File:  [mozdev] / books / www / articles / xpfe_dhtml.html
Revision 1.4: download - view: text, annotated - select for diffs - revision graph
Tue Aug 7 20:17:30 2001 UTC (18 years, 7 months ago) by david
Branches: MAIN
CVS tags: HEAD
editing article

<title>XPFE vs. DHTML</title>
<body bgcolor="#FFFFFF">

<h2>XPFE vs. DHTML</h2>

<p>'In the beginning, there were 3 front ends: Mac, Windows and Unix.  Each took a suite of developers to maintain.
Adding a new feature (even just a button) required 3 engineers to waste at least a day (more often a week) slaving 
away until the feature was complete.  This had to change.'  This is an 
<a href="">explanation posted</a> on describing 
how the Netscape 4.x browsers required a different set of engineers to create and maintain the interface code for
Netscape on each different platform, even though each version looked nearly identical.

<p>For an organization committed to creating an application that runs on a range of 
<a href="">different platforms</a> this 
system of using platform specific code was a huge investment and a big waste of time.  XPFE, Mozilla's 
cross-platform front end, was designed to fix this by allowing engineers to be able to create one interface that would then
 work on any operating system.  This new technology started out as a time-saving technique and then turned into one
 of Mozilla's most powerful innovations.

<p>Mozilla engineers were trying to create a more efficient process that would save them time and effort when
they started work on XPFE, but this technology ended up having the unintended consequence of lowering the barriers
to entry for application developers.  Mike Cornall, in 
<a href="">an article</a> about Mozilla 
published on LinuxToday, summarizes the history of XPFE well when he says: 'The application platform capabilities
of Mozilla came about through a happy coincidence of Open Source development, good design, and far-sighted
developers who were paying attention.'

<p>All browsers allow people using any type of computer to access applications on the 
Web, such as Yahoo! Mail, Amazon and Ebay. Mozilla is simply building on this idea.  
Using new technologies in conjunction with existing Web standards Mozilla enables the creation of 
more powerful applications, so instead of using Opera, Netscape 4.x or Internet Explorer 
to access a Web page you can use a full-featured application with Mozilla.

<p><b>Understanding XPFE</b>

<p>The technologies that XPFE uses are all existing Web standards, such as Cascading Style Sheets, JavaScript and
 XML (the XML component is a new language called XUL, the XML-based User Interface Language).  Since well understood
 Web standards are being used to create applications instead of platform-specific C code, a whole new group of people
 now have the ability to create their own applications using Mozilla.

<p>In the sense that XPFE uses some of the same standards that are used to create Web pages, Mozilla-based
 applications can even be thought of as Web pages.  Gecko, the HTML rendering engine that Mozilla uses, also draws
 all XPFE content, so a Web page and an application created with XPFE are on one level treated the same way by 
Mozilla itself.

<p>Web developers and designers who use Mozilla are naturally attracted to the fact that they can create
 applications using the same skills and techniques that they used to create Web pages in the past.  The specifics
 involved with creating Mozilla applications are different but should seem very familiar to anyone who has created
 for the Web before.

<p>When talking about front ends it is important to clarify what this means.  In this context a front end is more
 than the look and feel of a Mozilla-based application, but includes the functionality and structure of that application
 as well.  More simply put, XPFE allows users to do more than just create a skin for an application.  For example,
 Netscape 6 does use this functionality to allow for the creation of 
<a href="">different themes</a> for their browser suite, but the browser suite itself
 is also created out of these same technologies.

<p><img src=""><br>
<i>Figure 1: XPFE Framework</i>

<p>To understand all of the capabilities of XPFE, we can look at how the different components of it fit together.  
JavaScript is used to create the functionality for a Mozilla-based application, Cascading Style Sheets are used for 
formatting the look and feel, and XUL is used for creating the application's structure.  Viewed together these three 
standards can be seen forming the triangle in Figure 1 above.

<p><b>Comparing XPFE and DHTML</b>

<p>In many ways XPFE is very similar to <a href="">DHTML</a>.  Dynamic HTML is 
a combination of HTML with JavaScript and CSS that allows a developer to create a Web application that is contained
 within the content area of a browser.  XPFE provides a logical evolution to this idea by allowing the creation of
 applications that are more powerful, more flexible and that can live outside of the browser window as stand-alone

<p>Figure 2 below illustrates the similarities between XPFE and DHTML.  Both use JavaScript to create functionality, both
 use CSS to format the design and layout, and both use a fairly simple mark-up language to describe content.  The 
difference between the two is that one of these mark-up languages is HTML and the other is XUL.

<p><img src=""><br>
<i>Figure 2: Comparison of DHTML and XPFE</i>

<p>Although HTML has been put to many different uses, it was <a href="">originally designed</a>
 as a simple system to link together separate text documents on the Internet.  Later additions to the HTML standard 
have extended its functionality, but even these enhancements can't make it an appropriate language to use for developing 
applications.  XUL is a language specifically designed for creating user interfaces, so it makes sense that XPFE is more 
suited for application development than DHTML.

<p>Fortunately since XUL as a language is structurally similar to HTML it is simple enough to learn if you are already
 familiar with the basic language of the Web.  Even if you have never used HTML before, XUL uses a straight-forward 
<a href="">collection of tags</a> that makes it easy to get comfortable with it in 
a short time.  Once you become accustomed to using XUL you will be ready to start using XPFE to create your own applications.

<p><b>Oversimplifying in the Metaphor</b>

<p>This overview of XPFE as a simple evolution of DHTML is an oversimplification of the story and deliberately leaves 
out much important information.  These details were ignored at first to give a conceptual framework for understanding 
the new ideas that XPFE represent.  Now that we've gotten past the basics, we can go back and talk about the rest of the 
functionality available with using Mozilla to create applications.

<p>At the <a href="">Second Mozilla Developer Meeting</a>, Rob Ginda, 
the creator of ChatZilla, lead a discussion group about Mozilla as Platform.  In this session he listed all of the following 
as components of a Mozilla-based application:</P>

<FONT COLOR="#800000">
<LI>XUL (XML-based User Interface Language) - Used to create the structure and content of an application.<br><br>
<LI>CSS (Cascading Style Sheets) - Used to create the look and feel of an application.<br><br>
<LI>JavaScript - Used to create the functionality of an application.<br><br>
<LI>XPInstall (Cross-Platform Install) - Used to package applications so that they can be installed on any platform.<br><br>
<LI>RDF (Resource Description Framework) - Used to store data and transmit information.  Generally regarded to be one of the most complicated aspects of XPFE.<br><br>
<LI>DTD (Document Type Definition) - Used for localization and internationalization, more commonly referred to in short-hand as L12N and I18N respectively.<br><br>
<LI>XBL (eXtensible Binding Language) - Used to create reusable widgets using a combination of XUL and JavaScript.<br><br>
<LI>XUL templates - Used to create a framework for importing data into an application with a combination of RDF and XUL.<br><br>
<LI>XPCOM/XPConnect - Used to allow JavaScript, or potentially any other scripting language, to access and utilize C and C++ libraries.

<p>Each of these technologies is important and several of these deserve to have whole books devoted to them.  Although
 each of these technologies is important there is a distinction to be made among them.  Some of these are essential to 
the creation of a Mozilla application and some of them provide powerful extra features that can be used in addition to 
the basic functionality.

<p>For example, <a href="">RDF</a> is an extremely powerful technology for
 using data in Mozilla but it is possible to create an application without using it.  
<a href="">Localization</a> also provides Mozilla with a great amount 
of flexibility and usability but there are many existing applications that don't take advantage of this feature.  
It wouldn't be possible to create an application without XUL though.

<p><b>Judge For Yourself</b>

<p>XPFE is a new technology that has yet to prove itself to the Web community and many people are skeptical 
about the need for an application framework such as this.  Before you make up your mind about XPFE, you should 
take a look at the many different applications that have already been created using Mozilla so you can judge for 

<p>If you are interested in trying out some of these, there are currently over 30 different Mozilla-based 
applications being hosted on <a href=""></a> that have been created using XPFE.  
Other applications using the same technology include ActiveState's 
<a href="">Komodo</a> IDE,  Rob Ginda's 
<a href="">ChatZilla</a> IRC client, and Zope's 
<a href="">Mozilla Initiative</a>.


FreeBSD-CVSweb <>