Tuesday, March 3, 2009

What's next for GWT Exporter?

I have learned over the past year that a lot of Chronoscope users like to use the Javascript API, but the current API is unfortunately, a small sliver of the full power the GWT API offers. In dealing with increasing demand for more exported functions, I have run into some basic limitations that GWT-Exporter has that make it less than ideal for exporting idiomatic Javascript APIs.

Exporting Classes you don't control

Since Chronoscope made the switch to the new GWT Incubator/GWT 1.6 Event handling system, I have been unable to export event handler functions, because the HandlerRegistration type returned by the GWT event system is not an interface, making it difficult to wrap. In general, if you don't own a class, you can't add Exporter annotations to it, which is problematic because there are lots of types you don't control.

A new mechanism will be added in an upcoming GWT Exporter release, I dub Export Overlays, which will work something like this:

public interface WindowExport extends ExportOverlay<Window> {
@Export void alert(String message);

In the above code, we are exporting the GWT Window class in the Javascript package "gwt", but only exposing the alert() method. This will result in an exported wrapper in $wnd.gwt.Window with the method published on $wnd.gwt.Window.prototype.alert.

Fine control over Javascript->Java type conversions

Javascript doesn't support overloaded method dispatch as a language feature, but most Javascript libraries do use heavily overloaded functions with variable arguments and variable argument types. Currently, GWT Exporter supports Javascript overloading by arity, but not by type, so two Java methods of the same name and identical arity cannot be exported without overriding the exported name.

Some of this will be mitigated by adding in automatic type checking for handling overloaded dispatch, but more is needed. Consider the following Javascript API:

onMove: function(event) { }
onHover: function(event) { }
onFocus: function(event) { }

This is somewhat idiomatic Javascript, leveraging object literals to pass in multiple bindings. The current approach is to have 3 methods, addMoveHander, addHoverHandler, addFocusHandler, but this doesn't feel quite right to some Javascript programmers. Another problem is illustrated below:

public class Foo implements Exportable {
public void setFoo(Date date) { }

A Javascript developer would naturally want to write:

var date = new Date();

But this won't work, because there is no automatic conversion in GWT Exporter between JS Date and java.util.Date. I could add this (as was done with JS String and java.lang.String), but that still leaves open the problem of the inability to pass Javascript types from third party Javascript libraries into GWT methods.

Type Converter injection

What I'm currently looking at is a mechanism to declare Javascript fragments on Java methods which can type-convert arguments between the exported wrapper, before they invoke the underlying GWT method. Something like this:

public class Foo implements Exportable {
public void setFoo(@Convert(JsType.DATE, "new java.util.Date($_arg.getTime()$)") Date foo) { }

The syntax is still subject to change of course, but the idea is that you supply an annotation on each param, using an enum (STRING, FUNCTION, ARRAY, OBJECT, etc) which corresponds to the return value of the 'typeof' operator, or you use a special INSTANCE version which allows you to specify a match according to 'instanceof'. Next, you supply a Java expression), including inline JSNI code (here shown in between $ $). The GWT Exporter then arranges to generate code to check the type, and inject your fragment before calling the underlying method.

Another possibility is to add JSNI methods to Export Overlays which allow arbitrary conversion code to be specified and injected into the wrapper prior to invocation of methods.

By combining this with the Export Overlay concept, it might be possible to deal with the idiomatic JS Literal pattern, while keeping JSNI methods out of classes that may not want them, or that you do not control.

Primitive arrays an oversight

Finally, GWT Exporter currently does not support export of parameters or return types which are native Java arrays, which is a hole in the export type system. This will be added in a near future release.


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