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From "Craig McClanahan" <>
Subject [dialog] Progress on weekend experiments
Date Tue, 29 Aug 2006 00:23:53 GMT
I've checked in some progress on my experiments with how we can improve the
Dialog functionality.  Even though they're not done yet, they are far enough
along to want some feedback and to make them available for experimentation
and further development.  This mail will serve as a record of my thinking so
far, so you can get a feel for why I took the approach I've taken so far.

Initially, I wanted to address two shortcomings and one expanded feature in
our current approach:

* Make it possible for a single user to have multiple active dialog
  (although limited to one per JSF view, per our discussion).

* Make it possible to programmatically start up a dialog instance, as well
  start one with a prefix on a logical outcome.

* Make it possible to plug in different state machine implementations
  (i.e. Commons SCXML), perhaps with different detailed feature sets.

I have *not* tried to address synchronizing state when the user presses the
browser navigation buttons yet.  One can of worms at a time :-).  Rahul had
some comments earlier today on how SWF deals with this.  Seam does something
similar, and we'll undoubtedly need to add functionality here later.

To address these initial concerns, I focused first on abstracting out the
APIs that an application *using* the dialog feature should have to interact
with, and then providing generic integration for the navigation handler that
can start a new dialog, or operate an existing one.  The guts of actually
processing the transitions, then, is delegated to a state-machine-specific
implementation.  The key APIs are (so far) incredibly simple -- they are in
the "shale-dialog2" module in the sandbox.  There are two fundamental


* Represents the current state of an active dialog instance (similar to
Status in the current implementation)

* One instance per active dialog, rather than one per user

* Cached in a o.a.s.dialog2.Contexts object stored in session scope (see
  in between requests

* Generic phase listener (o.a.s.dialog2.faces.Dialog2PhaseListener) is
  for saving and restoring access to the right instance:

  - Before render response, caches the identifier of the currently ative
    (if any) in the JSF component tree, as a generic attribute of the view

  - After restore view, pulls the dialog identifier out, grabs the cached
    instance from the session scope Contexts object, and exposes it as a
    scope attribute under a well known key ("dialog2" for the moment).

* As we did in the original impl, Context exposes a "data" property for the
app to
  store whatever it wants.  So, binding expressions work very similarly to
what they
  did before ("#{}"), but with the bugfix that it is one
instance per view
  instead of one instance per user.

* Contains an advance() method that can be called to have the state machine
work its
  way through the transitions until it runs into a state that needs input
from the user (in
  the terminology of the existing impl, that means when you hit a view
state).  The advance
  method returns the view id of the page to display, and a generic
navigation handler
  implementation (o.a.s.dialog2.faces.Dialog2NavigationHandler) then does
the actual
  JSF navigation.  NOTE - this navigation handler is generally the only code
that should
  call this method.


* Defined by a particular implementation as a session scoped managed bean
that is
  stored under a well known key.

* Maintains a cache of Context instances for the current user, keyed by
dialog identifiers,
  so we get the one-per-view capability.

* Includes a create() method so that you can programmatically start a dialog

The remaining classes in shale-dialog2 implement the JSF integration
(navigation handler and phase listener), and should not be utilized directly
by applications.

To validate this design, I've refactored the current support into a module
(shale-dialog2-legacy) that does pretty much the same thing as the existing
implementation, but organzied with the new APIs.  (Side note ... Sean is
definitely not going to like what I did to the config classes, making
everything I could package private ... that's my new habit when designing
APIs ... we can make things more public later as needed, but cannot really
go the other way.)  As I mentioned in the commit comments, this stuff has
only been desk checked and not actually used yet, so it undoubtedly has
bugs, but it should be easy to make functional -- and it benefits from the
"dialog instance per view" fix in the underlying architecture to fix that

A corresponding module for Commons SCXML has been started, but I got
sidetracked a bit on the legacy one.  It'll be pretty easy to finish this
off in a similar fashion, though ... that'll be my next step unless someone
wants to volunteer to beat me to it.


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