Posts tagged ‘web apps’

Making Flask’s url_for More Flexible

2013-03-11 0:32

Flask is one of the countless web frameworks available for Python. It’s probably my favorite, because it’s rather minimal, simple and easy to use. All the expected features are there, too, although they might not be as powerful as in some more advanced tools.

As an example, here’s how you define some simple request handler, bound to a parametrized URL pattern:

  1. from flask import abort, render_template
  2. from myapplication import app, db_session, Post
  4. @app.route('/post/<int:post_id>')
  5. def blogpost(post_id):
  6.     post = db_session.query(Post).get(post_id)
  7.     if not post:
  8.         abort(404)
  9.     return render_template('post.html', post=post)

This handler responds to requests that go to /post/42 and similar paths. The syntax for those URL patterns is not very advanced: parameters can only be captured as path segments rather than arbitrary groups within a regular expression. (You can still use query string arguments, of course).

On the flip side, reversing the URL – building it from handler name and parameters – is always possible. There is a url_for function which does just that. It can be used both from Python code and, perhaps more usefully, from HTML (Jinja) templates:

  1. <h2>Recent posts</h2>
  2. <ul>
  3.   {% for post in posts %}
  4.     <li>
  5.       <a href="{{ url_for('blogpost', }}">
  6.         {{ post.title }}
  7.       </a>
  8.     </li>
  9.   {% endfor %}
  10. </ul>

Parameters can have types, too. We’ve seen, for example, that post_id was defined as int in the URL pattern for blogpost handler. These types are checked during the actual routing of HTTP requests, but also by the url_for function:

  1. pattern = url_for('blogpost', post_id='<id>')  # raises ValueError

Most of the time, this little bit of “static typing” is a nice feature. However, there are some cases where this behavior of url_for is a bit too strict. Anytime we don’t intend to invoke the resulting URL directly, we might want a little more flexibility.

Biggest case-in-point are various client-side templates, used by JavaScript code to update small pieces of HTML without reloading the whole page. If you, for example, wanted to rewrite the template above to use Underscore templates, you would still want url_for to format the blogpost URL pattern:

  1. <h2>Recent posts</h2>
  2. <ul>
  3.   < % _.each(posts, function(post) { %>
  4.     <a href="{{ url_for('blogpost', post_id='<%= %>') }}">
  5.         < %- %>
  6.     </a>
  7.   < % }); %>
  8. </ul>

Assuming you don’t feel dizzy from seeing two templating languages at once, you will obviously notice that '< %= %>' is not a valid int value. But it’s a correct value for post_id parameter, because the resulting URL (/post/< %= %>) would not be used immediately. Instead, it would be just sent to the browser, where some JS code would pick it up and replace the Underscore placeholder with an actual ID.

Unfortunately, bypassing the default strictness of url_for is not exactly easy.

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Author: Xion, posted under Computer Science & IT » Comments Off on Making Flask’s url_for More Flexible

Bootstrap, a UI framework for the modern Web

2012-04-22 20:11

It was almost exactly one year ago and I remember it quite vividly. I was attending an event organized by Google which was about the Chrome Web Store, as well as HTML5 and web applications in general. After the speaker finished pitching about awesomeness of this stuff (and how Chrome was the only browser that supported them all, of course), it was time for a round of questions and some discussion. I seized this opportunity and brought up an issue of user interface inconsistencies that plague the contemporary web apps. Because the Web as a platform doesn’t really enforce any constraints on UI paradigms, we can experience all sorts of “creative” approaches to user interface. In their pursuit of novelty and eye candies, web designers often sacrifice usability by not adhering to well known interface metaphors, and shying away from uniform UI elements.

At that time I didn’t really get a good answer that would address this issue. And it’s an important one, given the rate at which web applications are springing to life and replacing their equivalent desktop programs. Does it mean we’ll be stuck with this UI bonanza for the time being?…

Fortunately, there are some early first signs that it might not necessarily be so.

Enter Bootstrap

Few months later, in August 2011, Twitter released the first version of Bootstrap framework. Originally intended for internal use, this set of common HTML, CSS and JS patterns was made open source and released into the wild. The praise it subsequently gained is definitely well deserved, for it is a great set of tools for kickstarting development of any web-related project. Its features include:

  • a flexible grid system for establishing a skeleton of the web page or app
  • a set of great-looking styles for HTML form elements
  • many complex UI components, like collapsible alerts, dropdowns, navigation bars, modal windows, and so on
  • customizable set of CSS styles for typical markup elements, such as headers or tables

Along with universal acclaim came also the popularity: it is currently the most watched project on GitHub.

The value of consistency

However, some want to argue that being so popular has also an unanticipated, negative side. It makes the developers lazy, convinced they can get away without a “proper” design for their site or app. Even more: it allegedly shows disrespect for their users, as if the creator simply didn’t care how does their product look like.

Does it compute? I don’t think so. Do you complain if you find that any particular desktop application uses the very same looks for UI components, like buttons or list boxes?… Of course not. We learned to value the consistency and predictability that this entails, because it frees us from the burden of mentally adjusting to every single GUI app that we happen to use. Similarly, developers appreciate how this makes their work easier: they don’t have to code dropdown menus or modal dialogs, which in turns allows them to spend more time on actual, useful functionality.

Sure, it didn’t happen overnight when desktop OS’ were emerging as software platforms. Also, there are still plenty of apps whose creators – willfully or unintentionally – chose not to adhere to the standards. Sometimes it’s even for the good, as it allows for new, useful UI patterns to emerge and be adopted by the mainstream. The resulting process is still that of convergence, producing interfaces which are more consistent and easier to use.

Bootstrap shapes the Web

The analogous process may just be happening to the Internet, considered as a “platform” for web applications. By steadily raising in popularity, Bootstrap has a chance of becoming the UI framework for Web in general – an obvious first choice for any new project.

Of course, even if this happens, it would be terribly unlikely that it starts reigning supreme and making every website look almost exactly the same – i.e. transforming the Web into equivalent of desktop. What’s much more likely is following the footsteps of mobile platforms. In there, every app strives to be original and appealing but only those that correctly balance usability with artsy design provide really compelling user experience.

It will not be without differences, though. Mobile platforms are generally ruled with iron (or clay) fist and have relevant UI guidelines spelled out explicitly. For Web it’s very much not the case, so any potential “standardization” is necessarily a bottom-up process whose benefits have to be indisputable and clearly visible. Despite some opposition, Bootstrap seems to have enough momentum to really (ahem) bootstrap this process. It already wins hearts and minds of many web developers, so it may be just a matter of time.

If it happens, I believe the Web will be in better place.

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Author: Xion, posted under Internet, Programming, Thoughts » Comments Off on Bootstrap, a UI framework for the modern Web

HTML nr 5 – książka

2011-07-23 14:53

Właśnie skończyłem lekturę książki Wprowadzenie do HTML5 autorstwa Bruce’a Lawsona i Remy’ego Sharpa, wydanej w wersji polskiej przez Helion. Zakupiłem ją z nadzieją, że wprowadzi nieco porządku w cały ten buzz odnośnie HTML5, którego trudno nie zauważyć, jeśli tylko robi się cokolwiek chociaż pośrednio związanego z tą tematyką. I od razu mogę stwierdzić, że pod tym względem moje oczekiwania zostały rzeczywiście spełnione.

W książce można bowiem znaleźć przegląd kilku elementów składających się na standard HTML5 oraz paru technologii pobocznych, które formalnie do standardu nie należą, ale często są uwzględniane pod parasolem szerszej definicji całego zjawiska/technologii/ruchu/trendu/czegokolwiek-czym-to-jest. Wśród nich mamy takie podstawy jak nowe elementy strukturalne, nowe i przedefiniowane znaczniki opisu tekstu, poszerzone możliwości formularzy i różne drobne usprawnienia składniowo-semantyczne. Nie są one może tak ekscytujące jak “gwiazdy” technologii HTML5, ale fakt ich porządnego uwzględnienia jest według mnie tym bardziej godny uwagi.
Oczywiście nie zabrakło też wielu “nowych wspaniałych API”, dzięki którym możemy chociażby tworzyć SQL-owe bazy danych po stronie klienta i wykonywać szereg innych niezbędnych a właściwych dla stron WWW czynności ;D I tak możemy na przykład dowiedzieć się, co to właściwie jest ten Canvas, w jaki sposób zapewnić wsparcie dla techniki drag & drop i do czego w zasadzie mogą przydać się te całe webowe gniazdka (czyli Web Sockets). Ponieważ wszystko pokazane jest na prostych przykładach, opanowanie podstaw każdego z tych rozwiązań dla ogarniętego programisty nie stanowi żadnego problemu.

Kluczowym słówkiem są tu jednak owe ‘podstawy’. Chociaż różne tematy są tu opisane z różnym poziomem szczegółowości – czasem nawet zbyt dużym, jak choćby w przypadku <audio>/<video> – to jednak w żaden nie jest opisany wyczerpująco. Nie wskazuję tego jako wady, bo przecież mówimy o książce z wyraźnym napisem “wprowadzenie” na okładce. Poza tym w prawie każdym miejscu, gdzie autorzy świadomie coś pomijają, podawane są inne (zwykle internetowe) źródła, z których można czerpać bardziej szczegółowe informacje. Trzeba też powiedzieć szczerze, że właściwie żaden z opisywanych tematów (może poza Canvasem) osobno nie prezentuje się jako specjalnie skomplikowany bądź obszerny. Skondensowane wprowadzenie może więc równie dobrze być całkowicie wystarczające.

Podsumowując więc: lektura okazała się jak najbardziej pożyteczna. Książkę czyta się szybko i bez wielkiego wysiłku, a jednocześnie można się z niej dowiedzieć wielu interesujących rzeczy. Jeśli nawet nie zamierzamy – za przeproszeniem – programować w HTML5, to przeczytanie tej książki da nam ciekawy wgląd w technologie będące podobno przyszłością Internetu czy nawet aplikacji jako takich.

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Author: Xion, posted under Books, Internet, Programming » 3 comments

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