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Vector Iterator for Flex

Friday, October 2nd, 2009

One of the many welcome additions to the Flex 3.4 SDK is the inclusion of the Vector class. Vectors in particular are especially welcome as they provide compile time type safety over what would otherwise not be available when implementing custom solutions, such as a typed collection.

Essentially, Vectors are just typed Arrays. And while not as robust or powerful, Vectors are similar to Generics in C# and Java. When it is known at design time that a collection will only ever need to work with a single type, Vectors can be utilized to provide type safety and also to allow for significant performance gains over using other collection types in Flex.

I recently wanted to convert quite a few typed Array implementations to Vectors, however, the Arrays were being traversed with an Iterator. In order to reduce the amount of client code which needed to be refactored I simply implemented a Vector specific Iterator implementation.

If you are familiar with Iterator Pattern in general, and the Iterator interface in particular, then usage will prove to be very straight forward. You can use the Vector Iterator to perform standard iterations over a Vector. Below is an example of a typical client implementation:

Using an Iterator with a Vector ensures only a linear search can be performed, which proves useful with Vectors as they are dense Arrays. However, one consideration that must be made when using an Iterator with a Vector is that you loose type safety when accessing items in the Vector via iterator.next(). It is because of this I would suggest only using Iterator’s with Vectors to support backwards compatibility when refactoring existing Arrays which are being used with existing Iterators.

The VectorIterator and it’s associated test are available below:
VectorIterator
VectorIteratorTest

Simple RPC Instrumentation in Flex

Sunday, September 20th, 2009

On occasion developers may find a need to quickly measure the time it takes for a request to a remote service to return a response back to the client without the need to employ an automated testing tool to perform the instrumentation. This information can prove quite valuable for performing application diagnostics on the client and, when measured in terms of code execution, monitoring at the execution level will always be a bit more precise than that which can be measured by using a Network proxy alone, such as Charles or Fiddler, etc.

Obviously there are numerous solutions which can be implemented to monitor the elapsed time of a service invocation, however it was my goal to provide a unified solution which could easily be implemented into existing client code without significant refactorings being required.

In order to achieve this I first needed to consider what the typical implementation of a service invocation is in order to isolate the
commonality. From there it is only a matter of determining a solution that meets the objective in the most non intrusive manner possible.

To begin let us consider what a “typical” service invocation might look like for the three most common services available in the Flex Framework; HTTPService, RemoteObject and WebService.

Based on the 3 above implementations we can deduce that the common API used when performing a service invocation is AsyncToken. So to provide a unified solution for all three common Services we could either extend AsyncToken or provider an API which wraps AsyncToken. For my needs I chose to implement an API which simply monitors an AsyncToken from which the duration of an invocation can be determined, thus I wrote an RPCDiagnostics API which can be “plugged” into an AsyncToken client implementation.

RPCDiagnostics provides basic performance analysis of a Remote Procedure Call by providing a message which displays information about the operation duration via a standard trace call. In addition, an event listener of type RPCDiagnosticsEvent can be added to facilitate custom diagnostics and Logging.

RPCDiagnostics can easily be implemented as an addition to an existing AsyncToken or in place of an AsyncToken. The following examples demonstrate both implementations.

Implementing RPCDiagnostics onto an existing AsyncToken:

Implementing RPCDiagnostics in place of an AsyncToken:

Implementing a listener to an RPCDiagnostics instance:

The RPCDiagnostics API and dependencies can be downloaded via the Open Source AS3 APIs page or from the below links:

RPCDiagnostics
RPCDiagnosticsEvent
Execution

Why is programming fun?

Wednesday, September 16th, 2009

Just recently while going through some old files I rediscovered a quote that is rather inspiring.

The quote is an extract from the book “The Mythical Man-Month”, and while the book was originally published in 1974 before being republished in 1995, I feel it will always remain relevant:

Why is programming fun? What delights may its practitioner expect as his reward?

First is the sheer joy of making things. As the child delights in his mud pie, so the adult enjoys building things, especially things of his own design. I think this delight must be an image of God’s delight in making things, a delight shown in the distinctness and newness of each leaf and each snowflake.

Second is the pleasure of making things that are useful to other people. Deep within, we want others to use our work and to find it helpful. In this respect the programming system is not essentially different from the child’s first clay pencil holder “for Daddy’s office.”

Third is the fascination of fashioning complex puzzle-like objects of interlocking moving parts and watching them work in subtle cycles, playing out the consequences of principles built in from the beginning. The programmed computer has all the fascination of the pinball machine or the jukebox mechanism, carried to the ultimate.

Fourth is the joy of always learning, which springs from the non-repeating nature of the task. In one way or another the problem is ever new, and its solver learns something: sometimes practical, sometimes theoretical, and sometimes both.

Finally, there is the delight of working in such a tractable medium. The programmer, like the poet, works only slightly removed from pure thought-stuff. He builds his castles in the air, from air, creating by exertion of the imagination. Few media of creation are so flexible, so easy to polish and rework, so readily capable of realizing grand conceptual structures.

Yet the program construct, unlike the poet’s words, is real in the sense that it moves and works, producing visible outputs separately from the construct itself. It prints results, draws pictures, produces sounds, moves arms. The magic of myth and legend has come true in our time. One types the correct incantation on a keyboard, and a display screen comes to life, showing things that never were nor could be.

Programming then is fun because it gratifies creative longings built deep within us and delights sensibilities we have in common with all men.

This quote really hits home with me, so I shared it with my team and felt I should also share it with the community, as I imagine it will also inspire many others as well.

Open Source AS3 APIs

Sunday, August 30th, 2009

For the past 4 years or so I have provided quite a few AS3 APIs as Open Source to the Flex Community, via my blog. These APIs can typically be found at the Open Source AS3 APIs page however, the page is basically just a URI to a series of arbitrarily added AS3 source classes. It was originally intended to simply serve as a convenient location to access the source, and it had always been my intention to eventually break out all of these APIs into seperate SVN projects.

So with that being said I am finally in the process of making the structural changes I had originally envisioned. Moving forward I will begin the process of creating seperate SVN projects for these Open Source APIs; with the primary goal being to provide practical APIs that only require minimal (if any) dependencies on additional libraries, complete test coverage via Flex Unit 4 and Mavenized builds.

The first project to move over to the new project structure will be the AS3 collections project as the classes in this package, specifically HashMap, have proven to provide the most value according to community feedback.

So stayed tuned!

Design Considerations: Naming Conventions

Friday, July 31st, 2009

Intuitive naming conventions are perhaps one of the most important factors in providing a scalable software system. They are essential to ensuring an Object Oriented System can easily be understood, and thus modified by all members of a team regardless of their tenure within the organization or individual experience level.

When classes, interfaces, methods, properties, identifiers, events and the like fail to follow logical, consistent and intuitive naming conventions the resulting software becomes significantly more complex to understand, follow and maintain. As such this makes changes much more challenging than they would have been had better naming been considered originally. Of equal concern is the inevitability that poor naming will lead to redundant code being scattered throughout a project as when the intent of code is not clearly conveyed with as little thought as possible developers tend to re-implement existing functionality when the needed API cannot easily be located or identified.

Code is typically read many, many more times than it is written. With this in mind it is important to understand that the goal of good naming is to be as clear and concise as possible so that a reader of the code can easily determine the codes intent and purpose; just by reading it.

Teams should collectively define a set of standard naming conventions which align well with the typical conventions found in their language of choice. In doing so this will help to avoid arbitrary naming conventions which often result in code that is significantly harder to determine intent, and thus maintain. Of equal importance is the need for various teams from within the same engineering department to standardize on domain specific terms which align with the non-technical terms used by business stakeholders. Together this will help to develop a shared lexicon between business owners and engineers, and allow for simplified analysis of requirements etc.

Ideally, code should follow the PIE Principle (Program, Intently and expressively) – that is, code should clearly convey purpose and intent. In doing so the ability to maintain a software application over time becomes significantly easier and limits the possibility of introducing potential risk to project deliverables.

In short, conventions are very important regardless of a teams size; beit a large collaborative team environment, or a single developer who only deals with his own code. Consistency and conventions are a key aspect to ensuring code quality.

Perfectionism, Prudence and Progress

Thursday, June 11th, 2009

Yesterday there was an interesting article on InsideRIA titled: “How much is too much?”. This is a great topic, one which at times I have questioned myself.

Personally, I never take the “easy way out”, preferring to do things the “hard way”, so to speak. At times the benefits in doing things according to best practices, standards and conventions (a.k.a. “the right way”) may not always be immediately obvious. However over the years experience has taught me that in time the benefits always reveal themselves and the pros certainly outweigh the cons.

When given a good amount of forethought to a decision, a design an implementation and so forth a team almost certainly is afforded the ability to continue development feasibly and in a less challenging manner (as opposed to dealing with endless maintenance challenges). When things are done quickly with little regard for anything other than getting working code out the result is always failure at some level, most commonly the maintainability of a product.

With all this in mind it is important to understand that at the end of the day our development efforts, for better or for worse, are simply a means to an end for a specific business need. Therefore just as writing “quick and dirty” code has a negative impact on the business, so too does being a complete perfectionist. Admittedly, this used to be a challenge for me as I would tend to need designs, tests and code to “feel right” for them to be considered production ready, which typically resulted in me working many extra hours on my own time. This in itself is not necessarily a bad thing, but could rather be considered a labor of passion.

Ultimately the goal should be to find just the right balance of perfectionism, prudence and progress, providing necessary trade-offs where appropriate.