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Project Notes - rad_tool_notes
GNAVI Projects Notes

RAD Discussion

-- Steve Doiel

In my opinion a Rapid Application Development (RAD) tool presents an
integrated development environment that enables developers to
interactively lay out the visual elements of windowing applications
and the code associated with those elements.

The tool should permit modifying the graphical user interface and
associated code over the life of the software.

The tool should be able to invoke a compiler and run the application
from within the development environment.

In my experience RAD tools generate applications that are modeled
around the concept of a "form".  The form serves as a container for
"components".  Components have "properties" and "events".  Properites
are configuration values for a component.  Events associate code that
is invoked based on user interaction with the graphical user interface
or other activity in the system.

Examples of RAD tools include: Delphi, C++ Builder, J Builder and
Visual Basic.

With a good RAD tool a programmer should, with minimal effort, be able
to interactively build an run a graphical application that displays
visual elements.  That is creating a "hello world" program should
be trivial and obvious.

To date I have not seen a decent RAD tool for Ada.  GWindows is
the best underlying framework I have seen for developing such a tool.

Continuing with the discussion...

I have looked at the implementation of varous RAD tools.

Each tool (apparently) maintains an internal structure describing the
relationship between visual components.

The visual application consists of one or more "forms".

Each form is populated with one or more "components".

Components are either visual or non-visual.

Components have associated "properties" and "events".

Properties are instance values used to initialize components when they are
created.  Events map windows messages to user defined procedures or

For the GUI builder, a natural way of representing this structure is as a
forest of trees.  Each tree represents a form.  Each form contains a list of
components, and each compoent contains a list of components, properties and

Each node in each of the trees is likely implemented as an object.
Components (and probably forms) derive from a common object.  Each of the
components provide property editors for thir properties and events.

In Borland's Delphi the window and component structure is saved in a file
with a special extension (*.dfm).  Design time information is magically
included in the executable when the system is built under the Delphi IDE.

In Microsoft Visual C#, forms are set up by an initialization routine called
"InitiaizeComponents".  The InitializeComponents method is generated
automatically when a form is designed.

With Microsoft DevStudio and MFC, Wizards are used to generate code and
special markers are used, which are contained in comments, to help the tool
know where to insert automatically generated code.

I believe Glade sets up an XML template file and then generates code in one
of several choices of languages based on the template.

I tend to like the idea of generating code, mainly because it takes the
mystery out of what the GUI builder is doing for you.

--  Andrew Carroll

I think a RAD tool would be most helpful especially since the GLADE2
tool I used never really worked that well for me.  GLADE2 drove me to
use Visual Basic 6.0.

That brings up a point and another reason to participate.  If the RAD
tool for GWindows isn't simple to use when we are done then in my
opinion we just wasted a whole bunch of time.  If you have ever used
Visual Basic you would most likely agree that it is extremely simple to
use.  Well, with a few "hello worlds" and some curiosity you can figure
the darn thing out pretty quickly.  I'd like a RAD tool for Ada that is
as simple to use as Visual Basic.

There are a couple of things in VB I don't like.  Namely the way the
windows behave if you are going back and forth from the form or object
browser windows to the code windows.  I'm not sure there is a better way
to do it but I have some ideas.  I think there was a discussion here
about this recently so let me know if it has already been worked out.

I have two ideas.  The first idea is to have a small preview area where
the form can be seen.  By small I mean maybe 200 pixels square.  When
you change the code the preview changes.  When you click the preview the
form opens.  The other idea I had is to have a semi-transparent form in
front of the code; let's call it a ghost for now.  The ghost is
transparent enough that you can see through it to see what you are
typing yet opaque enough to recognize what has changed when you change
the code.

(c) 1999-2004 All Rights Reserved David Botton