Natively Submitting HTML Forms in iOS

HTML forms are a common means of uploading information to a web server. For example, the HTML 5 specification includes a sample form that simulates a pizza delivery request. The form allows the user to provide contact information, pizza size and topping details, and delivery instructions.

A working implementation of this form can be found on httpbin.org. Submitting the form produces a JSON response that simply echoes the information sent with the request. However, in most "real world" applications, a form submission typically triggers some meaningful action on the server, such as posting a message, responding to a survey, or making a purchase.

Mobile applications often need to perform similar tasks. While it is possible to embed an HTML form in a native application using a web view, this is not always ideal. For example, the form may not be optimized for a mobile device, resulting in controls that are too small and difficult to interact with. Further, embedded forms don't generally provide the seamless experience users expect from a native application. They often look out of place, making it obvious that the app is not truly native:

A form constructed with native controls is usually more visually consistent with platform conventions and much easier to interact with. For example:

However, many native forms are processed via some form of custom XML or JSON-based web service API. This represents a duplication of effort, since developers need to support both the form processing code as well as the code for implementing the web service. It would be ideal if the server-side logic could be shared by both clients, reducing overall development effort while preserving the enhanced user experience provided by the native UI.

MarkupKit

MarkupKit is an open-source framework for simplifying development of native iOS and tvOS applications. It allows developers to construct user interfaces declaratively using a human-readable, HTML-like markup language, rather than visually using Interface Builder or programmatically in code.

For example, the following markup creates an instance of UILabel and sets the value of its text property to "Hello, World!":

<UILabel text="Hello, World!"/>

This markup is equivalent to the following Swift code:

let label = UILabel()
label.text = "Hello, World!"

The native form shown in the previous section was created using the following markup. It declares a static table view whose contents represent the elements of the delivery request form:

<LMTableView style="groupedTableView">
    <!-- Contact information -->
    <LMTableViewCell selectionStyle="none">
        <UITextField id="nameTextField" placeholder="Customer Name"/>
    </LMTableViewCell>

    <LMTableViewCell selectionStyle="none">
        <UITextField id="phoneTextField" placeholder="Telephone" keyboardType="numberPad"/>
    </LMTableViewCell>

    <LMTableViewCell selectionStyle="none">
        <UITextField id="emailTextField" placeholder="Email Address" keyboardType="emailAddress"/>
    </LMTableViewCell>

    <!-- Pizza size/toppings -->
    <?sectionBreak?>
    <?sectionName size?>
    <?sectionSelectionMode singleCheckmark?>

    <sectionHeader title="Pizza Size"/>

    <UITableViewCell textLabel.text="Small" value="small"/>
    <UITableViewCell textLabel.text="Medium" value="medium"/>
    <UITableViewCell textLabel.text="Large" value="large"/>

    <?sectionBreak?>
    <?sectionName toppings?>
    <?sectionSelectionMode multipleCheckmarks?>

    <sectionHeader title="Pizza Toppings"/>

    <UITableViewCell textLabel.text="Bacon" value="bacon"/>
    <UITableViewCell textLabel.text="Extra Cheese" value="cheese"/>
    <UITableViewCell textLabel.text="Onion" value="onion"/>
    <UITableViewCell textLabel.text="Mushroom" value="mushroom"/>

    <!-- Delivery time/instructions -->
    <?sectionBreak?>

    <sectionHeader title="Preferred Delivery Time"/>

    <LMTableViewCell selectionStyle="none">
        <UIDatePicker id="deliveryDatePicker" datePickerMode="time" height="140"/>
    </LMTableViewCell>

    <?sectionBreak?>

    <sectionHeader title="Delivery Instructions"/>

    <LMTableViewCell selectionStyle="none">
        <UITextView id="commentsTextView" height="140" textContainerInset="4" textContainer.lineFragmentPadding="0"/>
    </LMTableViewCell>
</LMTableView>

Of course, MarkupKit isn't the only way to create native forms in iOS; however, it can significantly simplify the task.

HTTP-RPC

HTTP-RPC is an open-source framework for simplifying development of REST applications. It allows developers to access REST-based web services using a convenient, RPC-like metaphor while preserving fundamental REST principles such as statelessness and uniform resource access.

The project currently includes support for consuming web services in Objective-C/Swift and Java (including Android). It provides a consistent, callback-based API that makes it easy to interact with services regardless of target device or operating system.

For example, the following code snippet shows how a Swift client might access a simple web service that returns a friendly greeting:

Swift

serviceProxy.invoke("GET", path: "/hello") { result, error in
    print(result) // Prints "Hello, World!"
}

While HTTP-RPC is often used to access JSON-based REST APIs, it also supports posting data to the server using the application/x-www-form-urlencoded MIME type used by HTML forms.

For example, the following view controller uses the iOS HTTP-RPC client to submit the contents of the form from the previous section to the test service at httpbin.org. The actual form submission is performed in the submit() method using HTTP-RPC's WSWebServiceProxy class:

class ViewController: LMTableViewController {
    @IBOutlet var nameTextField: UITextField!
    @IBOutlet var phoneTextField: UITextField!
    @IBOutlet var emailTextField: UITextField!
    @IBOutlet var deliveryDatePicker: UIDatePicker!
    @IBOutlet var commentsTextView: UITextView!

    override func loadView() {
        view = LMViewBuilder.view(withName: "ViewController", owner: self, root: nil)
    }

    override func viewDidLoad() {
        super.viewDidLoad()

        title = "Pizza Delivery Form"

        navigationItem.rightBarButtonItem = UIBarButtonItem(title: "Submit", style: UIBarButtonItemStyle.plain,
            target: self, action: #selector(submit))

        deliveryDatePicker.minuteInterval = 15
    }

    func submit() {
        let timeFormatter = DateFormatter()

        timeFormatter.dateFormat = "hh:mm"

        let serviceProxy = WSWebServiceProxy(session: URLSession.shared, serverURL: URL(string: "https://httpbin.org")!)

        serviceProxy.encoding = WSApplicationXWWWFormURLEncoded

        serviceProxy.invoke("POST", path: "/post", arguments: [
            "custname": nameTextField.text ?? "",
            "custtel": phoneTextField.text ?? "",
            "custemail": emailTextField.text ?? "",
            "size": tableView.value(forSection: tableView.section(withName: "size")) ?? "",
            "topping": tableView.values(forSection: tableView.section(withName: "toppings")),
            "delivery": timeFormatter.string(from: deliveryDatePicker.date),
            "comments": commentsTextView.text
        ]) { result, error in
            let alertController = UIAlertController(title: "Status",
                message: (error == nil) ? "Form submitted." : error!.localizedDescription,
                preferredStyle: .alert)

            alertController.addAction(UIAlertAction(title: "OK", style: .default, handler:nil))

            self.present(alertController, animated: true, completion: nil)
        }
    }
}

While the example controller simply displays a success or failure message in response to the form submission, an actual application might do something slightly more sophisticated, such as presenting a confirmation page returned by the server.

As with MarkupKit, HTTP-RPC isn't strictly required, but its built-in support for executing URL-encoded form posts makes it a good option.

Summary

This article provided an overview of how MarkupKit and HTTP-RPC can be used to natively submit HTML forms in iOS, reducing development effort and improving user experience.

For more information, please see the following:

A Lightweight Alternative to JAX-RS

HTTP-RPC is an open-source framework for simplifying development of REST applications. It allows developers to access REST-based web services using a convenient, RPC-like metaphor while preserving fundamental REST principles such as statelessness and uniform resource access. The project currently includes support for consuming web services in Objective-C/Swift and Java (including Android), making it easy to interact with services regardless of target device or operating system.

HTTP-RPC also includes optional support for implementing REST services in Java, providing a lightweight alternative to larger REST frameworks such as JAX-RS. The entire platform is distributed as two JAR files totaling approximately 30KB in size, making it an ideal choice for applications where a minimal footprint is required.

This article introduces the HTTP-RPC server framework and provides an overview of its key features.

DispatcherServlet

DispatcherServlet is an abstract base class for REST services. Service operations are defined by adding public methods to a concrete service implementation.

Methods are invoked by submitting an HTTP request for a path associated with a servlet instance. Arguments are provided either via the query string or in the request body (like an HTML form), or as JSON. DispatcherServlet converts the request parameters to the expected argument types, invokes the method, and serializes the return value to the output stream as JSON.

The RequestMethod annotation is used to associate a service method with an HTTP verb such as GET or POST. The optional ResourcePath annotation can be used to associate the method with a specific path relative to the servlet. If unspecified, the method is associated with the servlet itself.

Multiple methods may be associated with the same verb and path. DispatcherServlet selects the best method to execute based on the provided argument values. For example, the following service class might be used to implement some simple mathematical operations:

@WebServlet(urlPatterns={"/math/*"})
public class MathServlet extends DispatcherServlet {
    @RequestMethod("GET")
    @ResourcePath("/sum")
    public double getSum(double a, double b) {
        return a + b;
    }

    @RequestMethod("GET")
    @ResourcePath("/sum")
    public double getSum(List<Double> values) {
        double total = 0;

        for (double value : values) {
            total += value;
        }

        return total;
    }
}

The following request would cause the first method to be invoked:

GET /math/sum?a=2&b=4

This request would invoke the second method:

GET /math/sum?values=1&values=2&values=3

In either case, the service would return the value 6 in response.

Method Arguments

Method arguments may be any of the following types:

  • Numeric primitive or wrapper class (e.g. int or Integer)
  • boolean or Boolean
  • String
  • java.util.List
  • java.util.Map
  • java.net.URL

List arguments represent either multi-value parameters submitted using one of the form encodings or array structures submitted as JSON. Map arguments represent object structures submitted as JSON, and must use strings for keys. List and map values are automatically converted to their declared types when possible.

URL arguments represent file uploads. They may be used only with POST requests submitted using the multi-part form data encoding. For example:

@WebServlet(urlPatterns={"/upload/*"})
@MultipartConfig
public class FileUploadServlet extends DispatcherServlet {
    @RequestMethod("POST")
    public void upload(URL file) throws IOException {
        ...
    }

    @RequestMethod("POST")
    public void upload(List<URL> files) throws IOException {
        ...
    }
}

Return Values

Return values are converted to their JSON equivalents as follows:

  • Number: number
  • Boolean: true/false
  • CharSequence: string
  • Iterable: array
  • java.util.Map: object

Methods may also return void or Void to indicate that they do not produce a value.

For example, the following method would produce a JSON object containing three values. The mapOf() and entry() methods are provided by the framework to help simplify map creation:

@RequestMethod("GET")
public Map<String, ?> getMap() {
    return mapOf(
        entry("text", "Lorem ipsum"),
        entry("number", 123),
        entry("flag", true)
    );
}

The service would return the following in response:

{
    "text": "Lorem ipsum",
    "number": 123,
    "flag": true
}

Request and Repsonse Properties

DispatcherServlet provides the following methods to allow a service to access the request and response objects associated with the current operation:

protected HttpServletRequest getRequest() { ... }
protected HttpServletResponse getResponse() { ... }

For example, a service might access the request to get the name of the current user, or use the response to return a custom header.

The response object can also be used to produce a custom result. If a service method commits the response by writing to the output stream, the return value (if any) will be ignored by DispatcherServlet. This allows a service to return content that cannot be easily represented as JSON, such as image data or alternative text formats.

Path Variables

Path variables may be specified by a "?" character in the resource path. For example:

@RequestMethod("GET")
@ResourcePath("/contacts/?/addresses/?")
public List<Map<String, ?>> getContactAddresses() { ... }

The getKeys() method returns the list of variables associated with the current request:

protected List<String> getKeys() { ... }

For example, given the following path:

/contacts/jsmith/addresses/home

getKeys() would return the following:

["jsmith", "home"]

Summary

HTTP-RPC is an open-source framework for simplifying development of REST applications. It provides a lightweight alternative to larger Java REST frameworks such as JAX-RS, making it an ideal choice for low-footprint applications such as microservices or IoT.

For more information, see the project README.

MVVM in iOS

MVVM ("model/view/view-model") is design pattern that helps promote a separation of concerns in software development. It is an extension of the well-known "model/view/controller" (MVC) pattern that is often used in user interface design.

In a traditional MVC application, a "controller" object is used to mediate interaction between two other objects known as the "model" and the "view". The model is an abstract representation of data managed by the application, and the view is a visual representation of the data contained in the model. The controller notifies the view of changes to the model, and updates the model in response to user input events received from the view.

MVVM expands on MVC by further decoupling the view from the controller. Instead of requiring the controller to explicitly manage the view's state, a view in an MVVM application uses data binding to be automatically updated in response to changes in a "view model" object exposed by the controller. This object adapts the data provided by the underlying model so that it can be easily consumed by the view. The additional level of indirection allows the view and controller to vary independently without the risk of breaking one or the other.

MVC Example

For example, consider a simple custom table view cell implemented using MVC:

The cell class might provide a set of outlets that the table view controller can use to update its state:

class CustomCell: UITableViewCell {
    @IBOutlet var headingLabel: UILabel!
    @IBOutlet var detailLabel: UILabel!

    ...
}

Row data might be represented by instances of the following class, which provides "heading" and "detail" values for each cell:

class Row: NSObject {
    var heading: String?
    var detail: String?
}

The controller would use the outlets to populate the cell's contents when a new cell is requested:

override func tableView(_ tableView: UITableView, cellForRowAt indexPath: IndexPath) -> UITableViewCell {
    let cell = tableView.dequeueReusableCell(withIdentifier: CustomCell.description(), for: indexPath) as! CustomCell

    let row = rows[indexPath.row]

    cell.headingLabel.text = row.heading
    cell.detailLabel.text = row.detail

    return cell
}

However, this design creates a tight coupling between the controller and the custom cell view. Any time the view class changes, the controller must also be updated.

MVVM Example

MVVM solves this problem by decoupling the view from the controller. Rather than exposing its implementation details via outlets, the view registers itself as an observer on the properties of the view model. Using this approach, the view and controller both become dependent on the view model, but neither is dependent on the other. As long as the view model doesn't change, either one can be modified without impact.

For example, the following markup shows a custom table view cell implemented using MarkupKit, an open-source framework for building native iOS and tvOS applications using a simple, HTML-like markup language. The cell contains two labels arranged vertically in a column:

<root accessoryType="disclosureIndicator">
    <LMColumnView>
        <UILabel text="$row.heading"/>
        <UILabel text="$row.detail"/>
    </LMColumnView>
</root>

Instead of outlets, the cell class exposes a row property representing the view model. The labels' text properties are bound to the properties of this object:

class CustomCell: LMTableViewCell {
    // View model
    dynamic var row: Row!

    ...
}

With the bindings established, the controller can be implemented as shown below. It simply dequeues a cell and sets its row property to the corresponding model value. Because they are bound to the properties of the view model, the cell's labels are automatically updated to reflect the new values. No direct manipulation of view elements is required:

override func tableView(_ tableView: UITableView, cellForRowAt indexPath: IndexPath) -> UITableViewCell {
    let cell = tableView.dequeueReusableCell(withIdentifier: CustomCell.description(), for: indexPath) as! CustomCell

    cell.row = rows[indexPath.row]

    return cell
}

Key-Value Observing

Even if you're not using MarkupKit, you can still create bindings manually using key-value observing (KVO). For example:

class CustomCell: UITableViewCell {
    dynamic var row: Row!

    let headingKeyPath = "row.heading"
    let detailKeyPath = "row.detail"

    override init(style: UITableViewCellStyle, reuseIdentifier: String?) {
        super.init(style: style, reuseIdentifier: reuseIdentifier)

        // Add observers
        addObserver(self, forKeyPath: headingKeyPath, options: [.initial, .new], context: nil)
        addObserver(self, forKeyPath: detailKeyPath, options: [.initial, .new], context: nil)
    }

    required init?(coder decoder: NSCoder) {
        super.init(coder: decoder)
    }

    deinit {
        // Remove observers
        removeObserver(self, forKeyPath: headingKeyPath)
        removeObserver(self, forKeyPath: detailKeyPath)
    }

    override func observeValue(forKeyPath keyPath: String?, of object: Any?, change: [NSKeyValueChangeKey : Any]?, context: UnsafeMutableRawPointer?) {
        // Respond to changes
        let value = change?[.newKey] as? String

        switch keyPath! {
        case headingKeyPath:
            textLabel?.text = value

        case detailKeyPath:
            detailTextLabel?.text = value

        default:
            break
        }
    }
}

However, in general, this approach will be much more verbose than using markup.

Summary

This article introduced the MVVM design pattern and provided an example of how it can be used to simplify the implementation of a custom table view cell. A complete example can be found here.

For more information, see the MarkupKit README.

Named Parameters in JDBC Queries

Prepared statements are a common way to execute parameterized queries in JDBC. For example, the following SQL might be used to retrieve a list of all users whose first or last name matches a particular character sequence:

SELECT * FROM user WHERE first_name LIKE ? or last_name LIKE ?

Parameter values are supplied at runtime via indexed setter methods defined by the PreparedStatement class:

statement.setString(1, pattern);
statement.setString(2, pattern);

This works fine for simple queries, but it becomes increasingly difficult to manage as the number of parameters grows. It is also redundant – although this query only requires a single argument, two parameter values must be supplied.

The Java Persistence API (JPA) provides a more convenient alternative using named parameters. For example, the above query might be written as follows in JPQL:

SELECT u FROM User u WHERE u.firstName LIKE :pattern or u.lastName LIKE :pattern

This is more readable and less verbose, as the caller only needs to provide the value of the "pattern" parameter once. It is also more resilient to changes, as the arguments are not dependent on ordinal position. Unfortunately, it requires a JPA-compliant object-relational mapping (ORM) framework such as Hibernate, a dependency that may not be satisfiable in all situations.

The org.jtemplate.sql.Parameters class provided by the JTemplate framework brings named parameter support to JDBC. The parse() method of this class is used to create a Parameters instance from a JPA-like SQL query; for example:

SELECT * FROM user WHERE first_name LIKE :pattern or last_name LIKE :pattern

It takes a string or reader containing the query text as an argument:

Parameters parameters = Parameters.parse(sqlReader);

The getSQL() method of the Parameters class returns the processed query in standard JDBC syntax. This value can be used in a call to Connection#prepareStatement():

PreparedStatement statement = connection.prepareStatement(parameters.getSQL());

Parameter values are specified via the put() method:

parameters.put("pattern", pattern);

The values are applied to the statement via the apply() method:

parameters.apply(statement);

Once applied, the query can be executed:

ResultSet resultSet = statement.executeQuery();

Note that Parameters is not limited to queries; it can also be used for updates.

A complete example using the Parameters class can be found here. It is a simple REST service that allows a caller to search a database of pets by owner name. JTemplate is distributed as a 32KB JAR file and is also available via Maven:

<dependency>
    <groupId>org.jtemplate</groupId>
    <artifactId>jtemplate</artifactId>
    <version>1.7.6</version>
</dependency>

For more ways to simplify Java development, please see my projects on GitHub:

  • HTTP-RPC – Lightweight multi-platform REST
  • JTemplate – Data-driven presentation templates for Java

JTemplate: Data-Driven Presentation Templates for Java

Templates are documents that describe an output format such as HTML, XML, or CSV. They allow the ultimate representation of a data structure to be specified independently of the data itself, promoting a clear separation of responsibility.

The CTemplate system defines a set of "markers" that are replaced with values supplied by the data structure (which CTemplate calls a "data dictionary") when a template is processed. In JTemplate, the data dictionary is provided by an instance of java.util.Map whose entries represent the values supplied by the dictionary.

For example, the contents of the following map might represent the result of some simple statistical calculations:

{
    "count": 3, 
    "sum": 9.0,
    "average": 3.0
}

A template for transforming this data into HTML is shown below:

<html>
<head>
    <title>Statistics</title>
</head>
<body>
    <p>Count: {{count}}</p>
    <p>Sum: {{sum}}</p>
    <p>Average: {{average}}</p> 
</body>
</html>

At execution time, the "count", "sum", and "average" markers are replaced by their corresponding values from the data dictionary, producing the following markup:

<html>
<head>
    <title>Statistics</title>
</head>
<body>
    <p>Count: 3</p>
    <p>Sum: 9.0</p>
    <p>Average: 3.0</p> 
</body>
</html>

TemplateEncoder Class

JTemplate provides the TemplateEncoder class for merging a template document with a data dictionary. Templates are applied using one of the following TemplateEncoder methods:

public void writeValue(Object value, OutputStream outputStream) { ... }
public void writeValue(Object value, OutputStream outputStream, Locale locale) { ... }
public void writeValue(Object value, Writer writer) { ... }
public void writeValue(Object value, Writer writer, Locale locale) { ... }

The first argument represents the value to write (i.e. the data dictionary), and the second the output destination. The optional third argument represents the locale for which the template will be applied. If unspecified, the default locale is used.

For example, the following code snippet applies a template named map.txt to the contents of a data dictionary whose values are specified by a hash map:

HashMap<String, Object> map = new HashMap<>();

map.put("a", "hello");
map.put("b", 123");
map.put("c", true);

TemplateEncoder encoder = new TemplateEncoder(getClass().getResource("map.txt"), "text/plain");

String result;
try (StringWriter writer = new StringWriter()) {
    encoder.writeValue(map, writer);

    result = writer.toString();
}

System.out.println(result);

If map.txt is defined as follows:

a = {{a}}, b = {{b}}, c = {{c}}

this code would produce the following output:

a = hello, b = 123, c = true

Additional Information

This article introduced the JTemplate framework and provided a brief overview of its key features.

The latest JTemplate release can be downloaded here. For more information, see the project README.

Creating a Simple Android REST Client Using HTTP-RPC

HTTP-RPC is an open-source framework for simplifying development of REST applications. It allows developers to access REST-based web services using a convenient, RPC-like metaphor while preserving fundamental REST principles such as statelessness and uniform resource access.

The project currently includes support for consuming web services in Objective-C/Swift, Java, and JavaScript. It provides a consistent client API that makes it easy to interact with services regardless of target device or operating system.

This article provides a demonstration of how the HTTP-RPC Java client library can be used to invoke services provided by JSONPlaceholder, a "fake online REST API", in Android.

Service API

JSONPlaceholder offers a collection of web services that simulate common REST operations on a variety of resource types such as "albums", "photos", and "users". For example, the following URL retrieves a JSON document containing a list of simulated user records:

https://jsonplaceholder.typicode.com/users

The document is similar to the following:

[
  {
    "id": 1,
    "name": "Leanne Graham",
    "username": "Bret",
    "email": "Sincere@april.biz",
    "address": {
      "street": "Kulas Light",
      "suite": "Apt. 556",
      "city": "Gwenborough",
      "zipcode": "92998-3874",
      "geo": {
        "lat": "-37.3159",
        "lng": "81.1496"
      }
    },
    "phone": "1-770-736-8031 x56442",
    "website": "hildegard.org",
    "company": {
      "name": "Romaguera-Crona",
      "catchPhrase": "Multi-layered client-server neural-net",
      "bs": "harness real-time e-markets"
    }
  },
  ...
]

Additionally, the service provides a collection of simulated discussion posts, which can be retrieved on a per-user basis as follows:

https://jsonplaceholder.typicode.com/posts?userId=1

For example:

[
  {
    "userId": 1,
    "id": 1,
    "title": "sunt aut facere repellat provident occaecati excepturi optio reprehenderit",
    "body": "quia et suscipit\nsuscipit recusandae consequuntur expedita et cum\nreprehenderit molestiae ut ut quas totam\nnostrum rerum est autem sunt rem eveniet architecto"
  },
  {
    "userId": 1,
    "id": 2,
    "title": "qui est esse",
    "body": "est rerum tempore vitae\nsequi sint nihil reprehenderit dolor beatae ea dolores neque\nfugiat blanditiis voluptate porro vel nihil molestiae ut reiciendis\nqui aperiam non debitis possimus qui neque nisi nulla"
  },
  ...
]

Sample Application

The sample application presents two views. The first one displays a list of users:

The second displays a list of posts by the selected user:

WebServiceProxy Class

The WebServiceProxy class is used to invoke service operations. Internally, it uses an instance of HttpURLConnection to send and receive data. Response data is deserialized automatically into appropriate Java types including String, Number, Boolean, List, and Map.

Service operations are initiated by calling the invoke() method, which takes the following arguments:

  • method – the HTTP method to execute
  • path – the resource path
  • arguments – a map containing the request arguments as key/value pairs
  • resultHandler – an instance of ResultHandler that will be invoked upon completion of the service operation

A convenience method is also provided for executing operations that don't take any arguments.

Arguments are passed to the service either via the query string or in the request body, like an HTML form. List arguments represent multi-value parameters and are handled similarly to <select multiple> tags in HTML.

The result handler is a callback that is invoked upon completion of the request. If successful, the first argument will contain the value returned by the server. Otherwise, the first argument will be null, and the second will contain an exception representing the error that occurred.

For example, the following code might be used to invoke an operation that returns the sum of two numbers, specified by the "a" and "b" arguments. The static mapOf() and entry() methods are provided by the WebServiceProxy class to simplify argument map creation:

// Get sum of "a" and "b"
serviceProxy.invoke("GET", "/math/sum", mapOf(entry("a", 2), entry("b", 4)), (result, exception) -> {
    // result is 6
});

ExampleApplication Class

An instance of WebServiceProxy is created by the example application at startup:

private static WebServiceProxy serviceProxy;

public static WebServiceProxy getServiceProxy() {
    return serviceProxy;
}

@Override
public void onCreate() {
    super.onCreate();

    URL serverURL;
    try {
        serverURL = new URL("https://jsonplaceholder.typicode.com");
    } catch (MalformedURLException exception) {
        throw new RuntimeException(exception);
    }

    serviceProxy = new WebServiceProxy(serverURL, Executors.newSingleThreadExecutor()) {
        private Handler handler = new Handler(Looper.getMainLooper());

        @Override
        protected void dispatchResult(Runnable command) {
            handler.post(command);
        }
    };
}

The user and post activities discussed below use this proxy to invoke their respective service operations.

UserActivity Class

The UserActivity class is responsible for presenting the list of users returned from /users. Internally, it maintains a collection of objects representing the user list. In onResume(), if the list has not already been loaded, it uses the service proxy to retrieve the user list from the server:

public class UserActivity extends AppCompatActivity {
    private ListView userListView;

    private List<Map<String, ?>> userList = null;

    private BaseAdapter userListAdapter = new BaseAdapter() {
        ...
    };

    private static String TAG = UserActivity.class.getName();

    @Override
    protected void onCreate(Bundle savedInstanceState) {
        super.onCreate(savedInstanceState);

        setContentView(R.layout.activity_main);

        userListView = (ListView)findViewById(R.id.user_list_view);

        userListView.setOnItemClickListener((parent, view, position, id) -> {
            Intent intent = new Intent(UserActivity.this, PostActivity.class);

            intent.putExtra(PostActivity.USER_ID_KEY, id);

            startActivity(intent);
        });
    }

    @Override
    protected void onResume() {
        super.onResume();

        if (userList == null) {
            ExampleApplication.getServiceProxy().invoke("GET", "/users",
                (List<Map<String, ?>> result, Exception exception) -> {
                if (exception == null) {
                    userList = result;

                    userListView.setAdapter(userListAdapter);
                } else {
                    Log.e(TAG, exception.getMessage());
                }
            });
        }
    }
}

A list adapter is used to present the user details for each row:

private BaseAdapter userListAdapter = new BaseAdapter() {
    @Override
    public int getCount() {
        return userList.size();
    }

    @Override
    public Object getItem(int position) {
        return userList.get(position);
    }

    @Override
    public long getItemId(int position) {
        return ((Number)userList.get(position).get("id")).longValue();
    }

    @Override
    public View getView(int position, View convertView, ViewGroup parent) {
        if (convertView == null) {
            convertView = getLayoutInflater().inflate(R.layout.item_user, null);
        }

        Map<String, ?> note = userList.get(position);

        String name = (String)note.get("name");

        TextView nameTextView = (TextView)convertView.findViewById(R.id.name_text_view);
        nameTextView.setText(name);

        String email = (String)note.get("email");

        TextView emailTextView = (TextView)convertView.findViewById(R.id.email_text_view);
        emailTextView.setText(email);

        return convertView;
    }
};

PostActivity Class

When a user is selected, an instance of PostActivity is presented. This class is responsible for presenting the list of user posts returned from /posts. Like UserActivity, it maintains a collection of objects representing the server response, and populates the list in onResume():

public class PostActivity extends AppCompatActivity {
    private ListView postListView;

    private List<Map<String, ?>> postList = null;

    private BaseAdapter postListAdapter = new BaseAdapter() {
        ...
    };

    public static final String USER_ID_KEY = "userID";

    private static String TAG = PostActivity.class.getName();

    @Override
    protected void onCreate(Bundle savedInstanceState) {
        super.onCreate(savedInstanceState);

        setContentView(R.layout.activity_post);

        postListView = (ListView)findViewById(R.id.post_list_view);
    }

    @Override
    protected void onResume() {
        super.onResume();

        if (postList == null) {
            long userID = getIntent().getLongExtra(USER_ID_KEY, 0);

            ExampleApplication.getServiceProxy().invoke("GET", "/posts", mapOf(entry("userId", userID)),
                (List<Map<String, ?>> result, Exception exception) -> {
                if (exception == null) {
                    postList = result;

                    postListView.setAdapter(postListAdapter);
                } else {
                    Log.e(TAG, exception.getMessage());
                }
            });
        }
    }
}

Again, a list adapter is used to present the details for each row:

private BaseAdapter postListAdapter = new BaseAdapter() {
    @Override
    public int getCount() {
        return postList.size();
    }

    @Override
    public Object getItem(int position) {
        return postList.get(position);
    }

    @Override
    public long getItemId(int position) {
        return ((Number)postList.get(position).get("id")).longValue();
    }

    @Override
    public View getView(int position, View convertView, ViewGroup parent) {
        if (convertView == null) {
            convertView = getLayoutInflater().inflate(R.layout.item_post, null);
        }

        Map<String, ?> note = postList.get(position);

        String title = (String)note.get("title");

        TextView titleTextView = (TextView)convertView.findViewById(R.id.title_text_view);
        titleTextView.setText(title);

        String body = (String)note.get("body");

        TextView bodyTextView = (TextView)convertView.findViewById(R.id.body_text_view);
        bodyTextView.setText(body);

        return convertView;
    }
};

More Information

This article provided a demonstration of how the HTTP-RPC Java client library can be used to build a simple Android REST client application. The complete source code for the sample application can be found here.

The latest version of HTTP-RPC can be downloaded here. For more information, see the project README.

Simplifying Auto Layout in iOS

Auto layout is an iOS feature that allows developers to create applications that automatically adapt to device size, orientation, or content changes. An application built using auto layout generally has little or no hard-coded view positioning logic, but instead dynamically arranges user interface elements based on their preferred or "intrinsic" content sizes.

Auto layout in iOS is implemented primarily via layout constraints, which, while powerful, are not particularly convenient to work with. This article provides an overview of how constraints are typically managed in an iOS application, and then discusses some alternatives that can significantly simplify the task of working with auto layout.

Storyboards

The structure of an iOS user interface is commonly represented by XIB files or storyboards created using Xcode's Interface Builder utility. This tool allows developers to lay out an application's user interface visually using drag/drop and other interactive features.

For example, the following is a storyboard representing a simple view. The view contains two subviews whose positions will be automatically determined at runtime based on layout constraints. The constraints pin the subviews to the edges of the parent view as well as to each other, with a 16-pixel gap in between:

Running the application in portrait mode on an iPhone 7 produces the following results:

In lanscape mode, the application looks like this:

While storyboards are undoubtedly the most common way to define auto layout constraints, they are not necessarily the most efficient. Using Interface Builder to visually establish every relationship can be awkward, especially when working with large or complex view hierarchies. Further, storyboards are not stored in a human-readable text format, which makes it difficult to identify changes across revisions. Finally, although controller logic can be shared between projects, iOS storyboards cannot be used in a tvOS application. Separate storyboards must be created for each platform, resulting in a potentially significant duplication of effort.

Programmatically Defined Constraints

In addition to storyboards, constraints can also be managed programmatically. For example, the following Swift code produces the same results as the previous example:

func createConstraintBasedView() {
    // Red view
    let redView = UIView()

    redView.translatesAutoresizingMaskIntoConstraints = false
    redView.backgroundColor = UIColor(red: 202.0 / 255.0, green: 53.0 / 255.0, blue: 56.0 / 255.0, alpha: 1.0)

    view.addSubview(redView)

    // Blue view
    let blueView = UIView()

    blueView.translatesAutoresizingMaskIntoConstraints = false
    blueView.backgroundColor = UIColor(red: 59.0 / 255.0, green: 85.0 / 255.0, blue: 162.0 / 255.0, alpha: 1.0)

    view.addSubview(blueView)

    // Constraints
    NSLayoutConstraint.activate([
        NSLayoutConstraint(item: redView, attribute: .top, relatedBy: .equal,
            toItem: topLayoutGuide, attribute: .bottom,
            multiplier: 1.0, constant: 0.0),
        NSLayoutConstraint(item: redView, attribute: .bottom, relatedBy: .equal,
            toItem: bottomLayoutGuide, attribute: .top,
            multiplier: 1.0, constant: 0.0),
        NSLayoutConstraint(item: redView, attribute: .leading, relatedBy: .equal,
            toItem: view, attribute: .leadingMargin,
            multiplier: 1.0, constant: 0.0),

        NSLayoutConstraint(item: blueView, attribute: .top, relatedBy: .equal,
            toItem: topLayoutGuide, attribute: .bottom,
            multiplier: 1.0, constant: 0.0),
        NSLayoutConstraint(item: blueView, attribute: .bottom, relatedBy: .equal,
            toItem: bottomLayoutGuide, attribute: .top,
            multiplier: 1.0, constant: 0.0),
        NSLayoutConstraint(item: blueView, attribute: .leading, relatedBy: .equal,
            toItem: redView, attribute: .trailing,
            multiplier: 1.0, constant: 16.0),
        NSLayoutConstraint(item: blueView, attribute: .trailing, relatedBy: .equal,
            toItem: view, attribute: .trailingMargin,
            multiplier: 1.0, constant: 0.0),

        NSLayoutConstraint(item: redView, attribute: .width, relatedBy: .equal,
            toItem: blueView, attribute: .width,
            multiplier: 1.0, constant: 0.0),
    ])
}

Because the constraints are established in code, it is easy to identify changes between revisions. Additionally, this version also works in tvOS:

Unfortunately, managing constraints programmatically is not particularly convenient. This simple layout required the definition of eight individual constraints. More complex layouts could quickly become untenable.

Stack Views

The UIStackView class, introduced in iOS 9, provides an alternative to managing constraints directly. Stack views automatically arrange their subviews in a vertical or horizontal line, and can be nested to create sophisticated layouts.

For example, the following code uses a stack view to produce results identical to the first two examples. It also works in both iOS and tvOS:

func createStackView() -> UIView {
    let view = UIStackView()

    view.isLayoutMarginsRelativeArrangement = true
    view.spacing = 16

    // Red view
    let redView = UIView()

    redView.backgroundColor = UIColor(red: 202.0 / 255.0, green: 53.0 / 255.0, blue: 56.0 / 255.0, alpha: 1.0)

    view.addArrangedSubview(redView)

    // Blue view
    let blueView = UIView()

    blueView.backgroundColor = UIColor(red: 59.0 / 255.0, green: 85.0 / 255.0, blue: 162.0 / 255.0, alpha: 1.0)

    view.addArrangedSubview(blueView)

    // Width constraint
    NSLayoutConstraint.activate([
        NSLayoutConstraint(item: redView, attribute: .width, relatedBy: .equal,
            toItem: blueView, attribute: .width,
            multiplier: 1.0, constant: 0.0),
    ])

    return view
} 

While it is arguably more readable than the previous version, this example is still somewhat verbose. It also still requires the explicit creation of a layout constraint to manage the width relationship, which is not ideal.

Layout Views

MarkupKit is an open-source framework for simplifying development of native iOS and tvOS applications. Among other things, it provides the following collection of view classes, whose sole responsibility is managing the size and position of their respective subviews:

  • LMRowView – arranges subviews in a horizontal line
  • LMColumnView – arranges subviews in a vertical line
  • LMLayerView – arranges subviews in layers, like a stack of transparencies
  • LMAnchorView – optionally anchors subviews to one or more edges

These classes use layout constraints internally, allowing developers to easily take advantage of auto layout while eliminating the need to manage constraints directly.

For example, the following code uses an instance of LMRowView to replicate the results produced by the previous examples. The weight property is used to ensure that the views are the same width. This property, which is added to UIView by MarkupKit, specifies the amount of excess space the view would like to be given within its parent view, relative to all other weights. Since both views are assigned a weight of 1, they will each be given 1 / (1 + 1), or one-half, of the available space:

func createRowViewProgrammatically() -> UIView {
    let view = LMRowView()

    view.spacing = 16

    // Red view
    let redView = UIView()

    redView.backgroundColor = LMViewBuilder.colorValue("#CA3538")
    redView.weight = 1.0

    view.addArrangedSubview(redView)

    // Blue view
    let blueView = UIView()

    blueView.backgroundColor = LMViewBuilder.colorValue("#3B55A2")
    blueView.weight = 1.0

    view.addArrangedSubview(blueView)

    return view
}

Like stack views, layout views are easy to work with programmatically, and are supported in both iOS and tvOS. However, unlike stack views, no manual constraint is manipulation required; MarkupKit uses the defined weight values to automatically establish the width relationship.

Additionally, the colorValue(_) method of MarkupKit's LMViewBuilder class is used to simplify color assignment in this example. The logic is still a bit verbose though, and could become difficult to manage as view complexity increases.

Markup

MarkupKit's namesake feature is its support for declarative view construction. Using markup, the view hiearchy created in the previous example can be represented entirely as follows:

<LMRowView spacing="16">
    <UIView backgroundColor="#ca3538" weight="1"/>
    <UIView backgroundColor="#3b55a2" weight="1"/>
</LMRowView>

The markup is loaded using the view(withName:owner:root:) method of LMViewBuilder. This method is similar to the loadNibNamed(_:owner:options:) method of the NSBundle class, and returns the root element of the view hiearchy declared in the document:

func createRowViewDeclaratively() -> UIView {
    return LMViewBuilder.view(withName: "ViewController", owner: self, root: nil)!
}

Like the previous version, this example works in both iOS and tvOS. However, unlike all of the preceding examples, this version is extremely concise. It is also much more readable: the element hierarchy declared in the document parallels the resulting view hiearchy, making it easy to understand the relationships between views.

For example, the periodic table shown below was constructed using a combination of MarkupKit-provided layout views and UILabel instances:

Creating this view in Interface Builder would be an arduous task. Creating it programmatically would be even more difficult. However, in markup it is almost trivial. The complete source code for this example can be found here.

Using markup can also help promote a clear separation of responsibility within an application. Most, if not all, aspects of a view's presentation can be specified in the view declaration, leaving the view controller responsible solely for managing the view's behavior.

Summary

This article provided an overview of how layout constraints are typically managed in an iOS application, and discussed some alternatives that can significantly simplify the task of working with auto layout, including stack views, layout views, and markup.

For more information, please see the MarkupKit README.