Thursday, February 28, 2008

seymour, do less

The blahgosphere is abuzz with talk of rich Internet applications, and has been for the last couple of months. Adobe's AIR was released the other day, and there's been a lot of talk about the technical merits of the platform, the security aspects, its place in the market, how it will compete with web browsers or the web in general, and so on. This is all well and good, programmers, analysts and strategists all love new platforms; poking at them, smelling them, squeezing, licking, your average verb+object bonanza.

But there's been little talk of usability, and I view this with some trepidation. The ability to easily create custom widgets and free-flowing designs will make it much easier to bring upon the desktop the curse of the skinners. Nothing good can come of this. I imagine Jakob Nielsen cries himself to sleep only to wake up later in a cold sweat.

I have yet to use a skinned desktop application (of the old steam-powered kind) that actually created a user interface that was clearly better than what could've been accomplished by using the native widget set. At best, and this happens extremely rarely, you get usability parity with a nicer visual presentation. Most of them have sucked more than a rational belief system can comprehend.

If there is a golden rule for interface design, it is this: Whenever a programmer thinks, "Hey, skins, what a cool idea", their computer's speakers should create some sort of cock-shaped sound wave and plunge it repeatedly through their skulls.

Skinning a desktop application used to be reasonably difficult, no native platform SDK provides you with the ability to do so without jumping through at least one hoop. With AIR I wonder if it's even possible to use native widgets. Add to that the fact that it's intended to actually encourage Flash or web developers to create skinned desktop applications, and it's a gaudy, blinking, oddly-shaped recipe for suck.

(One could add to this the accessibility aspect. Custom-widget designs and layouts don't respond to desktop themes that increase legibility, for example. If all AIR applications will communicate with screen readers or not is unknown to me. I know there are APIs to enable that, however.)

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

queuetie pie

Mercurial Queues is where it's at. The tray icon stuff a single-patch queue, and updating it against trunk is (after svn up-ing my hg base): hg qpop, hg pull -u, hg qpush and if there are conflicts, fix 'em and do a qrefresh.

And 3 hours chasing down a problem that was EOL-oriented isn't fun. At least I'm intimately familiar with and know more about the build system than before. And I've invented at least 4 new ways of cursing.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008


I filed bug 419600 to get the snot mercilessly reviewed out of me.

For generalized support, I currently assume too much about the MIME types of the image file that's handed to setIcon, but I never set out to make it anything but a Prism fit when I started (where the webapp installer nicely converts images to the proper format). It's all fixable, of course.

Also, I love Mercurial (hg mv). I check out the SVN trunk to a dir that is also versioned with hg, and clone off that locally. I think I'll try the localbranch extension to see if that makes it easier working on both bugs I find in the upstream stuff as well as the GTK tray stuff.

Monday, February 25, 2008

webrunner webrunner, going faster miles an hour

Oh yeah, the tray code for Linux now has feature parity with the Windows implementation. I never could get a native GtkWindow out of Mozilla, but instead of the whole InterfaceRequestor/Docshell/BaseWindow dance I just called nsIDOMWindowInternal's Focus method and called it a day. (SetZLevel only focuses the window currently.)

I'm contemplating menus for tray icons now. Hacked together some code that builds, but I haven't hooked up the plumbing through JavaScript. My thinking is to pass a menu's nsIPopupBoxObject to the tray code to attach it to an icon that way. Since Prism uses a 1.9 XULRunner, it will have the openPopupAtScreen method, and by getting the position of the tray icon that was clicked to bring up a menu, it can be opened at a reasonably proper location (modulo problems unknown at this time).
If I could get the actual GtkMenu out of Mozilla in some way I could use GTK's own menu positioning code for tray icons, but I don't see that happening.

Since XUL overlays can be loaded on-demand using document.loadOverlay, there's no reason why there couldn't be a webapp.xul overlay for more advanced usage of Prism (like for tray icon menus). But that's not up to me to decide. Perhaps using an extension is preferable in that case.

being Swedish, I must disagree

This is hilarious.

Thursday, February 21, 2008


I had almost finished writing a blog post saying "it is XPCOM biting me, and I'm probably asking for it" when I realized that was indeed the case. What do you call someone who doesn't NS_ADDREF when he's supposed to? Stupid, that's what. (The jury will accept "inexperienced" too, but with me yammering on about "copying the Windows logic" without actually copying the NS_ADDREF, well, it's kinda stupid.)

Anyway, I found it by setting a watchpoint for the pointer (using "watch *((int*)0xblah)"), found out it was being freed in NS_DestroyXPTCallStub, which of course means its refcount was 0. Hard to call through XPTCall if there's no stub there to actually call through, natch.

At least it works now.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

stuck inside of mozil' with the memphis blues again

Been trying to figure out why the heck I get a segfault when trying to call OnNotificationAreaClick when the tray icon is clicked. The GTK signal callback gets the correct pointer, but GDB doesn't really help with telling what it actually points to. Not even in ShowIcon, where aListener seems to point to something entirely unrelated:

Breakpoint 1, nsDesktopEnvironment::ShowIcon (this=0x858d2c0,
aIconId=@0xbfd9ad28, aImageURI=0x858bde0, aListener=0x858d738)

(gdb) x aListener
0x858d738: 0xb7a09ac8
(gdb) p aListener
$7 = (struct nsINotificationAreaListener *) 0x858d738
(gdb) x/wa *(void**)aListener
0xb7a0bac8 <_ZTVN10gfxTextRun16PropertyProviderE+627120>: 0xb7715d4c
At least using this guide. It probably has to do with how nsINotificationAreaListener is defined and actually used (being QI'd through XPConnect, as the WebRunner object is the one implementing the interface). But I don't grok XPCOM enough to actually say that with any degree of confidence. Calling the OnNotification... method in ShowIcon does work at least.
Then we come to the callback which GTK calls when the icon is clicked:
Breakpoint 2, notify_cb (icon=0x8545120, data=0x858d738)
(gdb) p data
$9 = (gpointer) 0x858d738
(gdb) x data
0x858d738: 0x54746573
(gdb) x/wa *(void**)data
0x54746573: Cannot access memory at address 0x54746573
(gdb) x/s data
0x858d738: "setTitle"
The memory access thing is probably what makes it segfault. And yeah, that string is what happens to be there every single time I run it through the debugger. The callback's defined thusly:
void notify_cb(GtkStatusIcon *icon,
gpointer data) {
nsCOMPtr<nsINotificationAreaListener> listen;
listen = (nsINotificationAreaListener *)data;
And hooked up like so:
g_signal_connect(mStatusIcon, "activate", G_CALLBACK(notify_cb),
in ShowIcon (mStatusIcon is the GtkStatusIcon pointer, gpointer is typedef-ed as void*). Totally imitating the logic in the Windows tray code (where the pointer is stored as a property attached to the listener window that detects clicks on the icon). The actual segfault happens when the nsCOMPtr tries to AddRef the pointee in the assignment operator.

I would add a watch to see what actually happens to change the pointer, but since it's a multi-threaded app, GDB kills the watch as soon as the thread it's defined in gets preempted. So, what, Valgrind? Mommy, the big-boy pants are coming on... (Or I'm just doing something stupid that I'm overlooking.)

Monday, February 18, 2008

sprinkles or gummi bears?

Meh. Stupid segmentation faults. All I want to do (is have some fun) and call the nsINotificationAreaListener callback, and instead of sun coming up over Santa Monica Boulevard I get repeated punches to the groin. The joy of replacing dozens of lines of WinAPI guff with a single g_signal_connect was short-lived. (It can be called immidiately after entering ShowIcon but when the pointer is stored away and then retrieved in the callback function, similar to the Windows case, there be 'splosions.)

By the by, GtkStatusIcon is a GObject and not a GtkWidget descendant, which means it doesn't handle events like widgets do. So, no double-clicks for you!

Saturday, February 16, 2008

the unbearable slightness of seeing

Okay, so the icon isn't much. But it represents nsINotificationArea support for WebrunnerPrism under Linux (not complete by any means, but it actually shows/hides the icon and sets the tooltip, which at the very least is measurable progress). Most of the time was spent wrestling with the build system, which is about as surprising as something not very surprising. A hard-coded icon file extension in webrunner.js cost me more than a few minutes of sulking too. (And what's the deal with XPM instead of PNG?)

It uses GtkStatusIcon, which was introduced in GTK+ 2.10, but seeing as how e.g. the printing changes that went into the Firefox 3.0 nightlies also require 2.10 or later, I doubt it's much of a problem. If there's any interest in this stuff upstream, that is.

Also, I'm really happy there are XULRunner SDK nightlies. Tastes great, less building.

Friday, February 08, 2008

having fun with js-ctypes

So, after humming and hawing until I was fresh out of hum and down to my last batch of haw, I figured the time was right to try and get js-ctypes working to start contributing more to Mozilla. I have a trunk Firefox debug build I update once a month or so and figured since I popped my build-your-own cherry about a year ago, with PyXPCOM enabled no less, I should be able to get js-ctypes going without too much crying.

Verdict: well that was easy. Check out the code from the svn repo into mozilla/extensions/, add it to extensions in .mozconfig like so:

ac_add_options --enable-extensions=default,spatialnavigation,python,js-ctypes
and Bob's your proverbial uncle. It built cleanly on my working Fx trunk build, and it was available to extensions and whatnot.

Now, I use Linux (openSUSE 10.2 currently) and Mark Finkle wrote on his blog when announcing js-ctypes, "compiles on Linux, but I haven’t got around to testing it." It turns out it built cleanly, but it didn't work. Some quick testing using a hastily thrown together extension showed that nsINativeTypes::Open() failed — it didn't load shared libraries ( in this case). After hitting mxr it turned out a PRLibSpec struct is initialized differently depending on the platform, and the code only covered the WIN32 case. That's bug #416119. The fix was easy enough, an #ifdef and a couple lines of code, but I'm still not sure the string voodoostuff is correct (I think the PromiseFlatCString call is redundant as NS_Convert... returns an nsCAutoString which is "flat" already).

That took care of the first problem and js-ctypes now loaded shared libraries in Linux. Score one for the newb. The next step was to try and call some function. I chose puts(), which is a part of libc and simply outputs a string of characters to stdout. Easy enough, right? Well, no. Since it uses a char* buffer for the string, I chose nsINativeTypes.STRING when declaring the function like so*:
const nsINativeTypes = Ci.nsINativeTypes;
var library = Cc[";1"]
var puts = library.declare("puts", /* function name */
nsINativeTypes.INT32, /* return type */
nsINativeTypes.SYSV, /* call ABI */
nsINativeTypes.STRING /* argument type */
var ret = puts("Hello World from js-ctypes!");
Upon trying that code I was greeted with a segmentation fault. It turned out there was no implementation for the native type STRING in nsNativeMethod.cpp. Since there's no default catch-undefined-and-return-error in the switch blocks in nsNativeMethod::Execute() and declare() doesn't care what type you specify (in reality any uint16 will work), when the function was called the call to ffi_prep_cif() in nsNativeMethod::Execute() had incomplete information about the parameters and exploded. Adding support for STRING is bug #416229. Thankfully, I could reuse the logic for WSTRING but use char* instead of PRUnichar* and fix the problem without any trouble.

The customary money shot:This was a fun little exercise in building/testing/hacking on a Mozilla project and has left me wanting to do more. Including adding support for struct types and writing some unit tests. My thinking as far as testing goes is to write a shared object/library with a set of known functions that exercise all the native types covered by js-ctypes, integrating that into the build and then adding tests to the unit test framework. I have little or no idea how to do most of those things, but figuring it out will be fun.

[*] Do note that the call ABI has to be specified. That bit me for about 30 minutes before I poked through the code thoroughly and realized the example code in Mark Finkle's original post didn't reflect that.