Archive for the ‘firemonkey’ Category

HTMLComponents for Delphi, a closer look

November 25, 2020 4 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.


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:

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>

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 {
   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 {
   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:

Delphi Dying? Think again, Tiobe

March 8, 2020 21 comments

At the beginning of last week, Tiobe once again threw a punch at Object Pascal. Playing the whole “Delphi is dying” tune, while focusing on outdated and quite frankly irrelevant episodes from the past. Hoping no doubt, to leave the reader with an impression that Delphi is stuck in the 90s.

This is the same pattern we often see whenever Delphi or Object Pascal in general experience significant growth; or to be blunt, when the author cannot be bothered to think independently, but simply parrot hearsay and misinformation on autopilot.

It is lame, superficial and Tiobe’s biggest mistake to date.


Guess “alternative news” is no longer limited to individuals like Alex Jones

Just to underline the problem areas here. The ranking is based on their internal system (there is no standard for how to rank popularity), and while I have issues with how they build up their score, it’s ultimately the March editorial text that has caused irritation and shock. You don’t declare a language as dead when there are over 10 million developers using it. This type of editorial could have very real consequences – which in turn brings us to their ranking system and how they arrived at their conclusions.

I would have understood their statement if it was issued between 2007 and 2010, because Delphi was at that time transitioning between Borland and Embarcadero. But to issue something like this in 2020? After a decade worth of restoration, optimization, modernization and above all – forging a thriving community that goes from victory to victory month after month, year after year? It makes absolutely no sense.

Significant growth

In 2018 there were roughly six million Delphi developers (I worked at Embarcadero at the time), with a total estimate of ten million Object Pascal developers worldwide when counting all alternative compilers, dialects and indeed – known piracy issues.

“Tiobe failed stupendously in their data mining operation, they seem to be oblivious regarding the demographic in which the language is used”

Since that time Delphi has made strides into the universities in Scandinavia, South-America and the Middle-East. Turkey recently announced their dedication to native and archetypal software development with Delphi (provided free for students), which adds a whopping one million students to the already large body of users.

Embarcadero has slowly but steadily rebuilt much of the infrastructure that existed under Borland. From professional training at Embarcadero Academy, to entry level training at The Idera community pages likewise produce a large body of articles on a weekly basis. Comparing the Delphi and C++Builder ecosystem today with it’s tragic state back in 2010, is like day and night.


Training is available for both Enterprise level developers and students alike

With so much positive happening in the world of Object Pascal, Tiobe’s article comes across as a grave, intentional misrepresentation at worst, or an intellectual emergency at best. It is completely out of place and carries the tell-tell signs of an echo chamber.

Tiobe has lost all credibility

I have to be honest. I have never taken Tiobe that serious, because they have made to many mistakes in the past to have any form of credibility when it comes to Delphi and Object Pascal as a language. And when I say mistakes, I mean monumental blunders that just annihilate all possibility that they treat languages on equal footing.

“not only have Tiobe failed in their indexing, they have completely and utterly misunderstood the demographic in which the language is used”

If we go back a decade, Tiobe actually based their numbers on the keyword “Pascal”. In other words they excluded not just Delphi commits to GitHub, BitBucket and similar services – they also managed to exclude Freepascal and every subsequent dialect that signify Object Pascal as a whole. So for quite some time their entire statistics was based on the off chance that people typed “Pascal” in their project or commit entries.

To make matters worse, their search tech was not smart enough to recognize “Pascal” in composite words. So if you wrote “ObjectPascal” in a single word, the commit was excluded; As was “Freepascal”, “Smartpascal”, “Oxygenepascal” and variations using a hyphen (and the same for abbreviations).

Developers also use the term Lazarus and FPC interchangeably since Lazarus typically means people use the LCL, the visual framework used to write desktop applications with Freepascal. So while Freepascal has nothing to do with Delphi in terms of intellectual property, the two compilers are used by the community as a whole.

But let’s look at why Tiobe’s indexing fails for Delphi. Just what are they doing wrong?

  • Delphi has been around for 25 years, and it’s roots stretch back to the birth of C. Using Stack Overflow as an indicator for popularity is ludacris, since the majority of errors and problems have been largely ironed out in the past, leaving only extremely advanced and rare topics. If problems is the criteria, then I guess that explains why C# and Java soars in the ranking.
  • Nobody searches google for “Delphi programming”. You search for explicit topics like composite polygon clipping with GDI+ and then add “delphi” to limit the search to said language. Just like C/C++, Object Pascal is an archetypal language. It stretches from kernel work with inline assembly, to cloud services and HTML5 rendering. So the topics people search for are usually straight out of the operating-system strata.
  • Delphi developers communicate in dedicated groups, such as Delphi Developer on Facebook. There is also a thriving community on the Delphi Praxis forums, not to mention the Freepascal forums. None of which seem to be included in Tiobe’s activity statistics.
  • Object Pascal has several frameworks and run-time libraries. Delphi ships with two:
  • Freepascal operates with its own, open-source variation called the LCL
  • Freepascal also targets WebAssembly and JavaScript and have variations of the LCL adapted those targets
  • And then there is third party, commercial alternatives that covers HTML5/JS like TMS WebCore, Smart Pascal, Oxygene Pascal and the upcoming Quartex Pascal. Around these runtime libraries (VCL, FMX and LCL) there are thousands of libraries, components and frameworks, large and small, that don’t necessarily put  “Delphi” or “Object Pascal” in their metadata.
  • Tiobe also fails to include feeds like or DelphiFeeds, which syndicate on average 3000 unique blog-posts a year, representing a consistent and very much alive stream of information and content.

Delphi and Freepascal, which represents the most widely used compilers, are predominantly used to write commercial, closed source products. Which by consequence means that code and the activity involved is not public. For Tiobe to so utterly misunderstand the demographic for Object Pascal in general, is quite frankly outrageous. If you are going to rank a language that involves millions of users -then at least have the decency of investigating the communities it involves.

Excluding the factors I have outlined above, makes as much sense as excluding mono from C#.

Incompetence or plain ignorance?

It was only after an avalanche of complaints in 2014, orchestrated by yours truly, where members of the Delphi Developer group on Facebook sent complaints en-mass to Tiobe that they addressed the use of “Pascal” to represent Delphi and associated dialects. Yet for all the complaints, outlined in letters that no sentient human being could misunderstand – all Tiobe managed to do was to add “Object Pascal” to their list. Which, believe it or not, was unfamiliar to them.

It’s funny because it’s true

But do you think they bothered to do it right? Afraid not. Instead of aggregating all of the dialects, frameworks and variations of names under a single banner, they still to this day operate with two very specific search elements, namely “Delphi” or “Object Pascal”.

I sure hope the dairy industry doesn’t hire Tiobe to do statistics on milk, because if their coverage of Object Pascal is anything to go by, they will be ranking by yogurt.

No updates since 2018? Really Tiobe?

When a global Index service like Tiobe manage to write, and I quote:

However, the latest Delphi release is from 2018” -Source: Tiobe, March report

You really have to ponder if human beings are involved in their business at all. I’m not expecting much, honestly, but I do expect them to interact with the community they supposedly track and build a statistic on. Have they visited Delphi Developer and talked to the admins about growth numbers? Have they talked to Embarcadero to get some figures and coverage there? Did they contact the Freepascal community to get some download statistics from them?

Delphi 10.3 was released on november 21st 2019. The version that Tiobe seem to think is the last update, is in fact the last release with a city name (which was launched in 2018). Since then there have been three successive, regular updates; most developers are now using version 10.3.3. With 10.3.4 about to be released. This just underlines how oblivious Tiobe is to our part of the industry.


Modern Delphi is used by millions of professional developers globally

Delphi and Freepascal is different in more ways than one, but beyond language compatibility there is one aspect that is quintessential for them both; namely their role in the commercial sector. Where other languages, like C/C++ or (for example) JavaScript see a lot of open-source activity, especially with regards to Linux and Node.js – Delphi and Freepascal are predominantly used to write high-quality, commercial, closed source business applications. In other words, the vast majority of code produced by the millions of Object Pascal developers around the world – is never publicly committed to GitHub or BitBucket.

So not only have Tiobe failed stupendously in their data mining operation, they seem oblivious to the demographic in which the language is used.


The selection of books, video tutorials and coding material for Delphi is recovering at a rapid pace. And much like C/C++ there are classic books on Amazon that are just as relevant today as they were 10 years ago. Thankfully Delphi don’t suffer the “learn Delphi in 2 weeks” style books, because any developer worth his salt knows that such books are for the gullible and naive.

Developers use Delphi and Freepascal to deliver rock solid, data driven services; services that is expected to run 24/7 with zero downtime, processing millions of transactions. Delphi is used to write medical software that manages networks of hospitals, with tens of thousands of patients. Delphi is used by banks to power their ATM machines, and Delphi is used to do the heavy lifting in thousands of POS (point of sale) terminals across Europe. Terminals that don’t have time to wait for a garbage collector to kick in, only to cause catastrophic CPU spikes (I won’t mention names, but attempting to switch to C# was a disaster for one of the biggest POS terminal suppliers in Europe).


Delphi represents the back-bone of the medical software industry in Scandinavia and Europe at large. Many have tried to replace Delphi, but end up with expensive lessons in why archetypal languages are indeed called archetypal.

Object Pascal is used by governments, fortune 500 companies and the guy with a million dollar idea working out of his parents garage; It is used to write cloud accounting software, invoicing systems and medical journaling; It is used by the music industry and graphical design. There are large and extremely successful products out there that don’t advertise that it’s written in Delphi (just like you don’t stamp “made with C++” on a piece of software). You would be surprised!

Object Pascal it’s used by developers who value speed, security, creative freedom and the benefit of a mature feature matrix that only C/C++ and Object Pascal brings. C is by definition three years older than Pascal, but these two archetypal languages have evolved side by side.

There is a reason these two languages represented the university curriculum for close to two decades; further still if we include Turbo Pascal. And Delphi is once again returning home to academia. To the applause of teachers who were forced to teach Java, and hated every minute of it (I helped setup two universities with Delphi in Norway, so I have some first hand accounts in the matter).


Since Delphi is growing aggressively these days, Embarcadero is making waves. A few months back we saw how a well known team of C# influencers took a stab at Delphi (and me in particular, no doubt because I have been so outspoken). And as Delphi now returns to academia – Tiobe is demonstrating a bias that leaves little to the imagination. Especially when you know their numbers account for nothing and are bordering on fiction.


If I didn’t know better, I would say someone is worried. And it’s not the Delphi and Freepascal communities. Modern Delphi is a power-house for software development, and it has the potential to disrupt and restore the devtool market.

There is a lot of money involved, so I am not surprised we are seeing a string of attempts at undermining the importance of Object Pascal. I had hoped Tiobe would adopt a higher standard though.

Then again, the ship of credibility sailed when they couldn’t tell Turbo Pascal from Object Pascal.

30% discount on all RemObjects products!

July 8, 2019 Leave a comment

This is brilliant. RemObjects is giving a whopping 30% discount on all products!

This means you can now pick up RemObjects Remoting Framework, Data Abstract, Hydra or the Elements compiler toolchain – with a massive 30% saving!

These are battle-hardened, enterprise level solutions that have been polished over years and they are in constant development. Each solution integrates seamlessly into Embarcadero Delphi and provides a smooth path to delivering quality products in days rather than weeks.

But you better hurry because it’s only valid for one week (!)

Use the coupon code: “DelphiDeveloper”


Use the Delphi Developer coupon to get 30% discount – click here


Five reasons to learn Delphi

February 8, 2019 6 comments

A couple of days ago I had a spectacular debate on Facebook. Like most individuals that are active in the IT community, my social media feed is loaded with advertisement for every trending IT concept you can imagine. Lately these adverts have been about machine learning and A.I. Or should I say, companies using those buzzwords to draw unwarranted attention to their products. I haven’t seen A.I used to sell shoes yet, but it’s only a matter of time before it happens.

Cloud Computing concept background with a lot of icons

Like any technology, Cloud is only as powerful as your insight

There is also this thing that: yes, a 14-year-old can put together an A.I chat robot in 15 minutes with product XYZ. But that doesn’t mean he or she understands what is happening beneath the user-interface. Surely the goal must be to teach those kids skills that will benefit them for a lifetime.

Those that know me also know that yes, I have this tendency to say what I mean, even when I really should keep my mouth shut. On the other hand that is also why companies and developers call me, because I will call bullshit and help them avoid it. That’s part of my job, to help individuals and companies that use Delphi to pick the right version for their need, get the components that’s right for their goals – and map out a strategy if they need some input on that.  I’ll even dive in and do some code conversion if they need it; goes with the territory.

Normally I just ignore advertizing that put “cloud” or “a.i” in their title, because it’s mostly click-bait designed for non-developers. But for some reason this one particular advert caught my eye. Perhaps it triggered the trauma of being subjected to early Java advertising during the late 90s’s, or maybe it released latent aggression from being psychologically waterboarded by Microsoft Silverlight. Who knows 🙂

The ad was about a Norwegian company that specialize in teaching young students how to become professional developers. You know the “become a guru in 3 weeks” type publisher? What baked my noodle was the fact that they didn’t offer a single course involving archetypical languages, and that they were spinning their material with promises that were simply not true. The only artificial intelligence involved was the advertizing engine at Facebook.

The thing is – the world has more than enough developers on desktop level. The desktop and web market is drowning in developers who has the capacity to download libraries, drop components on a form and hook up to a database. What the world really needs are more developers on archetypical languages. And if you don’t know what that is, then let me just do a quick summary before we carry on.

Archetypal languages

An archetypical programming language is one that is designed around how the computer actually works. As a consequence these languages and toolchains embody several of the following properties:

  • Pointers and raw memory access
  • Traditional memory management, no garbage collection
  • Procedural and object-orientation execution
  • Inline assembler
  • Little if no external dependencies
  • Static linking (embed pre-compiled code)
  • Compiled code can operate without an OS infrastructure
  • Suitable for kernel, driver, service, desktop, networking and cloud level development
  • Compiler that produce machine code for various chipsets

As of writing there are only two archetypical languages (actually 3, but assembly language is chipset specific so we will skip that here), namely C/C++ and Object Pascal. These are the languages you use to write all the other languages with. If you plan on writing your own operating-system from scratch, only C and Pascal is suitable. Which is why these are the only languages that have ever been used for making operating systems.


Delphi is one of the 20 most used programming languages in the world. It ranked as #11 in 2017. Like all rankings it fluctuates depending on season and market changes.

Obviously i’m not suggesting that people learn Delphi or C++ builder to write their own OS – or that you must know assembly to make an invoice system; I’m simply stating that the insight and skill you get from learning Delphi and C/C++, even if all you do is write desktop applications – will make you a better developer on all levels.

Optimistic languages

Optimistic or humanized programming languages, have been around just as long as the archetypical ones. Basic is an optimistic language, C# and Java are optimistic languages, Go and Dart are equally optimistic languages. Script engines like node.js, python and Erlang (if you missed Scott Hanselman’s epic rant on the subject, you are in for a treat) are all optimistic. They are called optimistic because they trade security with functionality; sandboxing the developer from the harsh reality of hardware.

An optimistic language is typically designed to function according to “how human beings would like things to be” (hence the term optimistic). These languages rely heavily on existing infrastructure to even work, and each language tends to focus on specific tasks – only to branch out and become more general purpose over time.

There is nothing wrong with optimistic languages. Except when they are marketed to young students as being somehow superior or en-par with archetypical languages. That is a very dangerous thing to do – because teachers have a responsibility to prepare the students for real life. I can’t even count the number of times I have seen young developers fresh out of college get “that job”, only to realize that the heart of the business, the mission critical stuff, is written in Delphi or C/C++, which they never learned.

People have no idea just how much of the modern world rests on these languages.  It is almost alarming how it’s possible to be a developer in 2019 and have a blind spot with regards to these distinctions. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not the student’s fault, quite the opposite. And i’m happy that things are starting to change for the better (more about that further down).

The original full stack

So back to my little encounter; What happened was that I just commented something along the lines of “why not give the kids something that will benefit them for a lifetime”. It was just a drive-by comment on my part, and I should have just ignored it; And no sooner had I pressed enter, when a small army of internet warriors appeared to defend their interpretation of “full stack” in 2019. Oblivious to the fact that the exact same term was used around 1988-ish. I think it was Aztec or SAS-C that coined it. Doesn’t matter.


The original “full stack” holds a very different meaning in traditional development. While I don’t remember if it was Aztec-C or SAS-C, but the full stack was driver to desktop 🙂

Long story short, I ended up having a conversation with these teenagers about how technology has evolved over the past 35 years. Not in theory, but as one that has been a programmer since the C= 64 was released. I also introduced them to archetypal languages and pinpointed the distinction I made above. You cannot compare if you don’t know the difference.

I have no problems with other languages, I use several myself, and my point was simply that: if we are going to teach the next generation of programmers something, then let’s teach them the timeless principles and tools that our eco system rests on. We need to get Delphi and C/C++ back into the curriculum, because that in turn will help the students to become better developers. It doesn’t matter what they end up working with afterwards, because with the fundamental understanding in place they will be better suited. Period.

You will be a better Java developer if you first learn Delphi. You will be a better C# developer if you learn Delphi. Just like nature has layers of complexity, so does computing. And understanding how each layer works and what laws exist there – will have a huge impact on how you write high-level code.

All of this was good and well and the internet warriors seemed a bit confused. They weren’t prepared for an actual conversation. So what started a bit rough ended up as a meaningful, nice dialog.

And speaking of education: I’m happy to say that two universities in Norway now have students using Delphi again. Which is a step in the right direction! People are re-discovering how productive Object-Pascal is, and why the language remains the bread and butter of so many companies around the world.

Piracy, the hydra of problems

What affected me the most during my conversation with these young developers – was that they had almost no relationship to neither Delphi or C/C++. From an educational standpoint that is not just alarming, that is an intellectual emergency. The only knowledge they had of Delphi was hearsay and nonsense.


The source of the misrepresentation is piracy, openly so, of outdated versions that was never designed to run on modern operating systems. With the community edition people can enjoy a modern, high performance Delphi without resorting to illegal activities

But after a while I finally discovered where their information came from! Delphi 7 is being pirated en-mass even to this day. It’s for some strange reason very popular in Asia (most of the torrent IP’s ended up there when I followed up on this). So teenagers download Delphi 7 which is ancient by any standard, and the first thing they experience is incompatibility issues. Which is only to be expected because Delphi 7 was released a long, long time ago. But that’s the impression they are left with after downloading one of these cracked, illegal bundles.

I downloaded one of these “ready to use” bundles to have a closer look, and it contained at least 500 commercial components. You had the full TMS component collection, Developer Express, Remobjects SDK, ImageEN, FastReports, SecureBlackBox, Intraweb — tens of thousands of dollars worth of code. With one very obvious factor: both Delphi 7 and the components involved are severely outdated. Microsoft doesn’t even support Windows XP any more, it was written in the early bronze age.

So the reality of the situation was that these young developers had never seen a modern Delphi in their life. In their minds, Delphi meant Delphi 7 which they could download almost everywhere (which is illegal and riddled with viruses, stay well clear). No wonder there is confusion about the subject (!)

They were very happy to learn about the community edition, so in the end I at least got to wake them up to the awesome features that modern Delphi represents. The community edition has been a fantastic thing; the number of members joining Delphi-Developer on Facebook has nearly doubled since the community edition was released.

A few of the students went over to Embarcadero and downloaded the community edition, and their jaw dropped. They had never seen a development environment like this before!

Give me five good reasons to learn Delphi

delphi_boxIn light of this episode, thought I could share five reasons why Delphi and object-pascal remains my primary programming language.

I don’t have any problems dipping into JavaScript, Python or whatever the situation might call for – but when it comes to mission critical data processing and services that needs 24/7 up-time; or embedded solutions where CPU spikes simply cannot be tolerated. It’s Delphi I turn to.

These five reasons are also the same that I gave the teenagers. So here goes.

Great depth and wingspan

Object Pascal, from which Delphi is the trending dialect, is a fantastic language. At heart there is little difference between C/C++ and object pascal in terms of features, but the syntax of object pascal is more productive than C/C++ (IMHO).

Delphi and C++ builder actually share run-time libraries (there are two of them, the VCL which is Windows only, and Firemonkey which is platform independent). Developers often mix and match code between these languages, so components written in Delphi can be used in C++ builder, and libraries written in C can be consumed and linked into your Delphi executable.

One interesting factoid: people imagine Delphi to be old. But the C language is actually 3 years older than pascal. During their time these languages have evolved side by side, and Embarcadero (who makes Delphi and C++ builder) have brought all the interesting features you expect from a modern language into Delphi (things like generics, inline variables, anonymous procedures – it’s all in there). So this myth that Delphi is somehow outdated or unsuitable is just that – a myth.


The eco-system of programming languages

And there is an added bonus! Just like C/C++, Delphi represents a curriculum and lineage that spans decades. Stop and think about that for a second. This is a language that has been evolved to solve technical challenges of every conceivable type for decades. This means that you can put some faith in what the language can deliver.

There are millions of Delphi developers in the world; an estimated 10 millions in fact. The language was ranked #11 on the TIOBI language index; it is under constant development with a clear roadmap and time-line – and is used by large and small companies as the foundation for their business. Even the Norwegian government rely on Delphi. The system that handles healthcare messages for the Norwegian population is pure Delphi.  That is data processing for 5.2 million individuals.

Object Pascal has not just stood the test of time, it has innovated it. Just like C/C++ object pascal has a wingspan and depth that reaches from assembler to system services, from database engines to visual desktop application – and from the desktop all the way to Cloud and essential web technology.

So the first good reason to learn Delphi is depth. Delphi covers the native stack, from kernel level drivers to high-speed database engines – to visual desktop applications. It’s also exceptionally well suited for cloud services (both Windows and Linux targets).

Easy to learn

I mention that Delphi is powerful and has the same depth as C/C++, but why then learn Delphi and not C++? Well, the language (object pascal) was especially tailored for readability. It was concluded that the human brain recognized words faster than symbols or glyphs – and thus it’s easier to read complex pascal code rather than complex C code. Individual taste notwithstanding.

Despite it's depth, Delphi is easy to learn and fun to master!

Despite its depth, Delphi is easy to learn and fun to master!

Object Pascal is also very declarative, with as little unknown factors as possible. This teaches people to write clean and orderly code.

And perhaps my favorite, a pascal code-file contains both interface and implementation. So you don’t have to write a second .h file which is common under C/C++.

If you already know OOP, be it Java, C#, Rust or whatever – learning Delphi will be a piece of cake. You already know about classes, interfaces, generics, operator overloading – and can pretty much skip forward to memory management, pointers and structures (records in pascal, struct in C).

Swing by Embarcadero Academy and take a course, or head over to Amazon and buy some good books on Delphi. Download the Community Edition of Delphi and you will be up and running in no-time.

Also remember to join Delphi Developer on Facebook, where thousands of active developers talk, help each other and share solutions 24/7.

Target multiple platforms

With Delphi and C++ builder it’s pretty easy to target multiple platforms these days. You can target Android, iOS, OS X, Windows and Linux from a single codebase.

One codebase, multiple targets

One codebase, multiple targets

I mean, are you going to write one version of your app in Java, a second one in C#, a third one in Objective C and a fourth in Dart? Because that’s the reality you face if plan on using the development tools provided by each operating-system manufacturer. That’s a lot of time, money and effort just to push your product out the door.

With Delphi you can hit all platforms at once, native code, reducing your time to market and ROI. People use Delphi for a reason.

You will also enjoy great performance from the LLVM optimized code Delphi emits on mobile platforms.

Rich codebase

The benefit of age is often said to be wisdom; I guess the computing equivalent is a large and rich collection of components, libraries and ad-hoc code that you can drop into your own projects or just study.

You can google just about any subject, and there will be code for Delphi. Github, BitBucket and Torry’s Delphi pages are packed with open-source frameworks covering everything from compiler cores, midi interfaces, game development to multi-threaded, machine clustered server solutions. Once you start looking, you will find it.


There is a rich constellation of code, components and libraries for Delphi and C++ builder around the internet.  Also remember dedicated sites like Torry’s

There is also a long list of technology partners that produce components and libraries for Delphi – and like mentioned earlier, you can link in C compiled code once you learn the ropes.

Oh, and when I mentioned databases earlier I wasnt just talking about the traditional databases. Delphi got you covered with those, no worries — im also talking about writing a database engine from scratch. There are several database engines that are implemented purely in Delphi. ElevateDB is one example.

Delphi also ships with Interbase and Interbase-light (embedded and mobile) so you have easy access to data storage solutions. There is also FireFAC that allows you to connect directly with established databases — and again, a wealth of free and commercial solutions.

Speed and technique

What I love about Delphi and C++ is that your code, or the way you write code, directly impacts your results. The art of optimization is rarely a factor in some of the new, optimistic languages. But in a native language you get to use traditional techniques that are time-less, or perhaps more interesting: explore ways of achieving the same with less.

As a native language Delphi and C/C++ produce fast executables. But I love how there is always room for your own techniques, your own components and your own libraries.


Techniques, like math, is timeless

Need to write a system driver? Well, suddenly speed becomes a very important factor. A garbage collector can be a disaster on that level, because it will kick-in on interval and cause CPU spikes. Perhaps you want to write a compiler, or need a solid scripting engine? How about linking the V8 JavaScript engine directly into your programs? All of this is quite simple with Delphi.

So with Delphi I get the best of both worlds, I get to use the scalpel when the needs are delicate, and I get the chain-saw to cut through tedious work. Things like property bindings are a god sent. This is a techniques where you can visually bind properties of any component together, almost like events, and create cause and effect chains. So if a value changes on a bound property, that triggers whatever is bound, and so on and so on — pretty awesome!

So you can create a complete database application, with grid and navigation, without writing a single line of code. That was just one simple example, you can do so much more out of the box – and it saves you so much time.

Yet when you really need to write high performance code, or build that killer framework that will set your company apart from the rest — you have that freedom!

So if you havent checked out RAD Studio, head over to Embarcadero and download a free trial. You will be amazed and realize just why Delphi and C++ builder are loved by so many.

Delphi Developer Competition

September 28, 2018 Leave a comment

The Delphi Developer group on Facebook has been around for a few years, and in that time we have held two very interesting demo competitions. The last competition we held was for Smart Pascal (Smart Mobile Studio) only, but we are extending it to include the dialects supported by our group; meaning Delphi, Smart Pascal, Freepascal and Remobjects Oxygene!

Embarcadero shipped over some extra goodies for us, so the competition this year is indeed a magical one. The top 3 contestants all get the official Embarcadero T-Shirt. We also throw in 10 Sencha ball-pens for each of the top 3 contestants; this is in addition to the actual prizes listed below (!)

The #1 winner not only get the 100€ FPGA devkit (see prizes below), he or she walks off with a high-quality, stainless steel Embarcadero branded coffee mug that holds half a litre of breakfast! (I seriously wanted to keep this for myself).


The prizes in all their glory!

Submission rules are:

  • Source submission (GPL, LGPL) + binary
  • No dependencies on commercial libraries or components
  • Submissions must be available through GIT or BitBucket
  • Submission must include everything it needs to be compiled

Submission categories are:

  • Graphical demo (demo-scene style)
  • Games and multimedia
  • General purpose (utility programs)

Use the following Google form to register:

The purpose of the submissions is to show off both the language and your skills. Back in 2013 we got a ton of really cool demo-scene stuff, demonstrating timeless techniques; everything from bouncing meta-balls, gouraud shaded vectors, sinus scroll-texts and webgl landscape flight. We also had a fantastic fractal explorer program, bitmap rotozoom generator – and two great games! Which both made it onto AppStore and Google Play!

First prize


The winner walks off with some exciting stuff!

The first prize this year is something really, really special. The winner walks off with a spiffing Altera Cyclone IV FPGA starter board. This is a spectacular FPGA kit that allows you to upload a wide range of ready-to-rock FPGA core’s, as well as your own logic designs.

But to make it more accessible we added a retro daughter board, this gives you VGA, audio, keyboard, mouse, MicroSD, serial and two old school joystick ports. The daughterboard is needed if you plan on using some of the retro-cores out there. I personally love the Amiga core (shock, I know) but you can run anything from a humble Spectrum to Sega Megadrive, SNES, Atari ST/E, Neo-Geo and many others.

While the daughter-board makes this wonderful for retro-computing and gaming, fpga is first and foremost a tool for engineering. It ships with a USB-Blaster which allows you to connect it directly to your PC and it will be recognized as a device. FPGA modeling applications will pick this up and you can test out designs “live”, or just place a core on the SD-card and edit the boot config.

The kit sells for roughly 100€ with a case, but getting both the motherboard and the retro daughter-board is difficult. These things are sold separately, and the daughter board is produced in small numbers by dedicated hackers. So winning a kit that is pre-assembled, soldered and ready to go is quite a prize!

If you are even remotely interested in FPGA programming, this should give you goosebumps!

Second prize


The most powerful SBC I have ever used

The silver medal is the powerful Asus Tinkerboard, this is probably the most powerful SBC you can get below 100€. It delivers 10 times the firepower a Raspberry PI 3b can muster – and is superbly suited for Android development, Smart Mobile Studio kiosk systems and much, much more.

Of all the board I have tested and own this is the one with enough CPU grunt (even the mighty ODroid XU4 can’t touch this) to rival a low-end x86 laptop. You have to fork out for a SnapDragon IV to beat the Tinkerboard.

I have two of these around the house myself, one as a game console running Emulation Station (emulates PSX 1, 2 and 3 games), and another under my TV with Kodi and a 2 terabyte movie collection.

Third prize

Last but not least the bronze medal is a Raspberry PI 3b. The PI should be no stranger to programmers today, it more or less defines the IOT revolution and has, by far, the biggest collection of software available of all SBC (single board computers) available today.


The device that represents the IOT phenomenon

The PI is a wonderful starter board for Delphi developers who want to play with hardware under android. It’s also a fantastic board for Smart and FPC development.

I use a PI to test node.js services written in Smart Mobile Studio.


We start the clock on the 1st of october and submission must be delivered by the 31st. So you have a full month to code something cool!

Remember comments

While not always possible, try to write clean code. Part of the point here is to use these demos as an educational source.

We wont reject non-commented code, but please try to avoid 20k lines of spaghetti.

Hints and tips

Delphi has brilliant support for DirectX and OpenGL, so taking advantage of hardware acceleration should not be a problem. FMX is largely powered by the GPU and has 3d rendering and modeling as an integral feature – so Delphi developers have a slight advantage there.


Tilesets are graphics-blocks that can be used to create large game levels with a map-editor

If you want to use DIB’s under vanilla WinAPI there is always Graphics32, a wonderful and exceptionally detailed library for fast graphics.

Music: Most demo-scene code use mod music (actually today people play MP3’s as well), and there are good wrappers for player libraries like Bass. It’s always a nice touch to add a spot of music (and literally millions of free mod tracks freely available). So give your demo some flair by adding a kick-ass mod track, or impress us by writing a score yourself?

In the world of demo coding anything goes! Bring out that teenage spirit and go wild, create wonderful graphical effects, vector objects, scrolling texts, games or whatever tickles your fancy. If you need inspiration, check out the demo scene videos on YouTube (if that is what you would like to submit of course). A kick-ass database application, X server renderer, paint program or a compiler — it’s all good!

Make people go WOW that is cool!

Tile graphics: which is often used in games and demos, can be found almost anywhere. If you google “tileset” or “game tiles” you should get more than you need. Brilliant for parallax scrolling. Why not give Super Mario a run for its money? Show the next generation how to code a platform game! Check out the Tiled map-editor, this has a JSON export filter for you Smart Pascal coders.


Tiled is a powerful map editor. There is also mappy, which I believe have a Delphi player

OK guys, the game is a-foot! May the best coder win!

Building a Delphi Database engine, part one

August 10, 2018 Leave a comment

Databases come in all shapes and sizes. From blistering fast in-memory datasets intended to hold megabytes, to massive distributed systems designed to push terabytes around like lego. Is it even worth looking into a database engine these days?

Firebird, the tardis of database engines!

There are tons of both commerical and free DB engines for Delphi

Let me start by saying: NO. If you need a native database written in object pascal, there are several awesome engines available. Engines that have been in production for ages, that have been tried and tested by time with excellent supports, speed and track records. My personal favorite is ElevateDB which is the successor to DBIsam, an engine I used in pretty much all my projects before 64 bit became the norm. ElevateDB handles both 32 and 64 bit and is by far my database of choice.

The purpose of this article is not to create an alternative or anything along those lines, quite the opposite. It’s purely to demonstrate some of the ideas behind a database – and just how far we have come from the old “file of record” that is synonymous with the first databases. Like C/C++ Delphi has been around for a while so you can still find support for these older features, which I think is great because there are still places where such a “file of record” can be extremely handy. But again, that is not what we are going to do here.

The reason I mentioned “file of record” is because, even though we don’t use that any more – it does summarize the most fundamental idea of a database. What exactly is a database anyways? Is it really this black box?

A database file (to deal with that first) is supposed to contain the following:

  • One of more table definitions
  • One or more tables (as in data)
  • Indexes and lookup tables (word indexes)
  • Stored procedures
  • Views and triggers

So the question becomes, how exactly do we stuff all these different things into a single file? Does it have a filesystem? Are each of these things defined in a record of sorts? And what about this mysterious “page size” thingy, what is that about?

A file of blocks

All databases have the same problem, but each solves these problems differently. Most major databases are in fact not a single file anymore. Some even place the above in completely separate files. For me personally I don’t see any gain in having a single file with everything stuffed into it – but for sake of argument we will be looking at that in this article. It has some educational value.

The way databases are organized is directly linked to the problem above, namely that we need to store different types of data – of arbitrary length – into a single file. In other words you can’t use a fixed record because you cannot possibly know how many fields a table will have, nor can you predict the number of tables or procedures. So we have to create a system that can take any length of data and “somehow” be able to place that inside the file.

db_file_blocksSo ok, what if we divide the file into blocks, each capable of storing a piece of data? So if a single block is not enough, the data will be spread out over multiple blocks?

Indeed. And that is also where the page-size value comes in. The pagesize defines the capacity of a block, which indirectly affects how much data each block occupies. Pretty cool right?

But conceptually dividing a file into blocks doesn’t solve all our problems. How exactly will we know what blocks represents a record or a form definition? I mean, if some piece of data is spread over 10 blocks or 20 blocks, how do we know that these represents a single piece of data? How do we navigate from block #1 in a sequence, to block #2?

Well, each block in the file can house raw data, we have to remember that the whole “block” idea is just conceptual and a way that we approach a file in our code. When we write blocks to the file, we have to do that in a particular way, so it’s not just a raw slice of a stream or array of bytes.

We need a block header to recognize that indeed, this is a known block; we need the block number of the next block that holds more data – and it’s probably wise to sign each block with the block-number for the first pice.

So from a pseudo-code point of view, we end up with something like:


Since our blocks will be hosted inside a stream (so no “file of record” like I said), we have to use the “packed” keyword. Delphi like any other language always tries to align records to a boundary, so even if the record is just 4 bytes long (for example), it will be aligned to eight bytes (you can control the boundary via the compiler options). That can cause problems when we calculate the offset to our blocks so we mark both the record and data as “packed”, which tells the compiler to drop alignment.

Let’s look at what each field in the record (descriptor) means:

  • fbHeader, a unique number that we check for before reading a block. If this number is missing or doesn’t match, something is wrong and the data is not initialized (or it’s not a db file). Lets use $CAFEBABE since it’s both unique and fun at the same time!
  • fbFirst, the block number of the first block in a sequence (piece of coherent data)
  • fbNext, the next block in the sequence after the current
  • fbUsed: the number of bytes uses in the fbData array. At the end of a sequence it might just use half of what the block can store – so we make sure we know how much to extract from fbData in each segment
  • fbData: a packed byte array housing “pagesize” number of bytes

A sequence of blocks

The block system solves the problem of storing variable length data by dividing the data into suitable chunks. As shown above we store the data with just enough information to find the next block, and next block, until we have read back the whole sequence.

So the block-sequence is pretty much a file. It’s actually very much a file because this is incidentally how harddisks and floppy disks organize files. It had a more complex layout of course, but the idea is the same. A “track-disk-device” stores blocks of data organized in tracks and sectors (sequences). Not a 1:1 comparison but neat none the less.

But ok, we now have some idea about storing larger pieces of data as a chunk of blocks. But why not just store the data directly? Why not just append each record to a file and to hell with block chunks – wouldnt that be faster?


Well yes, but how would you recycle the space? Lets say you have a database with 10.000 records, each with different sizes, and you want to delete record number 5500. If you just append stuff, how would you recycle that space? There is no way of predicting the size of the next sequence, so you could end up with large segments of empty space that could never be recycled.

By conceptually dividing the file into predictable blocks, and then storing data in chunks where each block “knows” it’s next of kin – and holds a reference to its root (the fbFirst field), we can suddenly solve the problem of recycling!

Ok, lets sum up what we have so far:

  • We have solved storing arbitrary length data by dividing the data into conceptual blocks. These blocks dont have to be next to each other.
  • We have solved reading X number of blocks to re-create the initial data
  • We call the collection of blocks that makes up a piece of data a “sequence”
  • The immediate benefit of block-by-block storage is that space can be recycled. Blocks dont have to be next to each other, a record can be made up by blocks scattered all over the place but still remain coherent.

Not bad! But we are still not home free, there is another challenge that looms above, namely how can we know if a block is available or occupied?

Keeping track of blocks

This is actually a pretty cool place in the buildup of an engine, because the way we read, write and figure out what blocks can be recycled – very much impacts the speed of high-level functions like inserts and navigation. This is where I would introduce memory mapped files before I moved on, but like I mentioned earlier -we will skip memory mapping because the article would quickly morph into a small essay. I don’t want memory mapping and MMU theory to overshadow the fundamental principles that I’m trying to pass on.

We have now reached the point where we ask the question “how do we quickly keep track of available free blocks?”, which is an excellent question with more than a single answer. Some database vendors use a separate file where each byte represents a block. My first experiment was to use a text file, thinking that functions like Pos() would help me locate blocks faster. It was a nice idea but we need more grunt than that.

What I landed on after some experimentation, which is a good compromise between size and speed, was to use a bit buffer to keep track of things. So a single bit is either taken (1) or available (0). You can quickly search for available bits because if a byte has any other value than $FF (255) you know there is a free bit there. It’s also very modest with regards to size, and you can keep track of 10.000 blocks with only 1250 bytes.

The code for the bit-buffer was written to be easy to use. In a high-end engine you would not waste the cpu time by isolating small calculations in a single method, but try to inline as much as possible. But for educational purposes my simple implementation will be more than adequate.

Note: I will be setting up a github folder for this project, so for our next article you can just fork that. WordPress has a tendency to mess up Delphi code, so if the code looks weird don’t worry, it will all be neatly organized into a project shortly.

The file header

Before we look at the bit code to keep track of blocks, you might be thinking “what good is it to keep track of blocks if we have nowhere to store that information?“. You are quite right, and this is where the file header comes in.

The file header is the only fixed part of a database file. Like I mentioned earlier there are engines that stuffs everything into a single file, but in most cases where performance is the highest priority – you want to use several files and avoid mixing apples and oranges. I would store the block-map (bit buffer) in a separate file – because that maps easily into memory under normal use. I would also store the table definitions, indexes and more as separate files. If nothing else than to make repairing and compacting a database sane. But i promised to do a single file model (me and my big fingers), so we will be storing the meta-data inside the database file, so let’s do just that.

The file-header is just a segment of the database-file (the start of the file) that contains some vital information. When we calculate the stream offset to each block (for either reading or writing), we simply add the size of the header to that. We don’t want to accidentally overwrite that part of the file.

Depending on how we evolve the reading and writing of data sequences, the header doesn’t have to contain that much data. You probably want to keep track of the page-size, followed by the start block for the table definitions. So when you open a database you would immediately start by reading the block-sequence containing all the definitions the file contains. How we organize the data internally is irrelevant for the block-file and IO scaffolding. It’s job is simple: read or write blocks, calculate offsets, avoid killing the header, pay attention to identifiers.

Some coders store the db schemas etc. at the end of the file, so when you close the DB the information is appended to the filestream – and the offset is stored in the header. This is less messy, but also opens up for corruption. If the DB is not properly closed you risk the DB information never being streamed out.  Which is again another nail in the coffin for single-file databases (at least from my personal view, there are many ways to Rome and database theory can drive you nuts at times).

So I end this first article of our series with that. Hopefully I have given you enough ideas to form a mental image of how the underlying structure of a database file is organized. There are always exceptions to the rule and a wealth of different database models exists. So please keep in mind that this article has just scratched the surface on a slab of concrete.

unit qtx.utils.bits;


  System.SysUtils, System.Classes;


  (* Exception classes *)
  EQTXBitBuffer = Class(Exception);

  TBitOffsetArray = packed array of NativeUInt;

  (* About TQTXBitBuffer:
    This class allows you to manage a large number of bits,
    much like TBits in VCL and LCL.
    However, it is not limited by the shortcomings of the initial TBits.

    - The bitbuffer can be saved
    - The bitbuffer can be loaded
    - The class exposes a linear memory model
    - The class expose methods (class functions) that allows you to
    perform operations on pre-allocated memory (memory you manage in
    your application).

    Uses of TQTXBitbuffer:
    Bit-buffers are typically used to represent something else,
    like records in a database-file. A bit-map is often used in Db engines
    to represent what hapes are used (bit set to 1), and pages that can
    be re-cycled or compacted away later. *)

  TQTXBitBuffer = Class(TObject)
    FData: PByte;
    FDataLng: NativeInt;
    FDataLen: NativeInt;
    FBitsMax: NativeUInt;
    FReadyByte: NativeUInt;
    FAddr: PByte;
    BitOfs: 0 .. 255;
    FByte: byte;
    function GetByte(const Index: NativeInt): byte;
    procedure SetByte(const Index: NativeInt; const Value: byte);
    function GetBit(const Index: NativeUInt): boolean;
    procedure SetBit(const Index: NativeUInt; const Value: boolean);
    property Data: PByte read FData;
    property Size: NativeInt read FDataLen;
    property Count: NativeUInt read FBitsMax;
    property Bytes[const Index: NativeInt]: byte Read GetByte write SetByte;
    property bits[const Index: NativeUInt]: boolean Read GetBit
      write SetBit; default;

    procedure Allocate(MaxBits: NativeUInt);
    procedure Release;
    function Empty: boolean;
    procedure Zero;

    function ToString(const Boundary: integer = 16): string; reintroduce;

    class function BitsOf(Const aBytes: NativeInt): NativeUInt;
    class function BytesOf(aBits: NativeUInt): NativeUInt;

    class function BitsSetInByte(const Value: byte): NativeInt; inline;
    class Function BitGet(Const Index: NativeInt; const Buffer): boolean;
    class procedure BitSet(Const Index: NativeInt; var Buffer;
      const Value: boolean);

    procedure SaveToStream(const stream: TStream); virtual;
    procedure LoadFromStream(const stream: TStream); virtual;

    procedure SetBitRange(First, Last: NativeUInt; const Bitvalue: boolean);
    procedure SetBits(const Value: TBitOffsetArray; const Bitvalue: boolean);
    function FindIdleBit(var Value: NativeUInt;
      const FromStart: boolean = false): boolean;

    destructor Destroy; Override;


  ERR_BitBuffer_InvalidBitIndex = 'Invalid bit index, expected 0..%d not %d';

  ERR_BitBuffer_InvalidByteIndex = 'Invalid byte index, expected 0..%d not %d';

  ERR_BitBuffer_BitBufferEmpty = 'Bitbuffer is empty error';

    'Invalid bit offset, expected 0..%d, not %d';

  CNT_BitBuffer_ByteTable:  array [0..255] of NativeInt =
  (0, 1, 1, 2, 1, 2, 2, 3, 1, 2, 2, 3, 2, 3, 3, 4,
  1, 2, 2, 3, 2, 3, 3, 4, 2, 3, 3, 4, 3, 4, 4, 5,
  1, 2, 2, 3, 2, 3, 3, 4, 2, 3, 3, 4, 3, 4, 4, 5,
  2, 3, 3, 4, 3, 4, 4, 5, 3, 4, 4, 5, 4, 5, 5, 6,
  1, 2, 2, 3, 2, 3, 3, 4, 2, 3, 3, 4, 3, 4, 4, 5,
  2, 3, 3, 4, 3, 4, 4, 5, 3, 4, 4, 5, 4, 5, 5, 6,
  2, 3, 3, 4, 3, 4, 4, 5, 3, 4, 4, 5, 4, 5, 5, 6,
  3, 4, 4, 5, 4, 5, 5, 6, 4, 5, 5, 6, 5, 6, 6, 7,
  1, 2, 2, 3, 2, 3, 3, 4, 2, 3, 3, 4, 3, 4, 4, 5,
  2, 3, 3, 4, 3, 4, 4, 5, 3, 4, 4, 5, 4, 5, 5, 6,
  2, 3, 3, 4, 3, 4, 4, 5, 3, 4, 4, 5, 4, 5, 5, 6,
  3, 4, 4, 5, 4, 5, 5, 6, 4, 5, 5, 6, 5, 6, 6, 7,
  2, 3, 3, 4, 3, 4, 4, 5, 3, 4, 4, 5, 4, 5, 5, 6,
  3, 4, 4, 5, 4, 5, 5, 6, 4, 5, 5, 6, 5, 6, 6, 7,
  3, 4, 4, 5, 4, 5, 5, 6, 4, 5, 5, 6, 5, 6, 6, 7,
  4, 5, 5, 6, 5, 6, 6, 7, 5, 6, 6, 7, 6, 7, 7, 8);

function QTXToNearest(const Value, Factor: NativeUInt): NativeUInt;
  LTemp: NativeUInt;
  Result := Value;
  LTemp := Value mod Factor;
  If (LTemp > 0) then
    inc(Result, Factor - LTemp);

// ##########################################################################
// TQTXBitBuffer
// ##########################################################################

Destructor TQTXBitBuffer.Destroy;
  If not Empty then

function TQTXBitBuffer.ToString(const Boundary: integer = 16): string;
  CNT_SYM: array [boolean] of string = ('0', '1');
  x: NativeUInt;
  LCount: NativeUInt;
  LCount := Count;
  if LCount > 0 then
    LCount := QTXToNearest(LCount, Boundary);
    x := 0;
    while x < LCount do
      if x = 0) then
    LAddr := @Buffer;
    inc(LAddr, Index shr 3);

    LByte := LAddr^;
    BitOfs := Index mod 8;
    LCurrent := (LByte and (1 shl (BitOfs mod 8)))  0;

    case Value of
          (* set bit if not already set *)
          If not LCurrent then
            LByte := (LByte or (1 shl (BitOfs mod 8)));
          LAddr^ := LByte;
          (* clear bit if already set *)
          If LCurrent then
            LByte := (LByte and not(1 shl (BitOfs mod 8)));
          LAddr^ := LByte;

    Raise EQTXBitBuffer.CreateFmt(ERR_ERR_BitBuffer_INVALIDOFFSET,
      [maxint - 1, index]);

procedure TQTXBitBuffer.SaveToStream(const stream: TStream);
  LWriter: TWriter;
  LWriter := TWriter.Create(stream, 1024);
    LWriter.Write(FData^, FDataLen);

Procedure TQTXBitBuffer.LoadFromStream(const stream: TStream);
  LReader: TReader;
  LLen: NativeInt;
  LReader := TReader.Create(stream, 1024);
    LLen := LReader.ReadInteger;
    if LLen > 0 then
      LReader.Read(FData^, LLen);

Function TQTXBitBuffer.Empty: boolean;
  Result := FData = NIL;

Function TQTXBitBuffer.GetByte(const Index: NativeInt): byte;
  If FData  NIL then
    If (index >= 0) and (Index = 0) and (Index  Secondary then
        Result := (Primary - Secondary)
        Result := (Secondary - Primary);

      if Exclusive then
        If (Primary < 1) or (Secondary < 1) then

      If (Result < 0) then
        Result := abs(Result);
      Result := 0;

  If (FData  nil) then
    If (First  0 do
          SetBit(x, Bitvalue);
          SetBit(x, Bitvalue);
          SetBit(x, Bitvalue);
          SetBit(x, Bitvalue);
          SetBit(x, Bitvalue);
          SetBit(x, Bitvalue);
          SetBit(x, Bitvalue);
          SetBit(x, Bitvalue);

        (* process singles *)
        LSingles := NativeInt(LCount mod 8);
        while (LSingles > 0) do
          SetBit(x, Bitvalue);

        if (First = Last) then
          SetBit(First, true)
          Raise EQTXBitBuffer.CreateFmt(ERR_BitBuffer_InvalidBitIndex,
            [FBitsMax, Last]);
      Raise EQTXBitBuffer.CreateFmt(ERR_BitBuffer_InvalidBitIndex,
        [FBitsMax, First]);
    Raise EQTXBitBuffer.Create(ERR_BitBuffer_BitBufferEmpty);

Procedure TQTXBitBuffer.SetBits(Const Value: TBitOffsetArray;
  Const Bitvalue: boolean);
  x: NativeInt;
  FCount: NativeInt;
  If FData  NIL then
    FCount := length(Value);
    If FCount > 0 then
      for x := low(Value) to High(Value) do
        SetBit(Value[x], Bitvalue);
    Raise EQTXBitBuffer.Create(ERR_BitBuffer_BitBufferEmpty);

Function TQTXBitBuffer.FindIdleBit(var Value: NativeUInt;
  Const FromStart: boolean = false): boolean;
  FOffset: NativeUInt;
  FBit: NativeUInt;
  FAddr: PByte;
  x: NativeInt;
  Result := FData  NIL;
  if Result then
    (* Initialize *)
    FAddr := FData;
    FOffset := 0;

    If FromStart then
      FReadyByte := 0;

    If FReadyByte < 1 then
      (* find byte with idle bit *)
      While FOffset < NativeUInt(FDataLen) do
        If BitsSetInByte(FAddr^) = 8 then
      inc(FOffset, FReadyByte);

    (* Last byte exhausted? *)
    Result := FOffset  7 then
            FReadyByte := 0
            FReadyByte := FOffset;



Function TQTXBitBuffer.GetBit(Const Index: NativeUInt): boolean;
  If FData  NIL then
    If index  7 then
              FReadyByte := 0;

        (* clear bit if not already clear *)
        If (FByte and (1 shl (BitOfs mod 8)))  0 then
          FByte := (FByte and not(1 shl (BitOfs mod 8)));
          PByte(FDataLng + NativeInt(index shr 3))^ := FByte;

          (* remember this byte pos *)
          FReadyByte := Index shr 3;

      Raise EQTXBitBuffer.CreateFmt(ERR_BitBuffer_InvalidBitIndex,
        [Count - 1, index]);
    Raise EQTXBitBuffer.Create(ERR_BitBuffer_BitBufferEmpty);

Procedure TQTXBitBuffer.Allocate(MaxBits: NativeUInt);
  (* release buffer if not empty *)
  If FData  NIL then

  If MaxBits > 0 then
    (* Allocate new buffer *)
      FReadyByte := 0;
      FDataLen := BytesOf(MaxBits);
      FData := AllocMem(FDataLen);
      FDataLng := NativeUInt(FData);
      FBitsMax := BitsOf(FDataLen);
      on e: Exception do
        FData := NIL;
        FDataLen := 0;
        FBitsMax := 0;
        FDataLng := 0;


Procedure TQTXBitBuffer.Release;
  If FData  NIL then
      FReadyByte := 0;
      FData := NIL;
      FDataLen := 0;
      FBitsMax := 0;
      FDataLng := 0;

Procedure TQTXBitBuffer.Zero;
  If FData  NIL then
    Fillchar(FData^, FDataLen, byte(0))
    raise EQTXBitBuffer.Create(ERR_BitBuffer_BitBufferEmpty);


My role at Embarcadero

August 8, 2018 4 comments

I have gotten quite a few requests regarding what exactly I’m doing at Embarcadero. I have elaborated quite a bit on Delphi Developer. But I fully understand that not everyone is on Facebook, and I don’t mind elaborating a bit more if that helps. So here is a quick “drive-by” post on that.


Setting sails for America

Sadly the facts of life are that I can’t talk about everything openly, that would violate the responsibility I have accepted in our NDA (non disclosure agreement), as well as personal trust between myself and the people involved. Hopefully everyone can sympathize with the situation.

My title is SC, Software Consultant, which is a branch under sales and support. I talk with companies about their needs, help them find competent employees, deliver ad-hoc solutions on site in my region and act as a “go to” guy that CTO’s can call on when they need something. And of course part of my role is to hold presentations, advocate Delphi and evangelize.

I am really happy about this because for the past 8 years I have been up to my nose in brain grinding, low-level compiler and rtl development; and while that is intellectually rewarding, it indirectly means everything else is on hold. With the release of Smart Mobile Studio 3.0 the product has reached a level of maturity where fixes and updates will be more structured. Focus is now on specific modules and specific components – which sadly doesn’t warrant a full-time job. So it’s been an incredible eight years at The Smart Company, and Smart is not going away (just to underline that) – but right now Delphi comes first. So my work on the RTL and the new compiler framework is partitioned accordingly.

Being able to advocate, represent and work with Delphi and C++ builder is a dream job come true. I have been fronting Delphi, helped companies and connected people within the community for 15 years anyways; and the companies and people I talk with are the same that I talked to last month. Not to mention new faces and people who have just discovered Delphi, or come back to Delphi after years elsewhere.

So being offered to do what I already love doing as a full-time job, I don’t see how I could have turned that down. As a teenager we used to talk about what company we wanted to work for. I remember a buddy of mine was absolutely fanatical about IBM, and he even went on to work for “big blue” after college. Others wanted to work at Microsoft, Oracle, Sun — but for me it was always Borland. And I have stuck with Delphi through thick and thin. Delphi has never failed me. Not once.

I set out to get object-pascal back on the map eight years ago. I have actively lobbied, blogged, started usergroups (our Facebook group now house 7500+ active Delphi developers), petitioned educational institutions, held presentations and done everything short of tattooing Delphi on my skin to make that a reality. Taking object-pascal out of education has been a catastrophe for software development as a whole.

Well, I hope this sheds some light on the role and what I do. I’m not a “professional blogger” like some have speculated. I do try to keep things interesting, but there is very little professional about my personal blog (which would be a paradox). But obviously my writing and presentations will have to adapt; meaning longer articles, on-topic writing style and good reference material.

I will be speaking in Oslo quite soon, then Sweden before I pop off to London in november. Very much looking forward to that. The London presentation and Oslo presentation will be hybrid talks, looking at Delphi and also how Smart Mobile Studio can help Delphi developers broaden the impact and ease web development for existing Delphi solutions. The talk in Sweden will be pure Delphi and C++ builder.

Get in touch with Jason Chapman or Adam Brett at the UK Delphi usergroup for more info

New article series on Delphi and C++ builder

August 7, 2018 4 comments

An army of Delphi developers

It’s been a while since I’ve done some hardcore Delphi articles, and since that is now my job I am happy that I can finally allocate a good chunk of time for that work. Dont worry, there will be plenty of Smart Pascal content too – but I think it’s time to clean up the blog situation a bit. This blog is personal and thus contains a pot-pourri of topics, from programming to 3d printing, embedded hardware to retro-gaming. It’s a fun blog, I enjoy being able to write about things I’m passionate about, but having one blog for each topic makes more sense.

So in the near future I think it’s good that I publish Smart Mobile Studio content (except random stuff and drive-by posts) to, and Delphi to Embarcadero’s blog server. If nothing else it will be easier for the readers to deal with. If you only want to read about my Delphi escapades then embedded and retro stuff is not always interesting.

Deep dive into Delphi and C++ builder

So what can be cool to write about? I spent the better part of last weekend pondering this. Delphi articles have a little blind spot between beginner and advanced that I would like to focus on. There are plenty of “learn Delphi” articles out there, and there are likewise a lot of very advanced topics. So hopefully my first series will hit where it should, and be interesting for those in between.

We need a light database

Let’s peek under the hood!

Right, so the last time I read about database coding, and I mean “making your own database engine” was at least 10 years ago. The Delphi community has always been blessed with a large group of insightful and productive people, people who share their knowledge and help others. But everyone is working on something and finding the time to deep dive into subjects like this is not always easy. So hopefully my series on this will at least inspire people to experiment, try new things and fall in love with Delphi like I did.

The second article series that I am working on right now, is getting to grips with C++ builder. This is actually a very fun experiment since it serves more than a single function; I mean, just how hard is it for a Delphi developer to learn C++ ? What can Embarcadero do to help developers feel comfortable on both platforms? What are the benefits for a Delphi developer to learn C/C++?



C++ builder Community Edition rocks!

And yes I have had more than one episode where the new concepts drove me up the wall. It would be the world’s shortest article-series if Delphi Developer didn’t have my back and I didn’t buy books. Say what you will about modern programming, but sometimes you just need to sit down, turn off the computer, and read. Old school but effective.


Embarcadero is very different from what I expected. Before I worked here (which is still a bit surrealistic) I envisioned a stereotypical american company, located in some tall office building; utterly remote from its users and the needs of the punters in the field. This past week has forced me to reflect more than I would have liked, and my armour of strong opinions (if not arrogance) has a very visible dent; because the company that has welcomed me with open arms is everything but that imaginary stereotype.

spartan warrior

Et in Borland ego sum

The core of Embarcadero turned out to be a team of dedicated developers that are literally bending backwards to help as many developers as possible. I left yesterdays meeting with a taste of shame in my mouth, because in my blog I have given at least two of the people who now welcomed me, a less than fortunate overhaul in the past. Yet they turned out to be human beings with the exact same interests, passions and goals as myself.

Building large-scale development tools is really hard work. Seriously. As a developer you forget things like marketing, the sales apparatus, the level of support a developer will need, documentation, tutorials. The amount of requests, conflicting requests that is, from users is overwhelming. You have users who focus on mobile who don’t care about legacy VCL support, then you have people who very much need VCL legacy support and dont care at all about mobile platforms; It’s a huge list of groups, topics and goals that is constantly shifting and needs prioritization.

But all in all the Delphi community and Embarcadero is in good shape. They have worked through a lot of old baggage that simply had to be transitioned, and the result is the change we see now: community editions and better dialog with the users. Compare that to the situation we had five years ago, or eight years ago for that matter. The changes have been many and the road long -but with a purpose: Delphi is growing at a healthy rate again.

What will you need and what will we do?

The goal of the Delphi article is to implement the underlying mechanics of a database. I’m not talking about a “file of record” here or something like that, but a page and sequence based filestream and it’s support apparatus for managing blocks and available resources. This forms the basis of all databases, large or small. So we will be coding the nitty-gritty that has to be in place before you venture into expression parsing.

510242661If time allows I will implement support for filters, but naturally a full SQL parser would be over the top. The techniques demonstrated should be more than enough for a budding young developer to take the ball and run with it. The filter function is somewhat close to a “select” statement – and the essence of expression parsing will be in the filter code.

Note: I will skip memory mapping techniques, for one reason only: it can get in the way of understanding the core principles. Once you have the principles under wraps – memory mapping is the natural next step and evolution of the thoughts involved, so it will fall into place in due time.

You wont need anything special, just Delphi. Most of the code will be classical object pascal, but the parser will throw in some generics and operators, so this is a good time to download the community edition or upgrade to a compiler from this century.

The C/C++ articles will likewise have zero dependencies except the community edition of C++ builder. I went out and bought two books, C++ Primer fifth edition and The C++ programming language by Bjarne Stroustrup himself. Which should be on presciption because i fell at sleep

My frontal lobe is already reduced to jello at the sight of these books, but let’s jump in with both feet and see what we make of it from a Delphi developers point of view. I can’t imagine it can be more of a mess than raw webassembly, but C/C++ has a wingspan that rivals even Delphi so it’s wise not to underestimate the curriculum.

OK, let’s get cracking! I will see you all shortly and post the first Delphi article.

Hurry and get the Delphi Expert book for free on Packt!

August 3, 2018 Leave a comment


Get the book for free now!

Packt has a time limited offer where you can download the book Delphi Expert by our late Delphi guru, Pawel Glowacki. Pawel was and continues to be a well-known figure in the Delphi community. He held presentations, wrote books and helped promote Delphi and C++ builder in all corners of the world. He is sorely missed.

In my previous post I mentioned that starting with Delphi is faster if you get a good book on the subject; and Pawels book Delphi Expert – fits perfectly within that curriculum.

If you have been wondering when to start, then consider this is a sign. Download the community edition of Delphi and fetch Pawel’s book – then get cracking!



Nano PI Fire 3, part two

July 18, 2018 Leave a comment

If you missed the first installment of this test, please click here to catch up. In this installment we are just going to dive straight into general use and get a feel for what can and cannot be done.

Solving the power problem

pi-powerLike mentioned in the previous article, a normal mobile charger (5 volt, 2 amps) is not enough to support the nano-pi. Since I have misplaced my original PI power-supply with 5 volt / 3 amps I decided to cheat. So I plugged the power USB into my PC which will deliver as much juice as the device needs. I don’t have time to wait for a new PSU to arrive so this will have to do.

But for the record (and underlined) a proper PSU with at least 2.5 amps is essential to using this board. I suggest you order the official Raspberry PI 3b power-supply. But if you should find one with 3 amps that would be even better.

Web performance

The question on everyone’s mind (or at least mine) is: how does the Nano-PI fire 3 perform when rendering cutting edge, hardcore HTML5? Is this little device a potential candidate for running “The Smart Desktop” (a.k.a Amibian.js for those of you coming from the retro-computing scene)?

Like I suspected earlier, X (the Linux windowing framework) doesn’t have drivers that deliver hardware acceleration at all.


Lubuntu is a sexy desktop no doubt there, but it’s overkill for this device

This is quite easy to test: when selecting a rectangle on the Lubuntu desktop and moving the mouse-cursor around (holding down the left mouse button at the same time) if it lags terribly, that is a clear indicator that no acceleration exists.

And I was right on the money because there is no acceleration what so ever for the Linux distribution. It struggles hopelessly to keep up with the mouse-pointer as you move it around with an active selection; something that would be silky smooth had the GPU been tasked with the job.

But, hardware acceleration is not just about the desktop. It’s not some flag you enable and it magically effect everything, but rather several API’s at either the kernel-level or immediate driver level (modules the kernel loads), each affecting different aspects of a system.

So while the desktop “2d blitting” is clearly cpu driven, other aspects of the system can still be accelerated (although that would be weird and rare. But considering how Asus messed up the Tinkerboard I guess anything goes these days).

Asking Chrome for the hard facts

I fired up Google Chrome (which is the default browser thank god) and entered the magic url:


This is a built-in page that avails a detailed report of what Chrome learns about the current system, right down to specific GPU features used by OpenGL.

As expected, there was NO acceleration what so ever. So I was quite surprised that it managed to run Amibian.js at all. Even without hardware acceleration it outperformed the Raspberry PI 3b+ by a factor of 4 (at the very least) and my particle demo ran at a whopping 8 fps (frames per second). The original Rasperry PI could barely manage 2 fps. So the Nano-PI Fire is leagues ahead of the PI in terms of raw cpu power, which is brilliant for headless servers or computational tasks.

FriendlyCore vs Lubuntu? QT for the win

Now here is a funny thing. So far I have used the Lubuntu standard Linux image, and performance has been interesting to say the least. No hardware acceleration, impressive cpu results but still – what good is a SBC Linux distro without fast graphics? Sure, if you just want a head-less file server or host services then you don’t need a beefy GPU. But here is the twist:

Turns out the makers of the board has a second, QT oriented distro called Friendly-core. And this image has OpenGL-ES support and all the missing acceleration lacking from Lubuntu.

I was pretty annoyed with how Asus gave users the run-around with Tinkerboard downloads, but they have thankfully cleaned up their act and listened to their customers. Friendly-elec might want to learn from Asus mistakes in this area.


QT has a rich history, but it’s being marginalized by node.js and Delphi these days

Alas, Friendly-core xenial 4.4 Arm64 image turned out to be a pure embedded development image. This is why the board has a debug port (which is probably awesome if you are into QT development). So this is for QT developers that want to use the board as a single-application system where they write the code on Windows or Linux, compile and it’s all transported to the board with live debugging back to the devtools they use. In other words: not very useful for non C/C++ QT developers.

Android Lolipop

2000px-Android_robot.svgI have only used Android on a pad and the odd Samsung Galaxy phone, so this should be interesting. I Downloaded the Lolipop disk image, burned it to the sd-card and booted up.

After 20 minutes with a blank screen i gave up.

I realize that some Android distros download packages ad-hoc and install directly from a repository, so it can take some time to get started; but 15-20 minutes with a black screen? The Android logo didn’t even show up — and that should be visible almost immediately regardless of network install or not.

This is really a great shame because I wanted to test some Delphi Firemonkey applications on it, to see how well it scales the more demanding GPU tasks. And yes i did try a different SD-Card to be sure it wasnt a disk error. Same result.

Back to Lubuntu

Having spent a considerable time trying to find a “wow” factor for this board, I have to just surrender to the fact that it’s just not there. . This is not a “PI” any more than the Tinkerboard is a PI. And appending “pi” to a product name will never change that.

I can imagine the Nano-PI Fire 3 being an awesome single-application board for QT C/C++ developers though. With a dedicated debug port making it a snap to transport, execute and do live debugging directly on the hardware — but for general DIY hacking, using it for native Android development with Delphi, or node.js development with Smart Mobile Studio – or just kicking back with emulators like Mame, UAE or whatever tickles your fancy — its just too rough around the edges. Which is really a shame!

So at the end of the day I re-installed Lubuntu and figure I just have to wait until Friendly-elec get their act together and issue proper drivers for the Mali GPU. So it’s $35 straight out the window — but I can live with that. It was a risk but at that price it’s not going to break the bank.

The positive thing

The Nano-PI Fire 3 is yet another SBC in a long list that fall short of its potential. Like many others they try to use the word “PI” to channel some of the Raspberry PI enthusiasm their way – but the quality of the actual system is not even close.

In fact, using PI in their product name is setting themselves up for a fall – because customers will quickly discover that this product is not a PI, which can cause some subconscious aversion and resentment.


The Nano rendered Amibian.js running some very demanding demos 4 times as fast as the PI 3b, one can only speculate what the board could do with proper drivers for the GPU.

The only positive feature the Fire-3 clearly has to offer, is abundantly more cpu power. It is without a doubt twice as fast (if not 3 times as fast) as the Raspberry PI 3b. The fact that it can render highly demanding and complex HTML5 demos 4 times faster than the Raspberry PI 3b without hardware acceleration is impressive. This is a $35 board after all, which is the same price.

But without proper drivers for the mali, it’s a useless toy. Powerful and with great potential, but utterly useless for multimedia and everything that relies on fast 2D and 3D graphics. For UAE (Amiga emulation) you can pretty much forget it. Even if you can compile the latest UAE4Arm with SDL as its primary display framework – it wouldn’t work because SDL depends on the graphics drivers. So it’s back to square one.

But the CPU packs a punch that is without question.

Final verdict

Top the x86 UP board, left bottom a Raspberry PI 3, bottom right the ODroid XU4

There are a lot of stable and excellent options out there, take your time

I was planning to test UAE next but as I have outlined above: without drivers that properly expose and delegate the power of the mali, it would be a complete disaster. I’m not even sure it would build.

As such I will just leave this board as is. If it matures at some point that would be great, but my advice to people looking for a great SBC experience — get the new Raspberry PI 3b+ and enjoy learning and exploring there.

And if you are into Amibian.js or making high quality HTML5 kiosk / node.js based systems, then fork out the extra $10 and buy an ODroid XU4. If you pay $55 you can pick up the Asus Tinkerboard which is blistering fast and great value for money, despite its turbulent introduction.

Note: You cannot go wrong with the ODroid XU4. Its affordable, stable and fast. So for beginners it’s either the Raspberry PI 3b+ or the ODroid. These are the most mature in terms of software, drivers and stability.

FMX 4 linux gets an update

July 20, 2017 Leave a comment

The Firemonkey framework that allows you to compile for Linux desktop (Linux x86 server is already supported) just got a nice update. Amoung the changes is a nice Radial Gradient pattern – and several bugs squashed.


This is an awesome addition if you already have Delphi XE 10.2 and if writing Ubuntu desktop applications is something you want – then this is the package to get!

Check it out: