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.

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