Intro to Spark Containers

Category : Containers, Flex, Group, SkinnableContainer, Spark

Here’s a talk I did at work around Spark Containers. Some of the topics covered are:

  • Types of Spark Containers
  • Types of IVisualElements
  • Group Basics
  • The multi-faces of DOM
  • Lesser known container features
  • Internals of Group and SkinnableContainer
  • Performance considerations




When to use what Spark Container

6

Category : Containers, Flex, Group, SkinnableContainer

As always, I’m disappointed with the amount I blog. One strategy I’m going to take is to take questions asked on forums that I think are interesting and provide an answer. So, for this first question comes from a forum post.

Question: We know that Flex 4 has all these new Spark containers, like Group, VGroup, HGroup, etc…as well as the old MX componentas as the Canvas, Panel, VBox, HBox, etc…

This gets me really confused on which container I should use with my project.

For example, what’s the difference between:

<s:Group>
    <s:layout>
        <s:HorizontalLayout />
    </s:layout>
</s:Group>

…and…

<s:HGroup>
</s:HGroup>

…or even…

<mx:HBox>
</mx:HBox>

I’m sorry if I’m saying something wrong but it makes me waste so much time thinking on which one i should use cause, for me, all of them do exactly the same.

One other thing is if I need to do a container with a background color. What should I use?

<mx:Canvas backgroundcolor="{color}">
    <MyComponents />  
  </mx:Canvas>

…or…

<s:Group>
    <s:Rect>
        <s:fill>
            <s:SolidColor color="{color}" />
        </s:fill>
    </s:Rect>
    <MyComponents />
</s:Group>

Can anyone tell me which one is the best pratice now for Flex 4?

Answer:

We hope you can use the new Spark components whenever possible. Group is the basic, chromeless container. SkinnableContainer is our basic container with chrome (for instance Panel extends SkinnableContainer). One of the cool new things you can do in spark is swap layouts. For instance, you can use a HorizontalLayout with a Group, or you can even create a custom layout and use it with your List. This is really powerful, and this separation between a container and the layout make a lot of things easier, That said, for really common use-cases, we found some people were annoyed with having to type:

<s:Group>
    <s:layout>
        <s:VerticalLayout horizontAlign=".." />
    </s:layout>
     ...
</s:Group>

And people were used to having HBox and VBox. Because of this, we created helper classes, HGroup and VGroup, which extend Group and have the layout object baked in. They don’t really add any functionality…they are just there as a shortcut. To make it easier we also proxy up some layout-dependent properties on to the container, like horizontalAlign and verticalAlign.

In summary:

HBox, VBox, and Canvas are replaced by one component, Group. However their functionality is really replaced by HorizontalLayout, VerticalLayout, and BasicLayout, respectively. We have helper objects HGroup and VGroup to make common tasks easier. If you want a skinnable form of those components (something with chrome), use SkinnableContainer and change the layout (we did not provide helper classes HSkinnableContainer and VSkinnableContainer because we don’t think it’s as common of a use-case).

As a side note, I think you should always switch to using these new Spark container classes whenever possible. We think they are more flexible because of swappable layouts, and they also support GraphicElements directly, while MX containers do not. In addition, the Spark classes are made to be lighter-weight and more performant. For instance, they don’t have scrollbars built in, and they are chromeless. An exception is if you used Canvas and advanced constraints before. We haven’t created an AdvancedConstraint layout yet (they are in Flex 4.5, though).

As per the backgroundColor part of your question, you could composite it together like you did in the Group:

<s:Group>
    <s:Rect>
        <s:fill>
            <s:SolidColor color="{color}" />
        </s:fill>
    </s:Rect>
    <MyComponents />
</s:Group>

However, ideally, I’d tell you to use SkinnableContainer and place the Rect in the SkinnableContainer‘s skin. This way you’re segregating the content of the component from the look of the component. This is part of the “container with chrome (SkinnableContainer) vs. container with no chrome (Group)”. As we started out down the Spark architecture path, we really pushed hard for people to use this new skinning model, and in this case, we would push people to put the <s:Rect> in to the skin, but in balancing our “theoretical ideal of the skin vs. the component” and the usability of the framework, we received feedback that for common situations we need to provide styles. Because of this, our default SkinnableContainer skin already has a background rectangle in it, and you can control its color with the backgroundColor style, like:

<s:SkinnableContainer backgroundcolor="red">
    ...
</s:SkinnableContainer>

We baked this background and backgroundColor style in to the SkinnableContainer component for ease-of-use, so you don’t have to create a skin just for such a simple change. However, if you want something really complex (like a rounded rectangle as the background), then you should re-skin the SkinnableContainer.

Hope this helps answer a lot of questions.

-Ryan