Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Focus Flex App on start up

When a flex application loads it doesn't actually have focus until the user clicks on it.

So even though you can call setFocus() on a TextInput or Button and visually it appears that your control has focus (blue border), if you try to type you'll notice that nothing happens. This can be quite frustrating for a user.

One way to solve this is to edit the html file that loads your application (e.g. the index.template.html), and call the JavaScript focus() function on the flash element. I found this website explains it quite nicely:

If for prefer to keep all your code in ActionScript you can accomplish the same thing by doing this:
 ExternalInterface.call("function() { var app = document.getElementById('"+id+"'); app.tabIndex = 0; app.focus(); }");

I usually put that line of code inside my applicationComplete event handler.

One other thing to note is that if you call setFocus on a component that isn't finished being initialized it won't always work. For best results call setFocus() in a creationComplete event handler.

I added the app.tabIndex = 0 after finding that the focus didn't work on Safari. This came from stackoverflow.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

FXG Scale Grid

When working with FXG an important concept to understand is the Scale Grid. The scale grid determines how your FXG graphic scales. If your FXG element is used without an explicit width or height (e.g. <fxg:rounded_box/>) then the scale grid is not used. But if for example you define your FXG to have a width of 200 pixels and then in your MXML you use the FXG element and set its width to "100%" (e.g. <fxg:rounded_box width="100%"/>) or something other than 200 you'll see the graphic get scaled. The scale grid becomes important when you want to preserve aspect ratios (e.g. on rounded corners).

Here is the typical example used to illustrate the problem:

Here is the FXG source code (rounded_box_scale9.fxg) used to create this graphic. Notice the scaleGridLeft, scaleGridTop, scaleGridRight, and scaleGridBottom properties, these are what control the scaling.
<s:Graphic xmlns:s="http://ns.adobe.com/fxg/2008" version="2.0" 
	scaleGridTop="20" scaleGridLeft="20" scaleGridRight="130" scaleGridBottom="21">
	<s:Rect height="41" width="150" radiusX="20">
			<s:LinearGradient rotation="90">
				<s:GradientEntry color="#FFFFFF"/>
				<s:GradientEntry color="#C0C0C0"/>
				<s:GradientEntry color="#FFFFFF"/>
			<s:SolidColorStroke color="#AAAAAA" weight="2"/>

And here is the associated MXML (the rounded_box fxg doesn't have the scaleGrid properties):
<s:VGroup x="10" y="10" gap="10">
	<fxg:rounded_box width="100"/>
	<fxg:rounded_box width="200"/>
	<fxg:rounded_box_scale9 width="100"/>
	<fxg:rounded_box_scale9 width="200"/>

I found this website quite useful in illustrating some of the scale grid limitations: http://www.adobe.com/devnet/flex/articles/mobile-skinning-part1.html.

And here is Adobe's page on FXG:

But to summarize, here are the limitations I've found with scale grids:
  • Scale grid values must be inside the boundaries of the graphic and must not overlap
    (that is, left boundary < scaleGridLeft < scaleGridRight < right boundary).
  • Scale grids will not work if the graphic contains any Group elements.
  • Scale grids will not work if elements have alpha applied. Instead, apply alpha to the stroke and fill elements.
  • Scale grids will not work with filters (e.g. DropShadow, GlowFilter, etc). Instead add the filters inside the MXML.
I'm sure there are more restrictions, but these are what I've found so far.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Flex 4 Path Builder

April 2013 - added View Source to right click menu.

I got a little carried away making an application that lets you manipulate Flex Path objects. This application lets you easily design a path by double clicking to make each end point in your path. You can select each individual line, move, or curve segment and manipulate the end points () and the curve control points (). Click on the screenshot above to see it in action. I'm sure there will be bugs, so use at your own risk. There is no undo support either.

To use this tool, you can start by adding different kind of path segments - move, lines, and curves - by clicking on one of the 6 buttons along the top in the blue titlebar. This will cause the path segment to be appended to the currently displayed path. Each path segment also shows up in the list on the left side. Click on an individual path segment in this list to highlight it in the path. The red end points () are draggable - move them around to adjust the path. Note that the following path segment will be moved to start wherever the current path segment ends. You can also click and drag the circle control points () to adjust the quadratic and cubic Bezier Curves.
Alternatively you can use the new "Path Designer" option (which is explained in the top panel on the left side). The path designer lets you double click on the white graph area to create each segment of your path. Here are the instructions:
  • To create a line: Double-click on the graph
  • To create a straight line (horizontal, vertical, or at 45°): Shift + double-click on the graph
  • To create a quadradic curve: Ctrl(⌘) + double-click on the graph (you can edit the control point later)
  • To create a cubic bezier curve: Ctrl(⌘) + shift + double-click on the graph
  • If you check the Use relative positions checkbox the path segments will use relative positions instead of absolute (lower case letters like "l", "m", "c", "q", etc)
  • If you check the Snap To Grid checkbox, then the end points are all shifted to fit on a grid defined by the number of pixels you choose. This is a nice way to easily get nice round numbers like 20, 50, 100.

If you have an existing path you can paste the data string (e.g. "M 100 100 L 150 150 H 200") into the textbox at the top and click Update. This will render your path on the screen and allow you to manipulate it.

I've also added support for ActionScript GraphicsPath commands to be pasted in the same textbox in this format:
"1 2;10 10 20 20"
The first set of numbers before the semi-colon are the commands (defined by the constants in GraphicsPathCommand). The second set of numbers after the semi-colon are the coordinates of each path segment. In your program you can use a trace statements like this on your GraphicsPath object to output the correct format:
trace(path.commands.join(" ") + ";" + path.data.join(" "));

And finally, if you have a path created in ActionScript using a Graphics object or a GraphicsPath object like this:
var g:Graphics = uiComponent.graphics;
g.moveTo(10, 10);
g.lineTo(50, 10);
g.moveTo(50, 50);
g.lineTo(10, 50);
You can copy that code and paste it into the same textbox at the top. It will pick out the move, line, and quad curve commands. This will only work if you use all numbers in your code - no variables or constants.

The Translate X/Y option lets you move every single point on the screen by the given x and y offset values. This includes the control points. So think of it as shifting the entire path. Note that the points can't be moved into negative values (even though they are allowed), so unexpected things will happen if you try to do this.

On the right side of the app (not shown in the screenshot) there is an edit panel which lets you type in the exact numeric values that you want for each point in the selected path segment. This way you can easily tweak your path to look just right.

Below the Edit Panel is the Stroke & Fill Properties panel. This lets you define the path stroke and fill properties.

Below that is the MXML and FXG output windows which let you copy the MXML/FXG source code used to render the path, so you can paste it into your own application. If you are using FXG, then in Flash Builder choose "File > New > File". Then enter in the filename you want like "mypath.fxg". In the editor paste in the FXG, it has all the declaration xml that you should need.

Feedback welcome, have fun playing.

I haven't enabled view-source for this project yet, hopefully one day.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Can't type into Flex textbox on Mac Safari 5.1!

I recently ran into a problem on Mac Safari 5.1 where I couldn't type into any text boxes in my Flex App. Very frustrating! Anyway, I finally found a simple solution from the Adobe Forums.

First this problem only happens with the Debug Flash Player.

The fix is very simple - in Safari under the Develop menu (if you don't see the Develop menu it can be shown by going to Preferences > Advanced and checking the Show Develop menu in menu bar checkbox), change the User-Agent to Firefox or something other than the default. This will cause the page to reload, and should allow you to type again.


Monday, June 27, 2011

Flash Builder 4.5 Mobile Application for Acer Iconia A500 Tablet

This blog post will discuss making a simple mobile application using Flash Builder 4.5. I will be targeting the Acer Iconia A500 Tablet because it is currently the only mobile device that I have access to, but it should be relevant to other mobile devices too. The Acer Iconia A500 Tablet runs on Google Android 3.0 (Honeycomb). For a full review of the tablet, read this article. It sells for around $450 for the 32GB version.

Step 1 - configure the tablet

On the tablet go to Settings - Applications - Development
Check the USB Debugging option. This allows Flash Builder to debug applications straight on to the tablet through USB. Next, connect the tablet to your computer using the USB cable provided.

Step2 - create a mobile project

Inside Flash Builder, create a new Flex Mobile Project.
Give it a name like TabletApp. Click Next.

Select the desired target platform(s). For the Acer Iconia and other Andoid tablets, check the Google Android checkbox. You can choose the mobile app template to use here as well.
Important: your mobile application might need to have access to the internet, the file system, the gps, etc. Under the Permissions tab, choose the Google Android platform, and check any of the permissions that your application needs.
For my sample application I chose the INTERNET, WRITE_EXTERNAL_STORAGE, and ACCESS_FINE_LOCATION (GPS) permissions.

Click next. Set up the build path if necessary, or leave it to the default values.

Once the project is created, Flash Builder will open the two main files - TabletApp.mxml (the main application file), and TabletAppHomeView.mxml (the default home view component). Add in some components to the home view like a button or a label.

Step 3 - Run the application on the tablet

Now, to test our your application on the Acer Iconia Tablet, make sure it is connected by USB, and that you followed the step above on the tablet to enable USB debugging.

Under the Run menu, choose Debug Configurations.... Add a new Mobile Application launch configuration. Choose your project and application, and the target platform (Google Android in this case).
Under where it says "Launch method", choose the On device radio button. If you have trouble connecting, then read the Device connection help page.

If all works as planned, you should see on the tablet the simple application that you created.

Step 3b - Run the application on the desktop

If you want to test out your application without running it on the tablet, you can run it on the desktop by choosing the other radio button option - On desktop. There is a list of pre-configured devices, but the Acer Iconia tablet isn't in the list. So click Configure... and then Add to add it to the list. Here are the specs:

I've put together a simple app that shows some of the properties available to mobile applications. Click the screenshot below to see the full size.
You can download the project file here. In Flash Builder choose "File - Import...", and then choose "Flash Builder - Flash Builder Project", and select the downloaded fxp file.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Simple Animating Preloader and Throbber/Spinner

This is my fourth post on Flex preloaders. It shows how you can use a throbber or spinner as a
simple yet effective preloader. The throbber can also be used in your application in other places whenever you want to indicate that something is happening.

In the example below I've included two kinds of throbbers:
  • SimpleThrobber (extends Sprite) - ActionScript/Flash only, no Flex dependencies (good for preloaders)
  • Throbber (extends SkinnableContainer) - advanced throbber, skinnable and style-able
I've also included two skins to go with the Throbber class - ThrobberCirclesSkin and ThrobberLinesSkin.

Both throbbers work roughly the same way. The animation is performed every X milliseconds, and the lines or circles are drawn in a rotating manner so that the throbber animates. Both throbbers support an array of colors which define the appearance of the throbber, and a delay property which determines the speed of the animation.

Anyway, check out the code below (right click View Source to see the source), there is some documentation to explain the various styles, properties, and functions.

The other blog posts I've written on preloaders and spinners/throbbers can be found here:As mentioned in the comments, the just released Flex 4.5 SDK now contains a similar Spark BusyIndicator component. There is a nice blog post on it here.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Spark Forms, Validation, and Errors

One of my previous posts on Always showing error tips (validators) presented one way of trying and improve the built-in validation error handling in Flex. It was a nice idea, but as many people have pointed out in the comments there are too many different use cases that causes the error tips to not show up properly.

Below is another alternative approach, and one that I hope is less of a hack.

I've created a class called InputControl which is very similar to the Flex 3 FormItem. It has a label property, and can contain one or more child elements.

What this control does that makes it useful is to listen for when the errorString property changes on an input control (such as a TextInput), and instead of displaying the default Flex error toolTip, it shows that errorString in a label that is always visible. It also immediately clears the input's errorString property so that the default error toolTip is not displayed.

The InputControl class is skinnable, and I've created two different skins. The default one InputControlSkin has the same layout as the FormItem (label on the left) and displays the error string on the right of the input.

The second skin is called InputControlVerticalSkin which displays the label, input, and error message in a vertical layout. This skin is more suited for large inputs like a TextArea.

There are definitely a few issues with this approach:
- longer error messages either don't show up properly or are truncated
- form label alignment is not customizable

Feel free to modify my code to make it work differently. Most properties are hard coded in the skins, and I didn't spend the time to extract them out into styles.

Here it is in action, right click to view source:

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

State Transitions

I've put together a little example of how you can use transitions to animate between the states in your application component.

There are many websites explaining Flex 3 states as well as the new and improved Flex 4 states.

If you don't already use states, I would highly recommend you become familiar with them. They are very powerful, and make it much easier to create complex user interfaces.

Transitions are effects that are played when your component changes from one state to another state. They are a nice way to smoothly animate changing content, for example fading out content being hidden, or resizing containers that have new elements being added.

In the example below, I've created an application that has 5 states:
  • Normal - default state
  • Resize - resizes the main panel using a Resize effect
  • Fade - fades in/out a Label using a Fade effect
  • AnimateColor - animates a gradient color using the AnimateColor effect
  • Easing - uses a Bounce easer with a Move transition

I've noticed that certain effects like Resize don't work properly with other effects like Fade. I haven't spent the time to try and figure out why not.

Anyway, here is the example. Right click to view source.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Animated Scrolling List

In Flex 4, the Spark List has a function called ensureIndexIsVisible(index). This function immediately scrolls the list to that index if it is not visible.

I've added a slight modification to this to animate the scrolling over half a second to make it much smoother. The animation is done using an AnimateProperty instance on the list's data group, and setting the property to verticalScrollPosition.

Here it is in action, as usual right click to view source:

For simplicity I am only scrolling the vertical scrollbar. If you are using a horizontal or tiled list, you'll want to animate the horizontal scrollbar too. In the tile case, you could use a Parallel instance to animate both the horizontal and vertical scrollbars.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Grayscale Preloader

Following on from my last post on grayscale images, I've made another preloader to illustrate how you can animate an image from grayscale to colour.

The preload consists of an image and a loading label. The image starts off gray, and as the preloader progress value increases it gradually becomes coloured. The alpha value also increases from 0.5 at the start to 1 at the end. To spice it up a little I also added in a GlowFilter and a DropShadowFilter.

Here it is in action, click the RELOAD button to show the preloader again.

For another example of a custom preloader, check out this blog post on Another Custom Preloader.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Grayscale Images, ProgressBar, Rating Control

I've been learning some neat tricks for working with images and graphics. One of them is how to take a color image (or a graphic like an ellipse that you've drawn using MXML/FXG) and make it grayscale.

Obviously if you have the image, you could just as easily open it up in your favorite image editor like Photoshop and make a grayscale copy of the image and save it to your Flex project.

Anyway, here is how you can do it dynamically. I've shown two different ways of doing it. Again I want to emphasize that all the images and graphics below are in color, they are simply modified at run time to appear in grayscale.

The first way is to set the UIComponent.blendMode or GraphicElement.blendMode property to "luminosity" on the image or graphic. This method works by blending the colours in the image with the color "behind" the image (usually the background color of the parent container or application). So if the color behind the image is white or light gray, then the image will become gray. If the color behind is green, then the image will be colourized to green. See the bottom part of example #6 where 4 red circles are drawn with various background colours.

The second way is to use a ColorMatrixFilter on the BitmapImage which converts the color image into grayscale.

To illustrate this, I've created 6 examples:
  1. Normal color image
  2. Color image turned into grayscale using the blendMode="luminosity" property
  3. Color image turned into grayscale using a ColorMatrixFilter
  4. Combination of a grayscale image (as the background) with part of the color image as the foreground. To draw only part of the color image, set the fillMode="clip" property on the image, and then set the width and height properties and then the image will be clipped.
  5. A custom ProgressBar
  6. A sample non-interactive rating control, as well as some luminosity examples
For more information on making skins for progress bars, see these two articles:
Creating a Custom Track Skin on an MX ProgressBar and Creating a Custom Bar Skin on an MX ProgressBar.

And finally, here are the examples. As always right click to view the source code.

The rating control in example #6 actually uses a Star graphic that is drawn with FXG (Adobe help on Using FXG). You could just as easily do this in MXML or simply use an image from your computer. I've noticed that Flash Builder doesn't really support FXG files properly (no autocomplete or new file wizards), so it's not that easy to create them unless you know the specifications well.

The rating control could easily be extended to be a fully functional user interactive rating control. You could also use the technique shown in example #4 to display fractional rating values (e.g. 2.5 out of 5).