOCAL_SERVER$ )

(Equates for these flags can be found in the MSWIN_CLSCTX_EQUATES insert record)

If the returned value is 0 then the operation was successful, otherwise this is an error code reported from Windows and can be passed to the RTI_ErrorText stored procedure to get the details:

E.g.

// Load the PDF in an out-of-process context
$Insert MSWin_ClsCtx_Equates

RetVal = Exec_Method( CtrlEntID, "SETFILENAME", "C:\Temp\Test.PDF", "",
                      CLSCTX_LOCAL_SERVER$ )
If RetVal Then
   // Problem...
   ErrorText = RTI_ErrorText( "WIN", RetVal )
End

Even with this you may still find problems, as the above code was fine for me, but not for Martyn, even though the PDF preview handler worked fine in Windows Explorer itself for both of us! So, we could only conclude that Adobe made sure that the handler worked with the Windows Explorer, but they were less concerned about third party applications (Per-monitor DPI settings are also not supported by the preview handler which is disappointing as well).

The Foxit solution

After some more testing we decided to switch to the Foxit PDF reader which worked as expected, so we would recommend using this for PDF previewing in future if needed.

Removing the FILENAME property at design-time

One other change we made was to remove the FILENAME property from the Form Designer so that it could not be set at design-time due to the following reasons:

  • We had reports that once it had been set it was very difficult to select the control again in the Form Designer, because it basically takes over mouse handling!
  • Document previewing is deemed to more of a run-time operation than a design-time operation.
  • The FILENAME property is deprecated in favor of the SETFILENAME method because the latter provides a more complete API. The FILENAME property is still supported however, and will be going forwards.

Conclusion

So, for v10.1 we have provided a new SETFILENAME method to provide a better interface for file-previewing which gives more feedback and more control, and you should use this in preference to the FILENAME property.

We have also found the Adobe PDF preview handler to be somewhat temperamental in use so would recommend the Foxit preview handler instead if you have problems with the former (Note however, that other preview handlers we use regularly, such as Word, Excel and PowerPoint have all worked well without any issues so far).

The Saga of ShellExecute

One of the most popular “raw” Windows API functions that OpenInsight developers have used over the years is the ShellExecute function, which allows you to launch an application via its filename association, e.g. you can launch Word by using a document file name, or Excel using a spreadsheet filename and so on.

However, because it was never really made an “official” part of the product (it was normally passed on in forums), developers were left to create their own DLL Prototype definitions in order to use it – this gave rise to many variations over the years, many of which were not compatible with others. For example, some use LPCHAR as an argument type, some use LPSTR or LPASTR, whilst others use LPVOID with GetPointer(); some definitions use the “Wide” version of the function, some the “Ansi” version, and there are many different aliases, with or without the “A/W” suffix too. The list goes on.

For OpenInsight 10 we decided that we couldn’t move forward with this as we would run the risk of conflicting with established applications, so we moved all of the DLL Prototypes we used into a new namespace called “MSWIN_” and claimed it as our own. This left developers to bring forward their own DLL prototypes into version 10 as and when needed, and therefore we didn’t supply a “ShellExecute” function as such, though we did supply “MsWin_ShellExecute” instead (see below).

Another decision we took was to try and move away from the need for developers to use raw Windows API function calls as much as possible, as some of them can be complex and require knowledge of C/C++ programming, which is not necessarily a skill set that everyone has the time or desire to learn. Ergo, we moved a lot of functionality into the Presentation Server (PS) and created some Basic+ wrapper functions around others to shield developers from the sometimes gory internals.

(We also chose to use the “W” versions of functions rather than the “A” versions where possible, because these would translate better when in UTF8 mode and remove the need for an extra “A”->”W” conversion in Windows itself.)

So, coming back to ShellExecute, and in light of the above, we have three “official” and supported ways of calling it in OpenInsight 10 as detailed below:

  • The SYSTEM object SHELLEXEC method
  • The RTI_ShellExecuteEx stored procedure
  • The MSWin_ShellExecute DLL Prototype stored procedure

The SYSTEM object SHELLEXEC method

If your program is running in “Event Context”, (i.e. it is executing in response to an event originating from the PS) then you may use the SYSTEM SHELLEXEC method which invokes ShellExecuteW internally.

RetVal = Exec_Method( "SYSTEM", "SHELLEXEC", OwnerForm, Operation, File, |
                      Parameters, WorkingDir, ShowCmd )
ParameterRequiredDescription
OwnerFormNoName of a form to use as a parent for displaying UI messages.
OperationNoOperation to be performed; “open”, “edit”, “print” etc.
FileYesFile to perform the operation on.
ParametersNoIf File is an executable file this argument should specify the command line parameters to pass to it.
WorkingDirNoThe default working directory for the operation. If null the current working directory is used.
ShowCmdNoDetermines how an application is displayed when it is opened (as per the normal VISIBLE property).

The return value is the value returned by ShellExecuteW.

The RTI_ShellExecuteEx method

This stored procedure is a wrapper around the Windows API ShellExecuteExW function (which is used internally by ShellExecuteW itself), and may be used outside of event context – it can also return the handle to any new process it starts as a result of executing the document. As you can see it’s quite similar to the SHELLEXEC method:

RetVal = RTI_ShellExecuteEx( Hwnd, Verb, File, Parameters, |
                             Directory, nShow, hProcess )
ParameterRequiredDescription
HwndYesHandle of a window to use as a parent for displaying UI messages, or null (0) to use the desktop.
VerbNoOperation to be performed; “open”, “edit”, “print” etc.
FileYesFile to perform the operation on.
ParametersNoIf File is an executable file this argument should specify the command line parameters to pass to it.
DirectoryNoThe default working directory for the operation. If null the current working directory is used.
nShowNoDetermines how an application is displayed when it is opened (as per the normal VISIBLE property).
hProcessNoReturns the handle to the new process.

The return value is the value returned by ShellExecuteExW.

The MSWin_ShellExecute DLL Prototype stored procedure

This is the “raw” DLL function that is included with OI10, and the definition can be found in the MSWIN_SHELL32 DLLPROTOTYPE entity:

Shows the MSWIN_SHELL32 DLLPROTOTYPE entity

Because we’re using LPWSTR data types there is no need to null-terminate any of your variables so using it is quite simple:

RetVal = MsWin_ShellExecute( 0, "open", "stuff.docx", "", "c:\docs", 1 )

Migrating ShellExecute

Whilst you are free to use one of the methods outlined above, this may not be optimal if you are still sharing code between your existing version 9 application and your new version 10 one. In this case there are a couple of options you could use:

  • Define your preferred DLL prototype in v10.
  • Use a wrapper procedure and conditional compilation.

Defining your own prototype

This is probably the easiest option – you simply use the same prototype in v10 that you did in version 9, with the same alias (if any), and this way the code that uses it doesn’t need to be changed. The only downside to this if you’ve used any 32-bit specific data types instead of 32/64-bit safe types like HANDLE (this could happen if you have a really old prototype) – you must ensure that you use types that are 64-bit compliant.

Using conditional compilation

This is a technique we used when writing the initial parts of v10 in a v9 system so our stored procedures would run the correct code depending on the platform they were executing on (it was actually first used to share code between ARev and OI many years ago!).

The v10 Basic+ compiler defines a token called “REVENG64” which is not present in the v9 compiler – this means that you can check for this in your source code with “#ifdef/#ifndef” directives and write code for the different compiler versions.

For example, you could write your own wrapper procedure for ShellExecute that looks something like this:

Compile Function My_ShellExecute( hwnd, verb, file, params, dir, nShow )

#ifdef REVENG64
   // V10 Compiler - use RTI function
   Declare Function RTI_ShellExecuteEx
   RetVal = RTI_ShellExecuteEx( hwnd, verb, file, params, dir, nShow, "" )
#endif

#ifndef REVENG64
   // V9 Compiler - use existing "raw" prototype
   Declare Function ShellExecute
   RetVal = ShellExecute( hwnd, verb, file, params, dir, nShow )
#endif

Return RetVal

And then call My_ShellExecute from your own code.

So, there ends the Saga of ShellExecute … at least for now.

Methods, Events, and Documentation

In a recent post we provided a preview of the OpenInsight IMAGE API documentation for the upcoming release of version 10.1. As that proved quite popular we thought we’d provide some more, this time dealing with the Common GUI API (i.e. the basic interface that virtually every GUI object supports) and the WINDOW object API – two core areas of OI GUI programming.

Methods, not Events

One thing you may notice as you look through these documents is the addition of many new methods, such as SHOWOPTIONS or QBFCLOSESESSION – this is an attempt to tidy up the API into a more logical and coherent format that is a better fit for an object-based interface.

As we went through the product in order to document it, it became very apparent that there were many instances where events were being used to mimic methods, such as sending a WRITE event to save the data in a form, or sending a CLICK event to simulate a button click and so on. In object-based terminology this sort of operation would be performed by a method, which is a directive that performs an action – the event is a notification in response to that action. So, for example, you would call a “write” method to save your data and the system would raise a “write” event so you could deal with it.

Of course, this distinction will probably not bother many developers – just API purists like myself, but this does have another advantage if you like to use Object Notation Syntax (I do) – you can now perform actions such as reading and writing form data by using the”->” notation, whereas before you would have to use the Send_Event stored procedure which essentially breaks the object-based paradigm.

So instead of:

   Call Send_Event( @Window, "WRITE" )

you would use the form’s WRITEROW method instead:

   @@Window->WriteRow( "" )

which is a more natural fit for this style of programming.

(It is also easier to explain to new OI programmers who are used to other object-based languages and environments where everything is properties, methods and events).

Methods, not Stored Procedures

This brings us finally onto the topic of Stored Procedures and the object API, where several of these also fulfill the role of methods. For example, take the venerable Msg stored procedure used to display a message box for a parent form – a different way of treating this would be to have a SHOWMESSAGE method for the parent form rather than using a “raw” Msg call. Likewise for starting a new form: instead of using the raw Start_Window procedure, the SYSTEM and WINDOW objects now support a STARTFORM method instead.

Of course, none of this changes your existing code, nor is it enforced, it’s just something you can use if and when you wish to. However, even if my API pedantry hasn’t persuaded you to change your coding style, some of the new methods are worth investigating as they provide a better opportunity for us to extend the product’s functionality further – take a look at the WINDOW READROW and WRITEROW methods for an example of this – they support new features that we couldn’t do with just sending events.

In any case, here are the links – hopefully some light reading for your weekend!

Reordering tabs with the AllowDragReorder property

The next release of OpenInsight includes a new TABCONTROL property called ALLOWDRAGREORDER, which allows you to drag a tab to a new position within the control. It’s a simple boolean property, and when set to True tabs may be dragged and reordered with the mouse – an image of the tab is moved with the cursor, and a pair of arrows are displayed to mark the potential insertion point.

Here’s an example of a tab being dragged in the IDE:

Shows a image of the IDE with a tab being dragged by a cursor, along with the drag0image and the insertion marker arrows.

Bonus trivia

  • The tabs may be scrolled while dragging by hovering outside either edge of the control.
  • This property is not supported for:
    • MultiLine tab controls
    • Vertically-aligned tab controls
  • The LISTBOX control also supports this property for reordering its items – see the “Order Tabs” dialog in the Form Designer for an example, or the list of types in the IDE’s “Open Entity” dialog.

Screenshots with the CAPTUREIMAGE method

Bitmap controls in OpenInsight 10 have a method called CAPTUREIMAGE, which allows you to “screenshot” the contents of another OI control or form into the Bitmap control’s IMAGE sub-object. As you can see, it has a very simple interface:

SuccessFlag = Exec_Method( BitMapCtrlID, "CAPTUREIMAGE", CaptureID )

Where “CaptureID” is the fully qualified name of the control to screenshot.

E.g.

If we have a form called TEST_CAPTUREIMAGE, with a BITMAP control called BMP_SCREENSHOT, then we can screenshot the contents of the IDE into it like so:

Call Exec_Method( "TEST_CAPTUREIMAGE.BMP_SCREENSHOT", "CAPTUREIMAGE", |
                   "RTI_IDE" )
Shows a captured image of the OpenInsight IDE in a Bitmap control.

(N.B. The captured image you see displayed above is scaled – the screenshot is stored at full resolution in the control itself)

One obvious use for this is for support purposes, e.g:

  • Take a screen-shot with CAPTUREIMAGE.
  • Use The SAVETOFILE method in the IMAGE API to save it to a file.
  • Create an email message with the image file attached or embedded and send it to your support desk.

We’re sure you can think of more.

Bonus trivia:

  • CAPTUREIMAGE works with any object that supports the Windows WM_PRINTCLIENT message.
  • BITMAP controls are basically an alias for STATIC controls, so all STATIC controls support this method.

Context Menu updates

The next release of OpenInsight sees a few updates to context menus and the ContextMenu Designer, so in this post we’ll take a brief look at these upcoming changes.

Moving the focus

One important aspect of standard Windows context menu behavior is that the focus is moved (if possible) to the control that the menu belongs to. Current versions of OpenInsight do not follow this pattern so the next release includes a fix for this, and this is something you should be aware of just in case it impacts your application (though to be honest, we’re not really expecting it to!).

Test-Run support

The Context-Menu Designer now supports the IDE “Test-Run” feature, so that you can see how your context menu will appear when you use it in your application.

When you test-run your context menu you will see a simple dialog box with an edit control (EDL_TEST) and and a static control (TXT_TEST) like so:

Test-run context menu dialog box

Right-clicking either of these controls displays your context menu:

Selecting an item displays it’s fully-qualified name, which has the standard format of:

<windowName> "." <controlName> ".CONTEXTMENU." <itemName>

So, for the test run dialog, it will be one of the following:

"RTI_DSN_CONTEXTMENU_TESTRUN.EDL_TEST.CONTEXTMENU." <itemName>
"RTI_DSN_CONTEXTMENU_TESTRUN.TXT_TEST.CONTEXTMENU." <itemName>

E.g.

Message box showing the name of the menu item that was clicked

Common menu support

The initial release of the ContextMenu Designer in v10.0.8 included check-boxes for two “common menu” options as shown in the screenshot below. Each of these options appends a set of standard menu items to your context menu, and both have been enhanced for the next release and include new artwork as well.

Shows the Content Menu designer with the  "Include OI Menu" and "Include Windows Menu" check-boxes highlighted.

The “OI Menu” appends the following items:

  • Options – Display options for the current control.
  • Help – Display help for the current control.
  • Data Binding – Display data-binding information for the current control.

Whilst the “Windows Menu” appends the following standard “Edit” items instead:

  • Undo
  • Cut
  • Copy
  • Paste
  • Delete
  • Select All

In both cases the default system CONTEXTMENU event (i.e. the event responsible for actually displaying the menu) synchronizes the items to the parent control by using the HELPFLAGS and EDITSTATEFLAGS properties respectively.

(The definition for these items can be found in the SYSPROG “OIMENU_” and “WINMENU_” ContextMenu entities respectively – you may adjust these if you wish, but be aware that they may be overwritten in future OpenInsight updates, so you should make copies in your own application).

The @MENUPARENT pseudo-control name

When using QuickEvents there are several pseudo-control names you can use, such as “@WINDOW”, “@FOCUS” and “@SELF”, that are resolved to a “real” control name at runtime.

However, in order to be able to reference the context menu’s parent control at runtime we’ve introduced a new pseudo-control name called “@MENUPARENT”. This resolves to the name of the control displaying the menu and should be used in place of “@FOCUS” because it is perfectly possible for controls that don’t accept the focus (like Static Text controls) to have a context menu, and @FOCUS would not resolve to the correct value. Note that @MENUPARENT can only be used with MENU QuickEvents for context menu items – it cannot be used with any other type or event.

Shows the @MENUPARENT pseudo-control name being used for a menu QuickEvent

Context menus are an essential part of modern user interface design and we encourage you to use them as much as possible in your own applications – hopefully you’ll find that the tools provided in OpenInsight 10 make this easy to achieve!