Programming Tutorial: Readability

Readability is always more important than simple one-liners:

if ($form->minute == 0) { 
	$minute = "00";
} else if ($form->minute < 10) {
	$minute = "0" . $form->minute;
} else {
	$minute = $form->minute;

Discovered by @zewillow.

Programming Tutorial: Variable Initialization

Always make sure your variables are properly initialized:

$list = $_SESSION['list'];

if ($list == null || $list == "") {
	$list = $_SESSION['list'];

Discovered by @zewillow

RESTful Web Services in .NET (Part 2)

Now that I’ve finally got a bit of time I figured I should explain how we updated our old RESTful framework to be nice and slick. Instead of one method per class which handles all sub method variations we now have something much prettier and easier to maintain. The UserService found in the previous post can now look like:

public class UserService : RestService
	[RestMethod("GET", "^$")]
	public IList RetrieveAll()

	[RestMethod("GET", @"^(?<id>[0-9]+)$")]
	public User Retrieve(int id)

	[RestMethod("HEAD", @"^(?<name>\w+)$")]
	public User Exists(string name)

	[RestMethod("PUT", "^$", typeof(User))]
	public User Create(User user)

	[RestMethod("POST", "^$", typeof(User))]
	public bool Update(User user)

	[RestMethod("DELETE", @"^(?<id>[0-9]*)$")]
	public bool Delete(int id)

As you can see there are a lot of differences:

  • Heavy influence from newer APIs
  • Methods can return any Type
  • Methods can take 0 or more arguments of any Type
  • RestMethodAttribute has been added to match URLs against methods

Most of the code above should be self-explanatory, but in case it’s not here’s some help.

The method decorator [RestMethod("GET", "^$")] tells the framework that any HTTP GET requests against the UserService class without any trailing arguments (http://localhost/user.r) should be handled by RetrieveAll().

The method decorator [RestMethod("GET", @"^(?<id>[0-9]+)$”)] tells the framework that any HTTP GET request against the UserService class which ends with a number only (http://localhost/user.r/1, http://localhost/user.r/5000, etc) should be handled by Retrieve(int id). The cool thing here is that the regex group will provide a match to the argument name so our function will be called with whatever number the URL ends with. So calling http://localhost/user.r/25 where the following is the executed method will result in?

[RestMethod("GET", @"^(?<id>[0-9]+)$")]
public bool Retrieve(int id)
	return id == 25;

TRUE!! Pretty simple, and very cool. Another nice feature is when the HTTP request contains a body like a POST or PUT would. So POSTing to http://localhost/user.r with a body of:

{'user': {
	'first_name': 'Matthew',
	'last_name': 'Metnetsky'

would call the method decorated with [RestMethod("POST", "^$", typeof(User))] and it’s user argument would actually be set assuming the class implemented a JSON serializer. All of the URL/body mappers are definable by implementing Binder and listing them in the web.config against a Content-Type. By default there are Binders for form variables, JSON, XML, raw streams, and a few more.

So why might I be discussing the external API of a closed library? To PUSH innovation in the current public ones. By taking these ideas and creating an “open” version I’m sure I’d be breaking my contract so I’ve got two options:

  1. Expose our public API to entice and PUSH others to innovate
  2. Get a lot of feedback which might enable me to get our library opened

So…. let me know…. ;-)

RESTful Web Services in .NET (Part 1)

A couple of years ago I tossed together a RESTful IHttpHandlerFactory for .NET. It wasn’t amazing, but it was being used long before Microsoft et all decided to create there own. Instead of extending Page you extended RestService and implemented whatever methods you wanted.

public interface IRestService
	void Head(RestEventArgs args);
	object Get(RestEventArgs args);
	object Put(RestEventArgs args);
	object Post(RestEventArgs args);

As you can probably guess the request’s HTTP Method was transformed into the function name and executed accordingly. If the method wasn’t “known” we would then use reflection to find the method for execution. Not to fansy as you can see, but it worked.

If a request was made for http://localhost/app/users.r the IHttpHandler factory would load users.r and it would tell us what class you assigned to it (much like @Page CodeBehind/Inherits in .aspx). From there we would instantiate the class and call the appropriate method. Whatever you returned would be marshalled for wire transfer based on it’s type.

	class User : IXmlSerializable
		/* ... */
	public class UserService : RestService
		public object Get(RestEventArgs args);
			return new User(5, "Matthew", "Metnetsky");

Calling http://localhost/app/users.r would execute UserService::Get(..) which would return a User instance. The results are then inspected for a few different interfaces like IXmlSerializable, IJsonSerializable (one of ours), etc. Based on what is supported by the Type, we then check if the requester supports it by interogating their “Accepts” header. This way each requester can receive what they understand how to handle (for instance – don’t send JSON to AS3). The system really worked well, and it’s simplicity made it damn fast.

Like all frameworks however, once it was actually in use we were able to see the pitfalls and issues. Take a look at the following URLs:

  • http://localhost/app/users.r
  • http://localhost/app/users.r/1
  • http://localhost/app/users.r/matthew

In order to handle all of the urls above the Get(RestEventArgs) method turned into one big switch/if/else conditional. Some people made it prettier than others, but the result was the same. So about 14 months ago we upgraded our framework – check back soon to see how we did it, and why I’m bringing it up now.

PMS2 – Coming Soon to an Interweb Near You

A long, long time myself and two friends were working on a college project where the entire goal as I saw it was to “create” stuff. Mono was a wee lad back in 2003, but I still preferred it to Java any day of the week. So myself, Phil Tricca, and Joseph Scaduto created a whole framework for creating what are now called “learning communities” in Mono/Gtk#/mod_mono.

One of the pieces we needed was a databases abstraction layer (we had grand ideas) so we first sought to flush out the ObjectSpaces API for Mono. Sadly, Microsoft couldn’t get their act together so we built our own. So in honor of Microsoft we called it Phil-And-Matt Spaces, shortened to PMS. After it’s original debut it sat on the selves for quite some time until I started working for Konica Minolta Business Solutions and was tasked with creating Printgroove. PMS hit the spot (man that sounds funny) – it was far from bad, but it certainly wasn’t awesome. At the point of its resurrection it needed a face lift, but never got one.

It’s now been years since Printgroove got started and PMS has continued to work well for it and numerous other projects – but I’ve got an itch that must be scratched. So while working on a small web service only project I’ve been adding in a couple dozen extra hours to mature PMS – or basically throw away it’s entire user facing API.

Here’s a sneak peak of whats to come:

// - Pull IDbConnection from pool based on unique name (from config file)
// - This is useful if you have multiple databases to chat with
// - Not specifying a name will load the one marked default or the first one found
using (DbBroker cxt = new DbBroker("name-mapping-to-config-connection-string")) {

    // SELECT member.* FROM member WHERE username LIKE '%a%' ORDER BY id
	// Enumerate through results without storing Member objects in container
	foreach (Member m in cxt.Query<Member>().Like("username", "%a%").OrderBy("id").Exec())
		Console.WriteLine(" : " + m);
	// Use raw SQL and ignore chainable methods for generation
	// Store results in List<Member> and then iterate through it
	string sql = "SELECT member.* FROM member where username LIKE '%a%' ORDER BY id";
	foreach (Member m in cxt.Exec<Member>().Objects<List<Member>>(sql))
		Console.WriteLine(" : " + m);

	// get first member
	Console.WriteLine("first: " + cxt.Query<Member>().Exec().First());

	// a short-cut to get the first member since we aren't filtering etc
	Console.WriteLine("first: " + cxt.Exec<Member>().First());

	// SELECT COUNT(member.*) FROM member WHERE id > 50000
	// Use generics to cast the output of ExecuteScalar to an Int32
	Console.WriteLine("count: " + cxt.Query<Member>().Filter("id > 50000").Exec().Count<int>());

	// Directly call ExecuteScalar but use generics to cast the output
    sql = "SELECT id FROM member WHERE username='mimetnet'";
	Console.WriteLine("scalar: " + cxt.Exec<Member>().Scalar<int>(sql));

	// Directly call ExecuteReader() with our generated SQL
	// SELECT id,username FROM member WHERE id > 68665
	using (IDataReader reader = cxt.Query<Member>()
									.GreaterThan("id", 68665)
									.Reader()) {
		while (reader.Read()) {
			Console.WriteLine("Member(id={0}, name='{1}')", reader[0], reader[1]);

Please send me your thoughts/concerns/nightmares.

PHP Annoyances: header()

Earlier today, and yesterday in fact, I was successfully downloading generated PDF’s from a FLEX application from an Apache2 server via mod_php5. Tonight however, it kept failing with an IOErrorEvent #2038. There’s lots of fun references to this issue like this one. Sadly downloading via FileReference doesn’t trigger the HTTPStatusEvent event, so I can’t lie to FLEX.

I eventually stopped brute forcing an attempt and intelligently looked at Apache2′s logs and found this wonderful line: – - [10/Feb/2009:20:24:16 -0500] “GET /vrm/Create_Report.php?download=vrm_report_17_10-10-220-130.pdf HTTP/1.1″ 1 68856 “-” “Mozilla/4.0 (compatible; MSIE 7.0; Windows NT 5.1; …)”

Do you notice whats wrong? No? Look for the 1 after “HTTP/1.1″ and before the “68856″ – this is where the HTTP Status Code should be. Eh? What happened? Where’d my status go? The server-side looked like this:

if (file_exists($file)) {
	header('Content-Type', 'application/octet-stream', true);
	header('Content-Disposition', 'attachment/filename=' . $filename, true);
	header('Content-Length', filesize($file), true);
	header('Content-Description', 'File Transfer');

Any one notice the issue – header is being use inappropriately. The first argument should be the entire response header, the second argument is the option to override a matching header, and the third is the status code. “true” evaluates “1″ and thus the status of 1. You might ask as I am right now: Why is he divulging that he’s an idiot? Well folks it goes like this:

It’s 10:55PM and I’ve been programming since 8:30AM to meet a deadline. Things get missed and stupid mistakes happen. The above code worked on (IIS 6 + PHP5) but failed on (Apache2 + PHP5) – and this is one of the many reasons I hate PHP. The second argument should be a boolean and should SCREAM to the error log if you don’t match the type expected. Instead it says nothing, and leaves you to your madness.

Anyways, lets fix the code and go home!

	header('Content-Type: application/octet-stream', true, 200);
	header('Content-Disposition: attachment/filename=' . $filename, true);
	header('Content-Length: ' . filesize($file), true);
	header('Content-Description: File Transfer'); – - [10/Feb/2009:22:14:15 -0500] “GET /vrm/Create_Report.php?download=vrm_report_1_10-10-220-130.pdf HTTP/1.1″ 200 68856 “-” “Mozilla/4.0 (compatible; MSIE 7.0; Windows NT 5.1; …)”

Gah ;-0

Replacing Flex’s Timer with Event.ENTER_FRAME

One of the projects I’m working on, as you might have guessed, utilizes Adobe’s AIR. After reading a few dozen optimization tips it sounded like I needed to replace four internal Timer‘s because they aren’t very efficient. As I couldn’t find anything off-hand that suited my needs I rolled my own (with some optimizations by Noah Massey).

The original code looked similar to:

private var timer:Timer = new Timer(15000); // run every 15 seconds

private function onCreation(event:Event):void {
	this.timer.addEventListener(TimerEvent.TIMER, this.onTimer, false, 0, true);

private function onTimer(event:TimerEvent):void {
	/* do something */

I didn’t want to totally refactor all of my code because that would have been an amazing waste of time. So I ran through my usage of “timer” and realized what I needed to be able to do:

  • start
  • stop
  • change interval
  • create run-once functions like setTimeout, but tied to frames

With this in mind I typed up what I wanted and after a bit of tweaking my usage now looks like this:

private function onCreation(event:Event):void {
	FrameActivity.assign('someName', 15, this.onTimer);

	this.addEventListener(Event.ENTER_FRAME, FrameActivity.handleFrame, false, 0, true);

private function onTimer(event:Event):void {
	/* do something */

If you like what you see, send me a comment and I’ll happily provide the code.

AS3 Reflection

Type discovery, better known as reflection, is rather odd in Flex. There is no type system to describe the types like sooo many languages offer (even PHP5 finally got it right). The closest that I know of is flash.utils.describeType which is quite weird as it returns XML. The DTD for the XML is ugly to me, but everyone has their opinions. A simple class like..

public final class EmployeeTitle extends BaseModel
	public var id:Number = NaN;
	public var title:String = '';
	public function EmployeeTitle()
	public static function fromXML(xml:XML):EmployeeTitle
		return null; /* we should do something important here */

turns into the following XML…

<type name="kmbs.model::EmployeeTitle" base="kmbs.model::BaseModel" isDynamic="false" isFinal="true" isStatic="false">
  <extendsClass type="kmbs.model::BaseModel"/>
  <extendsClass type="Object"/>
  <variable name="id" type="Number"/>
  <variable name="title" type="String"/>
  <method name="assignXML" declaredBy="kmbs.model::BaseModel" returnType="void">
    <parameter index="1" type="XML" optional="false"/>
  <method name="toString" declaredBy="kmbs.model::BaseModel" returnType="String"/>
  <method name="toXML" declaredBy="kmbs.model::BaseModel" returnType="XML"/>

As I was looking for a way to marshal the type to XML for pushing to the server it seems like this was the closest I was going to get. So I wrote some code and got the basics working no problem. A few days ago I realized that most of my models would be a bit more useful if they were [Bindable] and thus dispatched events about their changes (lets keep those interfaces up to date eh?). So I added what .NET calls attributes and Flex calls metadata tags.. [Bindable] to my class.

public final class EmployeeTitle extends BaseModel
	/* .... */

Once I did this however, none of my XML marshaling was working because apparently the type descriptor is now totally different.

<type name="kmbs.model::EmployeeTitle" base="kmbs.model::BaseModel" isDynamic="false" isFinal="true" isStatic="false">
  <extendsClass type="kmbs.model::BaseModel"/>
  <extendsClass type="Object"/>
  <implementsInterface type=""/>
  <method name="addEventListener" declaredBy="kmbs.model::EmployeeTitle" returnType="void">
    <parameter index="1" type="String" optional="false"/>
    <parameter index="2" type="Function" optional="false"/>
    <parameter index="3" type="Boolean" optional="true"/>
    <parameter index="4" type="int" optional="true"/>
    <parameter index="5" type="Boolean" optional="true"/>
  <accessor name="id" access="readwrite" type="Number" declaredBy="kmbs.model::EmployeeTitle">
    <metadata name="Bindable">
      <arg key="event" value="propertyChange"/>
  <method name="hasEventListener" declaredBy="kmbs.model::EmployeeTitle" returnType="Boolean">
    <parameter index="1" type="String" optional="false"/>
  <method name="dispatchEvent" declaredBy="kmbs.model::EmployeeTitle" returnType="Boolean">
    <parameter index="1" type="" optional="false"/>
  <method name="willTrigger" declaredBy="kmbs.model::EmployeeTitle" returnType="Boolean">
    <parameter index="1" type="String" optional="false"/>
  <method name="removeEventListener" declaredBy="kmbs.model::EmployeeTitle" returnType="void">
    <parameter index="1" type="String" optional="false"/>
    <parameter index="2" type="Function" optional="false"/>
    <parameter index="3" type="Boolean" optional="true"/>
  <accessor name="title" access="readwrite" type="String" declaredBy="kmbs.model::EmployeeTitle">
    <metadata name="Bindable">
      <arg key="event" value="propertyChange"/>
  <method name="assignXML" declaredBy="kmbs.model::BaseModel" returnType="void">
    <parameter index="1" type="XML" optional="false"/>
  <method name="toString" declaredBy="kmbs.model::BaseModel" returnType="String"/>
  <method name="toXML" declaredBy="kmbs.model::BaseModel" returnType="XML"/>

As you can see all of the variable tags have been replaced by accessor tags. And methods have been added in order to perform the Event handling/dispatching, but apparently the class doesn’t extend something special. Instead the compiler seemingly injects raw methods, which bothers me for some reason.

As you can see I find Flex’s internals rather weird instead of smart, but as I said, everyone has their opinions.

Monthly Calendars in PHP for Flex

At work I recently had a need to create a monthly calendar within Flex and populated with data from a web-service (created in PHP). I hate reinventing the wheel, but I also hate wasting time searching for a solution to a simple enough problem. So below you can find a quick answer to the problem as I couldn’t find one myself.

PHP: The following code creates a simple XML feed.

	 * Create a XML calendar for a given year &amp; month
	 * Noah Massey &amp; Matthew Metnetsky
	function calendar_xml($doc, $year, $month)
		if (!$doc) throw new Exception('doc is bad');
		if (!$month) throw new Exception('month  is bad');
		if (!$year) throw new Exception('year is bad');
		$numDays = date('t', mktime(0, 0, 0, $month, 1, $year));
		$monthNode = $doc->appendChild($doc->createElement('month'));
		$day = 1 - date('w', mktime(0, 0, 0, $month, 1, $year));
		do {
			$weekNode = $monthNode->appendChild($doc->createElement('week'));
			for ($y=0;$y<7 and $day <= $numDays; $day++,$y++) {
				//$sunday = ($day == $y); 
				//$sunday = ($day == ($y + 6));
				$dayNode = $weekNode->appendChild($doc->createElement('day'));
				$numAttr = $doc->createAttribute('num');
				 * we could loop through database records here for holidays etc
				 * the _real_ version uses mktime(0, 0, 0, $month, $day, $year) 
				 * to check for a stamp within an array of holiday records
				 * and then tack on some more nodes to $dayNode
		} while ($day <= $numDays);
	$doc = new DOMDocument('1.0', 'UTF-8');
	$doc->formatOutput = true;
	$date = getdate();
	$year = (int) (array_key_exists('year', $_GET))? $_GET['year'] : $date['year'];
	$month = (int) (array_key_exists('month', $_GET))? $_GET['month'] : $date['mon'];
	calendar_xml($doc, $year, $month);	
	header('Content-Type: application/xml', true);

If you look at the rather large comment block above you can see where the value comes in. It’s pretty simple to use a unix timestamp to find records which you actually would want in the XML like holidays, events, etc.

The basic output looks like the following, and can be see in full at

			<day num="{day of month}" />

Once you have all of this in place you need to pull it into Flex. I found using a DataGrid very easy once you have the XML from the web service. And to customize the display I created a custom itemRenderer for the DataGridColumns. Here’s a few snippets….

MXML: Lets define our DataGrid and our HTTPService which will retrieve our data.

<mx:DataGrid id="dg"
		<mx:DataGridColumn headerText="Sunday" itemRenderer="calendar.MonthCell" />
		<mx:DataGridColumn headerText="Monday" itemRenderer="calendar.MonthCell" />
		<mx:DataGridColumn headerText="Tuesday" itemRenderer="calendar.MonthCell" />
		<mx:DataGridColumn headerText="Wednesday" itemRenderer="calendar.MonthCell" />
		<mx:DataGridColumn headerText="Thursday" itemRenderer="calendar.MonthCell"  />
		<mx:DataGridColumn headerText="Friday" itemRenderer="calendar.MonthCell" />
		<mx:DataGridColumn headerText="Saturday" itemRenderer="calendar.MonthCell" />

<mx:HTTPService id="calHS"
	fault="'Failed to retrieve XML from server');"

AS3: Now we need at least two functions: 1 to call the service and retrieve the XML; and a second take the response and assign it to the DataGrid.

/* month should be 1-based (January) */
public function retrieveCalendar():void
	calHS.url = 'http://localhost/project/calendar-xml.php?year=' + year + '&amp;month=' + month;

/* handle the results from from calendar-xml.php */
private function handleCalXML(event:ResultEvent):void
	var weeks:XMLList = event.result.week as XMLList;

	/* dg is defined above in the MXML */
	this.dg.dataProvider = dayInfo;
	this.dg.rowCount = weeks.length(); // grid show be no bigger than necessary

Now we’re going to create a reusable itemRenderer which is instantiated for each cell in the DataGrid. You can do this in MXML directly, but I like AS3. The most important function to focus on is the setter for data because it assigns the values based on the XML we received.

package calendar
	import mx.collections.XMLListCollection;
	import mx.controls.TextArea;
	import mx.controls.listClasses.BaseListData;
	import mx.controls.listClasses.IDropInListItemRenderer;
	import mx.controls.listClasses.IListItemRenderer;
	import mx.core.IDataRenderer;

	public class MonthCell  extends TextArea 
							implements IDataRenderer, IDropInListItemRenderer, IListItemRenderer
		private var _week:XMLListCollection = null;
		private var _day:XML = null;
		private var _listData:BaseListData;

		public function MonthCell()

			this.editable = false;
			this.wordWrap = true;
			this.selectable = false;

		public override function get listData():BaseListData
			return this._listData;

		public override function set listData(ldata:BaseListData):void
			if (this._listData != ldata) {
			this._listData = ldata;
			this.dispatchEvent(new FlexEvent(FlexEvent.DATA_CHANGE));

		public override function get data():Object
			return this._week;

		public override function set data(value:Object):void
			var xml:XML = value as XML;

			if (xml) {
				// convert XML to a list for extra methods
				this._week = new XMLListCollection(xml.children());

				// make sure we've got enough records in week
				// to be able to get the current day
				if (this._week.length > this.listData.columnIndex) {
					this._day = this._week.getItemAt(this.listData.columnIndex) as XML;
				} else {
					this._day = null; // clear in-case we're reused

			// do we have a valid day XML object
			if (this._week == null || this._day == null || int(this._day.@num) < 1) {
				this.htmlText = "";
			} else {
				/* lets display the day of the month in the cell */
				this.htmlText = "<p><b>" + this._day.@num + "</b></p>";

			this.dispatchEvent(new FlexEvent(FlexEvent.DATA_CHANGE));

Filtering File Selectors

Why is it that almost every language/framework offers totally different, and yet similar, solutions for filtering in/out files from selection menus?


OpenFileDialog dialog = new OpenFileDialog();
dialog.Filter = "Text files (*.txt)|*.txt|All files (*.*)|*.*"

In the example there are two types of selectors: text files (.txt); all files (*.*). Labels (Text files) are separated from their filter values (*.txt) by the pipe character and each filter type is separated by… a pipe too! It looks weird, but considering it’s based off old-school Windows API I can understand and sort of respect their desire to not change. MFC sucks and using weird DSLs instead of creating more objects can have it’s benefits.


var filters:Array = new Array();
filters.push(new FileFilter('Text Files', '*.txt'));
filters.push(new FileFilter('Rich Text', '*.rtf'));

var = new FileReference();

FileFilter is constructed with the rules like so: FileFilter(‘Text Files’, ‘*.txt’). You can either specify multiple FileFilters or append multiple rulsets to the same label like so: FileFilter(‘Text files’, ‘*.txt;*.txt2′). Truly a cleaner interface than .NET’s, but many could argue it’s Object over kill (AWT/SWING is probably worse).


GtkFileFilter *file_filter = gtk_file_filter_new();
gtk_file_filter_set_name(file_filter, "Log Files (*.bab)");
gtk_file_filter_add_pattern(file_filter, "*.bab");

Even though Gtk+ is in C, it has a nice interface (which many languages like Flash could be accused of robbing). The name is different than the pattern, and there aren’t ugly crazy separators like in .NET/MFC.


ExampleFileFilter filter = new ExampleFileFilter();
filter.setDescription("JPG &amp;amp;amp; GIF Images");

JFileChooser dialog = new JFileChooser();

This isn’t too bad until you realize that ExampleFileFilter is a custom class which extends abstract FileFilter. Yes there are other ways, but boy is this annoying!

Python (Gtk+)

        dialog = gtk.FileChooserDialog(title="Select the World"
                            , action=gtk.FILE_CHOOSER_ACTION_OPEN
                            , buttons=(gtk.STOCK_CANCEL
                                                    , gtk.RESPONSE_CANCEL
                                                    , gtk.STOCK_OPEN
                                                    , gtk.RESPONSE_OK))
        filter = gtk.FileFilter()
        filter.set_name("All files")

Just like Gtk+ but with the Python-esk feel.


I must be stating the obvious: Framework developers hate programmers.