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Flex is a highly productive, free open source framework for building and maintaining expressive web applications that deploy consistently on all major browsers, desktops, and operating systems. It provides a modern, standards-based language and programming model that supports common design patterns. MXML, a declarative XML-based language, is used to describe UI layout and behaviors, and ActionScript, a powerful object-oriented programming language, is used to create client logic. Flex also includes a rich component library with more than 100 proven, extensible UI components for creating rich Internet applications (RIAs), as well as an interactive Flex application debugger.

 

RIAs created with Flex can run in the browser using Adobe Flash Player software or on the desktop on Adobe AIR, the cross-operating system runtime. This enables Flex applications to run consistently across all major browsers and on the desktop. And using AIR, Flex applications can now access local data and system resources on the desktop.

 

Flex Process

A RIA is a web-based application that is designed to provide functionality similar to a desktop application. Some RIAs run completely inside a web browser while others are browser-independent. RIAs provide more robust ways to interact with the user than a traditional web-based application. Traditional applications are limited to form fields, radio buttons, and check boxes. RIAs allow the user to perform in-line editing, drag and drop items and otherwise interact directly with the elements. They also allow only portions of the page to be updated, instead of having the entire page reload. RIAs also tend to be browser-and operating system-independent.

 

The Flex Framework

The Flex framework is synonymous with the Flex class library and is a collection of ActionScript classes used by Flex applications. The Flex framework is written entirely in ActionScript classes, and defines controls, containers, and managers designed to simplify building rich Internet applications. The Flex class library is the subject of much of this book. It consists of the following categories:

 

Form controls

Form controls are standard controls such as buttons, text inputs, text areas, lists, radio buttons, checkboxes, and combo boxes. In addition to the standard form controls familiar to most HTML developers, the Flex class library also includes controls such as a rich text editor, a color selector, a date selector, and more.

 

Menu controls

Flex provides a set of menu controls such as pop-up menus and menu bars.

 

Media components

One of the hallmarks of Flex applications is rich media support. The Flex class library provides a set of components for working with media such as images, audio, and video.

 

Layout containers

Flex applications enable highly configurable screen layout. You can use the layout containers to place contents within a screen and determine how they will change over time or when the user changes the dimensions of Flash Player. With a diverse set of container components you can create sophisticated layouts using grids, forms, boxes, canvases, and more. You can place elements with absolute or relative coordinates so that they can adjust correctly to different dimensions within Flash Player.

 

Data components and data binding

Flex applications are generally distributed applications that make remote procedure calls to data services residing on servers. The data components consist of connectors that simplify the procedure calls, data models to hold the data that is returned, and data binding functionality to automatically associate form control data with data models.

 

Formatters and validators

Data that is returned from remote procedure calls often needs to be formatted before getting displayed to the user. The Flex class library includes a robust set of formatting features (format a date in a variety of string representations, format a number with specific precision, format a number as a phone number string, etc.) to accomplish that task. Likewise, when sending data to a data service from user input, you’ll frequently need to validate the data beforehand to ensure it is in the correct form. The Flex class library includes a set of validators for just that purpose.

 

Cursor management

Unlike traditional web applications, Flex applications are stateful, and they don’t have to do a complete screen refresh each time data is sent or requested from a data service. However, since remote procedure calls often incur network and system latency, it’s important to notify the user when the client is waiting on a response from the data service. Cursor management enables Flex applications to change the cursor appearance in order to notify the user of such changes.

 

State management

A Flex application will frequently require many state changes. For example, standard operations such as registering for a new account or making a purchase usually require several screens. The Flex class library provides classes for managing those changes in state. State management works not only at the macro level for screen changes, but also at the micro level for state changes within individual components. For example, a product display component could have several states: a base state displaying just an image and a name, and a details state that adds a description, price, and shipping availability. Furthermore, Flex provides the ability to easily apply transitions so that state changes are animated.

 

Effects

Flex applications aren’t limited by the constraints of traditional web applications. Since Flex applications run within Flash Player, they can utilize the animation features of Flash. As such, the Flex class library enables an assortment of effects such as fades, zooms, blurs, and glows.

 

History management

As states change within a Flex application, the history management features of the Flex class library enable you to navigate from state to state using the back and forward buttons of the web browser.

 

Drag and drop management

The Flex class library simplifies adding drag and drop functionality to components with built-in drag and drop functionality on select components and a manager class that allows you to quickly add drag and drop behaviors to components.

 

Tool tips

Use this feature of the Flex class library to add tool tips to elements as the user moves the mouse over them.

 

Style management

The Flex class library enables a great deal of control over how nearly every aspect of a Flex application is styled. You can apply style changes such as color and font settings to most controls and containers directly to the objects or via css.

 

Cairngorm

Cairngorm is the lightweight micro-architecture for Rich Internet Applications built in Flex or AIR. A collaboration of recognized design patterns, Cairngorm exemplifies and encourages best-practices for RIA development advocated by Adobe Consulting, encourages best-practice leverage of the underlying Flex framework, while making it easier for medium to large teams of software engineers deliver medium to large scale, mission-critical Rich Internet Applications.

 

Flex and PHP

PHP applications usually use HTML and JavaScript client-side technologies to render their user-interfaces. Since Flex is rendered in the browser and can integrate easily with PHP on the server-side, it is a perfect choice for more dynamic UI interfaces for PHP.

  • PHP is an interpreted scripting language that allows a web server to create dynamic web pages or web services. It is a back-end server technology.
  • You use PHP to generate HTML programmatically before it is sent by the web server to a requesting client browser.
  • PHP is also used to process form data sent from a client browser.
  • The web server invokes the PHP interpreter only when a URL is requested. All program state is lost between requests without special programming.
  • A dynamic web application written in PHP consists of a number of .php files on the host server, which are created by a developer with a text editor or IDE.
  • PHP can talk directly to a database server such as MySQL.
  • Because PHP creates HTML, intimate knowledge of HTML coding is also required for professional results.
  • Implementing event-driven user-interfaces and animation effects requires use of JavaScript and HTML.
Flex Process

 

How does Php compare to Flex?

 

  • With PHP, both application logic and layout execute on the server, which returns HTML to the browser. With Flex, a SWF file embedded in the web page executes on the client machine.
  • The GUI of a PHP application is generated HTML and optionally supporting JavaScript.
  • All the advantages and limitations of HTML-based design apply to a PHP-based application. Flex is generally not limited by HTML layout constraints.
  • PHP can talk directly with a database server, and therefore can be used to write web services. Flex does not communicate with the database directly; however, it can consume data from a web service and display it.

 

Flex is used for

 

Flex is used to build highly interactive, expressive website applications using and visualizing data.

 

Examples include:

  • Data visualization applications that pull data from multiple back-end sources and display it in a visually attractive and impressive format.
  • Product configuration applications that help customers select or customize products and features online through a series of visual steps.
  • Self-service applications that guide customers or employees through multiple-step processes such as changing contact details online.
  • Data collection applications for rich online forms including data validation mechanisms, providing a dynamic user experience.

 

Benefits of using Flex on your website

 

Here are some reasons for deciding to put a Flex application on your website:

 

  • To have a very robust application that attractively visualizes complex data sets
  • To engage your users or visitors and let them feel empowered
  • Flex is the technology of the future - it shows your organization is modern
  • It works on all major platforms and users don't need to install anything
  • Audio and video can be integrated, allowing even greater interaction