Hidden Creator Feature #3: HTML Palette

Here's another hidden Creator feature: The HTML palette. Before telling you how to find it, let me make something very clear: this is dangerous territory. Craig warns that you can get into a lot of trouble mixing JSF components and HTML markup. However, the tool already allows you to go to the Source tab and enter HTML at will, so the new html tab is not opening up new opportunities to shoot yourself in the foot. The designer already tries to prevent the most dangerous situations from arising, such as using markup inside a component like a DataTable which renders its own children. To do this properly, you'll probably want to either use a verbatim tag or a JSF component library that directly exposes the HTML components (here's one , but I haven't tried it and it probably isn't integrated with Creator, and yes, we ought to provide a library like this.)

Okay, with that out of the way: to get an HTML palette, you need to run Creator with this flag:

  -J-Drave.showHtmlTab=1
Now the palette should show an HTML top level tab, as shown in the screenshot on the right. Notice that it is not including input tags since you really need to use JSF components for these.

There is unfortunately one annoying behavior: for every session of the IDE, the first time you open the palette, you get a warning telling you that HTML components are dangerous. We were planning to ship with the HTML palette enabled, but were concerned about people getting into trouble mixing JSF and HTML, so we thought the warning would give a heads-up and also point to a help topic with more information. The problem is that in the shipping bits, the above flag should have turned off the dialog but alas, that is not the case.

Let me end with a little bit of philosophy. One of the nice things about JSF is that since processing happens on the server, in theory the JSF components can render anything to the target device; thus letting you target not just web browsers but for example mobile devices. When I met Coocoon developer Sylvain Wallez after a Creator event in Toulouse a couple of weeks ago we had an interesting discussion about multi channel technology: the ability to have the page you're designing not just used in popular web browsers, but also on cell phones and other devices. Sylvain pointed out that in Creator, when you drop down components at pixel positions in absolute layout, you're making multi-channel support difficult. The thing of course is that Creator is not optimized for multi channel support, it's optimized for usability and developer productivity. While a declarative approach to defining pages makes it easier to support different output devices, it's pretty difficult to go in the "opposite direction": providing WYSIWYG design down to a declarative model. For example, TeX produces beautiful documents, but reality is that most people use wordprocessors like Word and Star/OpenOffice because of the simple user model and WYSIWYG capabilities.

The challenge is to make page design simple, yet create a page definition that offers the flexibility to be rendered to varying kinds of output devices. If you go down the road of using lots of HTML markup this is going to be more difficult. Hopefully, as more JSF layout components become available this will become less necessary, and a future JSF renderkit will render your pages properly to other kinds of devices as well.

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Tor Norbye

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