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Quartex Pascal: Nearing completion

October 5, 2021 Leave a comment

When developers talk about web development they usually mean creating web pages with the tools common for the web sphere. Web designer software is abundantly available online, from single-click page wizards to more ad-hoc, old school HTML / JavaScript editors. If there is something the world don’t need more of, It’s one-click website solutions.

The Quartex Cloud cluster server, running services written in Quartex Pascal

One challenge that haven’t been addressed until recent times in the web sphere, is that of programming language. JavaScript is a fun language, but it was never really designed for large-scale application development. As websites become more and more elaborate, the need for traditional programming languages and features started to surface. In many ways the past 15 years of browser evolution, has been all about JavaScript catching up with the needs of developers.

But are we really limited to JavaScript?

When it comes to language and web technology, it was C/C++ that became the second language of the internet via the introduction of Asm.js and eventually Webassembly. It took a long time for other languages to adopt the Webassembly binary format as a target. WebAssembly is a bytecode binary format consisting of low-level instructions, much like assembly for x86 processors. These instructions are converted into real machine code by the browser (via a process called JIT compilation), and as a result the performance of Webassembly is close to native code. Having said that, Webassembly comes with its own set of restrictions and challenges, especially when it comes to manipulating the DOM (the document object model, the elements that makes up a HTML document).

The Quartex Way

Back in 2010 I had a novel idea with regards to languages: what if we translate Delphi code on source level, and emit JavaScript instead? At the time there was no such thing as webassembly, and the closest thing to a binary format was Macromedia Flash. Without rehashing the story, I teamed up with Eric Grange from Creative IT in France, the maintainer of Delphi Web Script, and the end result was a compiler that would parse Object Pascal code, construct an AST (abstract symbol tree) which is a model that represents the entire program, and further convert that into optimized JavaScript.

In order for such a system to work properly, a whole new RTL (runtime-library) had to be created. All the functions, procedures and classes that Delphi provides would not magically compile to JavaScript. So someone had to sit down and implement classes and features that made sense for the browser, from TComponent all the way up to TCustomControl – but in a way that is compatible with HTML.

Quartex Pascal comes with a rich RTL that makes class based, component oriented development possible for the browser

It is out of this work that the Quartex Framework came into being, as a personal research and development framework dealing with web technology. Back in 2014 it was just a utility library, and it remained as such until 2019 when it became a fully functional RTL in its own right. An RTL with a wingspan from low-level binary data, all the way up to visual components and database connectivity. In 2020 it expanded to Node.js, which is a JavaScript scripting-host used to write servers and services. The Quartex framework as now a full stack RTL that radically cuts down on development time needed when writing websites, mobile applications or server technology.

The Quartex IDE

Delphi has a wonderful IDE that has been polished and evolved over almost 2 decades. It is possible to introduce new compilers and third party technology into that IDE, but Delphi is limited to native technology. The only way to integrate QTX with Delphi, would be to mimic the VCL or FMX in its entirety, so that class-names match and the form design files could be read and used by the Quartex Compiler.

While such a project would probably be easier, it also meant a massive compromise in terms of features and performance. As a native development system Delphi does things in a very specific way, and if I forced JavaScript and HTML to abide by those rules – we would lose the dynamic and flamboyant aspects of HTML5 and JavaScript. The performance would also be poor since the VCL (and consequently LCL) was never written for the browser or Node.js. A test I did on performance, comparing QTX compiled code with TMS compiled code demonstrates my point. TMS populates a listbox with roughly 1000 items in 2 seconds. QTX populates the same listbox with 20.000 items in 1.8 seconds.

The only reasonable way forward was to implement a separate IDE, one that dealt with web technology exclusively. And what better language to write such a system in than Delphi itself? I was actually thinking that Embarcadero might want to rekindle their HTML5 Builder, and let me do my magic on it. Quartex Pascal is in many ways what HTML5 Builder should have been, and it’s just getting started.

The Quartex IDE: The welcome screen showing a live RSS feed from BeginEnd.net, as well as recent projects.

Writing an IDE is a massive undertaking. It covers technologies such as code suggestion, form and container designer, communication protocol design, license management – and much, much more. The IDE has been worked on every weekend for a year, and the results are solid.

What is important with an IDE like this, is that it represents a broad foundation for further development. It is written to be highly modular, with everything neatly isolated in classes. If a particular feature requires adjustment, then refactoring that particular module is a straightforward task. Large applications have a tendency to become a mesh of spaghetti that only the original developer understands, something I have worked very hard to avoid. The source-code is available for backers on Patreon.

Quartex IDE: Form designer and HTML5 property editor dialog

Server Side Programming

Node.js is a scripting host based on Google’s V8 JavaScript engine, which runs outside the browser. It is designed to run from the command-line (read: standard scripting host) and gives developers all the features you expect from a native program, like raw file access, multi threading (read: Node operates with multi processes), servers and sockets, third party libraries and much more.

Being able to write both client and server from the same development system, a so called “full stack” development environment, is a great boon and opens up for deployment on enterprise level.

Quartex IDE: Writing a HTTP/S server is no more difficult than using Indy under Delphi

But being able to communicate across services and servers means that the IDE had to provide the tools for async network programming. Working with async code is not hard, but it can be difficult if your codebase does not take height for it.

To help simplify communication between servers, services or clients (read: browser and server, or locally as inter process communication) I wrote the Ragnarok message framework. The IDE now has a visual protocol designer which makes it extremely easy to design messages and complex datatypes that is used when communicating. The protocol designer takes your design and generates ready-to-use classes and units.

Quartex IDE: The protocol designer greatly simplifies async client/server models

Object Pascal as a web language

You might think that object pascal with its rigid rules and pure logic is too stiff for web development. It turns out that this was exactly what the browser needed, as a solid anchor to the otherwise “anything goes” reality of JavaScript. Eric Grange made a lot of changes to the dialect which allows Quartex Pascal to interface more easily with JS, such as partial classes, external classes, static (in the C++ / C# meaning of the word), support for lambdas, inline variables, anonymous procedures, records and classes – and finally support for the async and await keywords when working with promises.

Quartex Pascal approach the DOM as a programmer would WinAPI, and the result is rock solid applications

Object Pascal brings a clarity to web development that JavaScript and TypeScript simply lacks. It also introduces normal inheritance (like C/C++ and Delphi has), with abstract and virtual members. When you combine this with partial classes, you have a dialect that is extremely productive, and that takes on node.js and Javascript on its own terms.

Come join the fun

The Quartex Pascal project is nearing completion. It is not finished just yet, but I am aiming for a release of version 1.0 before xmas. Quartex Pascal is based on Patreon backing, which means those that back the project and contribute financially enjoys weekly builds and working closer with the author on shaping the system. Premium backers also have access to the source-code, with rights to modify and use the system for whatever they like, providing the no-compete clause is respected.

If you find Quartex Pascal interesting – why not become a backer?

Quartex Pascal will be free for schools and educational institutions, as well as for students, non-profit organizations and open-source development. For commercial use a symbolic fee of $300 is needed. The system is licensed as shareware in order to avoid an avalanche of clones, which can quickly kill a project.

Quartex Pascal Build 13b ships

September 30, 2020 4 comments

While it can come across as disingenuous, I frickin love this project! As a developer yourself you know that feeling, when you manage to unify various aspects of your program, so that it all fits just perfectly. And the way I implemented file-handling and editors is within that sweet spot.

What is new?

It’s been a couple of weeks since I posted here last, so the list of changes will be quite dramatic. I think its best to focus on the highlights or this post would become very long!

Ironwood license management

Up until 2018 one of my products was a component package called HexLicense. This is a component package for Delphi that provides serial number validation, license handling and (most importantly) serial number minting. The HexLicense components were sold commercially until 2018 when I took them off the market and open-sourced (access was via Patreon. It is now moved to the Quartex Pascal project instead).

Ironwood is now an intrinsic part of the RTL and IDE

Im not going to go into how difficult it is to produce thousands of distinctly different serial numbers based on seed data, but it’s no walk in the park.

The final implementation I made for license minting and validation, was called Ironwood. It took the engine behind HexLicense and took it to a completely new level, incorporating both obfuscation and number modulation.

Generating license-number batches is literally one mouse-click to achieve

Needless to say, Ironwood is now a part of the Quartex Pascal RTL. To make it easier to work with the IDE has a nice utility for generating license-numbers, loading and saving keys, exporting license number batches – and much more.

There is also a ready-to-rock node.js application that can generate keys from the command-line (which is good to invoke from a server or service, so that it executes as a separate process).

HTML structure provider

The IDE has a very clean internal architecture, where the actual work is isolated in a set of easy to understand classes. One of these classes is called a TIDEAstProvider class. This is a class whose job it is to parse and otherwise work with whatever content an editor has, and deliver symbolic information that can be displayed in the file-structure treeview.

The IDE provides structured parsing and also Tag suggestions. More clever functionality will be added as we move into the final phases.

Obviously we have an object pascal provider, which will quickly compile and generate an AST very quickly in memory. This is used to power both the structure treeview and the code-suggestion.

Next, we have the exact same provider for JavaScript. So when you open a JavaScript file, the file will be processed to produce an AST, and the symbol information will be displayed exactly like your object pascal is. So behavior between these are identical.

We now also have a HTML provider, with a CSS provider on the way. The HTML provider is still in its infancy, but its flexible enough to represent a good foundation to work with. So I will no doubt return to this task later to smarten the provider logic up, and better handle un-valid HTML and CSS.

Code suggestion

Code suggestion is a pretty standard function these days. We have had support for this under Object Pascal for a while now in the IDE (with JavaScript on the way).

Note: the code suggestion-box is un-styled at this point. Custom painting will be added once the core functionality is done.

The IDE displays both a structural view of the unit, as well as in-depth code suggestion

Code suggestion for HTML is now in place too. It needs a bit of polish since the rules for HTML are wildly different from a programming language, but common behavior like TAG suggestion is there — with attributes, properties and events to follow.

So even if you are not an object pascal developer, the IDE should be nice to work with for traditional JavaScript / HTML code.

Form Recognition

While we cannot activate the form-designer just yet, since we need more AST functionality to extract things like class properties and attributes “live” to be able to do that properly — we are getting really close to that milestone.

The IDE however now recognize form files, so if your unit has an accompanying DFM file, the IDE is smart enough to open up a form-page. Form pages are different from ordinary pascal pages, since they also have the form designer control on a sub-tab. More or less identical to Delphi and Lazarus.

When you open a form-unit, the IDE is smart enough to recognize it as a form, opening the file-pair up in a layout capable page, just like Delphi

It is going to be so nice to get the form-designer activated. Especially the stack-based layout, which makes scalable, dynamic layout easy to create and work with.

The QTX RTL also supports orientation awareness as a part of the visual component system. One of the first things you will notice when exploring the code, is that ReSize() ships in an Orientation parameter, so you can adjust your layout accordingly.

Help and documentation inside the IDE

The IDE now has a PDF viewer with search functionality built-in. So when you click on Help and Documentation, a tab which shows the documentation PDF opens. This makes it easy to read, learn and find the information you need fast.

The IDE now has it’s own PDF renderer, so you can read the documentation directly

Well, that was a brief overview of what has changed since last time!

Next update is, as always, the weekends. We tend to land on sundays for new binaries, but do issue hotfixes in the evenings (weekdays) if something critical shows up.

Come join the fun!

Want to support the project? All financial backers that donates $100+ get their name in the product, access to the full IDE source-code on completion, and access to the Quartex Media Desktop system (which is a complete web desktop with a clustered back-end,  compiled to JavaScript and running on node.js. Portable, platform and chipset independent, and very powerful).

A smaller sum monthly is also welcome. The project would not exist without members backing it with $100, $200 etc every month. This both motivates and helps me allocate hours for continuous work.

When the IDE is finished you will also have access to the IDE source-code through special dispensation. Backers have rights since they have helped create the project.

Your help matters! It pays for components, hours and above all, tools and motivation. In return, you get full access to everything and a perpetual license. No backers will ever pay a cent for any future version of Quartex Pascal. Note: PM me after donating so I can get you added to the admin group! Click here to visit paypal: https://www.paypal.com/paypalme/quartexNOR

All donations are welcome, both large and small. But donations over $100, especially reoccurring, is what drives this project forward.

Remember to send me a message on Facebook so I can add you to the Admin group: https://www.facebook.com/quartexnor/

Quartex Pascal, Build 10b is out for backers

July 26, 2020 5 comments

I am deeply moved by some of the messages I have received about Quartex Pascal. Typically from people who either bought Smart Mobile studio or have followed my blog over the years. In short, developers that like to explore new ideas; people who also recognize some of the challenges large and complex run-time libraries like the VCL, FMX and LCL face in 2020.

Since I started with all this “compile to JavaScript” stuff, the world has changed. And while I’m not always right – I was right about this. JavaScript will and have evolved into a power-house. Largely thanks to Microsoft killing Basic. But writing large scale applications in JavaScript, that is extremely time consuming — which is where Quartex Pascal comes in.

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Quartex Pascal evolves every weekend. There are at least 2 builds each weekend for backers. Why not become a backer and see the product come to life? Get instant access to new builds, the docs, and learn why QTX code runs so much faster than the alternatives?

A very important distinction

Let me first start by iterating what I mentioned in my previous post, namely that I am no longer involved with The Smart Company. Nor am I involved with Smart Mobile Studio. I realize that it can be difficult for some to separate me from that product, since I blogged and created momentum for it for more than a decade. But alas, life change and sometimes you just have to let go.

The QTX Framework which today has become a fully operational RTL was written by me back between 2013-2014 (when I was not working for the company due to my spinal injury). And the first version of that framework was released under an open-source license.

When I returned to The Smart Company, it was decided that to save time – we would pull the QTX Framework into the Smart RTL. Since I owned the QTX Framework, and it was open source, it was perfectly fine to include the code. The code was bound by the open source licensing model, so we broke no rules including it. And I gave dispensation that it could be included (although the original license explicitly stated that the units should remain untouched and separate, and only inherited from).

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Quartex Media Desktop, a complete desktop system (akin to X Windows for Linux) written completely in Object Pascal, including a clustered, service oriented back-end. All of it done in Quartex Pascal  — a huge project in its own right. Under Quartex Pascal,  this is now a project type, which means you can have your own cloud solution at the click of a button.

As I left the company for good before joining Embarcadero, The Smart Company and myself came to an agreement that the parts of QTX that still exists in the Smart Mobile Studio RTL, could remain. It would be petty and small to make a huge number out of it, and I left on my own terms. No point ruining all that hard work we did. So we signed an agreement that underlined that there would be overlaps here and there in our respective codebases, and that the QTX Framework and Quartex Media Desktop was my property.

Minor overlaps

As mentioned there will be a few minor overlaps, but nothing substantial. The class hierarchy and architecture of the QTX RTL is so different, that 90% of the code in the Smart RTL simply won’t work. And I made it that way on purpose so there would be no debates over who made what.

QTX represents how I felt the RTL should have been done. And its very different  from where Smart Mobile Studio ended up.

The overlaps are simple and few, but it can be helpful for Smart developers to know about if they plan on taking QTX for a test-drive:

  • TInteger, TString and TVariant. These were actually ported from Delphi (part of the Sith Library, a pun on Delphi’s Jedi Library).
  • TDataTypeConverter came in through the QTX Framework. It has been completely re-written from scratch. The QTX version is endian aware (works on both ARM, X86 and PPC). Classes that deal with binary data (like TStream, TBuffer etc) inherit from TDataTypeConverter. That way, you dont have to call a secondary instance just to perform conversion. This is easier and much more efficient.
  • Low-level codecs likewise came from the QTX Framework, but I had to completely re-write the architecture. The old model could only handle binary data, while the new codec classes also covers text based formats. Codecs can be daisy-chained so you can do encoding, compression and encryption by feeding data into the first, and catching the processed data from the last codec in the chain. Very handy, especially when dealing with binary messages and database drivers.
  • The in-memory dataset likewise came from the QTX Framework. This is probably the only unit that has remained largely unchanged. So that is a clear overlap between the Smart RTL and QTX.
  • TextCraft is an open source library that covers Delphi, Freepascal and DWScript. The latter was pulled in and used as the primary text-parser in Smart. This is also the default parser for QTX, and have been largely re-written so it could be re-published under the Shareware license.

Since the QTX RTL is very different from Smart, I haven’t really bothered to use all of the old code. Stuff like the CSS Effects units likewise came from the QTX Framework, but the architecture I made for Smart is not compatible with QTX, so it makes no sense using that code. I ported my Delphi tweening library to DWScript in 2019, which was a part of my Patreon project. So most of the effects in QTX use our own tweening library. This has some very powerful perks, like being able to animate a property on any object rather than just a HTML Element. And you can use it for Canvas drawing too, which is nice.

Progress. Where are we now?

So, where am I in this work right now? The RTL took more or less 1 year to write from  scratch. I only have the weekends  for this type of work,  and it would have been impossible without my backers. So I cannot thank each backer enough for the faith in this. The RTL and new IDE is actually just a stopping point on the road to a much bigger project, namely CloudForge, which is the full IDE running as an application on the Quartex Media Desktop. But first, let’s see what has been implemented!

AST unit view

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The Unit Overview panel. Easy access to ancestor classes as links (still early R&D). And the entire RTL on a second tab. This makes it very easy to learn the new RTL. There is also proper documentation, both as PDF and standard helpfile.

When the object-pascal code is compiled by DWScript, it goes through a vigorous process of syntax checking, parsing, tokenizing and symbolization (or objectification is perhaps a better word), where every inch of the code is transformed into objects that the compiler can work with and produce code from. These symbols are isolated in what is known as an AST, short for “Abstract Symbol Tree”. Basically a massive in-memory tree structure that contains your entire program reduced to symbols and expressions.

In order for us to have a live structural view of the current unit, I have created a simple background process that compiles the current unit, grabs the resulting AST, locates the unit symbol, and then displays the information in a meaningful way. This is the exact same  as most other IDE’s do, be it Visual Studio, Embarcadero Delphi, or Lazarus.

So we have that in place already. I also want to make it more elaborate, where  you can click yourself to glory by examining ancestors, interfaces, partial class groups – as well as an option to include inherited members (which should be visually different). Either way, the AST code is done. Just need to consolidate a few tidbits so that each Treeview node retains information about source-code location (so that when you double-click a symbol, the IDE navigates to where the symbol exists in the codebase).

JavaScript parsing and compilation

QTX doesn’t include just one compiler, but three. In order for the unit structure to also work for JavaScript files I have modified Besen, which is an ES5 compatible JavaScript engine written in Delphi. And I use this much like DWScript to parse and work with the AST.

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Besen is a wonderful compiler. Where DWScript produces JavaScript from Object Pascal, Besen produces bytecodes from JavaScript (which are further JIT compiled). This opens up for some interesting options. I need to add support for ES6 though, modules and require are especially important for modern node.js programming (and yes, the QTX RTL supports these concepts)

HTML5 Rendering and CSS preview

Instead of using Chromium inside the IDE, which is pretty demanding, I have decided to go for HTMLComponents to deal with “normal” tasks. The “Welcome” tab-page for example — it would be complete overkill to use a full Chromium instance just for that, and TEdgeBrowser is likewise shooting sparrows with a Bazooka.

THTMLComponents have a blistering fast panel control that can render more or less any HTML5 document you throw at it (much better than the old TFrameViewer component). But obviously, it doesn’t have JS support. But we won’t be using JS when displaying static information – or indeed, editing HTML5 compliant content.

WYSIWYG Editor

The biggest benefit for HTMLComponents, is that it’s a fully operational HTML compliant editor. Which means you can do more or less all your manual design with that editor. In Quartex Pascal there is direct support for HTML files. Quartex works much like Visual Studio code, except it has visual designers. So you can create a HTML file and either type in the code manually, or switch to the HTMLComponents editor.

Which is what products like Help & Manual uses it for

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Image from HTMLComponents application gallery website

Support for HTML, CSS and JS files directly

While not new, this is  pretty awesome. Especially since we can do a bit of AST navigation here too to present similar information as we do for Object Pascal. The whole concept behind the QTX RTL, is that you have full control over everything. You can stick to a normal Delphi like form designer and absolute positioning, or you can opt for a more dynamic approach where you create content via code. This is perfect for modern websites that blend scrolling, effects and content (both dynamic and static content) for a better user experience.

You can even (spoiler alert), take a piece of HTML and convert it into visual controls at runtime. That is a very powerful function, because when doing large-scale, elaborate custom controls – you can just tell the RTL “hey, turn this piece of HTML into a visual control for me, and deliver it back when you are ready).

Proper Form Designer

Writing a proper form designer like Delphi has is no walk in the park. It has to deal not just with a selected control, but also child elements. It also has to be able to select multiple elements based on key-presses (shift + click adds another item to the selection),  or from the selection rectangle.

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A property form layout control. Real-time rendering of controls is also possible, courtesy of HTMLComponents. But to be honest, it just gets in the way. Its much easier to work with this type of designer. It’s fast, responsive, accurate and will have animated features that makes it a joy to work with. 

Well, that’s not going to be a problem. I spent a considerable amount of time writing a proper form designer, one that takes both fixed and dynamic content into account. So the Quartex form designer handles both absolute and stacked layout modes (stacked means top-down, what in HTML is knock as blocking element  display, where each section stretch to the full width, and only have a defined height [that you can change]).

Node.js Service Protocol Designer

Writing large-scale servers, especially clustered ones, is very fiddly in vanilla JavaScript under node.js. It takes 3 seconds to create a server object, but as we all know, without proper error handling, a concurrent message format, modern security and a solid framework to handle it all — that “3 second” thing falls to the ground quickly.

This is where the Ragnarok message system comes in. Which is both a message framework, and a set of custom servers adapted for dealing with that type of data. It presently supports WebSocket, TCP and UDP. But expanding that to include REST is very easy.

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This is where the full might of the QTX Framework begins to dawn. As i wrote before we started on the Quartex Media Desktop (Which this IDE and RTL is a part of), in the future developers wont just drag & drop components on a form; they will drag & drop entire ecosystems ..

But the power of the system is not just in how it works, and how you can create your own protocols, and then have separate back-end services deal with one part of your infrastructure’s workload. It is because you can visually design the protocols using the Node Builder. This is being moved into the QTX IDE as I type. So should make it for Build 12 next weekend.

In short, you design your protocols, messages and types – a bit like RemObjects SDK if you have used that. And the IDE generates both server and client code for you. All you have to do is fill in the content that acts on the messages. Everything else is handled by the server components.

Suddenly, you can spend a week writing a large-scale, platform agnostic service stack — that would have taken JavaScript developers months to complete. And instead of having to manage a 200.000 lines codebase in JavaScript — you can enjoy a 4000 line, easily maintainable Object Pascal codebase.

Build 11

Im hoping to have build 11 out tomorrow (Sunday) for my backers. Im still experimenting a bit with the symbol information panel, since I want it to be informative not just for classes, but also for methods and properties. Making it easy to access ancestor implementations etc.

I also need to work a bit more on the JS parsing. Under ES5 its typical to use variables to hold objects  (which is close to how we think of a class), so composite and complex datatypes must be expanded. I  also need to get symbol position to work property, because since Besen is a proper bytecode compiler, it doesn’t keep as much information in it’s AST as DWScript does.

Widgets (which is what visual controls are called under QTX) should appear in build 12 or 13. The IDE supports zip-packages. The file-source system I made for the TVector library (published via Embarcadero’s website a few months back) allows us to mount not just folders as a file-source, but also zip files. So QTX component packages will be ordinary zip-files containing the .pas files, asset files and a metadata descriptor file that tells the IDE what to expect. Simple,  easy and very effective.

Support the project!

Want to support the project? All financial backers that donates $100+ get their name in the product, access to the full IDE source-code on completion, and access to the Quartex Media Desktop system (which is a complete web desktop with a clustered back-end,  compiled to JavaScript and running on node.js. Portable, platform and chipset independent, and very powerful).

support

Your help matters! It pays for components, hours and above all, tools and motivation. In return, you get full access to everything and a perpetual license. No backers will ever pay a cent for any future version of Quartex Pascal. Note: PM me after donating so I can get you added to the admin group! Click here to visit paypal: https://www.paypal.com/paypalme/quartexNOR

All donations are welcome, both large and small. But donations over $100, especially reoccurring, is what drives this project forward. It also gets you access to the Quartex Developer group on Facebook where new builds, features etc is happening. It is the best way to immediately get the latest build, read documentation as its written and see the product come to life!

 

Quartex Pascal, convergence is near

July 16, 2020 1 comment

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A Quartex Cluster of 5 x ODroid XU4. A $400 super computer running Quartex media Desktop. Enough to power a school.

I only have the weekends to work on Quartex Pascal, but I have spent the past 18 months tinkering away, making up for wasted time. So I’m just going to leave some pictures here for you to enjoy.

Note: I was asked on LinkedIn if this has anything to do with Smart Mobile Studio, and the answer is a resounding no. I have nothing to do with Smart any more. QTX Pascal is a completely separate project that is written from scratch by yours truly.

The QTX Framework was initially a library I created back in 2014, but it has later been completely overhauled and turned into a full RTL. It is not compatible with Smart Pascal and has a completely different architecture.

QTX Pascal is indirectly funded by the Amiga Retro Community (which might sound strange, but the technical level of that community is beyond anything I have encountered elsewhere) since QTX is central to the creation of the Quartex Media Desktop. It is a shame that Embarcadero decided to not back the project. The compiler and toolchain would have been a part of Delphi by now, and I wouldn’t have to write a separate IDE. But when they see what this system can deliver in terms of services, database work, mobile and embedded -they might regret it. The project only accepts donation funding, I am not interested in investors or partners. If you want a vision turned into reality, you gotta do it yourself. Everything else just gets in the way.

For developers by developers

Quartex Pascal is made for the community. It will be free for students and open-source projects. And a commercial license will never exceed $300. It is a shareware license and the financial aspects is purely to help fund further research and development of the desktop cloud platform. The final goal (CloudForge) is to compile the IDE itself to JavaScript, so people only need a browser to write enterprise level applications via Quartex Media Desktop. When that is finished, my work is done – and people have a clear path to the future.

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Unlike other systems, QTX started with the non-visual stuff, so the system has a well implemented infrastructure for writing universal services and servers, using node.js as a deployment host. Services are also Docker friendly. Runs without change on Windows, Mac OS, Linux and a wealth of embedded systems and SBCs (single board computers)

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A completely new RTL written from scratch generates close to native speed JS, highly compatible (even with legacy browsers) and rock solid

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There are several display modes for QTX forms, from dynamic to absolute positioning. You can mix and match between HTML and QTX code, including a HTML5 compliant WYSIWYG editor and style manager. Makes content handling a lot easier

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Write object pascal, JavaScript, HTML, LDEF (webassembly), node.js services – or mix and match between them all for maximum potential. Writing mobile applications is now ridiculously easy compared to “other tools” out there.

Oh and for the proverbial frosting — The full clustered Quartex Media desktop and services is a project type. Thats right. A complete cloud infrastructure suitable for teams, kiosks, embedded, schools, intranets – and even an replacement OS for ChromeOS. You don’t need to interface with Amazon, you get your own Amazon (optional naturally).

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Filesystem over websocket, IPC between hosted apps and desktop, full back-end services that are clustered, and run on anything from a Raspberry PI 4 to low-cost ARM SBCs.

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Web Assembly made easy. Both for Delphi and QTX

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Let there be rock

Oh, and documentation. Loads and loads of documentation.

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Proper documentation, both class overview and explanations that a human being has written is paramount for learning and getting up to speed quickly.

I don’t have vacation this year, which means I only have weekends to tinker away. But i have spent the past 18-ish months preparing and slowly finishing the pieces I needed. From vector containers to form design controls, to a completely re-written RTL from scratch — so yeah. This time I’m doing it my way.

Nodebuilder, QTX and the release of my brand new social platform

January 2, 2020 9 comments

First, let me wish everyone a wonderful new year! With xmas and the silly season firmly behind us, and my batteries recharged – I feel my coding fingers itch to get started again.

2019 was a very busy year for me. Exhausting even. I have juggled both a full time job, kids and family, as well as our community project, Quartex Media Desktop. And since that project has grown considerably, I had to stop and work on the tooling. Which is what NodeBuilder is all about.

I have also released my own social media platform (see further down). This was initially scheduled for Q4 2020, but Facebook pissed me off something insanely, so I set it up in december instead.

NodeBuilder

node

For those of you that read my blog you probably remember the message system I made for the Quartex Desktop, called Ragnarok? This is a system for dealing with message dispatching and RPC, except that the handling is decoupled from the transport medium. In other words, it doesnt care how you deliver a message (WebSocket, UDP, REST), but rather takes care of serialization, binary data and security.

All the back-end services that make up the desktop system, are constructed around Ragnarok. So each service exposes a set of methods that the core can call, much like a normal RPC / SOAP service would. Each method is represented by a request and response object, which Ragnarok serialize to a JSON message envelope.

In our current model I use WebSocket, which is a full duplex, long-term connection (to avoid overhead of having to connect and perform a handshake for each call). But there is nothing in the way of implementing a REST transport layer (UDP is already supported, it’s used by the Zero-Config system. The services automatically find each other and register, as long as they are connected to the same router or switch). For the public service I think REST makes more sense, since it will better utilize the software clustering that node.js offers.

nodebuilder

Node Builder is a relatively simple service designer, but highly effective for our needs

 

Now for small services that expose just a handful of methods (like our chat service), writing the message classes manually is not really a problem. But the moment you start having 20 or 30 methods – and need to implement up to 60 message classes manually – this approach quickly becomes unmanageable and prone to errors. So I simply had to stop before xmas and work on our service designer. That way we can generate the boilerplate code in seconds rather than days and weeks.

While I dont have time to evolve this software beyond that of a simple service designer (well, I kinda did already), I have no problem seeing this system as a beginning of a wonderful, universal service authoring system. One that includes coding, libraries and the full scope of the QTX runtime-library.

In fact, most of the needed parts are in the codebase already, but not everything has been activated. I don’t have time to build both a native development system AND the development system for the desktop.

nodebuilder4

NodeBuilder already have a fully functional form designer and code editor, but it is dormant for now due to time restrictions. Quartex Media Desktop comes first

But right now, we have bigger fish to fry.

Quartex Media Desktop

We have made tremendous progress on our universal desktop environment, to the point where the baseline services are very close to completion. A month should be enough to finish this unless something unforeseen comes up.

desktop

Quartex Media Desktop provides an ecosystem for advanced web applications

You have to factor in that, this project has only had weekends and the odd after work hours allocated for it. So even though we have been developing this for 12 months, the actual amount of days is roughly half of that.

So all things considered I think we have done a massive amount of code in such a short time. Even simple 2d games usually take 2 years of daily development, and that includes a team of at least 5 people! Im a single developer working in my spare time.

So what exactly is left?

The last thing we did before xmas was upon us, was to throw out the last remnants of Smart Mobile Studio code. The back-end services are now completely implemented in our own QTX runtime-library, which has been written from scratch. There is not a line of code from Smart Mobile Studio in QTX, which means we no longer have to care what that system does or where it goes.

To sum up:

  • Push all file handling code out of the core
  • Implement file-handling as it’s own service

Those two steps might seem simple enough, but you have to remember that the older code was based on the Linux path system, and was read-only.

So when pushing that code out of the core, we also have to add all the functionality that was never implemented in our prototype.

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Each class actually represents a separate “mini” program, and there are still many more methods to go before we can put this service into production.

Since Javascript does not support threads, each method needs to be implemented as a separate program. So when a method is called, the file/task manager literally spawns a new process just for that task. And the result is swiftly returned back to the caller in async manner.

So what is ultimately simple, becomes more elaborate if you want to do it right. This is the price we pay for universality and a cluster enabled service-stack.

This is also why I have put the service development on pause until we have finished the NodeBuilder tooling. And I did this because I know by experience that the moment the baseline is ready, both myself and users of the system is going to go “oh we need this, and that and those”. Being able to quickly design and auto-generate all the boilerplate code will save us months of work. So I would rather spend a couple of weeks on NodeBuilder than wasting months having to manually write all that boilerplate code down the line.

What about the QTX runtime-library?

Writing an RTL from scratch was not something I could have anticipated before we started this project. But thankfully the worst part of this job is already finished.

The RTL is divided into two parts:

  • Non Visual code. Classes and methods that makes QTX an RTL
  • Visual code. Custom Controls + standard controls (buttons, lists etc)
  • Visual designer

As you can see, the non-visual aspect of the system is finished and working beautifully. It’s a lot faster than the code I wrote for Smart Mobile Studio (roughly twice as fast on average). I also implemented a full visual designer, both as a Delphi visual component and QTX visual component.

nodebuilder3

Quartex Media Desktop makes running on several machines [cluster] easy and seamless

So fundamental visual classes like TCustomControl is already there. What I haven’t had time to finish are the standard-controls, like TButton, TListBox, TEdit and those type of visual components. That will be added after the release of QTX, at which point we throw out the absolute last remnants of Smart Mobile Studio from the client (HTML5 part) software too.

Why is the QTX Runtime-Library important again?

When the desktop is out the door, the true work begins! The desktop has several roles to play, but the most important aspect of the desktop – is to provide an ecosystem capable of hosting web based applications. Offering features and methods traditionally only found in Windows, Linux or OS X. It truly is a complete cloud system that can scale from a single affordable SBC (single board computer), to a high-end cluster of powerful servers.

Clustering and writing distributed applications has always been difficult, but Quartex Media Desktop makes it simple. It is no more difficult for a user to work on a clustered system, as it is to work on a normal, single OS. The difficult part has already been taken care of, and as long as people follow the rules, there will be no issues beyond ordinary maintenance.

And the first commercial application to come out of Quartex Components, is Cloud Forge, which is the development system for the platform. It has the same role as Visual Studio for Windows, or X Code for Apple OS X.

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The Quartex Media Desktop Cluster cube. A $400 super computer

I have prepared 3 compilers for the system already. First there is C/C++ courtesy of Clang. So C developers will be able to jump in and get productive immediately. The second compiler is freepascal, or more precise pas2js, which allows you to compile ordinary freepascal code (which is highly Delphi compatible) to both JavaScript and WebAssembly.

And last but not least, there is my fork of DWScript, which is the same compiler that Smart Mobile Studio uses. Except that my fork is based on the absolute latest version, and i have modified it heavily to better match special features in QTX. So right out of the door CloudForge will have C/C++, two Object Pascal compilers, and vanilla Javascript and typescript. TypeScript also has its own WebAssembly compiler, so doing hard-core development directly in a browser or HTML5 viewport is where we are headed.

Once the IDE is finished I can finally, finally continue on the LDEF bytecode runtime, which will be used in my BlitzBasic port and ultimately replace both clang, freepascal and DWScript. As a bonus it will emit native code for a variety of systems, including x86, ARM, 68k [including 68080] and PPC.

This might sound incredibly ambitious, if not impossible. But what I’m ultimately doing here -is moving existing code that I already have into a new paradigm.

The beauty of object pascal is the sheer size and volume of available components and code. Some refactoring must be done due to the async nature of JS, but when needed we fall back on WebAssembly via Freepascal (WASM executes linear, just like ordinary native code does).

A brand new social platform

During december Facebook royally pissed me off. I cannot underline enough how much i loath A.I censorship, and the mistakes that A.I does – in which you are utterly powerless to complain or be heard by a human being. In my case i posted a gif from their own mobile application, of a female body builder that did push-ups while doing hand-stands. In other words, a completely harmless gif with strength as the punchline. The A.I was not able to distinguish between a leotard and bare-skin, and just like that i was muted for over a week. No human being would make such a ruling. As an admin of a fairly large set of groups, there are many cases where bans are the result. Disgruntled members that acts out of revenge and report technical posts about coding as porn or offensive. Again, you are helpless because there are nobody you can talk to about resolving the issue. And this time I had enough.

It was always planned that we would launch our own social media platform, an alternative to Facebook aimed at adult geeks rather than kids (Facebook operates with an age limit of 12 years). So instead of waiting I rushed out and set up a brand new social network. One where those banale restrictions Facebook has conditioned us with, does not apply.

Just to underline, this is not some simple and small web forum. This is more or less a carbon copy of Facebook the way it used to be 8-9 years ago. So instead of having a single group on facebook, we can now have as many groups as we like, on a platform that looks more or less identical to Facebook – but under our control and human rules.

AD1

Amigadisrupt.com is a brand new social media platform for geeks

You can visit the site right now at https://www.amigadisrupt.com. Obviously the major content on the platform right now is dominated by retro computing – but groups like Delphi Developer and FPC developer has already been setup and are in use. But if you are expecting thousands of active users, that will take time. We are now closing in on 250 active users which is pretty good for such a short period of time. I dont want a platform anywhere near as big as FB. The goal is to get 10k users and have a stable community of coders, retro geeks, builders and creative individuals.

AD (Amiga Disrupt) will be a standard application that comes with Quartex Media Desktop. This is the beauty of web technology, in that it can unify different resources under one roof. And we will have our cake and eat it come hell or high water.

Disclaimer: Amiga Disrupt has a lower age limit of 18 years. This is a platform meant for adults. Which means there will be profanity, jokes that would get you banned on Facebook and content that is not meant for kids. This is hacker-land, and political correctness is considered toilet paper. So if you need social toffery like FB and Twitter deals with, you will be kicked by one of the admins.

After you sign up your feed will be completely empty. Here is how to get it started. And feel free to add me to your friends-list!thumb

Quartex “Cloud Ripper” hardware

November 10, 2019 Leave a comment

For close to a year now I have been busy on a very exciting project, namely my own cloud system. While I have written about this project quite a bit these past months, mostly focusing on the software aspect, not much has been said about that hardware.

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Quartex “Cloud Ripper” running neatly on my home-office desk

So let’s have a look at Cloud Ripper, the official hardware setup for Quartex Media Desktop.

Tiny footprint, maximum power

Despite its complexity, the Quartex Media Desktop architecture is surprisingly lightweight. The services that makes up the baseline system (read: essential services) barely consume 40 megabytes of ram per instance (!). And while there is a lot of activity going on between these services -most of that activity is message-dispatching. Sending messages costs practically nothing in cpu and network terms. This will naturally change the moment you run your cloud as a public service, or setup the system in an office environment for a team. The more users, the more signals are shipped between the processes – but with the exception of reading and writing large files, messages are delivered practically instantaneous and hardly use CPU time.

CloudRipper

Quartex Media Desktop is based on a clustered micro-service architecture

One of the reasons I compile my code to JavaScript (Quartex Media Desktop is written from the ground up in Object Pascal, which is compiled to JavaScript) has to do with the speed and universality of node.js services. As you might know, Node.js is powered by the Google V8 runtime engine, which means the code is first converted to bytecodes, and further compiled into highly optimized machine-code [courtesy of llvm]. When coded right, such Javascript based services execute just as fast as those implemented in a native language. There simply are no perks to be gained from using a native language for this type of work. There are however plenty of perks from using Node.js as a service-host:

  • Node.js delivers the exact same behavior no matter what hardware or operating-system you are booting up from. In our case we use a minimal Linux setup with just enough infrastructure to run our services. But you can use any OS that supports Node.js. I actually have it installed on my Android based Smart-TV (!)
  • We can literally copy our services between different machines and operating systems without recompiling a line of code. So we don’t need to maintain several versions of the same software for different systems.
  • We can generate scripts “on the fly”, physically ship the code over the network, and execute it on any of the machines in our cluster. While possible to do with native code, it’s not very practical and would raise some major security concerns.
  • Node.js supports WebAssembly, you can use the Elements Compiler from RemObjects to write service modules that executes blazingly fast yet remain platform and chipset independent.

The Cloud-Ripper cube

The principal design goal when I started the project, was that it should be a distributed system. This means that instead of having one large-service that does everything (read: a typical “native” monolithic design), we instead operate with a microservice cluster design. Services that run on separate SBC’s (single board computers). The idea here is to spread the payload over multiple mico-computers that combined becomes more than the sum of their parts.

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Cloud Ripper – Based on the Pico 5H case and fitted with 5 x ODroid XU4 SBC’s

So instead of buying a single, dedicated x86 PC to host Quartex Media Desktop, you can instead buy cheap, off-the-shelves, easily available single-board computers and daisy chain them together. So instead of spending $800 (just to pin a number) on x86 hardware, you can pick up $400 worth of cheap ARM boards and get better network throughput and identical processing power (*). In fact, since Node.js is universal you can mix and match between x86, ARM, Mips and PPC as you see fit. Got an older PPC Mac-Mini collecting dust? Install Linux on it and get a few extra years out of these old gems.

(*) A single XU4 is hopelessly underpowered compared to an Intel i5 or i7 based PC. But in a cluster design there are more factors than just raw computational power. Each board has 8 CPU cores, bringing the total number of cores to 40. You also get 5 ARM Mali-T628 MP6 GPUs running at 533MHz. Only one of these will be used to render the HTML5 display, leaving 4 GPUs available for video processing, machine learning or compute tasks. Obviously these GPUs won’t hold a candle to even a mid-range graphics card, but the fact that we can use these chips for audio, video and computation tasks makes the system incredibly versatile.

Another design goal was to implement a UDP based Zero-Configuration mechanism. This means that the services will find and register with the core (read: master service) automatically, providing the machines are all connected to the same router or switch.

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Put together your own supercomputer for less than $500

The first “official” hardware setup is a cluster based on 5 cheap ARM boards; namely the ODroid XU4. The entire setup fits inside a Pico Cube, which is a special case designed to house this particular model of single board computers. Pico offers several different designs, ranging from 3 boards to a 20 board super-cluster. You are not limited ODroid XU4 boards if you prefer something else. I picked the XU4 boards because they represent the lowest possible specs you can run the Quartex Media Desktop on. While the services themselves require very little, the master board (the board that runs the QTXCore.js service) is also in charge of rendering the HTML5 display. And having tested a plethora of boards, the ODroid XU4 was the only model that could render the desktop properly (at that low a price range).

Note: If you are thinking about using a Raspberry PI 3B (or older) as the master SBC, you can pretty much forget it. The media desktop is a piece of very complex HTML5, and anything below an ODroid XU4 will only give you a terrible experience (!). You can use smaller boards as slaves, meaning that they can host one of the services, but the master should preferably be an ODroid XU4 or better. The ODroid N2 [with 4Gb Ram] is a much better candidate than a Raspberry PI v4. A Jetson Nano is an even better option due to its extremely powerful GPU.

Booting into the desktop

One of the things that confuse people when they read about the desktop project, is how it’s possible to boot into the desktop itself and use Quartex Media Desktop as a ChromeOS alternative?

How can a “cloud platform” be used as a desktop alternative? Don’t you need access to the internet at all times? If it’s a server based system, how then can we boot into it? Don’t we need a second PC with a browser to show the desktop?

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Accessing the desktop like a “web-page” from a normal Linux setup

To make a long story short: the “master” in our cluster architecture (read: the single-board computer defined as the boss) is setup to boot into a Chrome browser display under “kiosk mode”. When you start Chrome in kiosk mode, this removes all traces of the ordinary browser experience. There will be no toolbars, no URL field, no keyboard shortcuts, no right-click popup menus etc. It simply starts in full-screen and whatever HTML5 you load, has complete control over the display.

What I have done, is to to setup a minimal Linux boot sequence. It contains just enough Linux to run Chrome. So it has all the drivers etc. for the device, but instead of starting the ordinary Linux Desktop (X or Wayland) -we instead start Chrome in kiosk mode.

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Booting into the same desktop through Chrome in Kiosk Mode. In this mode, no Linux desktop is required. The Linux boot sequence is altered to jump straight into Chrome

Chrome is started to load from 127.0.0.1 (this is a special address that always means “this machine”), which is where our QTXCore.js service resides that has it’s own HTTP/S and Websocket servers. The client (HTML5 part) is loaded in under a second from the core — and the experience is more or less identical to starting your ChromeBook or NAS box. Most modern NAS (network active storage) devices are much more than a file-server today. NAS boxes like those from Asustor Inc have HDMI out, ships with a remote control, and are designed to act as a media center. So you connect the NAS directly to your TV, and can watch movies and listen to music without any manual conversion etc.

In short, you can setup Quartex Media Desktop to do the exact same thing as ChromeOS does, booting straight into the web based desktop environment. The same desktop environment that is available over the network. So you are not limited to visiting your Cloud-Ripper machine via a browser from another computer; nor are you limited to just  using a dedicated machine. You can setup the system as you see fit.

Why should I assemble a Cloud-Ripper?

Getting a Cloud-Ripper is not forced on anyone. You can put together whatever spare hardware you have (or just run it locally under Windows). Since the services are extremely lightweight, any x86 PC will do. If you invest in a ODroid N2 board ($80 range) then you can install all the services on that if you like. So if you have no interest in clustering or building your own supercomputer, then any PC, Laptop or IOT single-board computer(s) will do. Provided it yields more or equal power as the XU4 (!)

What you will experience with a dedicated cluster, regardless of putting the boards in a nice cube, is that you get excellent performance for very little money. It is quite amazing what $200 can buy you in 2019. And when you daisy chain 5 ODroid XU4 boards together on a switch, those 5 cheap boards will deliver the same serving power as an x86 setup costing twice as much.

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The NVidia Jetson Nano SBC, one of the fastest boards available at under $100

Pico is offering 3 different packages. The most expensive option is the pre-assembled cube. This is for some reason priced at $750 which is completely absurd. If you can operate a screwdriver, then you can assemble the cube yourself in less than an hour. So the starter-kit case which costs $259 is more than enough.

Next, you can buy the XU4 boards directly from Hardkernel for $40 a piece, which will set you back $200. If you order the Pico 5H case as a kit, that brings the sub-total up to $459. But that price-tag includes everything you need except sd-cards. So the kit contains power-supply, the electrical wiring, a fast gigabit ethernet switch [built-into the cube], active cooling, network cables and power cables. You don’t need more than 8Gb sd-cards, which costs practically nothing these days.

Note: The Quartex Media Desktop “file-service” should have a dedicated disk. I bought a 256Gb SSD disk with a USB 3.0 interface, but you can just use a vanilla USB stick to store user-account data + user files.

As a bonus, such a setup is easy to recycle should you want to do something else later. Perhaps you want to learn more about Kubernetes? What about a docker-swarm? A freepascal build-server perhaps? Why not install FreeNas, Plex, and a good backup solution? You can set this up as you can afford. If 5 x ODroid XU4 is too much, then get 3 of them instead + the Pico 3H case.

So should Quartex Media Desktop not be for you, or you want to do something else entirely — then having 5 ODroid XU4 boards around the house is not a bad thing.

Oh and if you want some serious firepower, then order the Pico 5H kit for the NVidia Jetson Nano boards. Graphically those boards are beyond any other SoC on the market (in it’s price range). But as a consequence the Jetson Nano starts at $99. So for a full kit you will end up with $500 for the boards alone. But man those are the proverbial Ferrari of IOT.

ARM Linux Services with Oxygene and Elements

October 14, 2019 Leave a comment

Linux is one of those systems that just appeals to me out of the box. I work with Windows on a daily basis, but at this point there is really nothing in the way of me jumping ship all together. I mean, whenever i need something that is Windows specific, I can just fire up a virtual-machine and get the job done there.

The only thing that is stopping me from going “all in” with Linux (and believe me I have tried) is that finding proper documentation for Linux written with Windows converts in mind, is actually a challenge in itself. Most tutorials are either meant for non-developers, like how to install a program via Synaptic and so on; which is brilliant if you have no experience with Linux whatsoever. But finding articles that aims to help a Windows developer get up to speed on Linux, that’s the tricky bit.

Screenshot at 2019-10-13 15-51-18

Top-Left bash window shows the output of my Elements compiled micro-service

One of the features I wanted to learn about, was how to run a program as a service on Linux. Under Windows this is quite easy. You have the service manager that gives you a good overview of registered services. And programatically a service is ultimately just a normal WinAPI program that supports the service-api messages. Writing services in either Object-Pascal or C# is pretty straight-forward. I also do a lot of service work via Quartex Pascal (my own toolchain) that compiles to JavaScript. Node.js is actually a very capable service host once you understand the infrastructure.

Writing Daemons with Oxygene and Elements

Since the Elements compiler generates code for ARM Linux, learning how to get a service registered and started on boot is something that I think many developers will be interested in. It was one of the first questions I had when I started looking at Linux, and it took a while to find a clean cut answer.

In this little article I will show you how I went about this, but please keep in mind that Linux never has “one way” of doing something. Part of the strength that Linux delivers, is that you can configure and customize the system completely, from Kernel to desktop. You literally have different service sub-systems to pick from, as well as different windowing-managers, desktop systems (e.g Wayland or X) and even keyring implementations. This is what makes Linux so confusing when coming from a mono culture like Microsoft Windows.

control-linux-startup-670x335As for hardware, i’m using an ODroid N2, which is a very powerful ARM based SBC (single board computer). You can use more or less any ARM device with Elements, providing the Linux distribution is based on Debian. So a Raspberry PI v4 with Ubuntu or Lubuntu will work fine. I’m using the ODroid N2 “full disk image” with Ubuntu Mate. So nothing out of the ordinary.

To make something clear off the bat: a Linux service (called a daemon, the ancient greek word for “helper” and “informer”) is just an ordinary shell application. You don’t have to do anything in particular in terms of code. Once your service is registered, you can start and stop it with the systemctl shell command like any other Linux service.

Note: There is also fork() mechanisms (cloning processes), but that’s out of scope for this little post.

Service manifest

Before we can get your binary registered as a service, we need to write a service manifest file. This is just a normal text-file in INI format that defines how you want your service to run. Here is an example of such a file:

[Unit]
Description=Elements Service
After=network.target
StartLimitIntervalSec=0

[Service]
Type=simple
Restart=always
RestartSec=1
User=qtx
ExecStart=/usr/bin /usr/bin/ElementsService.exe

[Install]
WantedBy=multi-user.target

Before you save this file, remember to replace the username (user=) and the name of your executable.

Note: The ExecStart property can be defined in 3 ways:

  • Direct path to the executable
  • Current working directory + path to executable (like above)
  • Current working directory + path to executable + parameters

You can read more about each property here: System.d service info

Systemd

For debian based distributions (Ubuntu branches) the most common service-host (or process manager) is called systemd. I am not even going to pretend to know the differences between systemd and the older Init. There are fierce debates in the Linux community around these two alternatives. But unless you are a Linux C developer that likes to roll your own Kernel in the weekends, it’s not really relevant for our goals in this post. Our task here is to write useful services and make them run side-by-side with other services.

With the service-manifest file done, we need to copy the service manifest in place where systemd can find it. So start by saving the manifest file as “elements.service” here:

/etc/systemd/system/elements.service

As you probably guessed from the ExecPath property, your service executable goes in:

/usr/bin/ElementsService.exe

If all went well you can now start your service from the command-line:

systemctl start elements

And you can stop the service with:

systemctl stop elements

Resident services

Starting and stopping a service is all good and well, but that doesn’t mean it will automatically start when you reboot your Linux box. In order to make the service resident (persisted, so Linux remembers to fire it up on boot), you have to enable the service:

systemctl enable elements

If you want to stop the service from starting on boot, just disable it:

systemctl disable elements

Now there is a ton of things you can tweak and change in the service-manifest file. For example, do you want Linux to restart your service if it crashes? How many times should Linux attempt to bring the service back up? Should it only bring it back up if the exit-code is zero?

If you want Linux to always restart a service if it stops (regardless of reason), you set the following flag in the service-manifest:

Restart=always

If you want Linux to only restart if the service fails, meaning that the exit-code of the application is <> 0, then you use this value instead:

Restart=on-failure

You can also set the service to only start after some other service, for example if your service has networking as a criteria (which is what we set in the service-manifest above), or a database engine.

There is a ton of different settings you can apply to the service-manifest, but listing them all here would be a small book. Better to just check the documentation and experiment a bit. So check the link and pick the ones that makes sense to your particular service.

Reflections

You should be very careful with how you define restart options. If something goes wrong and your service crash on start, Linux will keep restarting it en-mass. Automatic restart creates a loop, and it can be wise to make sure it doesn’t get stuck. I would set restart to “on-error” exclusively, so that your service has a chance to exit gracefully.

Happy coding! And a special thanks to Benjamin Morel for his helpful posts.

 

 

Calling node.js from Delphi

July 6, 2019 1 comment

We got a good question about how to start a node.js program from Delphi on our Facebook group today (third one in a week?). When you have been coding for years you often forget that things like this might not be immediately obvious. Hopefully I can shed some light on the options in this post.

Node or chrome?

nodeJust to be clear: node.js has nothing to do with chrome or chromium embedded. Chrome is a web-browser, a completely visual environment and ecosystem.

Node.js is the complete opposite. It is purely a shell based environment, meaning that it’s designed to run services and servers, with emphasis on the latter.

The only thing node.js and chrome have in common, is that they both use the V8 JavaScript runtime engine to load, JIT compile and execute scripts at high speed. Beyond that, they are utterly alien to each other.

Can node.js be embedded into a Delphi program?

Technically there is nothing stopping a C/C++ developer from compiling the node.js core system as C++ builder compatible .obj files; files that can then be linked into a Delphi application through references. But this also requires a bit of scaffolding, like adding support for malloc_, free_ and a few other procedures – so that your .obj files uses the same memory manager as your Delphi code. But until someone does just that and publish it, im afraid you are stuck with two options:

  • Use a library called Toby, that keeps node.js in a single DLL file. This is the most practical way if you insist on hosting your own version of node.js
  • Add node.js as a prerequisite and give users the option to locate the node.exe in your application’s preferences. This is the way I would go, because you really don’t want to force users to stick with your potentially outdated or buggy build.

So yes, you can use toby and just add the toby dll file to your program folder, but I have to strongly advice against that. There is no point setting yourself up for maintaining a whole separate programming language, just because you want JavaScript support.

“How many in your company can write high quality WebAssembly modules?”

If all you want to do is support JavaScript in your application, then I would much rather install Besen into Delphi. Besen is a JavaScript runtime engine written in Freepascal. It is fully compatible with Delphi, and follows the ECMA standard to the letter. So it is extremely compatible, fast and easy to use.

Like all Delphi components Besen is compiled into your application, so you have no dependencies to worry about.

Starting a node.js script

The easiest way to start a node.js script, is to simply shell-execute out of your Delphi application. This can be done as easily as:

ShellExecute(Handle, 'open', PChar('node.exe'), pchar('script.js'), nil, SW_SHOW);

This is more than enough if you just want to start a service, server or do some work that doesn’t require that you capture the result.

If you need to capture the result, the data that your node.js program emits on stdout, there is a nice component in the Jedi Component Library. Also plenty of examples online on how to do that.

If you need even further communication, you need to look for a shell-execute that support pipes. All node.js programs have something called a message-channel in the Javascript world. In reality though, this is just a named pipe that is automatically created when your script starts (with the same moniker as the PID [process identifier]).

If you opt for the latter you have a direct, full duplex message channel directly into your node.js application. You just have to agree with yourself on a protocol so that your Delphi code understands what node.js is saying, and visa versa.

UDP or TCP

If you don’t want to get your hands dirty with named pipes and rolling your own protocol, you can just use UDP to let your Delphi application communicate with your node.js process. UDP is practically without cost since its fundamental to all networking stacks, and in your case you will be shipping messages purely between processes on localhost. Meaning: packets are never sent on the network, but rather delegated between processes on the same machine.

In that case, I suggest you ship in the port you want your UDP server to listen on, so that your node.js service acts as the server. A simple command-line statement like:

node.exe myservice.js 8090

Inside node.js you can setup an UDP server with very little fuzz:


function setupServer(port) {
  var os = require("os");
  var dgram = require("dgram");
  var socket = dgram.createSocket("udp4");

  var MULTICAST_HOST = "224.0.0.236";
  var BROADCAST_HOST = "255.255.255.255";
  var ALL_PORT = 60540;
  var MULTICAST_TTL = 1; // Local network

  socket.bind(port);
  socket.on('listening', function() {
    socket.setMulticastLoopback(true);
    socket.setMulticastTTL(MULTICAST_TTL);
    socket.addMembership(multicastHost);
    if(broadcast) { socket.setBroadcast(true); }
  });
  socket.on('message', parseMessage);
}

function parseMessage(message, rinfo) {
try {
  var messageObject = JSON.parse(message);
  var eventType = messageObject.eventType;
  } catch(e) {
  }
}

Note: the code above assumes a JSON text message.

You can then use any Delphi UDP client to communicate with your node.js server, Indy is good, Synapse is a good library with less overhead – there are many options here.

Do I have to learn Javascript to use node.js?

If you download DWScript you can hook-up the JS-codegen library (see library folder in the DWScript repository), and use that to compile DWScript (object pascal) to kick-ass Javascript. This is the same compiler that was used in Smart Mobile Studio.

“Adding WebAssembly to your resume is going to be a hell of a lot more valuable in the years to come than C# or Java”

Another alternative is to use Freepascal, they have a pas2js project where you can compile ordinary object-pascal to javascript. Naturally there are a few things to keep in mind, both for DWScript and Freepascal – like avoiding pointers. But clean object pascal compiles just fine.

If JavaScript is not your cup of tea, or you simply don’t have time to learn the delicate nuances between the DOM (document object model, used by browsers) and the 100% package oriented approach deployed by node.js — then you can just straight up to webassembly.

RemObjects Software has a kick-ass webassembly compiler, perfect if you dont have the energy or time to learn JavaScript. As of writing this is the fastest and most powerful toolchain available. And I have tested them all.

WebAssembly, no Javascript needed

RO-Single-Gear-512You might remember Oxygene? It used to be shipped with Delphi as a way to target Microsoft CLR (common language runtime) and the .net framework.

Since then Oxygene and the RemObjects toolchain has evolved dramatically and is now capable of a lot more than CLR support.

  • You can compile to raw, llvm optimized machine code for 8 platforms
  • You can compile to CLR/.Net
  • You can compile to Java bytecodes
  • You can compile to WebAssembly!

WebAssembly is not Javascript, it’s important to underline that. WebAssembly was created especially for developers using traditional languages, so that traditional compilers can emit web friendly, binary code. Unlike Javascript, WebAssembly is a purely binary format. Just like Delphi generates machine-code that is linked into a final executable, WebAssembly is likewise compiled, linked and emitted in binary form.

If that sounds like a sales pitch, it’s not. It’s a matter of practicality.

  • WebAssembly is completely barren out of the box. The runtime environment, be it V8 for the browser or V8 for node.js, gives you nothing out of the box. You don’t even have WriteLn() to emit text.
  • Google expects compiler makers to provide their own RTL functions, from the fundamental to the advanced. The only thing V8 gives you, is a barebone way of referencing objects and functions on the other side, meaning the JS and DOM world. And that’s it.

So the reason i’m talking a lot about Oxygene and RemObjects Elements (Elements is the name of the compiler toolchain RemObjects offers), is because it ships with an RTL. So you are not forced to start on actual, literal assembly level.

studio

If you don’t want to study JavaScript, Oxygene and Elements from RemObjects is the solution

RemObjects also delivers a DelphiVCL compatibility framework. This is a clone of the Delphi VCL / Freepascal LCL. Since WebAssembly is still brand new, work is being done on this framework on a daily basis, with updates being issued all the time.

Note: The Delphi VCL framework is not just for WebAssembly. It represents a unified framework that can work anywhere. So if you switch from WebAssembly to say Android, you get the same result.

The most important part of the above, is actually not the visual stuff. I mean, having HTML5 visual controls is cool – but chances are you want to use a library like Sencha, SwiftUI or jQueryUI to compose your forms right? Which means you just want to interface with the widgets in the DOM to set and get values.

jQuery UI Bootstrap

You probably want to use a fancy UI library, like jQuery UI. This works perfectly with Elements because you can reference the controls from your WebAssembly module. You dont have to create TButton, TListbox etc manually

The more interesting stuff is actually the non-visual code you get access to. Hundreds of familiar classes from the VCL, painstakingly re-created, and usable from any of the 5 languages Elements supports.

You can check it out here: https://github.com/remobjects/DelphiRTL

Skipping JavaScript all together

I dont believe in single languages. Not any more. There was a time when all you needed was Delphi and a diploma and you were set to conquer the world. But those days are long gone, and a programmer needs to be flexible and have a well stocked toolbox.

At least try the alternatives before you settle on a phone

Knowing where you want to be is half the journey

The world really don’t need yet-another-c# developer. There are millions of C# developers in India alone. C# is just “so what?”. Which is also why C# jobs pays less than Delphi or node.js system service jobs.

What you want, is to learn the things others avoid. If JavaScript looks alien and you feel uneasy about the whole thing – that means you are growing as a developer. All new things are learned by venturing outside your comfort zone.

How many in your company can write high quality WebAssembly modules?

How many within one hour driving distance from your office or home are experts at WebAssembly? How many are capable of writing industrial scale, production ready system services for node.js that can scale from a single instance to 1000 instances in a large, clustered cloud environment?

Any idiot can pick up node.js and knock out a service, but with your background from Delphi or C++ builder you have a massive advantage. All those places that can throw an exception that JS devs usually ignore? As a Delphi or Oxygene developer you know better. And when you re-apply that experience under a different language, suddenly you can do stuff others cant. Which makes your skills valuable.

qtx

The Quartex Media Desktop have made even experienced node / web developers gasp. They are not used to writing custom-controls and large-scale systems, which is my advantage

So would you learn JavaScript or just skip to WebAssembly? Honestly? Learn a bit of both. You don’t have to be an expert in JavaScript to compliment WebAssembly. Just get a cheap book, like “Node.js for beginners” and “JavaScript the good parts” ($20 a piece) and that should be more than enough to cover the JS side of things.

Adding WebAssembly to your resume and having the material to prove you know your stuff, is going to be a hell of a lot more valuable in the years to come than C#, Java or Python. THAT I can guarantee you.

And, we have a wicked cool group on Facebook you can join too: Click here to visit RemObjects Developer.

 

Getting into Node.js from Delphi

July 1, 2019 1 comment

Delphi is one of the best development toolchains for Windows. I have been an avid fan of Delphi since it was first released, and before that – Turbo Pascal too. Delphi has a healthy following – and despite popular belief, Delphi scores quite well on the Tiobe Index.

As cool and efficient as Delphi might be, there are situations where native code wont work. Or at the very least, be less efficient than the alternatives. Delphi has a broad wingspan, from low-level assembler all the way to classes and generics. But JavaScript and emerging web technology is based on a completely different philosophy, one where native code is regarded as negative since it binds you to hardware.

Getting to grips with the whole JavaScript phenomenon, be it for mobile, embedded or back-end services, can be daunting if all you know is native code. But thankfully there are alternatives that can help you become productive quickly, something I will brush over in this post.

JavaScript without JavaScript

Before we dig into the tools of the trade, I want to cover alternative ways of enjoying the power of node.js and Javascript. Namely by using compilers that can convert code from a traditional language – and emit fully working JavaScript. There are a lot more options than you think:

qtx

Quartex Media Desktop is a complete environment written purely in JavaScript. Both Server, Cluster and front-end is pure JavaScript. A good example of what can be done.

  • Swift compiles for JavaScript, and Apple is doing some amazing things with the new and sexy SwiftUI tookit. If you know your way around Swift, you can compile for Javascript
  • Go can likewise be compiled to JS:
    • RemObjects Elements supports the Go language. Elements can target both native (llvm), .Net, Java and WebAssembly.
    • Go2Js
    • GopherJs
    • TARDISgo
  • C/C++ can be compiled to asm.js courtesy of EmScripten. It uses clang to first compile your code to llvm bitcode, and then it converts that into asm.js. You have probably seen games like Quake run in the browser? That was asm.js, a kind of precursor to WebAssembly.
  • NS Basic compiles for JavaScript, this is a Visual Basic 6 style environment with its own IDE even

For those coming straight from Delphi, there are a couple of options to pick from:

  • Freepascal (pas2js project)
  • DWScript compiles code to JavaScript, this is the same compiler that we used in Smart Pascal earlier
  • Oxygene, the next generation object-pascal from RemObjects compiles to WebAssembly. This is by far the best option of them all.

studio

I strongly urge you to have a look at Elements, here running in Visual Studio

JavaScript, Asm.js or WebAssembly?

Asm.js is by far the most misunderstood technology in the JavaScript ecosystem, so let me just cover that before we move on:

A few years back JavaScript gained support for memory buffers and typed arrays. This might not sound very exciting, but in terms of speed – the difference is tremendous. The default variable type in JavaScript is what Delphi developers know as Variant. It assumes the datatype of the values you assign to it. Needless to say, there is a lot of overhead when working with variants – so JavaScript suddenly getting proper typed arrays was a huge deal.

It was then discovered that JavaScript could manipulate these arrays and buffers at high speed, providing it only used a subset of the language. A subset that the JavaScript runtime could JIT compile more easily (turn into machine-code).

So what the EmScripten team did was to implement a bytecode based virtual-machine in Javascript, and then they compile C/C++ to bytecodes. I know, it’s a huge project, but the results speak for themselves — before WebAssembly, this was as fast as it got with JavaScript.

WebAssembly

WebAssembly is different from both vanilla JavaScript and Asm.js. First of all, it’s executed at high speed by the browser itself. Not like asm.js where these bytecodes were executed by JavaScript code.

water

Water is a fast, slick and platform independent IDE for Elements. The same IDE for OS X is called Fire. You can use RemObjects Elements from either Visual Studio or Water

Secondly, WebAssembly is completely JIT compiled by the browser or node.js when loading. It’s not like Asm.js where some parts are compiled, others are interpreted. WebAssembly runs at full speed and have nothing to do with traditional JavaScript. It’s actually a completely separate engine.

Out of all the options on the table, WebAssembly is the technology with the best performance.

Kits and strategies

The first thing you need to be clear about, is what you want to work with. The needs and requirements of a game developer will be very different from a system service developer.

Here are a couple of kits to think about:

  • Mobile developer
    • Implement your mobile applications using Oxygene, compiling for WebAssembly (Elements)
    • RemObjects Remoting SDK for client / server communication
    • Use Freepascal for vanilla JavaScript scaffolding when needed
  • Service developer
    • Implement libraries in Oxygene to benefit from the speed of WebAssembly
    • Use RemObjects Data Abstract to make data-access uniform and fast
    • Use Freepascal for boilerplate node.js logic
  • Desktop developer
    • For platform independent desktop applications, WebAssembly is the way to go. You will need some scaffolding (plain Javascript) to communicate with the application host  – but the 99.9% of your code will be better under WebAssembly.
    • Use Cordova / Phonegap to “bundle” your WebAssembly, HTML5 files and CSS styling into a single, final executable.

The most important part to think about when getting into JavaScript, is to look closely at the benefits and limitation of each technology.

WebAssembly is fast, wicked fast, and let’s you write code like you are used to from Delphi. Things like pointers etc are supported in Elements, which means ordinary code that use pointers will port over with ease. You are also not bound on hand-and-feet to a particular framework.

For example, EmScripten for C/C++ have almost nothing in terms of UI functionality. The visual part is a custom build of SDL (simple directmedia layer), which fakes the graphics onto an ordinary HTML5 canvas. This makes EmScripten a good candidate for porting games written in C/C++ to the web — but it’s less than optimal for writing serious applications.

Setting up the common tools

So far we have looked at a couple of alternatives for getting into the wonderful world of JavaScript in lieu of other languages. But what if you just want to get started with the typical tools JS developers use?

vscode

Visual Studio Code is a pretty amazing code-editor

The first “must have” is Visual Studio Code. This is actually a great example of what you can achieve with JavaScript, because the entire editor and program is written in JavaScript. But I want to stress that this editor is THE editor to get. The way you work with files in JS is very different from Delphi, C# and Java. JavaScript projects are often more fragmented, with less code in each file – organized by name.

typescript

TypeScript was invented by Anders Hejlsberg, who also made Delphi and C#

The next “must have” is without a doubt TypeScript. Personally im not too fond of TypeScript, but if ordinary JavaScript makes your head hurt and you want classes and ordinary inheritance, then TypeScript is a step up.

assemblyscriptNext on the list is AssemblyScript. This is a post-processor for TypeScript that converts your code into WebAssembly. It lacks much of the charm and elegance of Oxygene, but I suspect that has to do with old habits. When you have been reading object-pascal for 20 years, you feel more at home there.

nodeYou will also need to install node.js, which is the runtime engine for running JavaScript as services. Node.js is heavily optimized for writing server software, but it’s actually a brilliant way to write services that are multi-platform. Because Node.js delivers the same behavior regardless of underlying operating system.

phonegapAnd finally, since you definitely want to convert your JavaScript and/or WebAssembly into a stand-alone executable: you will need Adobe Phonegap.

Visual Studio

No matter if you want to enter JavaScript via Elements or something else, Visual Studio will save you a lot of time, especially if you plan on targeting Azure or Amazon services. Downloading and installing the community edition is a good idea, and you can use that while exploring your options.

dotnet-visual-studio

When it comes to writing system services, you also want to check out NPM, the node.js package manager. The JavaScript ecosystem is heavily package oriented – and npm gives you some 800.000 packages to play with free of charge.

Just to be clear, npm is a shell command you use to install or remove packages. NPM is also a online repository of said packages, where you can search and find what you need. Most packages are hosted on github, but when you install a package locally into your application folder – npm figures out dependencies etc. automatically for you.

Books, glorious books

41QSvp9fTcL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_Last but not least, get some good books. Seriously, it will save you so much time and frustration. Amazon have tons of great books, be it vanilla JavaScript, TypeScript, Node.js — pick some good ones and take the time to consume the material.

And again, I strongly urge you to have a look at Elements when it comes to WebAssembly. WebAssembly is a harsh and barren canvas, and being able to use the Elements RTL is a huge boost.

But regardless of path you pick, you will always benefit from learning vanilla JavaScript.

 

New job, new office, new adventures

May 12, 2019 5 comments

It’s been roughly 4 weeks since I posted a status report on Amibian.js. I normally keep people up-to-date on facebook (the “Amiga Disrupt” and also “Delphi Developer” groups). It’s been a very hectic month so I fully understand that people are asking. So let’s look at where the project is at and where we are on the time-line.

For those that might not know, I decided to leave Embarcadero a couple of months ago. I will be working out may before I move on. I wanted to write about that myself in a clean fashion, but sadly the news broke on Facebook prematurely.

Long story short, I have been very fortunate to work at Embarcadero. I am not leaving because there is anything wrong or something like that. I was hired as SC for the EMEA regions, which basically made me the support and presenter for most of europe, parts of asia and the middle east. It’s been a great adventure, but ultimately I had to admit that my passion is coding and community work. Sales is a very important part of any company, but it’s not really my cup of tea; my passion has always been research and development.

So, come first of June and I start in a new position at RemObjects. A company that has deep roots with Delphi and C++ builder users – and a company that continues to produce a wealth of high-quality, high-performance frameworks for Delphi and C++ builder. RemObjects also has a strong focus on modern languages, and have a strong portfolio of new and exciting compilers and languages to offer. The Oxygene compiler should be no stranger to Delphi developers, a powerful object-pascal dialect that can target a variety of platforms and chipsets.

Since compiler technology and run-time systems has been my main focus for well over a decade now, I feel RemObjects is a better match.

Quartex Components

Quartex Components has been an officially registered Norwegian company for a while now, so perhaps not news. What is news is that it’s now directly connected with the development of the Quartex Media Desktop (codename “Amibian.js”). While Amibian.js is an open source endeavour, there will be both free and commercial products running on top of that platform. I have written at length about Cloud Forge in the past, so I wont re-hash that again. But 2020 will see a paradigm shift in how teams and companies approach software development.

quartex

Company logo professionally milled and on its way to my new office

I will also, once there is more time, continue to sell and support software license components.

Quartex Media Desktop

The “Amibian.js” project is moving along nicely. The deadline is Q4 2019, but im hoping to wrap up the core functionality before that. So we are on track and kicking ass 🙂

amibian_01

More and more elaborate functionality is being implemented for the desktop

Here is an overview of work done this month:

  • TSystemService application type has been created (node.js)
    • TApplication now holds IPC functions (inter process communication)
    • Running child processes + sending messages is now simplicity itself
    • Database drivers are 90% done. Delete() and DeleteTable() functionality needs to be implemented in a uniform way
  • Authentication is now a separate service
    • Service database layer is finished (using SQLite3 driver by default)
    • Authentication protocol has been designed
    • Server protocol and JSON message envelopes are done
    • Presently working on the client interface
  • LDEF bytecode assembler has been improved
    • Faster symbolic lookup
    • Smarter register recognition
    • Early support for stack-frames
    • Fixed bug in parser (comma-list parse)
  • QTX framework has seen a lot of work
    • Large parts of the RTL sub-strata has been implemented
    • UTF16 codec implemented
    • QTX versions of common controls:
      • TQTXButton
      • TQTXLabel
      • TQTXToolbar
        • TQTXToolButton
        • TQTXToolSeparator
        • TQTXToolElement
      • TQTXPanel
      • TQTXCheckBox
      • .. and much, much more
  • Desktop changes
    • Link Maker functionality has been added
    • Handshake process between desktop and child app now runs on a separate timer, ensuring better conformity and a more robust initialization
    • The Quartex Editor control has been optimized
      • All redraw calls are now synchronized
      • Canvas is created on demand, avoids flicker during initial redraw
      • Support for DEL key + behavior
      • Gutter is now rendered to an offscreen bitmap and blitted into the control’s canvas. The gutter is only fully rendered when cursor forces the view to change

I will continue to keep everyone up to date about the project. As you can understand, its a bit hectic right now so please be patient – it is turning into an EPIC environment!

Quartex: Mali GPU glitches

February 20, 2019 Leave a comment

EDIT: I did further testing after this article was written, and believe the source of this to be about heat. Even with extra fans, running games like Tyrian (asm.js) that are extremely demanding, plus resizing a graphics intensive windows constantly, the temperature reached 71 degrees C very quickly. And this was with two cabinet fans helping the built-in fan to cool the device. It is thus not unthinkable that when running solo (no extra fans) that the kernel shut the device down to not cook the chipset. Which also explains why the device wont boot properly afterwards (the device is still hot).

Glitches

Something really strange is happening on Chrome and Firefox for ARM. JavaScript is not supposed to be able to take down a system, and in this case it’s neither an attempt as such either — yet for some reason I have managed to take down the ODroid XU4 with both Chrome and Firefox lately.

ODroid XU4

I guess I should lead with that I’m not able to replicate this on x86. One of the things I really love about the ODroid XU4 is that it’s affordable, powerful and probably the only SBC I have used that runs stable on the mali GPU. As you probably know I tested at least 10 different SBC’s back in 2018, and whenever there was a mali GPU involved, the product was either haunted by instabilities or lacked drivers all together.

amibian

Since the codebase for Chrome (and I presume Firefox) is ultimately the same between platforms, it leaves a question-mark about the ODroid. It is by far the most stable SBC I have tested so far (except for the PI, which is sadly underpowered for this task), but stable doesn’t mean flawless. And to be honest, Amibian.js is pushing web tech to the very limits.

Not Mali again

The reason I suspect the mali to be the culprit behind all this, is because the “bug” if we can call it that, happens exclusively during resize. So if there is a lot going on inside a desktop-window, you can sometimes provoke the ODroid to cold-crash and reboot. You actually have to power the board down and switch it back on for it to boot properly.

50431451_10155954273110906_8776790185049325568_n

Cloudripper ~ 5x ODroid XU4 [40 cores] in a PICO 5h cube

The resize and moving of windows uses CSS transformation, which in modern browsers makes use of the GPU. Chrome talks directly with OpenGL (or glES), so the operations are proxied through that. And again, since OpenGL is pretty rock solid elsewhere, we are only left with one common denominator: the mali GPU.

The challenge is that there is no way to debug or catch this error, because when it occurs the whole system literally goes down. There is no exception thrown, nor is the browser process terminated (not even a log entry, so it’s a clean-cut) — the system reboots on the spot. Since it fails on reboot when opening X (setting a screen-mode) I again point the finger at the GPU. Somehow a flag or lock survives the cold-reboot and that’s why you have to manually switch it off and on again.

This is the exact problem that made the NanoPI Fire useless. It only shipped with Android embedded drivers. The X drivers could hardly open a display without crashing. Such a waste of a good cpu.

x86 as head

ODroid is perfect for a low-cost Amibian.js experience, but I was unsure if it would handle the payload. Interestingly it handles it just fine and even with a high-speed action game running + background tasks we are not using 50% of the CPU even.

Ram is holding up too, with memory consumption while running Tyrian + having a few graphics viewers open, is at a reasonable 700 mb (of 2 gigabyte in total).

51398321_10155998598505906_8984850199142727680_o

Tyrian jogs along at 45 fps ~ that is not bad for a $45 SBC

Right now this strange error is rare, but if it continues or grows into a problem (chrome is hardly useable at all, only firefox) then I have no option than to replace the master sbc in the cluster with something else. The x86 UP board is more than capable, but it would be a shame to break the price range because of that (excuse my language) crap mali GPU. I honestly don’t understand why board makers insist on using a mali. Every board that has a mali is haunted by problems and get poor reviews.

It will be exciting to check out the dragonboard, although I fear 1Gb memory will not be enough for smooth operation. Not without a sata interface and a good swap-file.

Android and Delphi

One alternative is to switch to Android and use Delphi to code a custom Chromium Embedded webview. I am hoping to avoid the overhead of Android, but Delphi would definitively be a bonus with Android embedded (“Android of things”).

We will see.

Leaving Patreon: Developers be warned

February 17, 2019 4 comments

As a person I’m quite optimistic. I like to think the glass is half-full rather than half-empty. I have spent over a decade building up a thriving Delphi and C++ builder community on social media, I have built up a rich creative community for node and JavaScript on the side — not to mention retro computing, embedded tech and IOT. For better or for worse I think most developers in the Embarcadero camp have heard my name or engage in one of the 12 groups I manage around the world on a daily basis. It’s been hard work but man, it’s been worth every minute. We have so much fun and I get to meet awesome coders on a daily basis. It’s become an intrinsic part of my life.

I have been extremely fortunate in that despite my disadvantage, a spine injury in 2012 – not to mention being situated in Norway rather than the united states; despite these obstacles to overcome I work for a great American company, and I get to socialize and have friends all over the planet.

The global village is the concept, or philosophy, that technology makes it possible no-matter where you live, to connect and be a part of something bigger. You don’t have to be a startup in the san-francisco area to work with the latest tech. Sure a commute from Burlingame to Redwood beats a 14 hour flight from Norway any day of the week — but that’s the whole idea: we have Skype now, and Slack and Github; you don’t have to physically be on location to be a part of a great company. The only requirement is that you make yourself relevant to your field of expertise.

Patreon, a digital talent agency

Patreon is a service that grew straight out of the global village. If the world is just one place, one great big family of human beings with great ideas, then where is the digital stage that helps nurturing these individuals? I mean, you can have a genius kid living in poverty in Timbuktu that could crack a mathematical problem on the other side of the globe. The next musical prodigy could be living in a loft in Germany, but his or her voice will never be heard unless it’s recognized and given positive feedback.

“The irony is that Patreon doesn’t even pass their own safety tests. That should make you think twice about their operation”

My examples are extremes I agree, most people on Patreon are like me, creative but absolutely not cracking math problems for Nasa; nor am I singing a duet with Bono any time soon. But that’s the fun thing about the world – namely that all things have value when put in the correct context. Life is about combinations, and you just have to find one that works for you.

village

The global village, the idea of unity through diversity

The global village is this wonderful idea that we can use technology to transcend the limitations the world oppose on us, be they nationality, color, gender or location. Good solutions know no bounds and manifests wherever a mind welcomes it. Perhaps a somewhat romantic idea, if not naive, but it seems the only reasonable solution given the rapid changes we face as a species.

In my case, I love to make software components in my spare time. My day job is packed and I couldn’t squeeze in more work during the weekdays if I wanted to, so I only have a couple of hours after-work and the weekends to “do my thing”. So being a total geek I relax by making components. Some play chess, the guitar or whatever — I relax by coding something useful.

Obviously “code components” are completely useless to anyone who is not a software developer. The relevance is further clipped by the programming-language they are written for, and ultimately the functionality they provide. Patreon for me was a way to finance the evolution of these components. A way of self motivating myself to keep them up to date and available.

I also put a larger project on Patreon, namely the cloud desktop system people know as “Amibian.js” or “Quartex Web OS”. Amibian being the nickname, or codename.

Patreon seemed like the perfect match. I could take these seemingly unrelated topics, Delphi and C++ builder specific components and a cloud architecture, and assign each component and project to separate “tiers” that the audience could pick from. This was great! People could now subscribe to the tier’s they wanted, and would be notified whenever there was an update or new features. And I could respond to service messages in one place.

The Tier System

The thing about software is that it’s not maintained on infinite repeat. You don’t fix a component that is working. And you don’t issue updates unless you have fixed bugs or added new functionality. A software subscription secures a customer access to all and any updates, with a guarantee of X number of updates a year. And equally important, that they can get help if they are stuck.

“when you are shut down without so much as an explanation, with nothing but positive feedback, zero refunds and over 1682 people actively following the progress — that is utterly unacceptable behavior”

I set a relatively low number of guaranteed updates per year for the components (4). The things that would see the most updates were the Rage Libraries (PixelRage and ByteRage) and Amibian.js, but not until Q3 when all the modules would come together as a greater whole — something my backers are aware of and have never had a problem with.

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Amibian.js running on ODroid XU4, a $45 single board computer

The tiers I ended up with was:

  • $5 – “high-five”, im not a coder but I support the cause
  • $10 – Tweening animation library
  • $25 – License management and serial minting components
  • $35 – Rage libraries: 2 libraries for fast graphics and memory management
  • $45 – LDef assembler, virtual machine and debugger
  • $50 – Amibian.js (pre compiled) and Ragnarok client / server library
  • $100 – Amibian.js binaries, source and setup
  • $100+ All the above and pre-made disk images for ODroid XU4 and x86 on completion of the Amibian.js project (12 month timeline).

Note: Each tier covers everything before them. So if you pick the $35 tier, that also includes access to the license management system and the animation library.

As you can see, the tier-system that is intrinsic to Patreon, solves the software subscription model elegantly. After all, it would be unreasonable to demand $100 a month for a small component like the Tweening library. A programmer that just needs that library and nothing else shouldnt have to pay for anything else.

Here is a visual representation, showing graphically why my tiers are organized as they are, and how they all fit into a greater whole:

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The server-side aspect of the architecture would take days to document, but a general overview of the micro-service architecture is fairly easy to understand:

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Each of the tiers were picked because they represent key aspects of what we need to create a visually pleasing, fast and reliable, distributed (each part running on separate machines or boards) cloud eco-system. Supporters can just get the parts they need, or support the bigger project. Everyone get’s what they want – all is well.

The thing some people don’t grasp, is that you are not getting something to just put on Amazon or Azure, you are getting your own Amazon or Azure – with source code! You are not getting services, you are getting the actual code that allows YOU to set up your own services. Anyone with a server can become a service provider and offer both hosting and software access. And they can expand on this without having to ask permission or pay through the nose.

So it’s a little bit bigger than first meets the eye.

I Move In Mysterious Ways ..

Roughly 3 weeks ago I was busy preparing the monthly updates.

Since each tier is separate but also covers everything before it (like explained above) I have to prepare a set of inclusive updates. The good news is that I only have to do this once and then add it as an attachment to my posts. Once added I can check of all the backers in that tier. I don’t have to manually email each backer, physically copy my songs or creations onto CD and send it – we live in the digital age as members of the global village. Or so i thought.

So I published two of the minor cases first: the full HTML5 assembly program, that can be run both inside Amibian.js as a hosted application — or as a solo program directly in the browser. So here people can write machine-code in the browser, assemble it to bytecodes, run the code, inspect registers, disassemble the bytecodes and all the normal stuff you expect from an assembler.

This update was special because the program contained the IPC (inter process communication) layer that developers use to make their programs talk to the desktop. So for developers looking to make their own web programs access the filesystem, open dialogs (normal system features), that code was quite important to get!

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Although published, none of my backers could see them due to the suspended status

The second post was a free addition, the QTX library which is an open-source RTL (run time library) compatible with the Smart Pascal Compiler. While not critical at this juncture, several of my backers use Smart Mobile Studio, and for them to get access to a whole new RTL that can be used for open-source, is very valuable indeed.

I was just about to compress the Amibian.js source-code and binaries when I got a message on Facebook by a backer:

“Dude, your Patreon is shut down, what is happening?”

What? hang on let me check i replied, and rushed into Patreon where the following header greeted me:

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What the hell Patreon? I figured there must be some misunderstanding and that perhaps I missed an email or something that needed attention. I get close to 50 emails a day (literally) so it does happen that I miss one. I also check my spam folder regularly in case my google filters have been careless and flagged a serious email as spam. But there was nothing. Not a word.

Ok, so let’s check the page feedback, has there been any complaints? Perhaps a backer has misunderstood something and I need to clear that up? But nope. I had nothing but positive feedback and not even a single refund request.  In fact the Amibian.js group on Facebook has grown to 1,662 members. Which shows that the project itself holds considerable interest outside software development circles.

Well, let’s get on this quickly I thought, so I rushed off an email asking why Patreon would do such a thing? My entire Patreon page was visibly marked with the above banner, so my backers never even saw the updates I had issued.

Instead, the impression people would get, was that I was involved in something so devious that it demanded my account to be suspended. Talk about shooting first and asking later. I have never in my life seen such behavior from a company anywhere, especially not in the united states; Americans don’t take kindly to companies behaving like bullies.

Just Contact Support, If You Can Find Them

To make a long story short it took over a week before Patreon replied to my emails. I sent a total of 3 emails asking what on earth would have prompted them to shut down a successful campaign. And how they found it necessary to slander the project without even informing me of the problem. Surely a phone call could have sorted this up in minutes? Where I come from you pick up the phone or get in contact with people before you flag them in public.

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Sounds great, sadly it’s pure fiction

The response I got was that “some mysterious activity had been reported on my page”, and that they wanted my name, address, phone number and credit card (4 last digits). Which I found funny because with the exception of credit-card details, I always put my name, address, phone numbers and email etc. at the head of my letters.

I’m not a 16-year-old kid working out of a garage, im a 46-year-old established software developer that have worked as a professional for close to 3 decades. Unlike the present generation I moved into my first apartment when I was 16, and was working as an author for various tech magazines by the time I was 17. I also finished college at the same time and went on to higher-education (2 years electrical engineering, 3 years arts and media, six years at the university in oslo, followed by 4 years of computer science and then certifications). The focus being, that Patreon is used to dealing with young creators that will go along with things that grown men would not accept.

But what really piss me off, was that they never even bothered to explain what this “mysterious behavior” actually was? I write about code, clustering, Delphi, JavaScript and bytecodes for christ sake. I might have published updates and code wearing a hoodie at one point, in a darken room, listening to Enigma.. but honestly: there is not enough mystery in my life to cover an episode of Scooby-Doo.

Either way, I provided the information they wanted and expected the problem to be resolved asap. Two days at themost. Maybe three, but that was pushing it.

It’s now close to 3 weeks since this ridiculous temporary suspension occurred, and neither have I been given any explanation to what I have done, nor have they removed the ban on the content. I must have read their guidelines 100 times by now, but given the nature of their ruling (which are more than reasonable), I can’t see that I have violated a single one:

  • No pornography and adult content
  • No hate speech against minorities or forms of religious extremism
  • No piracy or spreading copyrighted material
  • No stealing from backers

Let’s go over them one by one shall we?

Pornography and adult content

Seriously? I don’t have time to loaf around glaring at naked women (i’m a geek, I look weird enough as it is), and after 46 years on this planet I know what a woman looks like nude from every possible angle; I don’t need to run around like a retard posting pictures of body parts. And if you are talking about me — good lord is there a marked for hobbits? Surely the world has enough on it’s plate. Sorry, never been huge on porn.

And for the record, porn is for teenagers and singles. The moment you love someone deeply, the moment you have children together — it changes you profoundly. You get a bond to your wife or girlfriend that makes you not want to be with others. Not all men are into smut, some of us are invested more deeply in a relationship.

Hate speech and religious extremism

Hm, that’s a tough one (sigh). Did you know that one of my best friends is so gay – that he began to speculated that he actually was a liquid? He makes me laugh so bad and he’s probably the best human being I have ever met. I actually went with him on Pride last year, not because i’m gay but because he needed someone to hold the other side of the banner. That’s what friends do. Besides, I looked awesome, what can I say.

As for religion I am a registered Tibetan Buddhist. I believe in fluffy pillows, comfy robes, mother nature and quite frankly I find the world inside us far more interesting than the mess outside. You cant be extreme in Buddhism: “Be kind now, or ill hug you until you weep the tears of compassion!”. Buddhism sucks as an extreme doctrine.

So I’m going to go out on a limb and say nuuuu to both.

Piracy and copyrighted material

Eh, I’m kinda writing the software from scratch before your eyes (including the run-time-library for the compiler), so as far as worthy challenges go, piracy would be the opposite. I am a huge fan of classical operating-systems though, like the Amiga; But unlike most people I actually took the time to ask permission to use a OS4 inspired CSS theme-file.

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The Amibian.js project is well organized and I have worked systematically through a well planned architecture. This is not some slap-dash project made for a quick buck

Most people just create a theme-file and don’t bother to ask. I did, and Trevor Dickinson was totally cool about it. And not a single byte has been taken or stolen from anyone. The default theme file is inspired by Amiga OS 4.1, but the thing is: the icons are all freeware. Mason, the guy that did the OS icons, have released large sets of icons into GPL. There is also a website called OS4Depot where people publish icons and backdrops that are free for all.

So if this “mysterious activity” is me posting a picture of a picture (not a typo) of an obscure yet loved operating-system, rest assured that it’s not violating anyone.

Stealing from backers

That they even include this as a point is just monumental. Patreon is a service established to make that impossible (sigh); meaning that the time-frame where you deliver updates or whatever – and the time when the payout is delivered, that is the window where backers can file a complaint or demand a refund.

And yes, complaints on fraud would indeed (and should!) flag the account as potentially dubious — but again, I have not a single complaint. Not even a refund request, which I believe is pretty uncommon.

And even if this was the case, shutting down an account without so much as a dialog in 2019? Who the hell becomes a thief for 600 dollars? Im not some kid in a garage, I make twice that a day as a consultant in Oslo, why the heck would I setup a public account in the US, only to run off with 600 bucks! I have standing offers for projects continuously, I havent applied for a job since the 90s – so if I needed some extra money I would have taken a side project.

I even posted to let my backers know I had a cold last month just to make sure everyone knew in case I was unavailable for a couple of days. Truly the tell-tell sign of a criminal mastermind if I ever saw one ..

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Sorry Patreon, but your behavior is unacceptable

Hopefully your experience with Patreon has not been like mine. They spent somewhere in the range of 5 weeks just to register me, while friends of mine in the US was up and running in less than 2 days.

We are now 3 weeks into a temporary suspension, which means that most of my backers will run out of patience and just leave. It sends a signal of being whimsical about other people’s trust, and that people take a risk if they back my project.

At this point it doesn’t matter that none of these thoughts are true, because they are thoughts that anyone would think when a project remains flagged for so long.

What should scare you as a creator with Patreon though, is that they can do this to anyone. There is nothing you can do, neither to prove your innocence or sort out a misunderstanding — because you are not even told what you allegedly have done wrong. I also find it alarming that Patreon actually doesn’t have a phone-number listed, nor do they have offices you can call or reach out to.

The irony is that Patreon doesn’t even pass their own safety tests. That should make you think twice about their operation. I had heard the rumors about them, but I honestly did not believe a company could operate like this in our day and age. Especially not in the united states. It undermines the whole spirit of US as a technological hub. No wonder people are setting up shop in China instead, if this is how they are treated in the valley.

After this long, and the damage they have caused, I have no option than to inform my backers to terminate their pledges. I will have to relocate my project to a host that has more experience with software development, and who treats human beings with common decency and respect.

If I by accident had violated any of their guidelines, although I cannot see how I could have, I have no problem taking responsibility. But when you are shut down without so much as an explanation, with nothing but positive feedback, zero refunds and over 1682 people actively following the progress — that is utterly unacceptable.

It is a great shame. Patreon symbolized, for a short time, that the global village had matured into more than an idea. But I categorically refuse to be treated like this and find their modus-operandi insulting.

Stay Well Clear

If you as a developer have a chance to set up shop elsewhere, then I urge you to do so. And make sure your host have common infrastructure such as a phone number. Patreon have taken the art of avoiding direct contact to a whole new level. It is absolutely mind-boggling.

I honestly don’t think Patreon understands software development at all. Many have voiced more sinister motives for my shutdown, since the project obviously is a threat to various companies. But I don’t believe in conspiracies. Although, if Patreon does this to enough creators on interval, the interest rates from holding the assets would be substantial.

It could be that the popularity of the project grew so fast that it was picked up as a statistical anomaly, but surely that should be a good thing? Not to mention a potential case study Patreon could have used as a success story? I mean, Amibian.js didn’t get up and running until october, so stopping a project 5 months into a 12 month timeline makes absolutely no sense. Unless someone did this on purpose.

Either way, this has been a terrible experience and I truly hope Patreon get’s their act together. They could have resolved this with a phone-call, yet chose to let it fester for almost a month.

Their loss.

Quartex Web OS: A cloud OS in takes form

January 19, 2019 Leave a comment

It’s been a while since I’ve posted now. I have 3 articles in escrow, and every time I think I will finish them, I end up writing more. But yes, more Delphi articles is coming and I have lined up both components and rich code that everyone will be happy about.

Please look before shooting

Before we dig into the new stuff, I want to clear up a misconception. We programmers often forget that not everyone knows what we do, and we take it for granted that everyone will instantly understand something we talk about. Which is rarely the case.

I have noticed that quite a few have misjudged the project radically, thinking that the first version (cloud ripper) is just a toy, a mock desktop or even worse: just a remake of a legacy system that “has no role in modern computing”.

It is true that I have taken more than a little from Amiga OS in terms of architecture, but I have exclusively taken ideas that are good and works well under the ASYNC execution model. I have also replicated the way the filesystem is organized, things like REXX (which was added to OS X in 2015), the menu system – these are indeed built on how Amiga OS did things. The same can be said about library functions. Not because they are old, but because they make sense. Many of the functions appear in other systems too, like GTK on Linux and WinAPI for Windows. There are only so many ways to open a window, change the title, define scrollbars and execute processes.

kiosk-systems

Kiosk systems like this are great targets for the Quartex Web OS

While there are clear architectural aspects taken from older systems, doesn’t mean that the system itself is old in any way. This system is designed to run as WebAssembly, ASM.js and vanilla Javascript – which is ASYNC by nature. It is designed to run and share payload over several machines, not a single outdated CPU and chipset. You have swarm based task solving – which is quite cutting edge if I might say so. None of these things were invented back in the day.

Some have also asked why this is even needed. Well, let me give you a simple use case.

One of my customers is doing work for Jensen, a Danish producer of IT hardware. They make mostly routers, wifi usb dongles and similar devices. But like many hardware vendors their web interface leaves a lot to be desires. Router web interfaces are usually quite annoying and poorly written. Something that should have taken 5 minutes can end up taking 30 just because the design of the interface is rubbish.

With my solution these vendors will be able to drop a whole infrastructure into their products; a infrastructure that provides all the things they need to quickly build a great control panel and router interface. Things like file system mapping, being able to store data to the filesystem through an established websocket protocol; all of it wrapped up in a simple but powerful API. Their settings and features can be represented as programs, which run in windows that are intuitively styled and easy to understand. They will also cut development time dramatically by calling the Quartex Soft-Kernel, rather than having to re-invent everything from scratch.

That is just a tiny, tiny use-case where the desktop and services makes perfect sense. But also keep in mind that the same system can scale up to a 1000 instance Amazon supercomputer if you need to, providing software for your offices and development teams.

In 8 months the desktop is complete (probably before) and I start building the first purely web powered software development toolchain. Everything has been transformed into Javascript (as in compilers, linkers – the whole lot). Both freepascal, clang c/c++ and much more. And developers will be able to login and start producing applications out of the box. The fact that the entire system is chipset and platform independent is quite unique. People tend to use native code behind a facade of html5. Not here. Here you have over 4000 classes, 800.000 lines of code just for the desktop client, looking back at you.

Hopefully this has shed some lights on the project, and people will stop looking at this as “old junk”. As a person who loves older computers, Amiga especially, I am quite frankly astounded by the ignorance regarding that platform. A juiced up 30 year old Amiga will give any modern computer a run for it’s money when it comes to ease of use, quality software and pure productivity. 10 years before Windows even existed, europeans enjoyed a colorful, window based desktop with full multitasking. When we had to switch to PC it was like going back to the 1500’s in terms of functionality – and it wasnt until Windows 7 that Microsoft caught up with Commodore. So if I have managed to get over even 1% of the spirit in that machine – then I will be very happy indeed.

But to limit a clustered, 40 CPU core architecture using modern, off-the-shelves parts, a multitude of node services to “old junk” is nothing short of an intellectual emergency. Please read, digest and look more closely before passing judgement.

Right then, so what’s new?

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The Quartex “Cloud Ripper”

Where to begin! Like mentioned in my previous post Amibian.js is a cluster system. As such the project now has its first real hardware sorted! I have gone for a 5 x ODroid XU4 model, neatly tucked inside a PICO 5H case. The budget was set at USD 400, but with shipping and taxes it ended up costing around USD 600. But that is not a bad price for the firepower you get (40 CPU cores, 20 GPU cores and 16 Gb Ram), the ODroid is a powerful, stable and reliable ARM SBC (single board computer). In benchmarks the Raspberry PI 3b scored 830 Dhrystones, the ODroid scored 5500 Dhrystones. And my architecture use five of them, so this is a $600 super-computer built using off the shelves part.

The back-end server has had several bugs fixed, especially the problems with path’s and databases. You can now edit the settings.ini file and tell the system where the database should be created or accessed from, you can set the port for the server, if it should use SSL + Secure WebSocket,  or ordinary HTTP + Websocket.

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40 ARM CPU cores, that is a lot of firepower for USD 200 !

I am also ditching the TW3NodeFileSystem driver for server logic and using ordinary node.js calls there. The TW3NodeFileSystem driver is mounted as you perform a login – and it acts as a sandbox, mounting your folder as a device (and making sure you can’t ever touch files outside your “home” server folder). We still need to implement a proper UNIX directory parser, but that is easy enough.

Quartex Pascal

Yes, I have picked up Quartex Pascal again, which originally started in 2014. I have started writing a new RTL for DWScript which is an alternative to Smart Mobile Studio. It is different from the Smart RTL and is closer to FMX than VCL.

Eventually the Quartex Web OS and all its services will compile without code from Smart Mobile Studio.

Hosted applications, messages and our soft-kernel

The biggest news, which is also the most tricky to get right, is getting hosted applications (applications are hosted in IFrame containers) to communicate with the desktop. As you probably know browsers have rigid security measures, and the rules for threads (web workers) and separate processes (frames) are severe to say the least.

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The LDEF assembler is the first application to grace the system

A secondary application hosted in a frame has absolutely no access to the rest of the DOM. Meaning that the code has no way of calling functions or manipulating elements outside its own DOM in the frame container. This is a good system because we don’t want rouge applications causing havoc.

The only way an application can talk to the desktop is through messages. And while this sounds easy, remember: we are doing this as a solid system, not just slapping something together.

  • After loading a hosted application, the desktop will send a handshake request. It will do this on interval until the application accepts.
  • When the application replies with a handshake message, the desktop sends a special message-channel object to the app. All communication with the desktop must happen on that secure channel.
  • With the channel obtained, the application has to provide the application manifest file. This is a special INI-File containing information about the program, including access rights. None of the soft-kernel API functions will execute until a valid manifest-file has been delivered.
  • Once the manifest has been sent and accepted, the hosted application is free to call the soft-kernel functions.

The above might sound simple but it includes several sub technologies to be in place first:

  • Call Stack: a class that keep track of sent messages and a callback. When a response arrives it will execute the correct callback to deliver the response. This is a kind of “promises” engine for message delivery.
  • Message factory, matches message-data to the correct message class, creates the instance and de-serialize the data automatically for you
  • Message dispatcher: Allows you to register a message with a handler procedure. When a message arrives the dispatcher calls the message-factory, then calls the correct handler.
  • Base64 Encoding on byte-array, stream and buffer level (does not exist in either node.js or JavaScript in general)
  • String to UTF8 Byte-Array encoding
  • UTF8 Byte-Array to String encoding
  • escape and unescape for byte-array, stream and buffer
  • URI-encoder for byte-array, stream and buffer

But that was just the beginning, I also had to introduce an object that I have been dreading to even start on, namely the “process” class. The process is not just a simple reference to the frame container, it has to keep track of the websocket endpoint, application manifest, error handling, message routing and much more.

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CLANG compiled to webassembly, meaning we can now compile proper C/C++ in the browser

Since Amibian.js supports not just JavaScript, but also bytecode applications – the process object also contains the LDEF runtime engine; not to mention all the system resources a process can own.

The cool part is that things work exactly like I planned! There is plenty of room to optimize, but all in all the architecture is sound. And it was quite a hallelujah moment when the first API call went through at 00:00 19.01.2019! A call to SetWindowTitle() where the hosted application set the caption of its main-window purely via code. Cross domain communication at it’s very best.

The LDEF Assembler

Yes LDEF Bytecodes are fantastic, and the first program I have made is a traditional assembler. I went all in and implemented a full text-editor to get better control, and also to get rid of the ACE code editor, which was a massive dependency. So glad we got rid of that.

So now you can write assembly code, assemble it, run it, dis-assemble it and even dump the bytecodes to the window. You will be able to save the bytecodes to disk by the end of this weekend, and then run the bytecode programs from shell or the desktop. So we are really making progress here.

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A good shell / pipe infrastructure is the key to a powerful desktop

LDEF is the bytecode system that will be used to build high-level languages like Basic and Pascal. Since Freepascal is now able to compile itself to JavaScript I will naturally add that to the IDE next fall; the same is true for CLANG which has compiled itself to WebAssembly — and who generates webassembly.

So C/C++ and object pascal are already working and waiting for the IDE.

LDEF is a grander system though, because libraries can be loaded by Delphi, C++ builder, C# or whatever you fancy – and used. It can be post-processed to real machine code, or converted to pure WebAssembly. It holds much wider scope than stack machines like CLR and Java, and its more natural for assembly programmers – because it’s based on real CPU’s. It’s a register based virtual machine, not a stack-machine.

More?

Tons, but you have to visit my patreon page to keep track. I try to publish as much as possible there rather than here. I post a bit on both, but the proper channel for Amibian.js (or “Quartex Web OS” as its official name is) will always be Patreon.

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The picture viewer now has momentum scrolling in full-mode.

Also, fixed more bugs in the Smart RTL than I can count, and re-made window movement. Window movement now uses the GPU, so they are silky smooth everywhere. Resize will be optimized next, then you can’t really tell it’s not native code at all.

Delphi Component updates

Yes Delphi is also a huge part of the Patreon project, and you will be happy to hear that the form designer (which shares a codebase with the graphics application components) have seen more work!

You can check out some of the changes to the form-designer here:

These changes will be in the january update (end of month) together with all the changes to Amibian.js, HexLicense, Tween library and all the rest 🙂

Cheers!

Amibian.js under the hood

December 5, 2018 2 comments

Amibian.js is gaining momentum as more and more developers, embedded systems architects, gamers and retro computer enthusiasts discover the project. And I have to admit I’m pretty stoked about what we are building here myself!

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In a life-preserver no less 😀

But, with any new technology or invention there are two common traps that people can fall into: The first trap is to gravely underestimate a technology. JavaScript certainly invites this, because only a decade ago the language was little more than a toy. Since then JavaScript have evolved to become the most widely adopted programming language in the world, and runtime engines like Google’s V8 runs JavaScript almost as fast as compiled binary code (“native” means machine code, like that produced by a C/C++ compiler, Pascal compiler or anything else that produces programs that run under Linux or Windows).

It takes some adjustments, especially for traditional programmers that havent paid attention to where browsers have gone – but long gone are the days of interpreted JavaScript. Modern JavaScript is first parsed, tokenized and compiled to bytecodes. These bytecodes are then JIT compiled (“just in time”, which means the compilation takes place inside the browser) to real machine-code using state of the art techniques (LLVM). So the JavaScript of 2018 is by no means the JavaScript of 2008.

The second trap you can fall into – is to exaggerate what a new technology can do, and attach abilities and expectations to a product that simply cannot be delivered. It is very important to me that people don’t fall into either trap, and that everyone is informed about what Amibian.js actually is and can deliver – but also what it wont deliver. Rome was not built-in a day, and it’s wise to study all the factors before passing judgement.

I have been truly fortunate that people support the project financially via Patreon, and as such I feel it’s my duty to document and explain as much as possible. I am a programmer and I often forget that not everyone understands what I’m talking about. We are all human and make mistakes.

Hopefully this post will paint a clearer picture of Amibian.js and what we are building here. The project is divided into two phases: first to finish Amibian.js itself, and secondly to write a Visual Studio clone that runs purely in the browser. Since it’s easy to mix these things up, I’m underlining this easy – just in case.

What the heck is Amibian.js?

Amibian.js is a group of services and libraries that combined creates a portable operating-system that renders to HTML5. A system that was written using readily available web technology, and designed to deliver advanced desktop functionality to web applications.

The services that make up Amibian.js was designed to piggyback on a thin Linux crust, where Linux deals with the hardware, drivers and the nitty-gritty we take for granted. There is no point trying to write a better kernel in 2018, because you are never going to catch up with Linus Torvalds. It’s must more interesting to push modern web technology to the absolute limits, and build a system that is truly portable and distributed.

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Above: Amibian.js is created in Smart Pascal and compiled to JavaScript

The service layer is written purely in node.js (JavaScript) which guarantees the same behavior regardless of host platform. One of the benefits of using off-the-shelves web technology is that you can physically copy the whole system from one machine to the other without any changes. So if you have a running Amibian.js system on your x86 PC, and copy all the files to an ARM computer – you dont even have to recompile the system. Just fire up the services and you are back in the game.

Now before you dismiss this as “yet another web mockup” please remember what I said about JavaScript: the JavaScript in 2018 is not the JavaScript of 2008. No other language on the planet has seen as much development as JavaScript, and it has evolved from a “browser toy” – into the most important programming language of our time.

So Amibian.js is not some skin-deep mockup of a desktop (lord knows there are plenty of those online). It implements advanced technologies such as remote filesystem mapping, an object-oriented message protocol (Ragnarok), RPCS (remote procedure call invocation stack), video codec capabilities and much more — all of it done with JavaScript.

In fact, one of the demos that Amibian.js ships with is Quake III recompiled to JavaScript. It delivers 120 fps flawlessly (browser is limited to 60 fps) and makes full use of standard browser technologies (WebGL).

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Click on picture above to watch Amibian.js in action on YouTube

So indeed, the JavaScript we are talking about here is cutting edge. Most of Amibian.js is compiled as “Asm.js” which means that the V8 runtime (the code that runs JavaScript inside the browser, or as a program under node.js) will JIT compile it to highly efficient machine-code.

Which is why Amibian.js is able to do things that people imagine impossible!

Ok, but what does Amibian.js consist of?

Amibian.js consists of many parts, but we can divide it into two categories:

  • A HTML5 desktop client
  • A system server and various child processes

These two categories have the exact same relationship as the X desktop and the Linux kernel. The client connects to the server, invokes procedures to do some work, and then visually represent the response This is identical to how the X desktop calls functions in the kernel or one of the Linux libraries. The difference between the traditional, machine code based OS and our web variation, is that our version doesn’t have to care about the hardware. We can also assign many different roles to Ambian.js (more about that later).

smartdesk

Enjoying other cloud applications is easy with Amibian.js, here is Plex, a system very much based on the same ideas as Amibian.js

And for the record: I’m trying to avoid a bare-metal OS, otherwise I would have written the system using a native programming language like C or Object-Pascal. So I am not using JavaScript because I lack skill in native languages, I am using JavaScript because native code is not relevant for the tasks Amibian.js solves. If I used a native back-end I could have finished this in a couple of months, but a native server would be unable to replicate itself between cloud instances because chipset and CPU would be determining factors.

The Amibian.js server is not a single program. The back-end for Amibian.js consists of several service applications (daemons on Linux) that each deliver specific features. The combined functionality of these services make up “the amibian kernel” in our analogy with Linux. You can think of these services as the library files in a traditional system, and programs that are written for Amibian.js can call on these to a wide range of tasks. It can be as simple as reading a file, or as complex as registering a new user or requesting admin rights.

The greatest strength of Amibian.js is that it’s designed to run clustered, using as many CPU cores as possible. It’s also designed to scale, meaning that it will replicate itself and divide the work between different instances. This is where things get’s interesting, because an Amibian.js cluster doesn’t need the latest and coolest hardware to deliver good performance. You can build a cluster of old PC’s in your office, or a handful of embedded boards (ODroid XU4, Raspberry PI’s and Tinkerboard are brilliant candidates).

But why Amibian.js? Why not just stick with Linux?

That is a fair question, and this is where the roles I mentioned above comes in.

As a software developer many of my customers work with embedded devices and kiosk systems. You have companies that produce routers and set-top boxes, NAS boxes of various complexity, ticket systems for trains and busses; and all of them end up having to solve the same needs.

What each of these manufacturers have in common, is the need for a web desktop system that can be adapted for a specific program. Any idiot can write a web application, but when you need safe access to the filesystem, unified API’s that can delegate signals to Amazon, Azure or your company server, things suddenly get’s more complicated. And even when you have all of that, you still need a rock solid application model suitable for distributed computing. You might have 1 ticket booth, or 10.000 nation wide. There are no systems available that is designed to deal with web-technology on that scale. Yet 😉

Let’s look at a couple of real-life scenarios that I have encountered, I’m confident you will recognize a common need. So here are some roles that Amibian.js can assume and help deliver a solution rapidly. It also gives you some ideas of the economic possibilities.

Updated: Please note that we are talking javascript here, not native code. There are a lot of native solutions out there, but the whole point here is to forget about CPU, chipset and target and have a system floating on top of whatever is beneath.

  • When you want to change some settings on your router – you login to your router. It contains a small apache server (or something similar) and you do all your maintenance via that web interface. This web interface is typically skin-deep, annoying to work with and a pain for developers to update since it’s connected to a native apache module which is 100% dependent on the firmware. Each vendor end up re-inventing the wheel over and over again.
  • When you visit a large museum notice the displays. A museum needs to display multimedia, preferably on touch capable devices, throughout the different exhibits. The cost of having a developer create native applications that displays the media, plays the movies and gives visual feedback is astronomical. Which is why most museums adopt web technology to handle media presentation and interaction. Again they re-invent the wheel with varying degree of success.
  • Hotels have more or less the exact same need but on a smaller scale, especially the larger hotels where the lobby have information booths, and each room displays a web interface via the TV.
  • Shopping malls face the same challenge, and depending on the size they can need anything from a single to a hundred nodes.
  • Schools and education spend millions on training software and programming languages every year. Amibian.js can deliver both and the schools would only pay for maintenance and adaptation – the product itself is free. Kids get the benefit of learning traditional languages and enjoying instant visual feedback! They can learn Basic, Pascal, JavaScript and C. I firmly believe that the classical languages will help make them better programmers as they evolve.

You are probably starting to see the common denominator here?

They all need a web-based desktop system, one that can run complex HTML5 based media applications and give them the same depth as a native operating-system; Which is pretty hard to achieve with JavaScript alone.

Amibian.js provides a rich foundation of more than 4000 classes that developers can use to write large, complex and media rich applications (see Smart Mobile Studio below). Just like Linux and Windows provides a wealth of libraries and features for native application development – Amibian.js aims to provide the same for cloud and embedded systems.

And as the name implies, it has roots in the past with the machine that defined multimedia, namely the Commodore Amiga. So the relation is more than just visually, Amibian.js uses the same system architecture – because we believe it’s one of the best systems ever designed.

If JavaScript is so poor, why should we trust you to deliver so much?

First of all I’m not selling anything. It’s not like this project is something that is going to make me a ton of cash. I ask for support during the development period because I want to allocate proper time for it, but when done Amibian.js will be free for everyone (LGPL). And I’m also writing it because it’s something that I need and that I havent seen anywhere else. I think you have to write software for yourself, otherwise the quality wont be there.

Secondly, writing Amibian.js in raw JavaScript with the same amount of functions and depth would take years. The reason I am able to deliver so much functionality quickly, is because I use a compiler system called Smart Mobile Studio. This saves months and years of development time, and I can use all the benefits of OOP.

Prior to starting the Amibian.js project, I spent roughly 9 years creating Smart Mobile Studio. Smart is not a solo project, many individuals have been involved – and the product provides a compiler, IDE (editor and tools), and a vast run-time library of pre-made classes (roughly 4000 ready to use classes, or building-blocks).

amibian_shell

Writing large-scale node.js services in Smart is easy, fun and powerful!

Unlike other development systems, Smart Mobile Studio compiles to JavaScript rather than machine-code. We have spent a great deal of time making sure we could use proper OOP (object-oriented programming), and we have spent more than 3 years perfecting a visual application framework with the same depth as the VCL or FMX (the core visual frameworks for C++ builder and Delphi).

The result is that I can knock out a large application that a normal JavaScript coder would spend weeks on – in a single day.

Smart Mobile Studio uses the object-pascal language, a dialect which is roughly 70% compatible with Delphi. Delphi is exceptionally well suited for writing large, data driven applications. It also thrives for embedded systems and low-level system services. In short: it’s a lot easier to maintain 50.000 lines of object pascal code, than 500.000 lines of JavaScript code.

Amibian.js, both the service layer and the visual HTML5 client application, is written completely using Smart Mobile Studio. This gives me as the core developer of both systems a huge advantage (who knows it better than the designer right?). I also get to write code that is truly OOP (classes, inheritance, interfaces, virtual and abstract methods, partial classes etc), because our compiler crafts something called a VMT (virtual method table) in JavaScript.

Traditional JavaScript doesn’t have OOP, it has something called prototypes. With Smart Pascal I get to bring in code from the object-pascal community, components and libraries written in Delphi or Freepascal – which range in the hundreds of thousands. Delphi alone has a massive library of code to pick from, it’s been a popular toolkit for ages (C is 3 years older than pascal).

But how would I use Amibian.js? Do I install it or what?

Amibian.js can be setup and used in 4 different ways:

  • As a true desktop, booting straight into Amibian.js in full-screen
  • As a cloud service, accessing it through any modern browser
  • As a NAS or Kiosk front-end
  • As a local system on your existing OS, a batch script will fire it up and you can use your browser to access it on https://127.0.0.1:8090

So the short answer is yes, you install it. But it’s the same as installing Chrome OS. It’s not like an application you just install on your Linux, Windows or OSX box. The whole point of Amibian.js is to have a platform independent, chipset agnostic system. Something that doesn’t care if you using ARM, x86, PPC or Mips as your CPU of preference. Developers will no doubt install it on their existing machines, Amibian.js is non-intrusive and does not affect or touch files outside its own eco-system.

But the average non-programmer will most likely setup a dedicated machine (or several) or just deploy it on their home NAS.

The first way of enjoying Amibian.js is to install it on a PC or ARM device. A disk image will be provided for supporters so they can get up and running ASAP. This disk image will be based on a thin Linux setup, just enough to get all the drivers going (but no X desktop!). It will start all the node.js services and finally enter a full-screen web display (based on Chromium Embedded) that renders the desktop. This is the method most users will prefer to work with Amibian.js.

The second way is to use it as a cloud service. You install Amibian.js like mentioned above, but you do so on Amazon or Azure. That way you can login to your desktop using nothing but a web browser. This is a very cost-effective way of enjoying Amibian.js since renting a virtual instance is affordable and storage is abundant.

The third option is for developers. Amibian.js is a desktop system, which means it’s designed to host more elaborate applications. Where you would normally just embed an external website into an IFrame, but Amibian.js is not that primitive. Hosting external applications requires you to write a security manifest file, but more importantly: the application must interface with the desktop through the window’s message-port. This is a special object that is sent to the application as a hand-shake, and the only way for the application to access things like the file-system and server-side functionality, is via this message-port.

Calling “kernel” level functions from a hosted application is done purely via the message-port mentioned above. The actual message data is JSON and must conform to the Ragnarok client protocol specification. This is not as difficult as it might sound, but Amibian.js takes security very seriously – so applications trying to cause damage will be promptly shut down.

You mention hosted applications, do you mean websites?

Both yes and no: Amibian.js supports 3 types of applications:

  • Ordinary HTML5/JS based applications, or “websites” as many would call them. But like I talked about above they have to establish a dialog with the desktop before they can do anything useful.
  • Hybrid applications where half is installed as a node.js service, and the other half is served as a normal HTML5 app. This is the coolest program model, and developers essentially write both a server and a client – and then deploy it as a single package.
  • LDEF compiled bytecode applications, a 68k inspired assembly language that is JIT compiled by the browser (commonly called “asm.js”) and runs extremely fast. The LDEF virtual machine is a sub-project in Amibian.js

The latter option, bytecodes, is a bit like Java. A part of the Amibian.js project is a compiler and runtime system called LDEF.

patron_asm2

Above: The Amibian.js LDEF assembler, here listing opcodes + disassembling a method

The first part of the Amibian.js project is to establish the desktop and back-end services. The second part of the project is to create the worlds first cloud based development platform. A full Visual Studio clone if you like, that allows anyone to write cloud, mobile and native applications directly via the browser (!)

Several languages are supported by LDEF, and you can write programs in Object Pascal, Basic and C. The Basic dialect is especially fun to work with, since it’s a re-implementation of BlitzBasic (with a lot of added extras). Amiga developers will no doubt remember BlitzBasic, it was used to create some great games back in the 80s and 90s. It’s well suited for games and multimedia programming and above all – very easy to learn.

More advanced developers can enjoy Object Pascal (read: Delphi) or a sub-set of C/C++.

And please note: This IDE is designed for large-scale applications, not simple snippets. The ultimate goal of Amibian.js is to move the entire development cycle to the cloud and away from the desktop. With Amibian.js you can write a cool “app” in BlitzBasic, run it right in the browser — or compile it server-side and deploy it to your Android Phone as a real, natively compiled application.

So any notion of a “mock desktop for HTML” should be firmly put to the side. I am not playing around with this product and the stakes are very real.

But why don’t you just use ChromeOS?

There are many reasons, but the most important one is chipset independence. Chrome OS is a native system, meaning that it’s core services are written in C/C++ and compiled to machine code. The fundamental principle of Amibian.js is to be 100% platform agnostic, and “no native code allowed”. This is why the entire back-end and service layer is targeting node.js. This ensures the same behavior regardless of processor or host system (Linux being the default host).

Node.js has the benefit of being 100% platform independent. You will find node.js for ARM, x86, Mips and PPC. This means you can take advantage of whatever hardware is available. You can even recycle older computers that have lost mainstream support, and use them to run Amibian.js.

A second reason is: Chrome OS might be free, but it’s only as open as Google want it to be. ChromeOS is not just something you pick up and start altering. It’s dependence on native programming languages, compiler toolchains and a huge set of libraries makes it extremely niche. It also shields you utterly from the interesting parts, namely the back-end services. It’s quite frankly boring and too boxed in for any practical use; except for Google and it’s technology partners that is.

I wanted a system that I could move around, that could run in the cloud, on cheap SBC’s. A system that could scale from handling 10 users to 1000 users – a system that supports clustering and can be installed on multiple machines in a swarm.

A system that anyone with JavaScript knowledge can use to create new and exciting systems, that can be easily expanded and serve as a foundation for rich media applications.

What is this Amiga stuff, isn’t that an ancient machine?

In computing terms yes, but so is Unix. Old doesn’t automatically mean bad, it actually means that it’s adapted and survived challenges beyond its initial design. While most of us remember the Amiga for its games, I remember it mainly for its elegant and powerful operating-system. A system so flexible that it’s still in use around the world – 33 years after the machine hit the market. That is quite an achievement.

image2

The original Amiga OS, not bad for a 33-year-old OS! It was and continues to be way ahead of everyone else. A testament to the creativity of its authors

Amibian.js as the name implies, borrows architectural elements en-mass from Amiga OS. Quite simply because the way Amiga OS is organized and the way you approach computing on the Amiga is brilliant. Amiga OS is much more intuitive and easier to understand than Linux and Windows. It’s a system that you could learn how to use fully with just a couple of days exploring; and no manuals.

But the similarities are not just visual or architectural. Remember I wrote that hosted applications can access and use the Amibian.js services? These services implement as much of the original ROM Kernel functions as possible. Naturally I can’t port all of it, because it’s not really relevant for Amibian.js. Things like device-drivers serve little purpose for Amibian.js, because Amibian.js talks to node.js, and node talks to the actual system, which in turn handles hardware devices. But the way you would create windows, visual controls, bind events and create a modern, event-driven application has been preserved to the best of my ability.

But how does this thing boot? I thought you said server?

If you have setup a dedicated machine with Amibian.js then the boot sequence is the same as Linux, except that the node.js services are executed as background processes (daemons or services as they are called), the core server is initialized, and then a full-screen HTML5 view is set up that shows the desktop.

But that is just for starting the system. Your personal boot sequence which deals with your account, your preferences and adaptations – that boots when you login to the system.

When you login to your Amibian.js account, no matter if it’s just locally on a single PC, a distributed cluster, or via the browser into your cloud account — several things happen:

  1. The client (web-page if you like) connects to the server using WebSocket
  2. Login is validated by the server
  3. The client starts loading preferences files via the mapped filesystem, and then applies these to the desktop.
  4. A startup-sequence script file is loaded from your account, and then executed. The shell-script runtime engine is built into the client, as is REXX execution.
  5. The startup-script will setup configurations, create symbolic links (assigns), mount external devices (dropbox, google drive, ftp locations and so on)
  6. When finished the programs in the ~/WbStartup folder are started. These can be both visual and non-visual.

As you can see Amibian.js is not a mockup or “fake” desktop. It implements all the advanced features you expect from a “real” desktop. The filesystem mapping is especially advanced, where file-data is loaded via special drivers; drivers that act as a bridge between a storage service (a harddisk, a network share, a FTP host, Dropbox or whatever) and the desktop. Developers can add as many of these drivers as they want. If they have their own homebrew storage system on their existing servers, they can implement a driver for it. This ensures that Amibian.js can access any storage device, as long as the driver conforms to the driver standard.

In short, you can create, delete, move and copy files between these devices just like you do on Windows, OSX or the Linux desktop. And hosted applications that run inside their own window can likewise request access to these drivers and work with the filesystem (and much more!).

Wow this is bigger than I thought, but what is this emulation I hear about? Can Amibian.js really run actual programs?

Amibian.js has a JavaScript port of UAE (Unix Amiga Emulator). This is a fork of SAE (scripted Amiga Emulator) that has been heavily optimized for web. Not only is it written in JavaScript, it performs brilliantly and thus allows us to boot into a real Amiga system. So if you have some floppy-images with a game you love, that will run just fine in the browser. I even booted a 2 gigabyte harddisk image 🙂

But Amiga emulation is just the beginning. More and more emulators are ported to JavaScript; you have Nes, SNes, N64, PSX I & II, Sega Megadrive and even a NEO GEO port. So playing your favorite console games right in the browser is pretty straight forward!

But the really interesting part is probably QEmu. This allows you to run x86 instances directly in the browser too. You can boot up in Windows 7 or Ubuntu inside an Amibian.js window if you like. Perhaps not practical (at this point) but it shows some of the potential of the system.

I have been experimenting with a distributed emulation system, where the emulation is executed server-side, and only the graphics and sound is streamed back to the Amibian.js client in real-time. This has been possible for years via Apache Guacamole, but doing it in raw JS is more fitting with our philosophy: no native code!

I heard something about clustering, what the heck is that?

Remember I wrote about the services that Amibian.js has? Those that act almost like libraries on a physical computer? Well, these services don’t have to be on the same machine — you can place them on separate machines and thus its able to work faster.

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Above: The official Amibian.js cluster, 4 x ODroid XU4s SBC’s in a micro-rack

A cluster is typically several computers connected together, with the sole purpose of having more CPU cores to divide the work on. The cool thing about Amibian.js is that it doesn’t care about the underlying CPU. As long as node.js is available it will happily run whatever service you like – with the same behavior and result.

The official Amibian.js cluster consists of 5 ODroid XU4/S SBC (single board computers). Four of these are so-called “headless” computers, meaning that they don’t have a HDMI port – and they are designed to be logged into and software setup via SSH or similar tools. The last machine is a ODroid XU4 with a HDMI out port, which serves as “the master”.

The architecture is quite simple: We allocate one whole SBC for a single service, and allow the service to copy itself to use all the CPU cores available (each SBC has 8 CPU cores). With this architecture the machine that deals with the desktop clients don’t have to do all the grunt work. It will accept tasks from the user and hosted applications, and then delegate the tasks between the 4 other machines.

Note: The number of SBC’s is not fixed. Depending on your use you might not need more than a single SBC in your home setup, or perhaps two. I have started with 5 because I want each part of the architecture to have as much CPU power as possible. So the first “official” Amibian.js setup is a 40 core monster shipping at around $250.

But like mentioned, you don’t have to buy this to use Amibian.js. You can install it on a single spare X86 PC you have, or daisy chain a couple of older PC’s on a switch for the same result.

Why Headless? Don’t you need a GPU?

The headless SBC’s in the initial design all have GPU (graphical processing unit) as well as audio capabilities. What they lack is GPIO pins and 3 additional USB ports. So each of the nodes on our cluster can handle graphics at blistering speed — but that is ultimately not their task. They serve more as compute modules that will be given tasks to finish quickly, while the main machine deals with users, sessions, traffic and security.

The 40 core cluster I use has more computing power than northern europe had in the early 80s, that’s something to think about. And the pricetag is under $300 (!). I dont know about you but I always wanted a proper mainframe, a distributed computing platform that you can login to and that can perform large tasks while I do something else. This is as close as I can get on a limited budget, yet I find the limitations thrilling and fun!

Part of the reason I have opted for a clustered design has to do with future development. While UAE.js is brilliant to emulate an Amiga directly in the browser – a more interesting design is to decouple the emulation from the output. In other words, run the emulation at full speed server-side, and just stream the display and sounds back to the Amibian.js display. This would ensure that emulation, of any platform, runs as fast as possible, makes use of multi-processing (read: multi threading) and fully utilize the network bandwidth within the design (the cluster runs on its own switch, separate from the outside world-wide-web).

I am also very interested in distributed computing, where we split up a program and run each part on different cores. This is a topic I want to investigate further when Amibian.js is completed. It would no doubt require a re-design of the LDEF bytecode system, but this something to research later.

Will Amibian.js replace my Windows box?

That depends completely on what you use Windows for. The goal is to create a self-sustaining system. For retro computing, emulation and writing cool applications Amibian.js will be awesome. But Rome was not built-in a day, so it’s wise to be patient and approach Amibian.js like you would Chrome OS. Some tasks are better suited for native systems like Linux, but more and more tasks will run just fine on a cloud desktop like Amibian.js.

Until the IDE and compilers are in place after phase two, the system will be more like an embedded OS. But when the LDEF compiler and IDE is in place, then people will start using it en-mass and produce applications for it. It’s always a bit of work to reach that point and create critical mass.

tomes

Object Pascal is awesome, but modern, native development systems are quite demanding

My personal need has to do with development. Some of the languages I use installs gigabytes onto my PC and you need a full laptop to access them. I love Amibian.js because I will be able to work anywhere in the world, as long as a browser and normal internet line is available. In my case I can install a native compiler on one of the nodes in the cluster, and have LDEF emit compatible code; voila, you can build app-store ready applications from within a browser environment.

 

I also love that I can set-up a dedicated platform that runs legacy applications, games – and that I can write new applications and services using modern, off the shelve languages. And should a node in the cluster break down, I can just copy the whole system over to a new, affordable SBC and keep going. No super expensive hardware to order, no absurd hosting fees, and finally a system that we all can shape and use in a plethora of systems. From a fully fledged desktop to a super advanced NAS or Router that use Amibian.js to give it’s customers a fantastic experience.

And yes, I get to re-create the wonderful reality of Amiga OS without the absurd egoism that dominates the Amiga owners to this day. I don’t even know where to begin with the present license holders – and I am so sick of the drama that rolling my own seemed the only reasonable path forward.

Well — I hope this helps clear up any misconceptions about Amibian.js, and that you find this as interesting as I do. As more and more services are pushed cloud-side, the more relevant Amibian.js will become. It is perfect as a foundation for large-scale applications, embedded systems — and indeed, as a solo platform running on embedded devices!

I cant wait to finish the services and cluster this sucker on the ODroid rack!

If you find this project interesting, head over to my Patreon website and get involved! I could really use your support, even if it’s just a $5 “high five”. Visit the project at: http://www.patreon.com/quartexNow

Smart Mobile Studio presentation in Oslo

September 28, 2018 Leave a comment

Yesterday evening I traveled to Oslo and held a presentation on Smart Mobile Studio. The response was very positive and I hope that everyone who attended left with some new ideas regarding JavaScript, the direction the world of software is heading – and how Smart Mobile Studio can be of service to Delphi.

Smart Pascal is especially exciting in concert with Rad-Server, where it opens the doors to Node based, platform independent services and sub clustering. With relatively little effort Rad-Server can absorb the wealth that node has to offer through Smart – but on your terms, and under Delphi’s control. The best of both worlds.

You get the stability and structure that makes Delphi so productive, and then infuse that with the flamboyance, flair and async brilliance that JavaScript represents.

More important than technology is the community! It’s been a few years since I took part in the Oslo Delphi Club’s meetups, so it was great to chat with Halvard Vassbotten, Trond Grøntoft, Alf Christoffersen, Torgeir Amundsen and Robin Bakker face to face again. I also had the pleasure of meeting some new Delphi developers.

prespic

Presentation at ABG Sundal Collier’s offices in Oslo

Thankfully the number of attendees were a moderate 14, considering this was my first presentation ever. Last time I visited was when our late Paweł Głowacki presented FMX, and the turnout was in the ballpark of a hundred. So it was an easy-going, laid-back atmosphere throughout the evening.

Conflict of interest?

Some might wonder why a person working for Embarcadero will present Smart Mobile Studio, which some still regard as competition. Smart is not in competition with Delphi and never will be. It is written by Delphi developers for Delphi developers as a means to bridge two worlds. It’s a project of loyalty and passion. We continue because we love what it enables us to do.

The talks on Smart that I am holding now, including the november talk in London, were booked before I started at Embarcadero (so it’s not a case of me promoting Smart in leu of Embarcadero). I also made it perfectly clear when I accepted the job that my work on Smart will continue in my spare time. And Embarcadero is fine with that. So I am free to spend my after-work hours and weekend time as I see fit.

smart_desktop

The Smart Desktop, codename Amibian.js, is a solid foundation for building large-scale web front-ends. Importing Sencha’s JS API’s can be done via our TypeScript wizard

So, after my presentation in London in november Smart Mobile Studio presentations (at least hosted by me) can only take place during weekends. Which is fair and the way it should be.

Recording the English version

Since the presentation last evening was in Norwegian, there was little point in recording it. Norway have a healthy share of Delphi developers, but a programming language available internationally must be presented in English.

techA couple of months back, before I started working for Embarcadero I promised to do a video presentation that would be available on Delphi Developer and YouTube. I very much like to keep that promise. So I will re-do the presentation in English as soon as possible. I would have done it today after work, but buying tech from the US have changed quite dramatically in just a couple of years.

In short: I haven’t received the remaining equipment I ordered for professional video recording and audio podcasting (which is a part of my Patreon offering as well), as such there will be no live video-feed /slash/ webinar – and questions will be limited to either the comment-section on Delphi Developer; or perhaps more appropriate, the Smart Mobile Studio Forums.

I’m hoping to get the HD camera, mic-table-arm and various bits-and-bobs i ordered from the US sometime next week. I have no idea why FedEx have become so difficult lately, but the package is apparently at LaGuardia, and I have to send receipts that document that these items are paid for before they ship them abroad (so the package manifest listing me as the customer, my address, phone number and receipt from the seller is somehow not enough). This is a first for me.

Interestingly they also stopped a package from Embarcadero with giveaways for my upcoming Delphi presentation in Sweden – at which point I had to send them a copy of my work contract to prove that I indeed work for an American company.

But a promise is a promise, so come rain or shine it will be done. Worst case scenario we can put Samsung’s claims to the test and hook up a mic + photo lens and see if their commercials have any merit.

HexLicense, Patreon and all that

September 6, 2018 Comments off

Apparently using modern service like Patreon to maintain components has become a point of annoyance and confusion. I realize that I formulated the initial HexLicense post somewhat vague and confusing, in retrospect I will admit that and also take critique for not spending a little more time on preparations.

Having said that, I also corrected the mistake quickly and clarified the situation. I feel some of the comments have been excessively critical for something that, ultimately, is a service to the community. But I’ll roll with the punches and let’s just put this issue to bed.

From the top please

fromthetopI have several products and frameworks that naturally takes time to maintain and evolve. And having to maintain websites, pay for tax and invoicing services, pay for hosting (and so on), well it consumes a lot of hours. Hours that I can no longer afford to spend (my work at Embarcadero must come first, I have a family to support). So Patreon is a great way to optimize a very busy schedule.

Today developers solve a lot of the business strain by using Patreon. They make their products open source, but give those that support and help fund the development special perks, such as early access, special builds and a more direct line of control over where the different projects and sub-projects are heading.

The public repository that everyone has access to is maintained by pushing the code on interval, meaning that the public “free stuff” (LGPL v3 license) will be some months behind the early-access that patrons enjoy. This is common and the same approach both large and small teams go about things in 2018. Quite radical compared to what we “old-timers” are used to, but that’s how things work now. I just go with flow and try to do the most amount of good on the journey.

Benefits of Patreon

The benefits are many, but first and foremost it has to do with time. Developer don’t have to maintain 3-4 websites, pay for invoicing services on said products, pay hosting fees and rent support forums — instead focus is on getting things done. So instead of an hour here and there, you can (based on the level of support) allocate X hours within a week or weekend that are continuous.

4a128ea6852444fbfc89022be4132e9b

Patreon solves two things: time and cost

Everyone wins. Those that support and help fund the projects enjoy early access and special builds. The community at large wins because the public repository is likewise maintained, albeit somewhat behind the cutting edge code patrons enjoy. And the developers wins because he or she doesn’t have to run around like a mad chicken maintaining X number of websites -wasting more time doing maintenance than building cool new features.

 

And above all, pricing goes down. By spreading the cost over a larger base of interest, people get access to code that used to cost $200 for $35. The more people that helps out, the more the cost can be reduced per tier.

To make it crystal clear what the status of my frameworks and component packages are, here is a carbon copy from HexLicense.com

For immediate release

Effective immediately HexLicense is open-source, released under the GNU Lesser General Public License v3. You can read the details of that license by clicking here.

Patreon model

Patreon_logo.svgIn order to consolidate the various projects I maintain, I have established a Patreon account. This means that people can help fund further development on HexLicense, LDEF, Amibian and various Delphi libraries as a whole. This greatly simplifies things for everyone.

I will be able to allocate time based on a broader picture, I also don’t need to pay for invoicing services, web hosting and more. This allows me to continue to evolve the components and code, but without so many separate product identities to maintain.

Patreon supporters will receive updates before anyone else and have direct access to the latest code at all times. The public bitbucket repository will be updated on interval, but will by consequence be behind the Patreon updates.

Further security

One of the core goals on Patreon is the evolution of a bytecode compiler. This should be of special interest to HexLicense users. Being able to compile modules that hackers will be unable to debug gives you a huge advantage. The engine is designed so that the instruction-set can be randomized for a particular build. Making it unique for your application.

patron_asm1

The LDEF assembler prototype running under Smart Mobile Studio

Well, I want to thank everyone involved. It has been a great journey to produce so many components, libraries and solutions over the years – but now it’s time for me to cut down on the number of projects and focus on core technology.

HexLicense with the update license files will be uploaded to BitBucket shortly.

Sincerly

Jon Lennart Aasenden

 

 

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.

shot_desktop-1024x819-2-1024x819

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:

chrome://gpu

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.

Qtwebenginebrowser

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.

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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.

Power for pennies, getting a server rack and preparing my ultimate coding environment

July 18, 2018 Leave a comment

One of the benefits of doing repairs on your house, is that during the cleanup process you come over stuff you had completely forgot about. Like two very powerful Apple blade servers (x86) I received as a present three years ago. I never got around to using them because I there was literally no room in my house for a rack cabinet.

Sure, a medium model rack cabinet isn’t that big (the size of a cabin refrigerator), but you also have to factor in that servers are a lot more noisy than desktop PCs; the older they are the more noise they make. So unless you have a good spot to place the cabinet, where the noise wont make it unbearable to be around,  I suggest you just rent a virtual instance at Amazon or something. It really depends on how much service coding you do, if you need to do dedicated server and protocol stress testing (the list goes on).

Power for pennies

serverrack

Sellers photo. It needs a good clean, but this kit would have set you back $5000 a decade ago; so picking this up for $400 is almost ridicules.

The price of such cabinets (when buying new ones) can be anything from $800 to $5000 depending on the capacity, features and materials. My needs for a personal server farm are more than covered by a medium cabinet. If it wasnt for my VMWare needs I would say it was overkill. But some of my work, especially with node.js and Delphi system services that should handle terabytes of raw data reliably 24/7, that demands a hard-core testing environment.

Having stumbled upon my blade servers I decided to check the local second-hand online forum; and I was lucky enough to find (drumroll) a second-hand cabinet holding a total of 10 blades for $400. So I’ll be picking up this beauty next weekend. It will be so good to finally get my blades organized. Not to mention all my SBC / Node.js cluster experiments centralized in one physical location. Far away from my home office space (!)

Interestingly, it comes fitted with 3 older servers. There are two Dell web and file servers, and then a third, unmarked mystery box (i3 cpu + sata caddies so that sounds good).

It really is amazing how much cpu fire-power you can pick up for practically nothing these days. $50 buys you a SBC (single board computer) that will rival a Pentium. $400 buys you a 10 blade cabinet and 3 servers that once powered a national newspaper (!).

VMWare delights

All the blades I have mentioned so far are older models. They are still powerful machines, way more than $400 livingroom NAS would get you. So my node.js clustering will run like a dream and I will be able to host all my Delphi development environments via VMware. Which brings us neatly to the blade I am really looking forward to get into the rack.

I bought an empty server blade case back in 2015. It takes a PSU, motherboard, fans and everything else is there (even the six caddies for disks). Into this seemingly worthless metal box I put a second generation Intel i7 monster (Asus motherboard), with 32 gigabyte ram – and fitted it with a sexy NVidia GEFORCE GTX 1080 TI.

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All my Delphi work, Smart work and various legacy projects I maintain, all in one neat rack

This little monster (actually it takes up 2 blade-spots) allows me to run VMWare server, which gives me at least 10 instances of Windows (or Linux, or OSX) at the same time. It will also be able to host and manage roughly 1000 active Smart Desktop users (the bottleneck will be the disk and network more than actual computation).

Being a coder in 2018 is just fantastic!

Things we could only dream about a decade ago can now be picked up for close to nothing (compared to the original cost). Just awesome!

 

What is new in Smart Mobile Studio 3.0

July 16, 2018 1 comment

Trying to sum up the literally thousands of changes we have done in Smart Mobile Studio the past 12 months is quite a challenge. Instead of just blindly rambling on about every little detail – I’ll try to focus on the most valuable changes; changes that you can immediately pick up and experience for yourself.

Scriptable css themes

theme_structure

A visual control now has its border and background styled from our pre-defined styles. The styles serve the same function in all themes even though they look different.

This might not feel like news since we introduced this around xmas, but like all features it has matured through the beta phases. The benefits of the new system might not be immediately obvious.

So what is so fantastic about the new theme files compared to the old css styling?

We have naturally gone over every visual control to make them look better, but more importantly – we have defined a standard for how visual controls are styled. This is important because without a theme system in place, making application “theme aware” would be impossible.

  • Each theme file is constructed according to a standard
  • A visual control is no longer styled using a single css-rule (like we did before), but rather a combination of several styles:
    • There are 15 background styles, each with a designated role
    • There are 14 borders, each designed to work with specific backgrounds
    • We have 4 font sizes to simplify what small, normal, medium and large means for a particular theme.
  • A theme file contains both CSS and Smart pascal code
  • The code is sandboxed and has no access to the filesystem or RTL
  • The code is executed at compile time, not runtime (!). So the code is only used to generate things like gradients based on constants; “scaffolding” code if you will that makes it easier to maintain and create new themes.

Optimized and re-written visual controls

Almost all our visual controls have been re-written or heavily adjusted to meet the demands of our users. The initial visual controls were originally designed as examples, following in the footsteps of mono where users are expected to work more closely with the code.

To remedy this we have gone through each control and added features you would expect to be present. In most cases the controls are clean re-writes, taking better advantage of HTML5 features such as flex-boxing and relative positions (you can now change layout mode via the PositionMode property. Displaymode is likewise a read-write property).

flexing

Flex boxing relieves controls of otherwise expensive layout chores and evenly distributes elements

Flex-boxing is a layout technique where the browser will automatically stretch or equally distribute screen real estate for child elements. Visual controls like TW3Toolbar and TW3ListMenu makes full use of this – and as a result they are more lightweight, requires no resize code and behave like native controls.

Momentum scrolling as standard

Apple have changed the rules for scrolling 3 times in the past eight years, and it’s driving HTML/JS developers nuts every time. We decided years ago that we had enough and implemented momentum scrolling ourselves written in Smart Pascal. So no matter if Apple or anyone else decides to make life difficult for developers – it wont bother us.

momentum

Momentum scrolling with indicator (or scrollbars) are now standard for all container controls and lists.

Our new TW3Scrollbox and (non visual) TW3ScrollController means that all our container and list controls supports GPU powered momentum scrolling by default. You can also disable this and use whatever default method the underlying web-view or browser has to offer.

Bi-directional Tab control

A good tab control is essential when making mobile and web applications, but making one that behaves like native controls do is quite a challenge. We see a lot of frameworks that have problems doing the bi-directional scrolling that mobile tabs do, where the headers scroll in-place as you click or touch them – and the content of the tab scroll in from either side (at the same time).

tabcontrol

Thankfully this was not that hard to implement for us, since we have proper inheritance to fall back on. JS developers tend to be limited to prototype cloning, which makes it difficult to build up more and more complex behavior. Smart enjoys the same inheritance system that Delphi and C++ uses, and this makes life a lot easier.

Google Maps control

Not exactly hard to make but a fun addition to our RTL. Very useful in applications where you want to pinpoint office locations.

google-maps-android-100664872-orig

Updated ACE coding editor

ACE is by many regarded as the de-facto standard text and code editor for JavaScript. It is a highly capable editor en-par with SynEdit in the Delphi and C++ world. This is actually the only visual control that we did not implement ourselves, although our wrapper code is substantial.

ace

Ace comes with a wealth of styles (color themes) and support for different programming languages. It can also take on the behavior of other editors like emacs (an editor as old as Unix).

We have updated Ace to the latest revision and tuned the wrapper code for speed. There was a small problem with padding that caused Ace to misbehave earlier, this has now been fixed.

The Smart Desktop, windowing framework

People have asked us for more substantial demos of what Smart Mobile Studio can do. Well this certainly qualifies. It is probably the biggest product demo ever made and represents a complete visual web desktop with an accompanying server (the Ragnarok Websocket protocol).

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The Smart Desktop showcases some of the power Smart Mobile Studio can muster

It involves quite a bit of technology, including a filesystem that uses the underlying protocol to browse and access files on the server as if they were local. It can also execute shell applications remotely and pipe the results back.

A shell window and command-line system is also included, where commands like “dir” yields the actual directory of whatever path you explore on the server.

Since the browser has no concept of “window” (except a browser window) this is fully implemented as Smart classes. Moving windows, maximizing them (and other common operations) are all included.

The Smart desktop is a good foundation for making large-scale, enterprise level web applications. Applications the size of Photoshop could be made with our desktop framework, and it makes an excellent starting-point for developers involved in router, set-top-boxes and kiosk systems.

Node.JS and server-side technology

While we have only begun to expand our node.js namespace, it is by far one of the most interesting aspects of Smart Mobile Studio 3.0. Where we only used to have rudimentary support (or very low-level) for things like http – the SmartNJ namespace represents high-level classes that can be compared to Indy under Delphi.

As of writing the following servers can be created:

  • HTTP and HTTPS
  • WebSocket and WebSocket-Secure
  • UDP Server
  • Raw TCP server

The cool thing is that the entire system namespace with all our foundation code, is fully compatible and can be used under node. This means streams, buffers, JSON, our codec classes and much, much more.

I will cover the node.js namespace in more detail soon enough.

Unified filesystem

The browser allows some access to files, within a sandboxed and safe environment. The problem is that this system is completely different from what you find under phonegap, which in turn is wildly different from what node.js operates with.

In order for us to make it easy to store information in a unified way, which also includes online services such as Azure, Amazon and Dropbox — we decided to make a standard.

filesys

The Smart Desktop shows the filesystem and device classes in action. Here accessing the user-account files on the server both visually and through our command-line (shell) application.

So in Smart Mobile Studio we introduce two new concepts:

  • Storage device classes (or “drivers”)
  • Path parsers

The idea is that if you want to save a stream to a file, there should be a standard mechanism for doing so. A mechanism that also works under node, phonegap and whatever else is out there.

For the browser we went as far as implementing our own filesystem, based on a fast B-Tree class that can be serialized to both binary and JSON. For Node.js we map to the existing filesystem methods – and we will continue to expand the RTL with new and exciting storage devices as we move along.

Path parsers deals with how operative-systems name and deal with folders and files. Microsoft Windows has a very different system from Unix, which again can have one or two subtle differences from Linux. When a Smart application boots it will investigate what platform it’s running on, and create + install an appropriate path parser.

You will also be happy to learn that the unit System.IOUtils, which is a standard object pascal unit, is now a part of our RTL. It contains the class TPath which gives you standard methods for working with paths and filenames.

New text parser

Being able to parse text is important. We ported our TextCraft parser (initially written for Delphi) to Smart, which is a good framework for making both small and complex parsers. And we also threw in a bytecode assembler and virtual-cpu demo just for fun.

Note: The assembler and virtual cpu is meant purely as a demonstration of the low-level routines our RTL has to offer. Most JS based systems run away from raw data manipulation, well that is not the case here.

asmparse

Time to get excited!

I hope you have enjoyed this little walk-through. There are hundreds of other items we have added, fixed and expanded (we have also given the form-designer and property inspector some much needed love) – but some of the biggest changes are shown here.

For more information stay tuned and visit www.smartmobilestudio.com

Smart Pascal file enumeration under node.js

May 10, 2018 Leave a comment

Ok. I admit it. Writing an RTL from scratch has been one of the hardest tasks I have ever undertaken. Thankfully I have not been alone, but since I am the lead developer for the RTL, it naturally falls on me to keep track of the thousands of classes it comprises; how each affect the next, the many inheritance chains and subsequent causality timelines that each namespace represents.

We were the first company in the world to do this, to establish the compiler technology and then author a full RTL on top of that – designed to wrap and run on top of the JavaScript virtual machine. To be blunt, we didn’t have the luxury to looking at what others had done before us. For every challenge we have had to come up with solutions ourselves.

Be that as it may, after seven years we have gotten quite good at framework architecture. So whenever we need to deal with a new runtime environment such as node.js – we  have already built up a lot of experience with async JSVM development, so we are able to absorb and adapt much faster than our competitors.

Digging into a new platform

Whenever I learn a new language, I typically make a little list of “how do I do this?” type questions. It can be simple, like writing text to stdout, or more elaborate like memory mapped files, inheritance model, raw memory access and similar topics.

But one of the questions have always been: how do I enumerate files in a folder?

While this question is trivial at best, it stabs at the heart of the sub structure of any language. On operating systems like Linux a file is not just data on a disk like we are used to from Windows. A file can be a socket, a virtual access point exposed by the kernel, a domain link, a symbolic link or a stream. So my simple question is actually motivated to expose the depth of the language im learning. I then write down whatever topics come up and then research / experiment on them separately.

Node, like the browser, executes code asynchronously. This means that the code you write cannot be blocking (note: node does support synchronous file IO methods, but you really don’t want to use them in a server. They are typically used before the server is started to load preferences files and data).

As you can imagine, this throws conventional coding out the window. Node exposes a single function that returns an array of filenames (array of string), which helps, but it tells you nothing about the files. You don’t get the size, the type, create and modify timestamps – just the names.

To get the information I just mentioned you have to call a function called “fs.stat”. This is a common POSIX filesystem command. But again we face the fact that everything is async, so that “for / next” loop is useless.

Luke Filewalker

In version 3.0 of Smart Mobile Studio our Node.JS namespace (collection of units with code) has been upgraded and expanded considerably. We have thrown out almost all our older dependencies (like utf8.js and base64.js) and implemented these as proper codec classes in Smart Pascal directly.

Our websocket framework has been re-written from scratch. We threw out the now outdated websocket-io and instead use the standard “ws” framework that is the most popular and actively maintained module on NPM.

We have also implemented the same storage-device class that is available in the browser, so that you can write file-io code that works the same both server-side and client-side. The changes are in the hundreds so I wont iterate through them all here, they will be listed in detail on the release-notes document when the time comes.

But what is a server without a fast, reliable way of enumerating files?

Well, here at the Smart Company we use our own products. So when writing servers and node micro-services we face the exact same challenges as our customers would. Our job is to write ready solutions for these problems, so that you don’t have to spend days and weeks re-inventing the wheel.

Enumerating files is handled by the class TNJFileWalker (I was so tempted to call it Luke). This takes care of everything for you, all the nitty-gritty is neatly packed into a single, easy to use class.

Here is an example:

luke

Enumerating files has literally been reduced to childs play

The class also expose the events you would expect, including a filtering event where you can validate if a file should be included in the final result. You can even control the dispatching speed (or delay between item processing) which is helpful for payload balancing. If you have 100 active users all scanning their files at the same time -you probably want to give node the chance to breathe (20ms is a good value).

The interface for the class is equally elegant and easy to understand:

luke2

What would you prefer to maintain? 500.000 lines of JavaScript or 20.000 lines of pascal?

Compare that to some of the spaghetti JavaScript developers have to live with just to perform a file-walk and then do a recursive “delete folder”. Sure hope they check for “/” so they don’t kill the filesystem root by accident.

const fs = require('fs');
const path = require('path');

function filewalker(dir, done) {
    let results = [];

    fs.readdir(dir, function(err, list) {
        if (err) return done(err);

        var pending = list.length;

        if (!pending) return done(null, results);

        list.forEach(function(file){
            file = path.resolve(dir, file);

            fs.stat(file, function(err, stat){
                // If directory, execute a recursive call
                if (stat && stat.isDirectory()) {
                    // Add directory to array [comment if you need to remove the directories from the array]
                    results.push(file);

                    filewalker(file, function(err, res){
                        results = results.concat(res);
                        if (!--pending) done(null, results);
                    });
                } else {
                    results.push(file);

                    if (!--pending) done(null, results);
                }
            });
        });
    });
};

function deleteFile(dir, file) {
    return new Promise(function (resolve, reject) {
        var filePath = path.join(dir, file);
        fs.lstat(filePath, function (err, stats) {
            if (err) {
                return reject(err);
            }
            if (stats.isDirectory()) {
                resolve(deleteDirectory(filePath));
            } else {
                fs.unlink(filePath, function (err) {
                    if (err) {
                        return reject(err);
                    }
                    resolve();
                });
            }
        });
    });
};

function deleteDirectory(dir) {
    return new Promise(function (resolve, reject) {
        fs.access(dir, function (err) {
            if (err) {
                return reject(err);
            }
            fs.readdir(dir, function (err, files) {
                if (err) {
                    return reject(err);
                }
                Promise.all(files.map(function (file) {
                    return deleteFile(dir, file);
                })).then(function () {
                    fs.rmdir(dir, function (err) {
                        if (err) {
                            return reject(err);
                        }
                        resolve();
                    });
                }).catch(reject);
            });
        });
    });
};