With the most recent 11.1.2 patchset (18.104.22.168) there has been a lot of excitement around ADF Essentials (and rightly so), however, in all the fuss I didn't want an even more significant change to get missed - yes you read that correctly, a more significant change! I'm talking about the new panelGridLayout component, I can confidently say that this one of the most revolutionary components that we've introduced in 11g, even though it sounds rather boring. To be totally accurate, panelGrid was introduced in 22.214.171.124 but without any presence in the component palette or other design time support, so it was largely missed unless you read the release notes. However in this latest patchset it's finally front and center. Its time to explore - we (really) need to talk about layout.
Let's face it,with ADF Faces rich client, layout is a rather arcane pursuit, once you are a layout master, all bow before you, but it's more of an art than a science, and it is often, in fact, way too difficult to achieve what should (apparently) be a pretty simple.
Here's a great example, it's a homework assignment I set for folks I'm teaching this stuff to:
The requirements for this layout are:
In the homework assigment I set I also stipulate that no inlineStyles can be used to control alignment or margins and no use of other taglibs (e.g. JSF HTML or Trinidad HTML).
So, if we take this purist approach, that basic page layout (in my stock solution) requires 3 panelStretchLayouts, 5 panelGroupLayouts and 4 spacers - not including the spacer I use for the logo and the contents of the central zone splitter - phew! The point is that even a seemingly simple layout needs a bit of thinking about, particulatly when you consider strechting and browser re-size behavior. In fact, this little sample actually teaches you much of what you need to know to become vaguely competant at layouts in the framework. The underlying result of "the way things are" is that most of us reach for panelStretchLayout before even finishing the first sip of coffee as we embark on a new page design. In fact most pages you will see in any moderately complex ADF page will basically be nested panelStretchLayouts and panelGroupLayouts, sometimes many, many levels deep.
So this is a problem, we've known this for some time and now we have a good solution. (I should point out that the oft-used Trinidad trh tags are not a particularly good solution as you're tie-ing yourself to an HTML table based layout in that case with a host of attendent issues in resize and bi-di behavior, but I digress.)
So, tadaaa, I give to you panelGridLayout. PanelGrid, as the name suggests takes a grid like (dare I say slightly gridbag-like) approach to layout, dividing your layout into rows and colums with margins, sizing, stretch behaviour, colspans and rowspans all rolled in, all without the use of inlineStyle. As such, it provides for a much more powerful and consise way of defining a layout such as the one above that is actually simpler and much more logical to design. The basic building blocks are the panelGridLayout itself, gridRow and gridCell. Your content sits inside the cells inside the rows, all helpfully allowing both streching, valign and halign definitions without the need to nest further panelGroupLayouts. So much simpler!
If I break down the homework example above my nested comglomorate of 12 containers and spacers can be condensed down into a single panelGrid with 3 rows and 5 cell definitions (39 lines of source reduced to 24 in the case of the sample). What's more, the actual runtime representation in the browser DOM is much, much simpler, and clean, with basically one DIV per cell (Note that just because the panelGridLayout semantics looks like an HTML table does not mean that it's rendered that way!) .
Another hidden benefit is the runtime cost. Because we can use a single layout to achieve much more complex geometries the client side layout code inside the browser is having to work a lot less. This will be a real benefit if your application needs to run on lower powered clients such as netbooks or tablets.
So, it's time, if you're on 126.96.36.199 or above, to smile warmly at your panelStretchLayouts, wrap the blanket around it's knees and wheel it off to the Sunset Retirement Home for a well deserved rest. There's a new kid on the block and it wants to be your friend.
Update: panelGridLayout is also available in the 188.8.131.52 release as well as the 11.1.2.n series.