Dependency Injection with code generation

Published by Manfred Karrer on Friday, 30 of March , 2012 at 20:56

I added a blog entry at nucleo.io about a Dependency Injection framework with code generation.

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Category: Actionscript, Flash, Flex

Dependency Injection without Reflection

Published by Manfred Karrer on Tuesday, 31 of January , 2012 at 21:46

Joa Ebert has written a Dependency Injection framework as part of his funk-as3 library.

Basically his API is orientated on Google Guice and does not use reflection, which is great, because reflection is pretty expensive regarding performance.

And Performance matters. We reduced the start-up time of our application from 8 seconds to 3 seconds just by removing Spring Actionscript and using a pure factory-based DI which does not use reflection and has no performance overhead. The code was also better to manage then the XML based solution of Spring Actionscript. Other frameworks which are more in the Guice-style would be nice to use but have the same negative impact on performance, so it was a No-Go for us. The drawback of our factory-based solution compared to Guice-style frameworks was, that it was not so easy and nice to use and more boilerplate code has to be written.

When stumbling over Joa Eberts DI framework I first wanted to use it directly as 3rd party library but I got some problems with the compiled swc. So I started to build my own small DI framework based on previous ideas in this direction and refined with some of his ideas and a similar API style. Unfortunately I cannot share the code but I can give the basic ideas.

So let’s get started:

First you need to setup the Locator. It’s a one-liner and is done like this:

myLocator = Locator.getLocator("myScope", myContext);

The explanation for this will follow later.

Further you have a Context Class (the Module in Guice) where you define the bindings of what you want to get injected for a special Interface, Class or named annotation.

Additionally you define if the object should be only created once (asSingleton) or every time newly.

// Interface to Class bind(ITestInterface).to(TestImpl).asSingleton();  // String annotation to Class bind("myList").to(ArrayCollection); // Interface to instance bind(IResourceManager).to(resourceManager).asSingleton();

To support also some special classes which are outside of your control (3rd party) you can use a Provider to get an instance created in a custom fashion in the Providers getObject() method.

// String annotation to Provider bind("myServcice").to(RemoteObjectServiceProvider).asSingleton();

When you want to inject these objects somewhere in your Classes, just write inject(bindingKey) to obtain the instance defined in the Context.

But when not using reflection we are facing some problems.

Without reflection you don’t have information at run-time about the constructor arguments. This is a problem when creating the classes. One solution to prevent this problem is to use only constructors without arguments.

Instead of the classical way like here:

public function TestClass(testInstance:ITestInterface) {     this.testInstance = testInstance; }

We assign the mandatory members directly in the constructors body with the inject call.

public function TestClass() {     testInstance = inject(ITestInterface); }

Another solution would be to register the Class with it’s parameters annotations explicitly to the framework, so the information what needs to be injected when creating this Class is available.

Something like this (you can use a static function call as it is specific to the class, so it could be located directly above the Constructor):

registerClass(TestClass).withParams([ ITestInterface, "myList" ]); public function TestClass(testInstance:ITestInterface,                            myList:ArrayCollection) {     this.testInstance = testInstance;     this.myList = myList; }

This would have the drawback that you need to maintain changes in the parameters in 2 places, and additional code needs to be written.

My preferred solution without constructor arguments has the drawback that the mandatory parameters are not visible in the signature of the constructor.
So both has some small penalties, but the good thing is it has zero overhead performance-wise and it is as easy to use like the classic Guice style injection.

Of course you can use the injection in properties or methods as well. But i prefer the constructor injection for all mandatory dependencies, so it’s more clear what a class needs initially.

So how does it work:

Technically it is not real injection but more like the Locator pattern.
You have a Dictionary where you define the mappings of keys (Interface, Class or named annotation as String) to instances, Classes or Providers.

What happened when calling the inject() method inside the Locator?
It looks up for the value stored for the given key.
That can be:

  • An instance, so return it.
  • A Class, so create an instance of this Class and return it.
  • A Provider. Create an instance of the Provider and call the getObject() method to get back an instance which is created in a customized way and return this instance.

The optional asSingleton() call is handling the behavior if the object is cached or not.

So why not use the Locator pattern?

When using the Locator  pattern you need the instance of the Locator. You can pass the Locator in the constructor to not rely on a static dependency inside your class.
That would be fine, but there is a more elegant way.

You can use a package level function (native Flash Functions like getTimer() or trace() are using this technique), so you can call directly the function without reference to the Locator. Inside the function it forwards the call to the package level property which got assigned the reference to the Locator from the setup. The “dependency” is only the package in which these 2 files are defined. If you follow a clear architectural structure this results in the positive side effect, that your Locator is used only in the correct scope and protects from cross-scope misuse.

Note that the file name must be the same like the Function or Property names (inject.as, myInjector.as) and only one Function/Property is allowed.
Here are code examples like these 2 files could look like:

package org.yourDomain.yourProject {         public function inject(bindingKey:Object):Object {                 return myInjector.inject(bindingKey);         } }
package org.yourDomain.yourProject {         import org.yourDomain.Injector;         public var myInjector:Injector; }

The myLocator property gets the concrete Locator instance assigned at the setup.

myLocator = Locator.getLocator("myScope", myContext);

Scopes:

When having a single project you probably don’t need to use different scopes, but this becomes important for larger projects. As different projects are normally using different root packages, the projects root package would be a perfect candidate for the scope key.
When you add the package level property and function file into these packages, you have in every project the access to the right scope of your Locator (need to import them where used).

The Locator implementation is pretty straight forward.

It does the management of the scopes as well as the mapping and handling (creation) of the instances when the inject() is called. I used the fluent interface style but you could implement the Binding also with a plain function and parameters.

Some final discussion:

So you may ask that fetching dependencies is not the same like injecting them, and classes should get the dependencies from outside instead of fetching them from inside.

Yes that is basically true.
But why it is better to get it injected?

Because normally to fetch something you need a reference to the container from where you get it. In classical ServiceLocator patterns it is mostly a Singleton.

ServiceLocator.getInstance().getObject("myObject");

Better would be to inject the ServiceLocator in the constructor, so the provider of your dependencies is free configurable and you don’t need to change your class if you want to use a different implementation of the provider.

It is not about getting or fetching, it it about to keep the class clean from static dependencies.

With the solution using package level functions it is less code needed to be written and has the benefit to implement a scope mechanism which can serve as protection.

Maybe it depends on the architecture and structure of the project if this approach makes sense. Another solution would be to pass the scope to the Constructor of the Class and lookup for the Locator inside the constructor with the scope key. Or simply pass the already resolved Locator instance typed as Interface to the Constructor.

So using it a bit different, the good old ServiceLocator mimics the fancy Guice-style Dependency Injection without really hurting, but saving a lot of performance.

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Category: Actionscript, Flash, Flex, Performance

Flex 3 vs. Flex 4

Published by Manfred Karrer on Thursday, 31 of March , 2011 at 20:55

Jack Viers has posted a great performance comparision between Flex 3 to Flex 4 components.

Unfortunately the Flex 4 components suffer from big performance decrease (163% slower). But just read the article it is very profound discussed there.

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Category: Flex, SDK

Unity will support Flash platform

Published by Manfred Karrer on Monday, 28 of February , 2011 at 16:22

Great news!: Unity will support the Flash platform in future!
Wow that is really an exciting move!

I have had recently a look to Unity in search for alternatives to Flash, and was wondering why they are not supporting the Flash Player. They already supports a lot of different platforms, but Flash was missing. I thought the technical limitations and differences would be a too hard barrier.

But now they released the news that they are working on the support for exporting Unity projects to the Flash platform as well as to Android, IPhone (and the rest of the I… derivates), XBox, Mac/PC desktop apps and their Unity Web Player (Linux Player is in development). It is becoming a real tough multi-platform tool! This could have a deep impact, as Unity seems from technological point of view much more advanced then Flash and the main barrier for using it in the web, was the low player penetration of the Unity Web Player. So it was locked to the special cases where the installation of a new plugin is no problem for users, but unfortunately for 90% of the mainstream clients and projects this is a no go. But with this strategy they will get in one move the support of the 99% penetration of the flash player (ok, with the latest player version that is not correct, but people don´t care so much about an update of the Flash Player then about a new installation of an unknown plugin).
And Adobe is getting a real strong competitor, so hopefully they are forced to pay more attention to performance and development environment. The current Flashbuilder is compared to the tools available for Java or .NET not very competitive, to express it friendly. I have not worked with Unity yet, but will use the next opportunity to try it out.

I am also wondering how much they can cover outside the classical 3D world? Flash has started as a pure animation tool and has become a main player for web application development. I bet the inventors didn´t expect this. So why should not Unity become a tool also for classical applications, 3D comes free if needed, and it seems that 3D will become more and more an intrinsic part of up to date software. 3D-TV sets and Mobiles are currently the hot thing and I think it´s only a question of (hopefully not too much) time, until 3D displays are common also at desktops. 3D content will be the missing link then.

Unity is just ready to take off!

Looking forward also to the new Flash Player (Molehill) which brings GPU-accelerated 3D to the Flash platform.

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Category: Flash, Flashplayer, Flex, Flex Builder, Unity3D

Flex Life Cycle

Published by Manfred Karrer on Thursday, 20 of January , 2011 at 23:41

After working 10 years with Flash and 3 years with Flex I am still not convinced that the Flex Life Cycle is necessary.

I discussed this topic already with many developers but nobody could really give me a satisfying answer.
So I spread out my thoughts now to the public in the hope to get some valuable feedback.

Of course I am familiar with the concept of the Flex Life Cycle and the “elastic racetrack” behavior of the Flash Player.

The reason why I am not a friend of this concept is because it introduces an asynchronous code execution where a synchronous code execution would be much easier and faster.

In all my ActionScript based projects it was never necessary to use this pattern and defer code execution to another frame (or Render Event).
At bwin we have built a similar application as the current Flex-based Live Betting application previously in AS2, with a lot of complex components and auto layout containers, without running into any serious problems.
And to be honest the performance of the AS2 project felt somehow the same as the Flex version. But AS3 is about 10 times faster (of course that´s a bit too simple said and we did not measure the difference, but I am not the only one complaining about poor Flex Performance).

So isn´t it valid to question the concepts Flex is based on?

I am sure the architects at Adobe have had good reasons why they decided to introduce this pattern.
In the Docs and Blogosphere one can find several papers about it, but none of these explanations satisfied me, and some are not telling the full truth (that code execution is deferred to another frame).

So I try to discuss some assumptions for possible reasons:

  • Avoid Performance bottlenecks
  • Keep the Frame-rendering fluidly
  • Avoid Performance penalty from unintended repeated method (setter) calls
  • Pattern for separating different concerns
  • Problems with reading out the measurements of DisplayObjects before they are rendered on screen
  • Problems with complex execution flow from auto-layout containers code

So let me add my thought to these points:
Avoid Performance bottlenecks

That was my first assumption when I started with Flex, that this pattern is used to avoid performance bottlenecks. First I thought there is a hidden mechanism for detecting code execution which is running too long and delay this execution to the next frame. After checking out the SDK code I found out that it is simply delaying the 3 phases to 3 “half-frames” (Render Events and Enter Frame Events). So if you have really heavy code your player is still freezing up for a certain time and the Life Cycle does not give you any support for solving this problem.

That leads to the next argument:
Keep the Frame-rendering fluidly

Delaying the render code to the next frame helps the Flash Player running more smoothly and fluidly. That is basically true, but in my opinion 90% of the time the Life Cycle is wasting performance. For me it is a bad trade to get maybe at startup time some more fluidly running pre-loader animation but startup time takes much longer.

Why the Life Cycle is wasting Performance?
Because code which normally would be executed in one frame is now executed over 2 frames (or more).

There is another related issue with performance:
Avoid Performance penalty from unintended repeated method (setter) calls

Assume that in a large project it could be hard to control the execution flow so that it could happen that setting a text or layout property to a component is not only applied once but unintended multiple times.
For this scenario the Life Cycle helps because the call to the setter of the property is relatively cheap, so if the setter is called 10 times instead of once it will not hurt much. Then at commitProperties the property is only applied once to the component.
Again some weird scenarios with multiple invocations of commitProperties will not hurt much because the applying of the property to the component should be protected by a “changed” flag (see best practice with the Flex Life Cycle).
Also if you need for layout code some measurements the pattern helps to avoid unnecessary and repeated code executions.
BUT - is poorly written code really the reason why this pattern was introduced? It is true that it gives you some kind of fault tolerance, performance-wise. I guess this argument should not count in professional software development, and in fact it is dangerous because it could hide some deeper problems. If your setters are called more then once, why not look for the reason and clean it up?
I know in complex situations this could be sometimes hard, and under real life circumstances and time pressure you have to deal with something like this. But it should not count as a criteria for such a basic framework design decision.

I made also some measurements to check out the performance penalties for repeatedly called setters:

With 100 000 iterations applying a changing text to a TextField (in a AS3 project) I got these results:

1. Case:
Setting the text property to a variable in a loop and then applying the already stored text to the TextField again in a loop:

setText(): 119ms applyStoredText(): 481ms

In contrast to applying the property directly to the TextField:

setAndApplyText(): 2879ms

So you can see it is much slower in the 2. Case, so the Life Cycle really helps here, because it only applies the last stored property and not the changing values in between. But again - setting multiple times unnecessary property values is another problem.

The same test with setting the x position does not deliver such a big difference, in fact it is nearly the same time consumed (40+52 vs. 114)

setXPos(): 40ms applyStoredXPos(): 52ms setAndApplyXPos(): 114ms

Let´s continue with the next point:
Pattern for separating different concerns

To have a kind of pattern which separates different concerns is basically a cool thing. So you have your code block for setting properties, another method where the properties are applied to the component, a method where the measurement is defined and another one for the layout code.

I have no really argument against this pattern, but I don´t know why it is necessary to defer some code of these phases to the next Frame. The execution of the Life Cycle methods could have been triggered also at the Render Event, then there would not have been any delay to another frame, even it still would add this nasty asynchrony.

So this pattern could make development easier but introduce asynchronous behavior where we lived in a beautiful synchronous Flash world before. In my opinion: Not a good trade.

What else?
Problems with reading out the measurements of DisplayObjects before they are rendered on screen

Remembering back to some of my Flash projects I have had sometimes strange problems with TextFields and measurement when setting text and using autosize. But I could not reproduce these problems in a test case anymore. So I am not sure if that was caused by some other stuff or maybe by differences in some older Flash Player versions? But at least in my situations these problems could always be solved without deferring code to another Frame. But at this point I am not sure if there are certain use cases where you cannot read out the size of a DisplayObject (TextField) before it is actually rendered to the screen. If there are such cases this would be a valid argument, but then I am wondering why this could not be solved on the Flash Player level instead of solving this problem at a Framework level.

And my last point:
Problems with complex execution flow from auto-layout containers code

I can imagine that complex situations with nested auto layout containers could be sometimes really tricky to handle. To avoid recursions or unnecessary calls for any possible situation in a generic framework is a tough challenge.

But also in complex situations it is a deterministic behavior, so it should be possible to solve this without the Life Cycle pattern as well. From my experience there was no problems with auto layout containers, but of course in normal project development you have limited use cases and we were not forced to deal with all the possible use cases, like Flex has to do as a generic framework.

So finally I don´t have any idea for the real reason why Adobe has introduced the Life Cycle.
Maybe it seemed that it could help solving a lot of tricky problems (auto layout containers, mixing MXML with AS code,…) and was considered as a good pattern to make development easier. Maybe the fact that Flash has a strong support for Event driven programming and the Flash developers are already used to handle this asynchrony, led to this decision?
Maybe is was a strategic decision to make Flex easier for new developers without Flash background, who were not familiar with the Flash Players frame-based execution model?

I don´t know. I really would appreciate if someone from the Flex Team could illuminate this topic.

I just have made the experience that many things where much more transparent, cleaner and faster in pure ActionScript then in Flex, and i think the Life Cycle is one of the reasons for that.
I really like the API of Flex but I am wondering why Adobe don´t give more attention to performance, specially for large scale applications.

Any comments or insights are highly appreciated!

P.S.: Just found an interesting post related to this. I 100% agree what Paul Taylor says about UIComponent, but that is another story. Ever heard about Reflex? Sounds pretty promising!

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Category: Actionscript, Flash, Flex, SDK

A question of style

Published by Manfred Karrer on Friday, 8 of January , 2010 at 00:03

If you ever had some strange problems with styles in Flex, you might want to know how styles are internally handled and implemented.
Ok this post will not cover too much of all the stuff going on there, but a bit of the basics how styles are finding their way from the css file to your component.

Lets assume that we have a css file with type selectors and class selectors, a module based application and some custom components which are designed the way that you can use them out of the box and that they can be individually skinned and styled by other developers reusing them. That´s what custom components are for, right?

So the first question is:
How are the styles compiled into your swf file?
Assume that they are defined in an external css file. You know you can compile css files to swf files and load them at runtime or simply compile them into your application at compile time with a simple assignment like this:

<mx:Style source="assets/styles.css"/>

Here is the content of our simple css:

Button {         color: #990000; } .myCustomStyle1 {         color: #009900; }  /*      some additional styles here...      like Button.myCustomStyle2 */

That´s what we will use for our example here.

In this case the MXML compiler creates a bunch of classes and inserts the css definitions right into a method called from the constructor in the generated Applications class.

public function StyleExample() {         mx_internal::_StyleExample_StylesInit(); } mx_internal function _StyleExample_StylesInit():void {         var style:CSSStyleDeclaration;         // Button         style = StyleManager.getStyleDeclaration("Button");         if (!style) {                 style = new CSSStyleDeclaration();                 StyleManager.setStyleDeclaration("Button", style, false);         }         if (style.factory == null) {                 style.factory = function():void {                         this.color = 0x990000;                 };         }         // myCustomStyle1         style = StyleManager.getStyleDeclaration(".myCustomStyle1");         if (!style)         {                 style = new CSSStyleDeclaration();                 StyleManager.setStyleDeclaration(".myCustomStyle1",                                            style, false);         }         if (style.factory == null)         {                 style.factory = function():void                 {                         this.color = 0x009900;                 };         }         // similar code follows here.... }

I only pasted the relevant code, so this is not complete but should give the basic idea.
So what happens here?
(Read more…)

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Category: Flex, SDK

Some nice tools and resources

Published by Manfred Karrer on Saturday, 9 of May , 2009 at 09:07

My wishlist for a CSS inspector has had been already fulfilled: http://code.google.com/p/fxspy

A great code formatter as Eclipse plugin for Flex Builder: http://code.google.com/p/flexformatter
Download: http://sourceforge.net/projects/flexformatter/

HP has published a security analysis tool for Flash content. It´s also a decompiler to inspect the Actionscript code: SWFScan

Good overview about security issues in Flash:
http://www.owasp.org/index.php/Category:OWASP_Flash_Security_Project
http://www.adobe.com/devnet/flashplayer/articles/secure_swf_apps.html

A great resource for open source flash/flex tools and projects: http://www.flashchemist.com/104-free-opensource-apis-libraries-and-tools-for-the-flash-platform.html

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Category: Actionscript, Compiler, Flash, Flashplayer, Flex, Flex Builder

The infamous callLater()

Published by Manfred Karrer on Tuesday, 5 of May , 2009 at 23:03

At my first posts I wrote about my favorite Flex feature: Databinding
Now I will take a look at the opposite, IMHO the most precarious “feature” in Flex: callLater()

If you have a dodgy problem that a certain property is not available when it already should be and you ask someone at flexcoders you often get the advice, “try callLater” for a quick work-around. Sometimes this helps, but it leaves a bad smell, because often it´s just hiding some other problems in the code.
So when we worked on a large-scale Flex application we have used it sometimes in the beginning, but after a while we decided to avoid callLater. To find and solve the real problem is simply the better solution - and we never needed it again - there was always another solution to solve a particular problem (maybe we just have had luck).

Unpleasantly we get confronted with the fact that callLater is used inside the Framework at the heart of the layout engine.
We struggled with some strange problems. For instance we got a NullPointer exception in the updateDisplayList method of a custom component, which has already been cleaned up properly and removed from the displayList. It turned out that the layout mechanism delayed with callLater an invocation of updateDisplayList but our stuff there has already been removed and threw an exception.
It was not hard to fix, but it demonstrated us that some asynchronous stuff was going on behind the scenes which was out of our direct control.

So for me callLater leaves always a certain bad smell.

Unfortunately I never found time to really investigate how it´s implemented and what are the concepts behind it.
So it was time to catch up with this issue:
CallLater is basically a method in UIComponent which delays a passed function to the next EnterFrame OR Render event.
Often in den docs it´s just described that it will delay to the next frame, which is not correct because it could be that your function is executed already at the Render Event, which happens in the same frame and is the last opportunity where User code can be executed before the screen is rendered.

For more details about the internal concept of a frame in Flash and the relevant events see the great article by Sean Christmann:

Here is a good illustration from his article about the anatomy of a frame in Flash:
(Read more…)

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Category: Actionscript, Flash, Flashplayer, Flex, SDK

Wishlist: CSS Inspector/Live-Editor for Flex

Published by Manfred Karrer on Tuesday, 28 of April , 2009 at 20:11

At styling and changing my blog theme, i really fall in love with Web Developers (Firefox addon) CSS tools.
Just rollover or select an element and see the css used. Edit it live and see immediately the changes.
How nice would it be to have something inside Flex Builder?
For re-styling or adopting Flex projects this would be a great helper-tool, specially if you edit custom components from other developers.

If you feel this would be a nice feature, vote for it on the Adobe Bugbase.

You probably have seen already the Flex Style Explorer. It gives a good overview of the different styles of the standard Flex components.

BTW: Did you know that parts of Flex Builder are open source (the derived stuff from Eclipse)? You can download it at Adobe.

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Category: Flash, Flex, Flex Builder

DataBinding under the hood (part 3): Generated Code

Published by Manfred Karrer on Sunday, 26 of April , 2009 at 00:28

So now lets get our hands dirty and check out the generated code which is created behind the scenes.

When you compile a Flex application the compiler runs the compilation in 2 steps:

  • The mxmlc compiler generates a lot of Actionscript classes
  • The compc compiler compiles from the generated classes plus your custom classes the swf file

These 2 steps are normally not visible, because the generated code is not stored in your project. If you add the compiler argument -keep (or -keep-generated-actionscript=true) in your compiler settings in Flex Builder, you will see a generated folder inside the src folder containing a lot of Actionscript files.

There are different kinds of files generated:

  • Classes defining the default style for Flex components
  • Classes holding the Resourcebundle properties
  • Classes for embedded skins
  • Classes for Flex Application setup
  • Classes for Flex DataBinding

The style, skin and property files are out of our scope here and has no direct relation to this topic.
The classes which are used for setting up a Flex Application are our entry point, but will not be discussed in detail (even it would be very interesting to have a closer look to Mixins, [Frame] metadata tags and all these exotic stuff…).

So lets look at our relevant classes for DataBinding (all others has been removed):

generated
(Read more…)

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Category: Actionscript, Flash, Flex