Thursday Feb 12, 2015

Introduction to custom Cordova plugin development

Oracle Mobile Application Framework (MAF) v2.1.0 uses Cordova version 3.6.3 on Android and 3.7.0 on iOS to provide access to native device functionality.  The MAF 2.1.0 extension to JDeveloper 12.1.3 enables you to easily include any of the hundreds of published 3rd party Cordova plugins into your MAF app.

But what if you can’t find a suitable 3rd party plugin? You could elect to write your own, which, depending on the functionality required, may not be as difficult as you think.

In this post I’ll provide an introduction to developing a Cordova plugin by creating a very simple plugin for each of Android and iOS.

How does a Cordova plugin work?

In a nutshell, Cordova provides a bridge between JavaScript and native code, enabling you to write native code that gets exposed to your app via a common JavaScript interface.

Each method exposed by a plugin’s JavaScript interface is mapped to a method in the plugin’s native code via the Cordova bridge, which also enables you to pass parameters back and forth between the JavaScript and native methods.

What comprises a Cordova plugin?

A Cordova plugin typically consists of:

  • Native code for each supported platform
  • A common JavaScript interface
  • A manifest file called plugin.xml

The conventional structure for a Cordova plugin supporting both Android and iOS is:

  - Plugin top-level folder
     - plugin.xml
     - src/
        - android/
           - <Java source code>
        - ios/
           - <Objective-C source code>
     - www/
        - <JavaScript interface>

Ideally, community-published plugins also include release notes, author and license information, and a README file.  

A plugin may also include additional native resources and these are identified in the plugin.xml manifest file. This manifest file is read by the plugman command-line tool, which is used by the Cordova command-line interface and also by the MAF extension for JDeveloper.

In some rare cases, a plugin may be created that simply executes some native code on initialization and requires no JavaScript interface.

For more detailed information about the plugin.xml manifest file, refer to the Cordova Plugin Specification.

How do I create my own custom Cordova plugin?

To create your own custom Cordova plugin, you must write:

  • JavaScript that provides the interface for calling your plugin from within a Cordova-based app, such as a MAF app.
  • Native code that provides the functionality you need.  Since MAF supports both Android and iOS, you should write native code for both platforms.
  • A plugin.xml manifest file that defines your plugin and how plugman should incorporate it into a MAF app (or any Cordova-based app).

What tools do I need to create my own custom Cordova plugin?

You really only need a text editor to create your own custom Cordova plugin, which is all I’ve used to create the custom plugin described in this post.

For more complex plugins, you may wish to develop and test the plugin’s native code in each platform’s native IDE, which means downloading and installing the Android Studio and/or Apple’s Xcode.

You don’t need Cordova installed to develop a Cordova plugin.  Once you have developed your Cordova plugin, you can incorporate it directly into your MAF app for testing. However, if you wish to test your plugin within a Cordova app, you must download and install Cordova using the Cordova Command-Line Interface.

How do I write the plugin’s JavaScript interface?

We start with the JavaScript interface since it provides a common interface to both the Android and iOS native code.  This interface effectively defines what is required in the native code.

The JavaScript interface must call the cordova.exec method to invoke a native plugin method, as follows: 

cordova.exec(successCallback, failureCallback, service, action, [args]);

This call invokes the action method on the service class on the native side, passing the arguments in the optional args array.  If the native code completes successfully, the successCallback function is executed, along with any return parameters.  If the native code fails, the failureCallback function is executed, with an optional error parameter.  For more information on JavaScript callback functions, refer to this helpful blog post by Michael Vollmer.

Let’s create a very simple plugin that displays a native popup dialog.  Thus plugin shall present one method that takes 3 parameters – title, message and button label – and shall return the result in the ‘success’ callback. No ‘failure’ callback will be implemented. The service class shall be named “Alert” and we shall call the sole method “alert”. 

The following JavaScript defines the interface:

module.exports = {
  alert: function(title, message, buttonLabel, successCallback) {
    cordova.exec(successCallback,
                 null, // No failure callback
                 "Alert",
                 "alert",
                 [title, message, buttonLabel]);
  }
};

The call to module.exports exports the JavaScript function alert as part of the JavaScript module that will be defined in the plugin manifest file, plugin.xml

Your app will call this alert JavaScript function, which will invoke the alert method on the Alert class in the plugin’s native code.

Save this JavaScript into a file called alert.js, within a www subfolder of your plugin’s top-level folder.

How do I write the plugin’s native code?

Android

Based on the JavaScript interface, we must define a class called Alert in a Java source file called Alert.java.  Let’s take a look at the Alert.java source file:

package com.acme.plugin.alert;

import android.app.AlertDialog;
import android.app.AlertDialog.Builder;
import android.content.DialogInterface;
import org.apache.cordova.CallbackContext;
import org.apache.cordova.CordovaInterface;
import org.apache.cordova.CordovaPlugin;
import org.apache.cordova.CordovaWebView;
import org.apache.cordova.PluginResult;
import org.json.JSONArray;
import org.json.JSONException;
import org.json.JSONObject;

public class Alert extends CordovaPlugin {
  protected void pluginInitialize() {
  }

  public boolean execute(String action, JSONArray args, CallbackContext callbackContext)
      throws JSONException {
    if (action.equals("alert")) {
      alert(args.getString(
0), args.getString(1), args.getString(2), callbackContext);
      return true;
    }
    return false;
  }

  private synchronized void alert(final String title,
                                  final String message,
                                  final String buttonLabel,
                                  final CallbackContext callbackContext) {
    new AlertDialog.Builder(cordova.getActivity())
    .setTitle(title)
    .setMessage(message)
    .setCancelable(
false)
    .setNeutralButton(buttonLabel,
new AlertDialog.OnClickListener() {
      public void onClick(DialogInterface dialogInterface, int which) {
        dialogInterface.dismiss();
        callbackContext.sendPluginResult(
new PluginResult(PluginResult.Status.OK, 0));
      }
    })
    .create()
    .show();
  }
}

The Alert class should be part of a package that will be referenced in the manifest file, plugin.xml.

The Alert class must extend the CordovaPlugin class, the definition of which you can find here.

The Alert class must override the execute method, since this will be called each time the JavaScript cordova.exec method is called, providing the name of the plugin method, the input parameters and a callback context.  The execute method should return true if a valid action was passed in, otherwise false.

Once the code has completed, it should return a result and optional return parameters to the calling JavaScript by invoking the sendPluginResult method on the callbackContext object.   Returning a result of PluginResult.Status.OK will cause the JavaScript ‘success’ callback to be executed.  Any other result (apart from PluginResult.Status.NO_RESULT) will cause the JavaScript ‘failure’ callback to be executed.

In our plugin, a ‘success’ result is returned when the user taps the button on the popup dialog and a value of 0 is returned.

The Alert class may override the pluginInitialize method if any initialization logic is required when the plugin is first constructed.

Save this code into a file called Alert.java, within a src/android subfolder of your plugin’s top-level folder.

For more detailed information on aspects such a threading and event handling, refer to the Cordova page Android Plugins.

iOS

For our example, we must define a class called Alert in an Objective-C source file called Alert.m and corresponding header file Alert.h

Let’s take a look at the Alert.h header file:

#import <Cordova/CDV.h>

@interface Alert : CDVPlugin <UIAlertViewDelegate> {}
- (void)alert:(CDVInvokedUrlCommand*)command;
@end

@interface
MyAlertView : UIAlertView {}
@property (nonatomic, copy) NSString* callbackId;
@end

The Alert class must be a sub-class of CDVPlugin, the definition of which you can find here.

The Alert class must provide an alert method, since this will be called each time the plugin’s JavaScript alert method executes the cordova.exec method.

Save this code into a file called Alert.h, within a src/ios subfolder of your plugin’s top-level folder.

Let’s take a look at the Alert.m source file:

#import "Alert.h"

@implementation Alert
- (void)pluginInitialize
{
}

- (void)alert:(CDVInvokedUrlCommand*)command
{
  NSString* callbackId = command.callbackId;
  NSString* title = [command argumentAtIndex:
0];
  NSString* message = [command argumentAtIndex:
1];
  NSString* button = [command argumentAtIndex:
2];

  MyAlertView *alert = [[MyAlertView alloc]
                        initWithTitle:title
                        message:message
                        delegate:
self
                        cancelButtonTitle:button
                        otherButtonTitles:
nil];
                        alert.callbackId = callbackId;
  [alert show];
}

- (void)alertView:(UIAlertView*)alertView clickedButtonAtIndex:(NSInteger)buttonIndex
{
  MyAlertView* myAlertView = (MyAlertView*)alertView;
  CDVPluginResult* result = [CDVPluginResult resultWithStatus:CDVCommandStatus_OK
                             messageAsInt:
0];
  [
self.commandDelegate sendPluginResult:result callbackId:myAlertView.callbackId];
}
@end

@implementation
MyAlertView
@synthesize callbackId;
@end

The alert method receives the input parameters and a callback id.

Once the code has completed, it should return a result and optional return parameters to the calling JavaScript by invoking the sendPluginResult method on the commandDelegate object. Returning a result of CDVCommandStatus_OK will cause the JavaScript ‘success’ callback to be executed. Any other result will cause the JavaScript ‘failure’ callback to be executed.

In our plugin, a ‘success’ result is returned when the user taps the button on the popup dialog and a value of 0 is returned.

The Alert class may implement the pluginInitialize method if any initialization logic is required when the plugin is first constructed.

Save this code into a file called Alert.m, within a src/ios subfolder of your plugin’s top-level folder.

For more detailed information on aspects such a threading and event handling, refer to the Cordova page iOS Plugins.

How do I write the plugin’s manifest file (plugin.xml)?

The manifest file, called plugin.xml, is an XML document that defines the plugin and tells plugman how to incorporate the plugin into your MAF app (or any Cordova-based app) for each platform it supports.

The Cordova Plugin Specification is comprehensive, but we will focus on the manifest file used for our “Alert” plugin:

<?xml version="1.0" encoding="UTF-8"?>
<plugin 
xmlns="http://apache.org/cordova/ns/plugins/1.0"
        id="com.acme.plugin.alert"
        version="0.0.1">

  <name>
Alert</name>
  <description>
A Cordova plugin that displays an alert popup dialog</description>

  <engines>
    <engine
name="cordova" version=">=3.6.0" />
  </engines>

  <js-module
src="www/alert.js" name="Alert">
    <clobbers
target="Alert" />
  </js-module>

  <!-- android -->
  <platform name="android">
    <config-file
target="res/xml/config.xml"
parent="/*">
      <feature name="Alert">
        <param name="android-package" value="com.acme.plugin.alert.Alert" />
      </feature>
    </config-file>
    <source-file src="src/android/Alert.java" target-dir="src/com/acme/plugin/alert" />
  </platform>

  <!-- ios -->
  <platform name="ios">
    <config-file target="config.xml" parent="/*">
      <feature name="Alert">
        <param name="ios-package" value="Alert" />
      </feature>
    </config-file>
    <header-file src="src/ios/Alert.h" />
    <source-file src="src/ios/Alert.m" />
  </platform>

</plugin>

The plugin element must contain the plugin’s XML namespace (xmlns), id and version.

The name and description elements should always be defined.  If you intend to publish your plugin for public use, you should include additional elements such as those identifying the author, license, keywords and repository.

The child elements of the engines element define which version(s) of the Cordova framework the plugin supports.  Since this plugin has been developed based on Cordova 3.6.0 documentation and will be tested within a MAF 2.1.0 app, we should set the minimum required Cordova version to 3.6.0.

The JavaScript interface is defined by including a js-module tag for each JavaScript file.  Any file defined here is automatically copied into your MAF app and injected into any HTML using a <script> tag so that you don’t have to specifically add this tag yourself, or include the JavaScript as content in your AMX features.  The clobbers tag indicates that the module shall be inserted into the window object as Alert, so your MAF app code should call the JavaScript method Alert.alert to execute the plugin’s alert method.

If your plugin has a dependency on another Cordova plugin, you can define this using a dependency tag.  Since our plugin does not have any dependencies, there is no such tag defined.

The platform tag is used to define the platforms that are supported by the plugin.  Within each platform tag, you specify the native source files, changes required to configuration files, any additional native resources or frameworks and any platform-specific JavaScript files.

For Android, it is important to specify the full package name of the plugin as the value for the android-package parameter, for example “com.acme.plugin.alert.Alert”, and to specify the target-dir for any source files (since this indicates the location to which the source file should be copied and it must match the package name), for example “src/com/acme/plugin/alert”.

Save this XML into a file called plugin.xml, within your plugin’s top-level folder.

Conclusion

We have now developed a custom Cordova plugin that can be incorporated into a MAF 2.1.0 app, or any app based on Cordova 3.6.0 or above.  In a follow-up post [Edit: here], I’ll describe how to integrate this plugin into a MAF app.

For developers looking for more detailed information about how to create a Cordova plugin, refer to the Cordova Plugin Development Guide, which contains specific guides for each native platform.

Thursday Jan 24, 2013

Enable JavaScript Debugging on Mac OS Mountain Lion

Hi, everyone:

JavaScript debugging is a critical functionality when skinning the application, as you can interactively test out CSS commands interactively while the application is running in the simulator.  For example, you can enter a new color in a style class in the debugging window in the Safari browser on your Mac, and see the color change in the simulator as soon as you enter it. The entire setup requires using Safari b

Unfortunately, Safari 6 broke compatibility with the JavaScript debugging capabilities.  If you are on Lion or prior Mac OS, you can at least downgrade to 5.x Safari to enable JavaScript debugging.  Safari 5 is not available on Mountain Lion.  If you are using Mountain Lion Mac OS, then you will need the following combination of software to support JavaScript debugging:

  • Xcode 4.5.x

  • iOS Simulator version 5.1

    • There are some known issues with using iOS simulator version 6.0 and therefore not recommended.

    • Please note that the ADF Mobile application will run fine on devices running on iOS 6, as long as it's compiled using the iOS 5.1 SDK.

  • Safari 6

The steps to configure and setup Xcode 4.5 with iOS simulator 5.1 is as follows:

  1.  Install (or upgrade to) Xcode 4.5.x (current version as of Dec 18th, 2012) from Apple AppStore or download directly from developer.apple.com.

  2. After installing, start Xcode

  3. Go to menu item Xcode-preferences

  4. Click on the Download tab.  The Downloads tab loads and show you options to install iOS 5.1 and 5.0 simulators.  Click to install the iOS 5.1 simulator.

  5. After the download/installation is complete, go back to JDeveloper.  Select menu item Tools - Preferences - ADF Mobile - Platforms -iOS.  In the iOS SDK Simulator directory, make sure you select the Simulator version 5.1 that you have just installed.  Please make sure you re-select this path specifically.

  6. Deploy the application to the simulator.  The ADF Mobile app would deployed to the 5.1 simulator, although 6.0 simulator would be started by default.  This is because JDeveloper relies on Apple Script to start the iOS Simulator, and 6.0 simulator is the default.  This means you will not see the app in the 6.0 simulator.

  7. You will need to switch to the 5.1 simulator by going to menu Hardware - Version 5.1.  You will then see your application running in the simulator as expected

Now, to enable JavaScript debugging, you will need to:

  • Set the following properties in cvm.properties file in your ADF Mobile application workspace (under Application Resources Panel in JDeveloper):

# JavaScript debugging settings

javascript.debug.enabled=true

# Specifies the feature that will trigger the activation of the JavaScript debugging

javascript.debug.feature=<feature id>:9999

  • Deploy the application and navigate to the amx page to be inspectedAccess the http://localhost:9999 URL in a Safari browser to view the list of AMX pages in the App.

  • Select the link corresponding to the page displayed in the simulator to inspect the DOM for the page or debug JavaScript.

That's it!  You can then interactive change the style classes in the Safari browser window, and see ADF Mobile App's UI change in real time.

Please let us know if you encounter any issues, and hope this helps to debug some of the skinning challenges you have encountered.

Thanks,

ADF Mobile Team

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This blog is is dedicated to announcements,tips and tricks and other items related to developing, integrating, securing, and managing mobile applications using Oracle's Mobile Platform. It is created and maintained by the Oracle Mobile product development team.

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