Category Archives: Mobile Development

Async to Better U/X

I come to you today with three simple tips that will guarantee to improve your Codename One apps’ usability:

  1. Don’t block the EDT
  2. If you must block the EDT, do it when the user won’t notice
  3. Prefer asynchronous coding patterns (e.g. using callbacks) to synchronous coding patterns (e.g. *AndWait(), and *AndBlock() methods).

The first one is GUI 101. All of the UI is drawn on the EDT (Event dispatch thread). If you are performing a slow operation on the EDT, the user will probably notice a lag or a jerk in the UI because drawing can’t take place while your slow operation is occupying the thread.

Here’s a quick example. I have a form that allows the user to swipe through 12 images, which are loaded from the classpath (getResourceAsStream()). My first attempt at this is to load all of the images into Labels inside the Form’s constructor as follows:

public class MyForm extends Form {
    private Tabs tabs;

    public MyForm() {
        super("Welcome to My App");

        tabs = new Tabs();


        Container buttonsContentWrapper = new Container(new BorderLayout());
        try {
            for (int i=1; i< =12; i++) {
                int w = calculateTheWidth();
                int h = calculateTheHeight();
                Button l = new Button(
                                Display.getInstance().getResourceAsStream(null, "/Instructions"+fi+".png")
                        ).scaledSmallerRatio(w, h)

                if (i>1) {
                Container tabWrapper = FlowLayout.encloseCenter(l);
                if (i==12) {
                    tabWrapper.putClientProperty("lastSlide", Boolean.TRUE);
                } else {
                    tabWrapper.putClientProperty("lastSlide", Boolean.FALSE);
                tabs.addTab(i+"", tabWrapper);
        } catch (Exception ex) {
        Container mainContent = new Container(new BorderLayout());
        mainContent.addComponent(BorderLayout.CENTER, tabs);
        setLayout(new LayeredLayout());

        Button skipButton = new Button("Skip");


        Container buttonsContent = FlowLayout.encloseRight(skipButton);
        buttonsContentWrapper.addComponent(BorderLayout.SOUTH, buttonsContent);

So what’s the problem with this code? Loading the 12 images inside the constructor of this form takes too long. If I have code like:

MyForm form = new MyForm();;

There is a lag of 1 or 2 seconds in the new MyForm() line — before the form is even shown. This feels really bad to the user.

We can improve on this by employing the 2nd tip above:

If you must block the EDT (hey we need to load the images sometime right?), then do it when the user won’t notice

Rather than loading all of the images directly inside the MyForm constructor, we can load each one inside its own Display.callSerially() dispatch, as shown below:

public class MyForm extends Form {
    private Tabs tabs;

    public MyForm() {
        try {
            for (int i=1; i< =12; i++) {
                final Button l = new Button();
                    try {
                                    Display.getInstance().getResourceAsStream(null, "/Instructions"+fi+".png")
                            ).scaledSmallerRatio(fw, fh)
                     } catch (Exception ex){

        } catch (Exception ex) {


This will still load the images on the EDT, but it will do them one by one, and in a future event dispatch, so that the code won’t block at all in the constructor. If you run this code, you’ll notice that the 1 to 2 second lag before showing the form is gone. However, the form transition may contain a few “jerks” because it is still interleaving the loading of the images while drawing frames.

So this is an improvement, but still not a good user experience. Luckily we can go back to tip #1, “Don’t block the EDT”, when we realize that we didn’t have to block the EDT at all. We can load the images on a background thread, and then apply them as icons to the labels when they are finished loading, as shown below:

public class MyForm extends Form {
    private Tabs tabs;

    public MyForm() {
        // ...
        try {
            for (int i=1; i< =12; i++) {
                // ...
                final Button l = new Button();
                    try {
                        Image im = Image.createImage(
                                Display.getInstance().getResourceAsStream(null, "/Instructions"+fi+".png")
                        ).scaledSmallerRatio(fw, fh);
                        if (im != null) {

                    } catch (Exception ex){
        } catch (Exception ex) {


This has double nesting. The first nest (inside scheduleBackgroundTask()) downloads the icon on a background thread. Then the second nesting using callSerially(), assigns the image as the label’s icon back on the EDT. This was necessary because we can’t access the label from the background thread. That part must occur on the EDT. But that part is non-intensive and very fast to perform.

So the result is a very fluid user experience with no lags and no jerks.

Prefer Async to Sync

I’ll address the preference of Async to Sync separately. The example above is a sort of example of this since the nested calls to scheduleBackgroundTask() and callSerially() are technically “callbacks”. However, with this tip I’m more specifically targeting methods like invokeAndBlock(), addToQueueAndWait(), and other *AndWait() methods. At their core, all of these methods are built upon invokeAndBlock() so I’ll target that one specifically here – and the wisdom gleaned will also apply to all AndWait() methods.

First of all, if you aren’t familiar with invokeAndBlock, it is a marvelous invention that allows you to “block” the EDT without actually blocking the EDT. It will indeed block the current dispatch event, but while it is blocked, it will start processing the rest of the events in the EDT queue. That way your app won’t lock up while your code is blocked. This strategy is used for modal dialogs to great effect. You can effectively show a dialog, and the “next” line of code isn’t executed until the user closes the dialog – but the UI itself doesn’t lock up.

invokeAndBlock() is the infrastructure that allows you to do synchronous network requests on the EDT (e.g. NetworkManager.getInstance().addToQueueAndWait(conn)). Since this pattern is so convenient (it allows you to think serially about your workflow – which is much easier), it is used in all kinds of places where it really shouldn’t be.

So why NOT use invokeAndBlock

Because it will ALMOST always result in a worse user experience. I’ll illustrate that with a scenario that would seem, at first, to be a good case for invokeAndBlock (addToQueueAndWait()).

Here is a form that allows a user to update his bio. Somehow the form needs to be populated with the user’s existing profile data, which is exists on a network server. The question is when and how do we load this data from the server.

A first attempt might populate the data inside the form’s constructor using AddToQueueAndWait() (or some method that encapsulates this). That might look like this:

public class MyForm extends Form {

    public MyForm() {
         ConnectionRequest req = createConnectionRequest();

The problem with this is similar to our first example loading images from the classpath. Execution will stall inside the constructor for our form while the data is loaded. So the user will have to wait to show the form. A common technique to mitigate this UX blunder is to display an infinite progress indicator so the user knows that something is happening. That’s better, but it still makes the app feel slow.

If we want the user to be able to see the form immediately, then either we need to have loaded the data before-hand, or we need to show the form, and populate it later. We could also use a combination (e.g. show the form with data we loaded before, then update it once we have the new data.

Loading data before hand, exclusively, is not realistic. There must exist a point after which we deem the data is too old and we need to reload it. And we are back at needing to load data when the form loads.

If we want to solve this problem, and still use addToQueueAndWait(), we either need to wrap addToQueueAndWait() inside a callSerially() dispatch so that it doesn’t block inside the constructor – and delay our show() method; or we need to move the call somewhere else, after the form is already shown. Although that isn’t ideal either, because we’d like to have the data as soon as possible – so the longer we delay the “sending” of the network request, the longer the user has to wait for the result.

Now, our handy tool (invokeAndBlock) that was supposed to reduce our app’s complexity, is actually making it more complex. Wrapping it inside callSerially() in the constructor means that we are now combining an async callback with sync blocking code. We might as well, at that point, just use addToQueue(), and use a result listener to process the response without blocking the EDT at all, as shown in the example below:

public class MyForm extends Form {

    public MyForm() {
         ConnectionRequest req = createConnectionRequest();

This predicament is the reason not to use invokeAndBlock (addtoQueueAndWait()). It isn’t that they are evil, or they can’t be made to work. It is because, if you aim to achieve an optimal user experience, it will get in the way more than it will help.

Does this mean that you should never use invokeAndBlock() or addToQueueAndWait()? No. There are valid cases for both of these. E.g. addToQueueAndWait() can be used from a background thread (off the EDT), in which case it isn’t even using invokeAndBlock. It is just plain-old blocking that background thread, which is perfectly OK because it’s not the EDT. In addition, there may be cases where you DO want to block the flow of the application without locking up the UI. Modal dialogs is the flag-ship use-case for this. I struggle to think of another suitable scenario though.

Entitled OSS Users and the Xamarin RoboVM acquisition

RoboVM has been acquired by Xamarin, it was announced; and it would no longer be open source.


It only took five minutes for the forum posts and reddit threads to start up condemning the move as some sort of robbery. The RoboVM was accused of luring unsuspecting users into its community on the promise of open source, only to pull a switcheroo and sell out to big business. Some users were demanding the RoboVM team continue to share their work for free, because … that would only be fair.

RoboVM, on the other hand, explained that they had been open source for a few years and had received little to no contributions from the community, so there wasn’t much incentive to continue with that approach. My personal experience with managing open source projects is consistent with theirs. I released the first version of Xataface in 2005. In that time it has hundreds of thousands of downloads, and is still used in many enterprises as the back-bone of their web information systems (I don’t have an exact count since most apps built with Xataface are internal). In that time, I can count the number of community contributions on my fingers and toes. I’m thankful to all of the users who did contribute. But let’s be real, the case for open sourcing a project because the community will contribute is not compelling.

Shut up and Fork it!

No, really. The source (albeit a couple of months out of date) is still on GitHub and it is licensed under the GPL. That repository represents countless hours of high-quality work by incredibly skilled individuals. That is one hell of a contribution to the open source community. Let them move on; And if you want your open source RoboVM, you can build on this fantastic source base.

Personally, I think it is highly likely that the last open source version of RoboVM will continue to circulate for a long time to come. At least in its core as an AOT java VM, it should be maintainable by people on the outside because most of the heavy lifting is already done there. It is the value-added components like the iOS API bindings, and tool support, that will be difficult for the community to maintain going forward. These things are evolving too fast for volunteers to keep up with.

Dependent Tools

If you are an iOS developer who just uses RoboVM to build iOS apps in Java, then the move to close the source probably won’t affect you – except that your costs may be going up some. I wonder more about the impact that this has on other developer tools that have made RoboVM an integral part of their tool chain. I’m thinking about companies like Gluon that provides JavaFX support for iOS and Android. They use RoboVM for their iOS builds. DukeScript, which allows you to write Java apps with an HTML5 UI and deploy to iOS (and other platforms), also uses RoboVM for its iOS builds. How will they respond.

I had argued as recently as 6 months ago that we (at Codename One) should incorporate RoboVM into our toolchain rather than maintain our own Java VM. But we ultimately decided that there was too much risk in that approach because “what if RoboVM closes down, or goes closed source”. 20/20 hindsight shows that we made the right choice and our new iOS VM is now quite mature, performant, and robust. But most importantly we are not dependent upon other external factors for maintaining it.

What Open Source VMs are Left for iOS?

RoboVM wasn’t the only open source VM for iOS. It was just the most active, and provided the best and most comprehensive bindings to the iOS native APIs. But there are alternative VMs that the open source community may turn to for their supply chain. For example:

  1. Codename One (proper) – (Full disclosure, I work for Codename One)… Codename One is open source and provides a full cross-platform Java solution for write once run anywhere.
  2. Codename One’s VM – Codename One has developed its own Java VM for iOS that works as a cross-compiler from Java to C. This is open source and is a good option for Java tools that need a path to iOS.
  3. Avian – Avian is an AOT Java compiler that can be used to compile java directly to iOS binaries. It is written in C++, and has a very permissive license.
  4. XMLVM. This project has been discontinued. But I mention it for completeness in case people want to revive it.
  5. OpenJDK for iOS. It has been approved for an iOS port of the Open JDK to be developed. This may also present a long-term option, but this is still only in the planning stage.
  6. J2ObjC – A transpiler that converts Java source code into Objective-C source code.
  7. JUniversal – Java source transpiler to C# and C++ that includes a runtime library to help with portability.

iOS Certificate Wizard

I don’t know about you, but I cringe every time I need to deploy apps to iOS. There is always something with the certificates or provisioning profiles that requires tinkering. No more, I say!

This is a sneak peak of a new certificate wizard I developed for Codename One. It reduces the problem of generating certificates and provisioning profile down to a few clicks. Watch for this to be included in the Codename One plugin as soon as next week.

My WWDC 2015 “Hey that’s cool!” list

The 2015 WWDC keynote included a lot of “meh”, but a few “hey that’s cool”s. Here is my “hey that’s cool” list.

1. Search API

Apple announced a new search API that iOS app developers can use to allow users to search within their application from.

We now have an API for search. So now when a user performs a search, we can find content behind the apps they have installed on the device, and pull those up in results. And when they tap, they’re deep linked directly into the application. We even provide a convenient back link so they can get right back to their search results. We think these kinds of intelligence features really make a huge difference in your experience in iOS.

Android has provided a similar API for a while now, so this feature is really just playing a little catch-up. But what this means for Codename One is that it will now be possible to design a cross-platform API for this.

2. Swift Open Source

When Swift was first announced (and not open sourced), many pundits were cynical of Apple’s motives – particularly suspecting that Apple was looking to create yet another “lock-in” mechanism for developers. While this is still probably true, their decision to open source it at least some good faith. Their announcement from the Swift blog

Here is what we can tell you so far: 1. Swift source code will be released under an OSI-approved permissive license. 2. Contributions from the community will be accepted — and encouraged. 3. At launch we intend to contribute ports for OS X, iOS, and Linux. 4. Source code will include the Swift compiler and standard library.

We think it would be amazing for Swift to be on all your favorite platforms.

With Swift’s apparent success, one must wonder how long Objective-C will remain “supported”. Apple historically has had no qualms about pulling the rug out from developers when they want to make a shift, and Objective-C certainly is showing its age – so don’t be surprised if, some time in the next couple of years – we get a new WWDC bombshell that Objective-C is being scrapped.

Codename One currently compiles everything down to plain old C code so we would be largely unaffected by such a change – although there would be some native portions that use Objective-C that would need updating. Luckily, if you’re a Codename One user, you don’t need to concern yourself with these details because you are working in Java.

3. iPad Split Screen

This is the coolest advance of them all. Being able to have two apps open at once makes the iPad much more functional – one step closer to replacing the laptop for a lot of users. As a power user, I have often felt that the iPad is not living up to its potential as a computing device – and usually ends up working like just a large iPhone. Small advances like split screen open the doors for app developers to make innovative apps that empower the user to do things that weren’t previously possible.

One small bit of irony is that many apps that were developed using Apple’s development toolkit will need have modifications made to support the different sizing that would occur when an app is displayed in split screen. Codename One apps should “just work”, since it is designed from the ground up, with layout managers, to work across many different devices and screen dimensions.

4. Metal

Metal was announced last year as a more efficient graphics layer than OpenGL for iOS. Now it is available on Mac OS X. Apple describes Metal thusly:

Metal provides the lowest-overhead access to the GPU, enabling you to maximize the graphics and compute potential of your apps on iOS and OS X. With a streamlined API, precompiled shaders, and support for efficient multi-threading, Metal can take your game or app to the next level of performance and capability.

In the key note they cited performance improvements by switching to Metal between 30% and 700%. Codename One is currently using OpenGL for all of our graphics rendering but we have had our eye on Metal for some time. It is uncertain how much we can stand to gain by a switch to Metal. My conservative estimate would be closer to 30% than 700% – but who knows.

5. Apple Pay

Apparently Apple Pay is catching on. In the keynote they dazzle us with lots of numbers (e.g. 250 banks have signed on, etc…) that make it look like they really have a chance of taking over. They have successfully chiseled out a large chunk of the music and software pie. If they can get a piece of every retail transaction … I shudder to think of how big they could become. Welcome our new overlords.

Porting a Java Project to the Web with TeaVM

I am always experimenting with new technologies just to see what new cool things are possible. As a Java developer, I’m usually toying with JVM-related technologies. The latest new and cool technology that I have been experimenting with is TeaVM: A JVM for the browser. After using it for about 2 months now, I am confident in saying that TeaVM is awesome!

TeaVM vs GWT

Java in the browser is nothing new. GWT has offered Java to Javascript cross-compilation for years. So how is TeaVM any different or better than GWT?

  1. TeaVM operates on Java byte code rather than source code. This means you can convert precompiled .class files or even full .jar files to Javascript.
  2. TeaVM supports (or can potentially support) alternative JVM languages like Scala, JRuby, Kotlin, etc, since it operates on .class files (which all JVM languages ultimately compile to). GWT is limited to just Java.
  3. Multithreading. This is groundbreaking. TeaVM actually supports threading primitives like synchronized, Thread.sleep(), Object.wait/notify, etc.. This is a very new feature of TeaVM. Many have tried to come up with a threading solution in the browser, but TeaVM is the first (in history?) to have successfully done it. See live demo of multithreading

What I’m Using it For

I’m currently working on porting Codename One into Javascript. Codename One is a Write-once-run-anywhere solution for mobile application development. Up until now, it supported deploying apps to iOS, Android, Windows Phone, J2ME, BlackBerry, and the desktop (Windows/Mac)… but notably, it did not support deployment to the web. For the past year, I have been having on and off discussions with the other Codename One developers about the possibility of a Javascript port, but I was advised that it was impossible because Javascript didn’t support multi-threading. Attempts had been made before using GWT but they did not prove successful. Codename One is a heavy user of threading primitives since it maintains its own event-dispatch thread (very similar to Swing), and this would lock up the browser if allowed to run in the Javascript single-threaded environment.

A little over a year ago I came across TeaVM for the first time, and I asked Alexey (its author) whether there was any support for threading. He said “no” at the time, but that he had an idea of how he could implement green threads. At that time I wasn’t working for Codename One and had limited time to spend on projects like this, so I just left it there.

Fast forward to a couple of months ago. I was given the green light to go ahead and attempt a Javascript port. At that time still, it was basically me saying “I think I can do it”, but the rest of the team was skeptical, having failed before with GWT. I contacted Alexey again and told him what I was planning to do.

Aside: I was a little naive at this point to think I could do the port with my current knowledge and tools. Knowing what I know now, there is no way I could have succeeded without the the help of Alexey and TeaVM.

At this point I thought I could take the code that was generated by TeaVM and modify it to use Stratifiedjs to support continuations/pseudo threads. He replied that he was aware of this project but that it wasn’t a good fit because he had a better way.

The full thread that shows the development of Async code generation (i.e. multithreaded support) can be see here.

Within days, he had completed a prototype of his new “CPS style” code generator that supported asynchronous code. He implemented Thread.sleep() and Thread.yield() and posted a test case. Based on these implementations, I added initial support for Object.wait(), Object.notify() and a few other threading primitives. Alexey, has since refactored and improved these implementations, such that probably none of my original contributions are recognizable. The full scope and scale of this project, frankly were a little over my head.

I have now been working on the Javascript port for Codename One for a couple of months. There have been quite a few bug reports, but Alexey has been quick to fix them all. I would say that TeaVM’s multithreading implementation is pretty stable at this point. And it is getting more stable daily.

The Poker Demo

Here is a small teaser of the result of the new Codename One port that is built using TeaVM: the Poker demo. The application itself was not modified from the version deployed to iOS, Android, etc… It just required a port layer to implement the “native” components of the Codename One framework, and the rest was left up to TeaVM to work its magic.

Run the demo yourself here


I have been very impressed by the performance that I have been able to achieve with TeaVM. The generated code is very efficient resulting (give or take) in one line of Javascript code corresponding with one line of Java code.

You might think that adding threading support and blocking synchronous method support would lock up the browser, but you would be dead wrong. TeaVM’s transformation to continuations allows it to provide support for synchronous code without ever blocking the javascript thread. This is because, under the hood, these are implemented using callbacks.


Personally I prefer to use Netbeans as my IDE so I’m not benefiting from the debugging support that Alexey created for Eclipse. Therefore, I do my debugging directly in chrome. This actually isn’t as bad as it sounds. Stack traces in chrome are very readable and map directly to the corresponding Java stack trace (i.e. if an error occurs in javascript it is fairly easy to track it back to the original Java code that caused it).

TeaVM Stacktrace


Another nice thing about TeaVM is that it pays attention to things like executable size. It uses static analysis to strip out dead code prior to conversion so that your app is as small as possible. It also includes an option to minify the code, which further reduces the code size.

More to Come

Personally I think that Java needs to be in the browser, since it is essentially the “operating system of the future”. I also think that the browser can benefit greatly from Java as applications get more complex and difficult to maintain. Currently TeaVM provides the best route between Java and the browser, so I expect it to catch on over the following months and years.

Do you currently have a project that depends on GWT? Or do you have a Java project that you would like to offer on the web? You may want to consider porting it to TeaVM because of all of its nice features (i.e. support for other JVM languages, and multithreading). I have had a great time porting Codename One to TeaVM. I’m happy to answer questions or offer tips if you are interested in porting your project over as well. In addition, I think you’ll find that Alexey is very responsive to bug reports, feedback and questions.

For more information about TeaVM, check out its Github repository.

Hacking the OSCON 2014 Schedule with Codename One & Mirah

I gave a tutorial on Codename One at OSCON this year. Part way through the conference, I learned that OSCON had published its schedule as a public JSON feed and were encouraging developers to create their own schedule apps out of it. I was too busy at the time – but I wish I had known about this before hand as it would have made for a good subject for the tutorial. Alas, five months too late, here is a rough stab at this challenge, for the purpose of showing off a Mirah macro I just developed to make JSON Parsing easier in Codename One.

The State of JSON Parsing In Codename One

Codename One apps are Java apps, so they usually consist of a well-structured data model of Java classes and their instantiated objects. JSON (Javascript Object Notation) data is not strongly typed. It encapsulates a generic tree of maps, lists, and primitive data types. Codename One can easily parse JSON strings to a corresponding but generic data structure consisting only of java.util.Maps, java.util.Lists, Strings, and Doubles:

   JSONParser parser = new JSONParser();
   Map data = parser.parseJSON(jsonString);

This is a start, but it is not satisfactory. For example, our schedule application will have classes like Schedule, Event, Speaker, and Venue. We will definitely want to convert this Map into more specific Java types to help achieve a better level of abstraction in our app. But how?

Currently We need to Manually copy the contents of the generic data structure into the associate java types : Tedious and Error-prone

Why can’t we use a library like Jackson?

Libraries that automate the mapping of JSON data to Java types (like Jackson does) all require reflection. Codename One doesn’t support reflection because it needs to know what code is being used before it is deployed as a means of optimizing the performance and size of the app. If it were changed to support reflection, it would mean that the entire Java class library would have to be included in the app because the compiler wouldn’t know until runtime which classes were in use.

So using a library to handle this is out.

Mirah Macros to the Rescue

If you’ve been following any of my recent development, you know that I have been getting pretty deep into Mirah lately. Why Mirah?

It provides Ruby-like syntax, yet compiles directly to .class files with no runtime dependencies. This makes it ideal for Codename One development. You get all of the performance of Java but the productivity of Ruby.

In order to be able to use Mirah in my own projects, I developed a plugin for NetBeans that allows you to include Mirah source inside existing Java projects and work interchangeably with Java source. This capability is handy since some things are still better done in Java. It also allows me to sprinkle little bits of Mirah into my projects as I see fit.


One of the most powerful features of Mirah is its support for macros. A Mirah macro is a bit of code that is executed at compile time and is able to modify the AST. This allows you to do cool things like add properties and methods to classes, or even generate new classes entirely. This ability is also very powerful for Codename One development as it gives us the ability to perform compile-time reflection.

The data_mapper Macro

I created a macro named data_mapper that generates a class that knows how to convert between JSON and objects of a particular class. It works as follows:

   data_mapper MyClass:MyClassMapper

This generates a class named MyClassMapper that knows how to convert between JSON data and objects of MyClass. All generated “mapper” classes are subclasses of DataMapper.

The OSCON Schedule

The OSCON schema includes 4 types:

  1. Schedule : The umbrella structure.
  2. Event : Represents a single event on the schedule.
  3. Speaker : Represents a speaker at OSCON.
  4. Venue : A venue or room.

In my OSCON application, I created 4 corresponding classes. A simplified version of the Schedule class is:

    public class Schedule {
        private List<Event> events;
        private List<Speaker> speakers;
        private List<Venue> venues;

        // getters & setters, etc...

And the Event class is roughly:

public class Event {
    private String serial;
    private String name;
    private String eventType;
    private String venueSerial;
    private String description;
    private String websiteUrl;
    private Date timeStart;
    private Date timeStop;

    private List<String> speakers;
    private List<String> categories;

    // getters & setters, etc...

Parsing the JSON schedule into my class types, first, involved using the data_mapper macros to generate mappers for my classes:

data_mapper Event:EventMapper
data_mapper Venue:VenueMapper
data_mapper Speaker:SpeakerMapper
data_mapper Schedule:ScheduleMapper

The following is the sum total of the code that is used to actually load the JSON feed and parse it into my Java types:

ScheduleMapper scheduleMapper = new ScheduleMapper();
        new EventMapper(),
        new VenueMapper(),
        new SpeakerMapper()
), new DataMapper.Decorator() {

    public void decorate(DataMapper mapper) {
Schedule schedule = scheduleMapper.readJSONFromURL(

Let’s walk through this example, because there are a couple of implementation details included in this example because it is real-world, and thus not completely trivial.

  1. If we were only mapping a JSON feed that contained a single Java type, we could just instantiate the DataMapper object and parse the feed. However, since there are multiple types in the feed, and the mappers need to know to use each other (e.g. The EventMapper needs to know that when it encounters a Speaker, that it should use the SpeakerMapper etc..), we need to set up a shared context. That is what the DataMapper.createContext() call does. It binds all of the mappers together so that they work as one.
  2. The properties in the JSON feed use snake_case, whereas our Java classes use camelCase for their properties respectively. We use the setReadKeyConversions() method on all mappers to specify that it should convert these automatically.
  3. The readJSONFromURL() method includes a third parameter that specifies the sub-key that is treated as the root of the data structure. Without this it would try to map the top-level JSON object to the Schedule object which would fail. (The schedule is contained in a sub-object with key Schedule).

There are other settings that you can play with such as date formats, but luckily the rest of the default settings work fine with this JSON feed.

At this point, the schedule object is completely populated with the OSCON schedule data, so it can be used to build our app.

Painless, right?


Screen Shot 2014-12-05 at 6.40.35 PM

Screen Shot 2014-12-05 at 6.40.57 PM

Screen Shot 2014-12-05 at 6.40.47 PM

Download the App Source Code

This app is just a work in progress, but it may form the foundation for your own schedule app if you choose. You can download the source from GitHub here.

Build Instructions

Requires Netbeans 7.4 or higher with the following plugins installed:

  1. Codename One
  2. Netbeans Mirah Plugin
  3. Netbeans CN1ML Plugin


  1. Clone the cn1-mirah-json-macros Gitub Project clone
  2. Open the OSCONSchedule project that is a subdirectory of the main project directory, in NetBeans.
  3. Build the project. Modify it at will


Apache 2.0


I created a short screencast of this tutorial so you can see the data_mapper macro in action.


  1. Codename One Homepage
  2. DataMapper API Docs
  3. Codename One Reflection Utilities Download – Contains the libraries necessary to do the JSON parsing in a Codename One app.
  4. Mirah Netbeans Module
  5. OSCON App Source
  6. OSCON DIY Schedule JSON Feed

CN1ML: Using HTML to Design Codename One User Interfaces

post-header In Codename One, you traditionally have two choices for designing user interfaces:

  1. Use the GUI builder (i.e. WYSIWYG)
  2. Code the UI manually

Although the GUI builder is great, I often find myself coding the UI by hand because it gives me the most control – and it lets me get directly to the code. Of course, you can mix and match GUI builder GUIs with custom code, and I often do. E.g. I’ll set up each Form’s structure in the GUI builder and populate the details in code. Sometimes shifting back and forth between a WYSIWYG context and Java source code can be trying, though.. For some reason, I don’t like shifting gears. When I’m working in code, I like to dive deep in code and look at nothing else but code. When I’m doing desktop WYSIWYG designs, I want to stay in that environment. But I don’t alternate between them terribly well.

Anyhoo… so that’s why I sometimes find myself coding the entire UI in Java.

This has an ENORMOUS down-side, though. For simple UIs with under 5 components, it is manageable. But when you start to get into a complex UI with multiple levels of nested containers, things become something of a mess. And when you go back to modify the code later, it can be difficult to tell the forest from the trees.

A Codename One UI form is very similar to the HTML document model. It defines a tree structure of user interface components. Expressed in HTML, tree-based document models are quite clean and easy to navigate. It is easy to tell which tags are parents of other tags. Not so with Java code. So I thought:

Wouldn’t it be great if I could express my user interface in HTML?

So I set off to do just that.


Before starting on this mission, I had a few requirements in my head:

  1. The HTML should compile down to Java source code so that it can be compiled just like all of the rest of the classes in Codename One. I.e. The HTML should not be parsed, processed, or converted at runtime. It should be handled completely at compile-time. The reason for this is that we want the build server to be able to optimize the app executables and strip out unneeded classes to keep the app file-size down. It knows how to do this for Java source code, but not with extra HTML files that I might provide to it.
  2. I should be able to access any parts of the Component hierarchy from Java. Complex UIs require much more than just a simple template structure. You need to be able to attach event listeners, and possibly decorate the components dynamically using Java in ways that just can’t be expressed declaratively. Hence I wanted to make it easy to “access” parts of the generated UI objects.
  3. I should be able to work with these files seamlessly inside the IDE. I didn’t want to add an extra step when dealing with these HTML UI interfaces. I’d probably forget how to do it when it came time to return to the project.
  4. No Performance Penalty. I want the UIs to be just as fast as a hand-coded UI.

And so, based on these requirements, I came up with CN1MLCodename One Markup Language. Which is basically just HTML with a couple of special attributes to help specify how the resulting Codename One UI should look.

How it works

I created a Netbeans plugin for CN1ML so that you can add CN1ML templates directly into your Codename One projects. When you save the CN1ML template, it automatically generates a corresponding Java file with the same name, but different extension. E.g. If I have a CN1ML file at com/myapp/MyForm.cn1ml, it will automatically generate a java file at com/myapp/ (which is a Java class with fully qualified class name “com.myapp.MyForm”.

You can then instantiate the form in Java my calling the com.myapp.MyForm constructor – which takes a single “Map” argument that can be used to pass parameters to the template. E.g.

    MyForm form = new MyForm(new HashMap());

    // Get the root container from the form 
    Container root = form.getRoot();

What it looks like

Here is a sample Contact Form in CN1ML

The resulting Java source code is long and ugly, but you can check it out here

And here is a screenshot of what this form looks like in an app:

Screen Shot 2014-09-24 at 5.19.05 PM

More about CN1ML

If you’re interested in this project, you can read more about it on the GitHub page.

How I Built It

I built the CN1ML parser/compiler in Mirah. This was one of my first Mirah projects since releasing the Mirah Netbeans Plugin last month. So far so good. I can safely say that Mirah is making me more productive than if I had coded this in Java. There are still some rough edges that I’m shaving off, but nothing major. And in places where Java would be a better choice, I can still write those portions in Java in the same project seamlessly.

In fact it was my experience developing the Mirah Netbeans module that gave me some of the inspiration for this CN1ML module. I looked at the problem and knew it could be achieved quite easily using the NetBeans API.


I created this screen cast to demonstrate how the CN1ML plugin works.


  1. CN1ML Netbeans Plugin Homepage
  2. CN1ML Tag and Attribute Reference
  3. Some Samples with Screenshots

Mirah for Codename One App Development


One afternoon, a few months ago, I was working on an iOS app in Codename One, and I began to wonder if there was some non-drastic way to remove some of the boiler plate from the coding process. I love Java. Its static-typing and verbosity enable me to build large, complex, fast, robust applications without losing my mind. However, these strengths can feel like weaknesses when you just want to get down to business and code up an algorithm.

I wasn’t looking to replace the whole Java eco-system – I chose most of my current development tools (e.g. Codename One) because they use Java – so I wasn’t imagining abandoning this. I still wanted to be able to use NetBeans, and Codename One, and all of my Java libraries. I just wanted to be able to occasionally skip some of the ceremony. I was imagining a sort of Javascript-like macro language with some type hints that could be automatically expanded to the full Java source by some automated preprocessor.

I was aware of all the popular JVM languages (e.g. Scala, Groovy, Kotlin, JRuby, Jython, etc..) and I do use them for some projects, but none of these are appropriate for mobile development with Codename One (which was the primary platform I wanted to target). The problem with these is that they all require runtime libraries that would have to be included in the final app. This substantially increases the app size, and, with mobile development, I need to keep the app size as small as possible. Some of these languages are statically compiled, and therefore, compile-time tools (e.g. Proguard) can be used to strip out portions of the runtime that aren’t used, but porting their runtimes into Codename One would have still been difficult, since the CN1 class library is only a small subset of the JavaSE libraries (for the purpose of keeping apps small, and maintaining compatibility with legacy devices e.g. BlackBerry and J2ME).

So, what I was looking for was a language that:

  1. Compiled to JVM bytecode.
  2. Did not add any runtime dependencies.

Mirah: The Silver Bullet

It turns out the Mirah was exactly what I was looking for. Mirah was originally developed in 2009 by Charles Nutter under the name “Duby”. This video of his presentation at Ruby Conf 2009 gives a good preview the language. It is heavily inspired by Ruby, and uses aggressive compile-time type inference to be able to remove most of the verbosity and boiler plate that is customary in a static language. I’m not going to get into the specifics of the language in this post. You can read about Mirah and its syntax on the Mirah website. I do want to mention, though, that it is awesome and that I intend to start shifting as much development to Mirah as possible going forward.

IDE Support

As it stood the day I discovered it, Mirah had potential as a language for Codename One development, but it still would not have been practical to start developing apps with it because there was no IDE support. Most/all of the Mirah devs seemed to be Ruby devs who migrated to Mirah for the performance. And Ruby devs don’t use IDEs like Java devs do.

I was not going to give up my IDE… Not for any language

If I were to switch to using a text editor, any productivity gains that I realized due to the streamlined language syntax would have been offset by the loss of IDE nicities like code completion, unit test generation, code navigation, and GUI builder integration. Even if there were a Mirah IDE or support for Mirah projects in an existing IDE, I was not willing to sacrifice all of the tools that are provided in the core Java Codename One projects.

I needed to be able to use Mirah inside my existing Java projects, interchangeably with Java.

In order to accomplish this, I decided to create a Mirah NetBeans plugin.

The Mirah NetBeans Plugin

I just released an update for the Mirah Netbeans Plugin today. It is now at a point where you can reasonably incorporate Mirah code into a Codename One application. There are lots of features, big and small, but the utility of the plugin boils down to two things:

  1. It can build Codename One applications that include .mirah source files. (It also supports other project types, but I’ll focus on CN1 here).
  2. It allows you to edit .mirah source files with all of the things you expect in an IDE (method completion, type hints, incremental compiling/error reporting).

So, if you have, this plugin installed in your NetBeans instance, you should be able to just add Mirah source files inside your existing Codename One projects. Two-way dependencies are supported. E.g. Your .java files can use classes defined in .mirah source, and vice-versa. This way you can choose to implement some parts of your App in Java, and other parts in Mirah. This is important because some parts need to be written in Java still (E.g. If you are writing a GUI builder app, the GUI Editor will be adding methods to the StateMachine class, which needs to be Java.

Download the Mirah Netbeans Plugin and start writing Mirah code in your Codename One apps today.

Proof of Concept: Poker Demo

Poker Demo Screenshot

As a proof of concept, I decided to port the Poker Demo that Shai wrote into Mirah.

You can clone the entire project and build it yourself using Netbeans with the Codename One and Mirah plugins installed.

Read more about this project along with some detailed code comparisons on the Poker Demo readme page.

The following screencast demonstrates the use of the NetBeans Mirah plugin to develop a Codename One application using Mirah.

OSCON 2014 Reflections

I’m sitting in Portland International Airport waiting for the chariot that will return me to Vancouver, so I thought I’d pass the time by reflecting on my experience at OSCON. I am not generally the kind of guy that gets the fullest experience out of a conference. I attend the talks, maybe meet a few people, and return to my hotel room to watch some Netflix. But even a social caterpillar like me has fun at these things. I thoroughly enjoyed all of the talks that I attended. I learned a lot from the tutorials, and I found the keynotes engaging.

Three talks particularly stood out to me, for various reasons:

Using D3 for Data Visualizations

The first tutorial that I attended (on Sunday), was led by Josh Marinacci on the topic of HTML5 Canvas, SVG, and D3 for data visualization. It was based on his onine book HTML Canvas Deep Dive. I found the teaching style well structured and engaging. I picked up a few tips on style that I adopted for my tutorial which I gave the following day.

It is amazing how far Javascript has come. D3 has brought data visualization to the point where every researcher (i.e. people who are producing data) should at least try to learn it. I have recommended it to my wife, who has only taken one programming course in her life and does not program on a regular basis. She will be my guinea pig to see if it’s easy enough for non-devs to pick up.

Here are the results of three exercises in the tutorial:

  1. Agricultural Productivity By State
  2. Bar Chart Using Canvas
    • A bar chart drawn with HTML5 Canvas
  3. Pie Chart
    • A Pie Chart drawn using SVG


I attended a talk by some of the OpenUI5 team. OpenUI5 is an HTML5 framework developed by SAP for cross-platform/mobile development. It provides a large number of widgets and development tools that you can use for developing a cross-platform app. And the only dependency it has is a single Javascript file.

The things that I like about it are:

  1. Light-weight. Single JS include.
  2. Really nice looking controls and layouts.
  3. Apache License
  4. Backed by a big company (so it has a better chance of survival than some of the other little promising HTML UI kits out there).

More about this talk

AsciiDoc and AsciiDoctor

I attended a talk by Dan Allen on JRuby where he demonstrated some cool aspects of the language, compared its performance with MRI (the canonical Ruby) and shows some tips on making Ruby and Java work nicely together. Dan is one of the developers behind AsciiDoc which, until OSCON, I hadn’t been aware of. Asciidoc looks like an excellent tool for developing documentation and writing books. I have experimented with lots of solutions over the past several years in this space, including (but not limited to) Doxygen, TeX, DocBook, JSDoc, PHPDocumentor, restructured text, and, more recently, Markdown.

I will definitely be giving Asciidoc a go as it appears to provide the simplicity of Markdown with the power of DocBook. The fact that it is a format that is supported by O’Reilly for their authors, lends weight to its viability for arbitrary documentation projects.


OK, there weren’t any talks on Mirah per-se, but the JRuby talk that I mentioned above reminded me of my unfinished netbeans module for Mirah. I ended up spending most of my evening hours of OSCON getting the Mirah module ready for release.

I fell in love with Mirah at first sight. It deserves a lot more attention than it is getting. Hopefully the Netbeans module will convince a Java developer or two to take a look. At the very least, it will enable me to start writing code in Mirah that I would otherwise write in Java. And nobody will be the wiser 🙂

My plans for Mirah center around Codename One. It is uniquely positioned to provide an alternate language for developing Codename One applications. I plan to use its macro ability to provide a sort of DSL specifically for removing the ceremony and boiler plate (inherent in Java) surrounding all of the common functions. I think I can improve productivity on CN1 apps by at least a factor of 2, and perhaps even more.

I’ll be posting more on that later.

Some Keynotes that You Should Watch

Andrew Sorensen : The Concert Programmer

This was really amazing to watch. This guy uses a special programming language to compose and sequence music. He codes up a pretty cool song right in front of your eyes.

Simon Wardley : Introduction to Value Chain Mapping

Simon demonstrates a really cool method to visually analyze and depict the value-chain in a company. I’m not really a management guy, but this technique looks like it could be applied to quite a few things. Watch it. You’ll learn something.

My Own Talk

Oh yeah. I led a tutorial on Codename One also. I’ll talk more about that in a separate post.

Make the World A Better Place by Making A Codename One Library

Codename One recently opened up a plugin repository on their website where you can download libraries to extend the functionality of Codename One. Right now it is really just a static webpage because the list of available modules is small. Let’s change that! I cannot think of an easier platform to develop modules for. There is a Netbeans project type that does all of the packaging work for you.

All you have to do is write your code and hit build. Then upload it to GitHub (or wherever you want to host it) and let the CN1 folks know that your module exists.

What Kinds of Modules Should I Build?

UI Components

The Codename One UI Component model is both simple and flexible. It is modelled loosely after Swing (e.g. Base “Component” class, a “Container” class which is a component that can contain other components, Label, Button, TextField, etc..) but they ditched a lot of the chaff and bloat to come up with a solution that light, simple and portable.

Creating a custom component is as simple as subclassing the Container class (or Component) and laying out some child components inside it. Once you have your custom class, you can package it up in as a cn1lib, and upload it to github. Don’t forget to write some javadocs and examples for it so people know how to use it.

I see requests in the mailing list all the time asking whether Codename One has a component that does X. The answer is often “yes”, but if the answer is no, I generally don’t hear anything else – even though the asker has likely gone off and implemented it themselves for their application. I saw a recent request for a “Color Chooser” component. Such a component would be relatively easy to create using the CN1 API. Create a dialog that gives a few slider controls to select RGB, provide some callbacks and public methods to be able to obtain the selected color, and you have a reusable color chooser component that the whole community can enjoy.

Data Processing

If you find yourself solving a problem that involves converting data from one format to another (e.g. extracting or compressing a ZIP file, MP3 Encoding, etc..) why not wrap it in a cn1lib so that others can use and improve your library.

One of the main strengths of Java was that you could almost always find a 3rd party library to do what you need. Because Java follows strict standards for name-spacing, documentation, and packaging (jar files) you could find, download, and learn how to integrate modules into your application without having to spend days looking through code to see how it works.

Having a healthy ecosystem of 3rd-party libraries is preferable to having one large monolithic core because it allows us to streamline our applications to our particular purposes and not be weighed down by features we don’t need. Many processing tools don’t belong in the CN1 core because they are too niche.

If you are developing a method to do something useful, think for a moment whether this method might be useful to someone else. You might have to make some changes to your design to decouple your library from the rest of your app – but this is a good idea anyways.

Native Functionality

Codename One is a cross-platform tool for mobile development. However it also allows you to tap into native functionality if needed by writing native interfaces (sort of like JNI, but easier to user IMO). Does your application target a platform on which you want to make use of some native libraries? Then you’ll have to write a native interface to access them. If you’re going to write a native interface anyways, why not write it in such a way that it can be reused in other projects.

The iOS, Android, and Windows Phone SDKs have tons of goodies. Usually I try to find a cross-platform solution for a requested feature, but in some cases your app will be better for making use of native APIs. If we all do our share, and publish native interfaces in cn1libs as we write them, we collectively make the Codename One ecosystem richer and more capable. And all of our apps will get better.

HTML5/Javascript Components

The big 3 platforms (iOS, Android, and Windows Phone) all support HTML5 inside the BrowserComponent in Codename One. This opens up a lot of possibilities for integrating HTML5 components into your codename one apps. There are countless Javascript/CSS libraries and components that can easily be ported to Codename One. You can even use the Codename One Javascript bridge to communicate between Java and Javascript.

A word of caution with including HTML inside your Codename One apps. HTML components are much more difficult to debug than Java components because you don’t get the nice stack trace. Generally, I find it best to debug as much HTML/Javascript as I can separately inside Chrome, then integrate it into CN1 with as few Java-Javascript dependencies as possible.

Port Existing Java Libraries

This type of library can be, arguably, the most useful for the CN1 ecosystem. You can’t just use a regular Jar with Codename One because it only supports a subset of the libraries in JavaSE. The Codename One class library includes basically the CLDC 1.1 less the javax.microedition.* classes. It also includes a number of other classes that have been added as needed (e.g. the Java Collection classes) in addition to a number of its own packages under the com.codename1.* namespace. You can check out the Codename One javadocs for a full list of supported classes.

For porting existing Java libraries to Codename One, I generally try to find a J2ME library that does what I want, since J2ME is closest to CLDC. I then go through all of the source files and look at the import sections (at the top of each source file) to see if any classes outside of the, java.lang, and java.util packages are used. If I find any dependencies outside of these packages, I take a closer look to see how easy it would be to remove the dependency. Sometimes I can find another class in the Codename One SDK that will do something similar, or I might just disable some of the functionality of the library if it isn’t needed.

After removing all of the illegal dependencies, I create a new Codename One Library project in Netbeans, and copy the library’s source files into the project. Building this project will force compliance with the Codename One libraries. If the project builds successfully, then you will have a library that is compatible with all devices on Codename One.

Performance: J2ME libraries will generally use the Thread-safe collection classes (e.g. Hashtable and Vector) instead of their faster cousins (HashMap and ArrayList). Since Codename One supports the more modern collection classes, and these perform much better, I generally go through libraries that I have ported from J2ME and change all references of Vector and Hashtable to ArrayList and HashMap respectively. I also replace StringBuffer instances to StringBuilder for the same reason.

JavaSE Libraries: JavaSE libraries can be trickier to port because they often rely on many classes that fall outside of the Codename One SDK. If they make heavy use of AWT and Swing then you might have difficulty finding Codename One equivalents to maintain the functionality. You may have to take some time to understand how the library works so that you can figure out how best to substitute out the illegal class references. The recent release of the CN1Pisces library means that you should now be able to port over most Java2D code into Codename One by changing calls from Java2D into the equivalent Pisces or Codename One Graphics calls.

A Word about the cn1lib File Format

If you are a Java developer, you might be wondering why the CN1 guys didn’t just use jars to distribute libraries. There are two reasons:

  1. Libraries may need to package both java and native code together in a standard way so that they can include native implementations. The cn1format supports this, while jar does not have a standard way of doing this.

  2. Codename One supports a slightly different API than standard Java so, for any given jar file, it is unlikely that CN1 will work with it without some modifications. Having its own format helps to ensure that all code in a cn1lib file is actually supported in Codename One. In this way it serves as a sort of compliance test.


There are only so many hours in the day to develop cool things, so I would prefer to develop components that work on as many devices as possible. Codename One has provided us with a platform for building cross-platform mobile apps that doesn’t have the same performance sacrifices as other cross-platform solutions. The foundation is strong. The user interface is built on a high-performance, light-weight stack that takes advances of hardware accelerated graphics. All code is compiled to native code so it should run just as fast as native, and sometimes even faster.

This is a foundation that we can build on. So let’s take advantage of it.