Wednesday, October 7, 2009

A Simple Publish/Subscribe Example in Scala

Here is an example where using a simple publish/subscribe mechanism allowed me to clean up some of my early Scala code.

My Mimprint program (now also on github) was originally written in Java, then ported to Scala soon after I first started learning that language. As such, much of that original ported code was "Java written in Scala". As I have continued to internalize the Scala approach I have gone back and modified various parts of the program to make it cleaner.

In one part of the program I set up a collection of menu checkboxes to allow the user to enable or disable various features. As those features are enabled or disabled, the states of other screen components change; sometimes a component is enabled or disabled, sometimes a component is hidden or made visible.

My original Java-ish Scala code to do this looked something like this (with irrelevant parts omitted):
class ViewListGroup ... { ... private var singleComp:Component = _ private var mShowFileInfo:SCheckBoxMenuItem = _ private var mShowFileIcons:SCheckBoxMenuItem = _ private var mShowDirDates:SCheckBoxMenuItem = _ private var mShowSingleViewer:SCheckBoxMenuItem = _ def getComponent():Component = { ... singleComp = playViewSingle.getComponent() ... //Add our menu items mShowFileInfo = new SCheckBoxMenuItem( viewer,"menu.List.ShowFileInfo")( showFileInfo(mShowFileInfo.getState)) mShowFileInfo.setState(true) m.add(mShowFileInfo) mShowFileIcons = new SCheckBoxMenuItem( viewer,"menu.List.ShowFileIcons")( showFileIcons(mShowFileIcons.getState)) mShowFileIcons.setState(false) m.add(mShowFileIcons) mShowDirDates = new SCheckBoxMenuItem( viewer,"menu.List.ShowDirDates")( showDirDates(mShowDirDates.getState)) mShowDirDates.setState(playViewList.includeDirectoryDates) ... m.add(mShowDirDates) mShowSingleViewer = new SCheckBoxMenuItem( viewer,"menu.List.ShowSingleViewer")( showSingleViewer(mShowSingleViewer.getState)) mShowSingleViewer.setState(true) m.add(mShowSingleViewer) showSingleViewer(mShowSingleViewer.getState) //make sure window state is in sync with menu item state ... } ... def showFileInfo(b:Boolean) { playViewList.showFileInfo(b) mShowFileInfo.setState(b) mShowFileIcons.setEnabled(b) mShowDirDates.setEnabled(b) } def showFileIcons(b:Boolean) { playViewList.showFileIcons(b) playViewList.redisplayList() } def showDirDates(b:Boolean) { playViewList.includeDirectoryDates = b playViewList.redisplayList() } def showSingleViewer(b:Boolean) { singleComp.setVisible(b) singleComp.getParent.asInstanceOf[JSplitPane].resetToPreferredSizes() mShowSingleViewer.setState(b) playViewList.requestSelect } ... }
There were two things about this code that I didn't like:
  1. Mutable instance variables using var, particularly since they were not really variable. These values were being assigned once, not at construction time, but had to be available to other methods.
  2. The close binding between the different UI components, since the action method called by one component directly modified attributes of possibly a number of other components.
After a recent conversation with a friend I realized that I could probably improve this code by using a publish/subscribe mechanism to loosen the coupling between the components. Mimprint already had an ActorPublisher class, where each subscriber is an Actor that accepts messages of the published object type, but in this case I wanted a lighter weight implementation, since I knew the subscriber actions would be quick. Also, this being Swing, the subscriber actions that update screen state should run in the Swing event thread, and the events being published are also coming from the event thread, so the simple thing to do is to run the subscriber actions directly from the publish method.

Writing a publish/subscribe handler in Scala is pretty easy, and for me it was even simpler, as I already had one. I grabbed my ListenerManager and modified it to use the publish/subscribe terminology. I also added synchronization to make it multi-thread safe, although for this app I don't really need it. It now looks like this:
package net.jimmc.util /** Manage a subscriber list. * There are no guarantees on the order of subscribers in the list. * This code is a slightly modified version of ListenerManager * as published to my blog in April 2009. */ trait Publisher[E] { type S = (E) => Unit private var subscribers: List[S] = Nil private object lock //By using lock.synchronized rather than this.synchronized we reduce //the scope of our lock from the extending object (which might be //mixing us in with other classes) to just this trait. /** True if the subscriber is already in our list. */ def isSubscribed(subscriber:S) = { val subs = lock.synchronized { subscribers } subs.exists(_==subscriber) } /** Add a subscriber to our list if it is not already there. */ def subscribe(subscriber:S) = lock.synchronized { if (!isSubscribed(subscriber)) subscribers = subscriber :: subscribers } /** Remove a subscriber from our list. If not in the list, ignored. */ def unsubscribe(subscriber:S):Unit = lock.synchronized { subscribers = subscribers.filter(_!=subscriber) } /** Publish an event to all subscribers on the list. */ def publish(event:E) = { val subs = lock.synchronized { subscribers } subs.foreach(_.apply(event)) } }
For each menu checkbox I would like to set up a publisher. In every case, I just need to publish whether that checkbox has just been enabled or disabled. I defined a simple case class hierarchy to represent the Enabled and Disabled messages:
sealed abstract class Abled case object Enabled extends Abled case object Disabled extends Abled
I then created a publisher class that uses that event type:
class AbledPublisher extends Publisher[Abled]
I want to easily publish the Enabled or Disabled object based on the current state of a checkbox, so I added an AbledPublisher companion object with an apply method to do that:
object AbledPublisher { object Abled { def apply(b:Boolean) = if (b) Enabled else Disabled } }
Conversely, upon receiving an Abled event in a subscriber for a UI component I want to be able to enable or disable that component. I could use a match statement with cases for Enabled and Disabled, but a simpler way is to modify the Abled case class hierarchy to encode a boolean state value into the Abled case object to allow easy translation from an Abled object back to a state:
sealed abstract class Abled { val state:Boolean } case object Enabled extends Abled { override val state = true } case object Disabled extends Abled { override val state = false }
Finally, I packaged up the case class hierarchy inside the AbledPublisher object to control scoping. The final AbledPublisher file looks like this:
package net.jimmc.util //For subscribers of things that turn on and off class AbledPublisher extends Publisher[AbledPublisher.Abled] // use "import AbledPublisher._" to pick up these definitions object AbledPublisher { sealed abstract class Abled { val state:Boolean } case object Enabled extends Abled { override val state = true } case object Disabled extends Abled { override val state = false } object Abled { def apply(b:Boolean) = if (b) Enabled else Disabled } }
Given the above AbledPublisher class and object, I modified my code so that the action method called by each menu checkbox publishes an Enabled or Disabled event that matches the new state of the checkbox, and for each place in the old code where an action method called a state-changing method on another component I set up that target component as a subscriber to the appropriate publisher that, when it receives a published event, takes appropriate action on itself.

With the above changes, and a slight change to my SCheckBoxMenuItem class so that it passes itself to the action callback, the code now looks like this:
import net.jimmc.util.AbledPublisher import net.jimmc.util.AbledPublisher._ class ViewListGroup ... { vlg:ViewListGroup => ... private val showFileInfoPublisher = new AbledPublisher private val showSingleViewerPublisher = new AbledPublisher private val showDirectoriesPublisher = new AbledPublisher ... def getComponent():Component = { ... val singleComp = playViewSingle.getComponent() showSingleViewerPublisher.subscribe((ev)=> { singleComp.setVisible(ev.state) singleComp.getParent.asInstanceOf[JSplitPane].resetToPreferredSizes() }) ... //Add our menu items val mShowFileInfo = new SCheckBoxMenuItem( viewer,"menu.List.ShowFileInfo")((cb)=> showFileInfo(cb.getState)) mShowFileInfo.setState(true) showFileInfoPublisher.subscribe((ev)=> mShowFileInfo.setState(ev.state) ) m.add(mShowFileInfo) val mShowFileIcons = new SCheckBoxMenuItem( viewer,"menu.List.ShowFileIcons")((cb)=> showFileIcons(cb.getState)) mShowFileIcons.setState(false) showFileInfoPublisher.subscribe((ev)=> mShowFileIcons.setState(ev.state) ) m.add(mShowFileIcons) val mShowDirDates = new SCheckBoxMenuItem( viewer,"menu.List.ShowDirDates")((cb)=> showDirDates(cb.getState)) mShowDirDates.setState(playViewList.includeDirectoryDates) mShowDirDates.setVisible(includeDirectories) showFileInfoPublisher.subscribe((ev)=> mShowDirDates.setState(ev.state) ) showDirectoriesPublisher.subscribe((ev)=> mShowDirDates.setVisible(ev.state) ) m.add(mShowDirDates) val mShowSingleViewer:SCheckBoxMenuItem = new SCheckBoxMenuItem( viewer,"menu.List.ShowSingleViewer")((cb)=> showSingleViewer(cb.getState)) mShowSingleViewer.setState(true) showSingleViewerPublisher.subscribe((ev)=> mShowSingleViewer.setState(ev.state) ) m.add(mShowSingleViewer) showSingleViewer(mShowSingleViewer.getState) //make sure window state is in sync with menu item state ... } ... def showFileInfo(b:Boolean) { playViewList.showFileInfo(b) showFileInfoPublisher.publish(Abled(b)) } def showFileIcons(b:Boolean) { playViewList.showFileIcons(b) playViewList.redisplayList() } def showDirDates(b:Boolean) { playViewList.includeDirectoryDates = b playViewList.redisplayList() } def showSingleViewer(b:Boolean) { showSingleViewerPublisher.publish(Abled(b)) playViewList.requestSelect } ... }
The total number of lines of code in ViewListGroup is actually a bit more than before, but I find the code a little easier to understand because all of the code that acts on a UI component is now localized in one place in the source file. All of the vars that held pointers to those components are now gone, replaced by a few vals for the publishers. The publishers use vars to maintain internal state, but that state is simple and easily understood, well encapsulated and multi-thread safe.

There is still more cleanup work to be done in Mimprint. For example, in the above code the checkbox action methods such as showFileInfo and showFileIcons call methods on the playViewList object as well as publishing an Abled event. Instead, I could set up playViewList as a listener on each of the published events, then make the menu checkbox actions directly publish an event and get rid of the showXXX methods. I will leave that for another round of cleanup.

2 comments:

nairb774 said...

You might want to take a peek at scala.collection.mutable.Publisher. It is not thread safe; however, it would not be hard to fix that either by wrapping it or by using it in a thread safe manner.

Brian

Jim McBeath said...

nairb774: Thanks for the pointer to Scala's Publisher class, I should have looked in the standard library first. The problem with that Publisher is that the subscribe method takes an instance of a Subscriber rather than a closure, which makes it more of a hassle to use for simple in-line callbacks such as I wanted to do here. scala.swing.Publisher does take a closure, but that trait is not type-parameterized. So I will stick with my light-weight Publisher for this use.