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HTMLComponents for Delphi, a closer look

November 25, 2020 Leave a comment Go to comments

For a while now I have been paying attention to Alexander Sviridenkov’s components for Delphi. First of all because Delphi doesn’t really have that many options when dealing with HTML beyond embedding the classical browsers (Chromium, Firefox or Edge); And while Dave Baldwin’s work has served the community well in the past, TFrameBrowser is 20 years old. So there is definitively room for improvement.

Secondly, in my work with Quartex Pascal, a system that compiles Object Pascal to JavaScript for HTML5, being able to work with HTML and render HTML easily from my IDE is obviously interesting. The form designer in particular could benefit from showing “live” graphics rather than representative rectangles.

Quartex Pascal uses HTMLComponents in a variety of places to render UI elements

All of that is possible to do with Chromium if you run it in an off-screen capacity, but getting good results is very tricky. Chromium Embedded runs in a separate thread (actually, multiple threads) and sharing video memory, injecting HTML to avoid a full reload — lets just say that a Delphi native component package would make all the difference. Enter HTMLComponents.

Focus on the essentials first

The way that Alexander has proceeded with his components can resemble my own philosophy (or indeed anyone who has been a developer for a while). It’s the kind of work approach you end up with through experience, namely, to start with the basics and make sure that is rock solid (read: focus on the foundation code, that’s what’s going to matter the most. Trust me). It’s so tempting to run off on a tangent, adding more and more functionality – typically visually pleasing stuff, but as mature developers will know, if you go down that path what you end up with is a very expensive mess.

HTMLComponents have some high profile customers. Here used in Help & Manual

Thankfully, Alexander has gone about his work in an orderly, no-nonsense way. He began with the HTML parser, making sure that was flexible, compliant and delivered great performance (over 100 Mb a second!). Then he moved on to the CSS part of the equation and implemented a high performance styling engine. The reason I outline this is because I don’t think people fully grasp the amount of work involved. We think of HTML as a simple tag based format, but the sheer infrastructure you need to represent modern HTML properly is enormous. There is a reason Delphi component vendors shy away from this task. Thankfully Alexander is not one of them.

Scripting?

Next we have the scripting aspect. And here is the twist, if we can call it that. HTMLComponents is not written to be a browser. It is written to enable you to render HTML5 at high speed within a native application, including CSS animations and Tweening (a technique made popular by Apple. Like sliding forms or bouncing swipe behavior).

In other words, if you are expecting to find a browser, something like Dave Baldwin’s now ancient TFrameBrowser, then you should probably look to the new TEdgeBrowser component from Embarcadero. So JavaScript is not yet natively supported. HTMLComponents falls into the category of a UI presentation framework more than a browser.

If however, like myself, you want to handle presenting HTML5, PDF, RTF and Word documents without a ton of dependencies (Chromium adds 150Mb worth of libraries you need to ship), provide your users with a compliant HTML WYSIWYG Editor – and also deliver those fancy animated UI elements – then you are going to love HTMLComponents.

I should mention that HTMLComponents has its own scripting engine, but it’s not JavaScript. But for those situations where a script is needed, you can tap into the scripting engine if you like. Or deal with everything natively. It’s your choice.

Document editor

Pretty impressive list of controls

The reason I mentioned Alexander’s architecture and how his codebase has evolved, is because a high performance document rendering engine can be very useful for a variety of tasks.

One thing is rendering HTML5 with all the bells and whistles that entails, but what about RTF? What about Word documents? What about PDF documents? Once you have a rock solid engine capable of representing HTML5, the next logical step is to branch out and work with the other formats of our times. And that is just what Alexander did.

But before we look at those features, let’s have a peek at what components you get.

As you can see from the picture above, HTMLComponents is not just about drawing HTML. Being able to represent HTML is useful in a variety of situations since it simplifies visual feedback that would otherwise be very time consuming to implement. So instead of limiting that power to a single control, HTMLComponents come with common controls that have been infused with superior graphical powers.

Full editor, and TAction’s for all features!

The most powerful component in the above list is without a doubt the HTML editor component (also notice that the package installs both standard and DB variations of the various controls). This is quite simply a fully compliant WYSIWYG editor – complete with all the formatting features you expect.

  • WYSIWYG editing.
  • Does not use IE or other libraries (100% native Delphi code).
  • Supports all Delphi versions from Delphi 5 to Delphi 10.4 Sydney.
  • Supports Lazarus (Windows/Linux)
  • VCL (Win32/64) FMX (Windows / OSX / Android / iOS / Linux)
  • Full support for touch-screen devices – gestures, text selection (Windows Tablets/Screens, iOS, Android, OSX)
  • Smooth scrolling on Android and iOS.
  • Unicode support for Delphi 6 – 2007 (requires TNTUnicode).
  • Scalable (High DPI  support).
  • Live spellchecking and autocorrection (built-in support for Addict).
  • Live text styles preview (font family,size, color, background).
  • RTF and MS Word DOCX Import on all platforms.
  • PDF export on Windows, Android, OSX and iOS.
  • DB-Aware version
  • Full support for HTML tags and CSS properties.
  • Full access from Delphi code to DOM and Styles.
  • Images, lists, blocks, font styles
  • Tables support
  • Print and Print Preview
  • Embedded Find dialog, Text search, Document Index generation.
  • Copy from/paste to MS Word, browsers and other applications
  • Embedded Markdown, Pascal and HTML syntax highlighting.
  • HTML-based editor controls (HtFontCombo, HtFontSizeCombo, HtColorCombo, HtTableAddCombo, HtBorderCombo, HtTableBorderCombo)

That is a solid list of features, and did I mention you get full source-code?

HTML empowered controls

If you are looking over the list of controls above and expecting to find something like a browser or viewer control, you won’t find it. The closest thing to a HTML viewer is the panel control (THtPanel). It exposes properties and methods to populate it with HTML (as does all the controls), set what type of scrollbars you need (if any), how to deal with links, images and CSS styling – and then it’s a matter of feeding some HTML into the control.

Quartex Pascal is still under heavy development. Here the project build options is handled via HTMLComponents. This means styling and “bling” can be easily added once we reach a release candidate. I always keep it simple for as long as I can.

Obviously controls like THtCombobox have behavior that is dictated by the OS, but you can style the child elements (rows for example) being displayed, the border etc. using the full might of HTML5. And yes, you can apply CSS transitions there as well – which is (excuse my french) bloody spectacular!

I mentioned that HTMLComponents were not designed to be a browser replacement, but rather to make it easier for native developers to tap into the design power and visual feedback that makes HTML5 so productive to use for UIs. Well, once you have set the properties for a panel and given it some HTML -you can do some pretty amazing things!

CSS transforms galore! Hover-effects, fading, overlapping, gradients, transitions – the works!

HTML takes a lot of grunt work out of the equation for you. For example, let’s say you wanted to produce a demo like the one in the picture above (see direct link in the next paragraph). With all the effects, transitions, pictures and displacement elements. Just how much work would that be in traditional Delphi or C++ ?

Note: You can download the Demo application directly, here:
https://delphihtmlcomponents.com/csstransforms.zip

First you would need a panel container for each picture, then a canvas to hold the picture, then you would need to handle the interaction events- and finally access the canvas to draw the many alpha blended transitions (the picture here really doesn’t do the framework credit, you have to see them to fully appreciate the level of detail and performance HTMLComponents delivers). And all of that is before you have new elements flying in from the sides or above, that fades perfectly with the backdrop. All of it working according to a timeline (tweening as its called).

Instead of all that work, having to write a tweening engine, 32 bit alpha-blending DIBs (device independent bitmaps), deal with god knows how much work — you can just deliver some HTML and CSS and let HTMLComponents handle all of it. With zero external dependencies I might add! This is a pure Delphi library. There are no references to external browser controls or anything of the kind. HTMLComponents does exactly what it says on the box – namely to render HTML5 at high speed. And it delivers.

Here is the HTML for one of the pictures with effects in the demo:

<div class="view view-sixth">
  <img src="images/13.jpg" />
  <div class="mask">
    <h2>Hover Style #6</h2>
    <p>A wonderful serenity has taken possession ..</p>
    <a href="#" class="info">Read More</a>
  </div>
</div>                                            

And here is the CSS animation transition code for the same. Please note that the original code contained definitions for IE, Opera, Webkit and Firefox. I removed those for readability:

.view-sixth img {
   transition: all 0.4s ease-in-out 0.5s;
}
.view-sixth .mask {
   background-color: rgba(146,96,91,0.5);
   filter: alpha(opacity=0);
   opacity: 0;
   transition: all 0.3s ease-in 0.4s;
}
.view-sixth h2 {
   filter: alpha(opacity=0);
   opacity: 0;
   border-bottom: 1px solid rgba(0, 0, 0, 0.3);
   background: transparent;
   margin: 20px 40px 0px 40px;
   transform: scale(10);
   transition: all 0.3s ease-in-out 0.1s;
}
.view-sixth p {
   filter: alpha(opacity=0);
   opacity: 0;
   transform: scale(10);
   transition: all 0.5s ease-in-out 0.2s;
}
.view-sixth a.info {
   filter: alpha(opacity=0);
   opacity: 0;
   transform: translateY(100px);
   transition: all 0.3s ease-in-out 0.1s;
}
.view-sixth:hover .mask {
   filter: alpha(opacity=100);
   opacity: 1;
   transition-delay: 0s;
}
.view-sixth:hover img {
   transition-delay: 0s;
}
.view-sixth:hover h2 {
   filter: alpha(opacity=100);
   opacity: 1;
   transform: scale(1);
   transition-delay: 0.1s;
}
.view-sixth:hover p {
   filter: alpha(opacity=100);
   opacity: 1;
   transform: scale(1);
   transition-delay: 0.2s;
}
.view-sixth:hover a.info {
   filter: alpha(opacity=100);
   opacity: 1;
   transform: translateY(0px);
   transition-delay: 0.3s;
}		

If CSS is not something you normally don’t bother with, the code above might look complex and alien. But there are tons of websites that have wizards, tutorials and even online editors (!), so if you take the time to read up on how CSS transitions work (they are quite easy), you will knock out some impressive effects in no time.

Once you have built up a collection of such effects, just link it into your Delphi application as a resource if you don’t want external files. Personally I think its a good thing to setup the UI in separate files like that, because then you can update the UI without forcing a binary installation on your customers.

So if we consider the amount of Delphi code we would have to write to deliver the same demo using stock VCL, sum up the cost in hours – and most likely the end result as well (Alexander is exceptionally good at graphical coding), I for one cant imagine why anyone would ignore HTMLComponents. I mean serious, you are not going to beat Alexander’s code here. And why would you waste all that time when you can buy ready to use controls with source-code for such a modest price?

Office formats

I mentioned briefly that with a powerful document rendering engine in place, that the next step of the way would be to cover more formats than just HTML. And this is indeed what Alexander has done.

If you invest in his Add-On Office package for HTMLComponents, you will be able to load and display a variety of document formats. And just like HTMLComponents the code is 100% Delphi and has zero dependencies. There are no COM objects or ActiveX bindings involved. Alexander’s code loads, parses and converts these documents instantly to HTML5, and you can view the results using HTMLComponents or in any modern browser.

Following document formats are supported:

  • Rich Text Format (RTF)
  • MS Word 6-2007 binary format (DOC)
  • MS Word XML document (DOCX)
  • MS Power Point binary format (PPT)
  • MS Power Point XML format (PPTX)
  • MS Excel binary format (XLS)
  • MS Excel XML format (XLSX)
  • Adobe PDF format (PDF)
  • Supercalc format (SXC)
  • EPUB (electronic books).

Besides the document conversion classes you also get the following code, which is pretty hard-core and useful:

  • EMF/WMF to SVG conversion
  • TTF to WOFF conversion
  • TTF normalization
  • TTF to SVG conversion
  • CFF to TTF conversion
  • Adobe PostScript to TTF conversion.

For me this was a god-send because I was using Gnostice’s PDF viewer to display the documentation for Quartex Pascal in the IDE. Being able to drop that dependency (and cost!) and use HTMLComponents uniformly throughout the IDE makes for a much smaller codebase – and cleaner code.

Final thoughts

The amount of code you get with HTMLComponents is quite frankly overwhelming. One thing is dealing with a tag based format, but once you throw special effects, transitions and standards into the mix – it quickly becomes a daunting task. But Alexander is delivering one of the best written component packages I have had the pleasure of owning. If you need a fresh UI for your application, be it POS, embedded or desktop utilities – HTMLComponents will significantly reduce the time spent.

I should also underline that HTMLComponents also works on FMX and Mobile devices ( Windows, OS X, Android, iOS and Linux even!). I’m not a huge fan of FMX myself so being able to design my forms using HTML and write event handlers in native Delphi is perfect. FMX has a lot of power, but the level of detail involved can be frustrating. HTMLComponents takes the grunt out of it, so I can focus on application specific tasks rather than doing battle with the UI.

The only thing I would like to see added, is support for JavaScript. HTMLComponents makes it easy for you to intercept scripts and deal with them yourself (HTMLComponents also have a pascal inspired script), but I do hope Alexander takes the time to add Besen (a native Delphi JavaScript engine) as an option. It really is the only thing I can think of in the “should have” apartment. Everything else is already in there.

I have to give HTMLComponents 9 out of 10 stars. It would have scored a perfect 10 with JS support. But this is the highest score I have ever given on my blog, so that’s astronomical. Well done Alexander! I look forward to digging into the office suite in the weeks ahead, and will no doubt revisit this topic in further articles.

Visit Alexander’s website here: https://www.delphihtmlcomponents.com/index.html

  1. November 25, 2020 at 7:11 pm

    Those looks great Jon. Though i haven’t done much actual programming in a long time, an easy way to make use of the power of HTML without external dependencies is a real streamline to any coding.

  2. Toky Olivier Razanakotonarivo
    November 26, 2020 at 3:26 am

    Very good article Jon. Hope we’ll have the support of Javascript soon.

  3. November 27, 2020 at 8:25 am

    Good review, Jon! I also own this package, but my use of it involves very simple html css only. How many percentage of CSS standards do you estimate it supports?
    Re. JS integration, be noted Besen is ES5 only. Maybe also consider QuickJs (https://github.com/Coldzer0/QuickJS-Pascal)

  4. Abhilash Mishra
    November 27, 2020 at 1:09 pm

    Thanks for the Demo! Really cool transition effects especially on the tab10. Looking forward to use these components.

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