GWT

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TABLE OF CONTENTS

GWT 2.1 introduced a built-in framework for browser history management. The Activities and Places framework allows you to create bookmarkable URLs within your application, thus allowing the browser's back button and bookmarks to work as users expect. It builds on GWT's history mechanism and may be used in conjunction with MVP development, though not required.

Strictly speaking, MVP architecture is not concerned with browser history management, but Activities and Places may be used with MVP development as shown in this article. If you're not familiar with MVP, you may want to read these articles first:

Definitions

An activity simply represents something the user is doing. An Activity contains no Widgets or UI code. Activities typically restore state ("wake up"), perform initialization ("set up"), and load a corresponding UI ("show up"). Activities are started and stopped by an ActivityManager associated with a container Widget. An Activity can automatically display a warning confirmation when the Activity is about to be stopped (such as when the user navigates to a new Place). In addition, the ActivityManager warns the user before the window is about to be closed.

A place is a Java object representing a particular state of the UI. A Place can be converted to and from a URL history token (see GWT's History mechanism) by defining a PlaceTokenizer for each Place, and GWT's PlaceHistoryHandler automatically updates the browser URL corresponding to each Place in your app.

You can download all of the code referenced here in this sample app. The sample app is a simple "Hello, World!" example demonstrating the use of Activities and Places with MVP.

Let's take a look at each of the moving parts in a GWT 2.1 app using Places and Activities.

  1. Views
  2. ClientFactory
  3. Activities
  4. Places
  5. PlaceHistoryMapper
  6. ActivityMapper

Then we'll take at how you wire it all together and how it works.

  1. Putting it all together
  2. How it all works
  3. How to navigate
  4. Related resources

Views

A view is simply the part of the UI associated with an Activity. In MVP development, a view is defined by an interface, which allows multiple view implementations based on client characteristics (such as mobile vs. desktop) and also facilitates lightweight unit testing by avoiding the time-consuming GWTTestCase. There is no View interface or class in GWT which views must implement or extend; however, GWT 2.1 introduces an IsWidget interface that is implemented by most Widgets as well as Composite. It is useful for views to extend IsWidget if they do in fact provide a Widget. Here is a simple view from our sample app.

public interface GoodbyeView extends IsWidget {
    void setName(String goodbyeName);
}

The corresponding view implementation extends Composite, which keeps dependencies on a particular Widget from leaking out.

public class GoodbyeViewImpl extends Composite implements GoodbyeView {
    SimplePanel viewPanel = new SimplePanel();
    Element nameSpan = DOM.createSpan();

    public GoodbyeViewImpl() {
        viewPanel.getElement().appendChild(nameSpan);
        initWidget(viewPanel);
    }

    @Override
    public void setName(String name) {
        nameSpan.setInnerText("Good-bye, " + name);
    }
}

Here is a slightly more complicated view that additionally defines an interface for its corresponding presenter (activity).

public interface HelloView extends IsWidget {
    void setName(String helloName);
    void setPresenter(Presenter presenter);

    public interface Presenter {
        void goTo(Place place);
    }
}

The Presenter interface and setPresenter method allow for bi-directional communication between view and presenter, which simplifies interactions involving repeating Widgets and also allows view implementations to use UiBinder with @UiHandler methods that delegate to the presenter interface.

The HelloView implementation uses UiBinder and a template.

public class HelloViewImpl extends Composite implements HelloView {
	private static HelloViewImplUiBinder uiBinder = GWT
			.create(HelloViewImplUiBinder.class);

	interface HelloViewImplUiBinder extends UiBinder {
	}

	@UiField
	SpanElement nameSpan;
	@UiField
	Anchor goodbyeLink;
	private Presenter presenter;
	private String name;

	public HelloViewImpl() {
		initWidget(uiBinder.createAndBindUi(this));
	}

	@Override
	public void setName(String name) {
		this.name = name;
		nameSpan.setInnerText(name);
	}

	@UiHandler("goodbyeLink")
	void onClickGoodbye(ClickEvent e) {
		presenter.goTo(new GoodbyePlace(name));
	}

	@Override
	public void setPresenter(Presenter presenter) {
		this.presenter = presenter;
	}
}

Note the use of @UiHandler that delegates to the presenter. Here is the corresponding template:

<!DOCTYPE ui:UiBinder SYSTEM "http://dl.google.com/gwt/DTD/xhtml.ent">
<ui:UiBinder xmlns:ui="urn:ui:com.google.gwt.uibinder"
			 xmlns:g="urn:import:com.google.gwt.user.client.ui">
	<ui:style>
		.important {
			font-weight: bold;
		}
	</ui:style>
	<g:HTMLPanel>
		Hello,
		<span class="{style.important}" ui:field="nameSpan" />
		<g:Anchor ui:field="goodbyeLink" text="Say good-bye"></g:Anchor>
	</g:HTMLPanel>
</ui:UiBinder>

Because Widget creation involves DOM operations, views are relatively expensive to create. It is therefore good practice to make them reusable, and a relatively easy way to do this is via a view factory, which might be part of a larger ClientFactory.

ClientFactory

A ClientFactory is not required to use Activities and Places; however, it is helpful to use a factory or dependency injection framework like GIN to obtain references to objects needed throughout your application like the event bus. Our example uses a ClientFactory to provide an EventBus, GWT PlaceController, and view implementations.

public interface ClientFactory {
    EventBus getEventBus();
    PlaceController getPlaceController();
    HelloView getHelloView();
    GoodbyeView getGoodbyeView();
}

Another advantage of using a ClientFactory is that you can use it with GWT deferred binding to use different implementation classes based on user.agent or other properties. For example, you might use a MobileClientFactory to provide different view implementations than the default DesktopClientFactory. To do this, instantiate your ClientFactory with GWT.create in onModuleLoad(), like this:

    ClientFactory clientFactory = GWT.create(ClientFactory.class);

Specify the implementation class in .gwt.xml:

    <!-- Use ClientFactoryImpl by default -->
    <replace-with class="com.hellomvp.client.ClientFactoryImpl">
    <when-type-is class="com.hellomvp.client.ClientFactory"/>
    </replace-with>

You can use <when-property-is> to specify different implementations based on user.agent, locale, or other properties you define. The mobilewebapp sample application defines a "formfactor" property used to select a different view implementations for mobile, tablet, and desktop devices.

Here is a default implementation of ClientFactory for the sample app:

public class ClientFactoryImpl implements ClientFactory {
    private final EventBus eventBus = new SimpleEventBus();
    private final PlaceController placeController = new PlaceController(eventBus);
    private final HelloView helloView = new HelloViewImpl();
    private final GoodbyeView goodbyeView = new GoodbyeViewImpl();

    @Override
    public EventBus getEventBus() {
        return eventBus;
    }
    ...
}

Activities

Activity classes implement com.google.gwt.activity.shared.Activity. For convenience, you can extend AbstractActivity, which provides default (null) implementations of all required methods. Here is a HelloActivity, which simply says hello to a named user:

public class HelloActivity extends AbstractActivity implements HelloView.Presenter {
    // Used to obtain views, eventBus, placeController
    // Alternatively, could be injected via GIN
    private ClientFactory clientFactory;
    // Name that will be appended to "Hello,"
    private String name;

    public HelloActivity(HelloPlace place, ClientFactory clientFactory) {
        this.name = place.getHelloName();
        this.clientFactory = clientFactory;
    }

    /**
     * Invoked by the ActivityManager to start a new Activity
     */
    @Override
    public void start(AcceptsOneWidget containerWidget, EventBus eventBus) {
        HelloView helloView = clientFactory.getHelloView();
        helloView.setName(name);
        helloView.setPresenter(this);
        containerWidget.setWidget(helloView.asWidget());
    }

    /**
     * Ask user before stopping this activity
     */
    @Override
    public String mayStop() {
        return "Please hold on. This activity is stopping.";
    }

    /**
     * Navigate to a new Place in the browser
     */
    public void goTo(Place place) {
        clientFactory.getPlaceController().goTo(place);
    }
}

The first thing to notice is that HelloActivity makes reference to HelloView, which is a view interface, not an implementation. One style of MVP coding defines the view interface in the presenter. This is perfectly legitimate; however, there is no fundamental reason why an Activity and it's corresponding view interface have to be tightly bound together. Note that HelloActivity also implements the view's Presenter interface. This is used to allow the view to call methods on the Activity, which facilitates the use of UiBinder as we saw above.

The HelloActivity constructor takes two arguments: a HelloPlace and the ClientFactory. Neither is strictly required for an Activity. The HelloPlace simply makes it easy for HelloActivity to obtain properties of the state represented by HelloPlace (in this case, the name of the user we are greeting). Accepting an instance of a HelloPlace in the constructor implies that a new HelloActivity will be created for each HelloPlace. You could instead obtain an activity from a factory, but it's typically cleaner to use a newly constructed Activity so you don't have to clean up any prior state. Activities are designed to be disposable, whereas views, which are more expensive to create due to the DOM calls required, should be reusable. In keeping with this idea, ClientFactory is used by HelloActivity to obtain a reference to the HelloView as well as the EventBus and PlaceController.

The start method is invoked by the ActivityManager and sets things in motion. It updates the view and then swaps the view back into the Activity's container widget by calling setWidget.

The non-null mayStop() method provides a warning that will be shown to the user when the Activity is about to be stopped due to window closing or navigation to another Place. If it returns null, no such warning will be shown.

Finally, the goTo() method invokes the PlaceController to navigate to a new Place. PlaceController in turn notifies the ActivityManager to stop the current Activity, find and start the Activity associated with the new Place, and update the URL in PlaceHistoryHandler.

Places

In order to be accessible via a URL, an Activity needs a corresponding Place. A Place extends com.google.gwt.place.shared.Place and must have an associated PlaceTokenizer which knows how to serialize the Place's state to a URL token. By default, the URL consists of the Place's simple class name (like "HelloPlace") followed by a colon (:) and the token returned by the PlaceTokenizer.

public class HelloPlace extends Place {
    private String helloName;

    public HelloPlace(String token) {
        this.helloName = token;
    }

    public String getHelloName() {
        return helloName;
    }

    public static class Tokenizer implements PlaceTokenizer<HelloPlace> {
        @Override
        public String getToken(HelloPlace place) {
            return place.getHelloName();
        }

        @Override
        public HelloPlace getPlace(String token) {
            return new HelloPlace(token);
        }
    }
}

It is convenient (though not required) to declare the PlaceTokenizer as a static class inside the corresponding Place. However, you need not have a PlaceTokenizer for each Place. Many Places in your app might not save any state to the URL, so they could just extend a BasicPlace which declares a PlaceTokenizer that returns a null token.

PlaceHistoryMapper

PlaceHistoryMapper declares all the Places available in your app. You create an interface that extends PlaceHistoryMapper and uses the annotation @WithTokenizers to list each of your tokenizer classes. Here is the PlaceHistoryMapper in our sample:

@WithTokenizers({HelloPlace.Tokenizer.class, GoodbyePlace.Tokenizer.class})
public interface AppPlaceHistoryMapper extends PlaceHistoryMapper
{
}

At GWT compile time, GWT generates (see PlaceHistoryMapperGenerator) a class based on your interface that extends AbstractPlaceHistoryMapper. PlaceHistoryMapper is the link between your PlaceTokenizers and GWT's PlaceHistoryHandler that synchronizes the browser URL with each Place.

For more control of the PlaceHistoryMapper, you can use the @Prefix annotation on a PlaceTokenizer to change the first part of the URL associated with the Place. For even more control, you can instead implement PlaceHistoryMapperWithFactory and provide a TokenizerFactory that, in turn, provides individual PlaceTokenizers.

ActivityMapper

Finally, your app's ActivityMapper maps each Place to its corresponding Activity. It must implement ActivityMapper, and will likely have lots of code like "if (place instanceof SomePlace) return new SomeActivity(place)". Here is the ActivityMapper for our sample app:

public class AppActivityMapper implements ActivityMapper {
    private ClientFactory clientFactory;

    public AppActivityMapper(ClientFactory clientFactory) {
        super();
        this.clientFactory = clientFactory;
    }

    @Override
    public Activity getActivity(Place place) {
        if (place instanceof HelloPlace)
            return new HelloActivity((HelloPlace) place, clientFactory);
        else if (place instanceof GoodbyePlace)
            return new GoodbyeActivity((GoodbyePlace) place, clientFactory);
        return null;
    }
}

Note that our ActivityMapper must know about the ClientFactory so it can provide it to activities as needed.

Putting it all together

Here's how all the pieces come together in onModuleLoad():

public class HelloMVP implements EntryPoint {
    private Place defaultPlace = new HelloPlace("World!");
    private SimplePanel appWidget = new SimplePanel();

    public void onModuleLoad() {
        ClientFactory clientFactory = GWT.create(ClientFactory.class);
        EventBus eventBus = clientFactory.getEventBus();
        PlaceController placeController = clientFactory.getPlaceController();

        // Start ActivityManager for the main widget with our ActivityMapper
        ActivityMapper activityMapper = new AppActivityMapper(clientFactory);
        ActivityManager activityManager = new ActivityManager(activityMapper, eventBus);
        activityManager.setDisplay(appWidget);

        // Start PlaceHistoryHandler with our PlaceHistoryMapper
        AppPlaceHistoryMapper historyMapper= GWT.create(AppPlaceHistoryMapper.class);
        PlaceHistoryHandler historyHandler = new PlaceHistoryHandler(historyMapper);
        historyHandler.register(placeController, eventBus, defaultPlace);

        RootPanel.get().add(appWidget);
        // Goes to the place represented on URL else default place
        historyHandler.handleCurrentHistory();
    }
}

How it all works

The ActivityManager keeps track of all Activities running within the context of one container widget. It listens for PlaceChangeRequestEvents and notifies the current activity when a new Place has been requested. If the current Activity allows the Place change (Activity.onMayStop() returns null) or the user allows it (by clicking OK in the confirmation dialog), the ActivityManager discards the current Activity and starts the new one. In order to find the new one, it uses your app's ActivityMapper to obtain the Activity associated with the requested Place.

Along with the ActivityManager, two other GWT classes work to keep track of Places in your app. PlaceController initiates navigation to a new Place and is responsible for warning the user before doing so. PlaceHistoryHandler provides bi-directional mapping between Places and the URL. Whenever your app navigates to a new Place, the URL will be updated with the new token representing the Place so it can be bookmarked and saved in browser history. Likewise, when the user clicks the back button or pulls up a bookmark, PlaceHistoryHandler ensures that your application loads the corresponding Place.

How to navigate

To navigate to a new Place in your application, call the goTo() method on your PlaceController. This is illustrated above in the goTo() method of HelloActivity. PlaceController warns the current Activity that it may be stopping (via a PlaceChangeRequest event) and once allowed, fires a PlaceChangeEvent with the new Place. The PlaceHistoryHandler listens for PlaceChangeEvents and updates the URL history token accordingly. The ActivityManager also listens for PlaceChangeEvents and uses your app's ActivityMapper to start the Activity associated with the new Place.

Rather than using PlaceController.goTo(), you can also create a Hyperlink containing the history token for the new Place obtained by calling your PlaceHistoryMapper.getToken(). When the user navigates to a new URL (via hyperlink, back button, or bookmark), PlaceHistoryHandler catches the ValueChangeEvent from the History object and calls your app's PlaceHistoryMapper to turn the history token into its corresponding Place. It then calls PlaceController.goTo() with the new Place.

What about apps with multiple panels in the same window whose state should all be saved together in a single URL? You can accomplish this by using an ActivityManager and ActivityMapper for each panel. Using this technique, a Place can be mapped to multiple activities. For further examples, see the resources below.

Related resources