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Using multiple languages is the same project

August 21, 2019 Leave a comment

Most compilers can only handle a single syntax for any project, but the Elements compiler from RemObjects deals with 5 (five!) different languages -even within the same project. That’s pretty awesome and opens up for some considerable savings.

I mean, it’s not always easy to find developers for a single language, but when you can approach your codebase from C#, Java, Go, Swift and Oxygene (object pascal) at the same time (inside the same project even!), you suddenly have some options.  Especially since you can pick exotic targets like WebAssembly. Or what about compiling Java to .net bytecodes? Or using the VCL from C#? It’s pretty awesome stuff!

Check out Marc Hoffmans article on the Elements compiler toolchain and how you can mix and match between languages, picking the best from each — while still compiling to a single binary of llvm optimized code:

mixins

Click on the picture to be redirected

 

RemObjects Elements + ODroid N2 = true

August 7, 2019 Leave a comment

Since the release of Raspberry PI back in 2012 the IOT and Embedded market has exploded. The price of the PI SBC (single board computer) enabled ordinary people without any engineering background to create their own software and hardware projects; and with that the IOT revolution was born.

Almost immediately after the PI became a success, other vendors wanted a piece of the pie (pun intended), and an avalanche of alternative mini computers started surfacing in vast quantities. Yet very few of these so-called “pi killers” actually stood a chance. The power of the Raspberry PI is not just price, it’s actually the ecosystem around the product. All those shops selling electronic parts that you can use in your IOT projects for example.

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The ODroid N2, one of the fastest SBCs in it’s class

The ODroid family of single-board computers stands out as unique in this respect. Where other boards have come and gone, the ODroid family of boards have remained stable, popular and excellent alternatives to the Raspberry PI. Hardkernel, the maker of Odroid boards and its many peripherals, are not looking for a “quick buck” like others have. Instead they have slowly and steadily perfected their hardware,  software, and seeded a great community.

ODroid is very popular at RemObjects, and when we added 64-bit ARM Linux support a couple of weeks back, it was the ODroid N2 board we used for testing. It has been a smooth ride all the way.

ODroid

As I am typing this, a collection of ODroid XU4s is humming away inside a small, desktop cluster I have built. This cluster is made up of 5 x ODroid XU4 boards, with an additional ODroid N2 acting as the head (the board that controls the rest via the network).

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My ODroid Cluster in all its glory

Prior to picking ODroid for my own projects, I took the time to test the most popular boards on the market. I think I went through eight or ten models, but none of the other were even close to the quality of ODroid. It’s very easy to confuse aggressive marketing with quality. You can have the coolest hardware in the world, but if it lacks proper drivers and a solid Linux distribution, it’s for all means and purposes a waste of time.

Since IOT is something that i find exciting on a personal level, being able to target 64-bit ARM Linux has topped my wish-list for quite some time. So when our compiler wizard Carlo Kok wanted to implement support for 64-bit ARM-Linux, I was thrilled!

We used the ODroid N2 throughout the testing phase, and the whole process was very smooth. It took Carlo roughly 3 days to add support for 64-bit ARM Linux and it hit our main channel within a week.

I must stress that while ODroid N2 is one of our verified SBCs, the code is not explicitly about ODroid. You can target any 64-bit ARM SBC providing you use a Debian based Linux (Ubuntu, Mint etc). I tested the same code on the NanoPI board and it ran on the first try.

Why is this important?

The whole point of the Elements compiler toolchain, is not just to provide alternative compilers; it’s also to ensure that the languages we support become first class citizens, side by side with other archetypical languages. For example, if all you know is C# or Java, writing kernel drivers has been our of limits. If you are operating with traditional Java or .Net, you have to use a native bridge (like the service host under Windows). Your only other option was to code that particular piece in traditional C.

Water-Weather-tvOS@2x

With Elements you can pick whatever language you know and target everything

With Elements that is no longer the case, because our compilers generates llvm optimized machine-code; code that in terms of speed, access and power stand side by side with C/C++. You can even import C/C++ header files and work directly with the existing infrastructure. There is no middleware, no service host, no bytecodes and no compromise.

Obviously you can compile to bytecodes too if you like (or WebAssembly), but there are caveats to watch out for when using bytecodes on SBCs. The garbage collector can make or break your product, because when it kicks in -it causes CPU spikes. This is where Elements step-up and delivers true native compilation. For all supported targets.

More boards to come

This is just my personal blog, so for the full overview of boards I am testing there will be a proper article on our official RemObjects blog-space. Naturally I can’t test every single board on the market, but I have around 10 different models which covers the common boards used by IOT and embedded projects.

But for now at least, you can check off the ODroid N2 (64-bit) and NanoPI-Fire 2 (32-bit)

Check out RemObjects Remoting SDK

July 22, 2019 2 comments

RemObjects Remoting SDK is one of those component packages that have become more than the sum of it’s part. Just like project Jedi has become standard equipment almost, Remoting SDK is a system that all Delphi and Freepascal developers should have in their toolbox.

ro_logo
In this article I’m going to present the SDK in broad strokes; from a viewpoint of someone who haven’t used the SDK before. There are still a large number of Delphi developers that don’t know it even exists – hopefully this post will shed some light on why the system is worth every penny and what it can do for you.

I should also add, that this is a personal blog. This is not an official RemObjects presentation, but a piece written by me based on my subjective experience and notions. We have a lot of running dialog at Delphi Developer on Facebook, so if I read overly harsh on a subject, that is my personal view as a Delphi Developer.

Stop re-inventing the wheel

Delphi has always been a great tool for writing system services. It has accumulated a vast ecosystem of non-visual components over the years, both commercial and non-commercial, and this allows developers to quickly aggregate and expose complex behavior — everything from graphics processing to databases, file processing to networking.

The challenge for Delphi is that writing large composite systems, where you have more than a single service doing work in concert, is not factored into the RTL or project type. Delphi provides a bare-bone project type for system services, and that’s it. Depending on how you look at it, it’s either a blessing or a curse. You essentially start on C level.

So fundamental things like IPC (inter process communication) is something you have to deal with yourself. If you want multi-tenancy that is likewise not supported out of the box. And all of this is before we venture into protocol standards, message formats and async vs synchronous execution.

The idea behind Remoting SDK is to get away from this style of low-level hacking. Without sounding negative, it provides the missing pieces that Delphi lacks, including the stuff that C# developers enjoy under .net (and then some). So if you are a Delphi developer who look over at C# with smudge of envy, then you are going to love Remoting SDK.

Say goodbye to boilerplate mistakes

Writing distributed servers and services is boring work. For each function you expose, you have to define the parameters and data-types in a portable way, then you have to implement the code that represents the exposed function and finally the interface itself that can be consumed by clients. The latter must be defined in a way that works with other languages too, not just Delphi. So while server tech in it’s essential form is quite simple, it’s the infrastructure that sets the stage of how quickly you can apply improvements and adapt to change.

For example, let’s say you have implemented a wonderful new service. It exposes 60 awesome functions that your customers can consume in their own work. The amount of boilerplate code for 60 distributed functions, especially if you operate with composite data types, is horrendous. It is a nightmare to manage and opens up for sloppy, unnecessary mistakes.

ide_int

After you install Remoting SDK, the service designer becomes a part of the IDE

This is where Remoting SDK truly shines. When you install the software, it integrates it’s editors and wizards closely with the Delphi IDE. It adds a ton of new project types, components and whatnot – but the most important feature is without a doubt the service designer.

bonjour

Start the service-designer in any server or service project and you can edit the methods, data types and interfaces your system expose to the world

As the name implies, the service designer allows you to visually define your services. Adding a new function is a simple click, the same goes for datatypes and structures (record types). These datatypes are exposed too and can be consumed from any modern language. So a service you make in Delphi can be used from C#, C/C++, Java, Oxygene, Swift (and visa-versa).

Auto generated code

A service designer is all good and well I hear you say, but what about that boilerplate code? Well Remoting SDK takes care of that too (kinda the point). Whenever you edit your services, the designer will auto-generate a new interface unit for you. This contains the classes and definitions that describe your service. It will also generate an implementation unit, with empty functions; you just need to fill in the blanks.

The designer is also smart enough not to remove code. So if you go in and change something, it won’t just delete the older implementation procedure. Only the params and names will be changed if you have already written some code.

bonjour_source

Having changed a service, hitting F9 re-generates the interface code automatically. Your only job is to fill in the code for each method in the implementation units. The SDK takes care of everything else for you

The service information, including the type information, is stored in a special file format called “rodl”. This format is very close to Microsoft WSDL format, but it holds more information. It’s important to underline that you can import the service directly from your servers (optional naturally) as WSDL. So if you want to consume a Remoting SDK service using Delphi’s ordinary RIO components, that is not a problem. Visual Studio likewise imports and consumes services – so Remoting SDK behaves identical regardless of platform or language used.

Remoting SDK is not just for Delphi, just to be clear on that. If you are presently using both Delphi and C# (which is a common situation), you can buy a license for both C# and Delphi and use whatever language you feel is best for a particular task or service. You can even get Remoting SDK for Javascript and call your service-stack directly from your website if you like. So there are a lot of options for leveraging the technology.

Transport is not content

OK so Remoting SDK makes it easy to define distributed services and servers. But what about communication? Are we boxed into RemObjects way of doing things?

The remoting framework comes with a ton of components, divided into 3 primary groups:

  • Servers
  • Channels (clients)
  • Messages

The reason for this distinction is simple: the ability to transport data, is never the same as the ability to describe data. For example, a message is always connected to a standard. It’s job is ultimately to serialize (represent) and de-serialize data according to a format. The server’s job is to receive a request and send a response. So these concepts are neatly decoupled for maximum agility.

As of writing the SDK offers the following message formats:

  • Binary
  • Post
  • SOAP
  • JSON

If you are exposing a service that will be consumed from JavaScript, throwing in a TROJSONMessage component is the way to go. If you expect messages to be posted from your website using ordinary web forms, then TROPostMessage is a perfect match. If you want XML then TROSOAPMessage rocks, and if you want fast, binary messages – well then there is TROBinaryMessage.

What you must understand is that you don’t have to pick just one! You can drop all 4 of these message formats and hook them up to your server or channel. The SDK is smart enough to recognize the format and use the correct component for serialization. So creating a distributed service that can be consumed from all major platforms is a matter of dropping components and setting a property.

channels

If you double-click on a server or channel, you can link message components with a simple click. No messy code snippets in sight.

Multi-tenancy out of the box

With the release of Rad-Server as a part of Delphi, people have started to ask what exactly multi-tenancy is and why it matters. I have to be honest and say that yes, it does matter if you are creating a service stack where you want to isolate the logic for each customer in compartments – but the idea that this is somehow new or unique is not the case. Remoting SDK have given users multi-tenancy support for 15+ years, which is also why I haven’t been too enthusiastic with Rad-Server.

Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t have an axe to grind with Rad-Server. The only reason I mention it is because people have asked how i feel about it. The tech itself is absolutely welcome, but it’s the licensing and throwing Interbase in there that rubs me the wrong way. If it could run on SQLite3 and was free with Enterprise I would have felt different about it.

mt-models

There are various models for multi-tenancy, but they revolve around the same principles

To get back on topic: multi-tenancy means that you can dynamically load services and expose them on demand. You can look at it as a form of plugin functionality. The idea in Rad-Server is that you can isolate a customer’s service in a separate package – and then load the package into your server whenever you need it.

ro_comps

Some of the components that ship with the system

The reason I dislike Rad-Server in this respect, is because they force you to compile with packages. So if you want to write a Rad-Server system, you have to compile your entire project as package-based, and ship a ton of .dpk files with your system. Packages is not wrong or bad per-se, but they open your system up on a fundamental level. There is nothing stopping a customer from rolling his own spoof package and potentially bypass your security.

There is also an issue with un-loading a package, where right now the package remains in memory. This means that hot-swapping packages without killing the server wont work.

Rad-Server is also hardcoded to use Interbase, which suddenly bring in licensing issues that rubs people the wrong way. Considering the price of Delphi in 2019, Rad-Server stands out as a bit of an oddity. And hardcoding a database into it, with the licensing issues that brings -just rendered the whole system mute for me. Why should I pay more to get less? Especially when I have been using multi-tenancy with RemObjects for some 15 years?

With Remoting SDK you have something called DLL servers, which does the exact same thing – but using ordinary DLL files (not packages!). You don’t have to compile your system with packages, and it takes just one line of code to make your main dispatcher aware of the loaded service.

This actually works so well that I use Remoting SDK as my primary “plugin” system. Even when I write ordinary desktop applications that has nothing to do with servers or services – I always try to compartmentalize features that could be replaced in the future.

For example, I’m a huge fan of ElevateDB, which is a native Delphi database engine that compiles directly into your executable. By isolating that inside a DLL as a service, my application is now engine agnostic – and I get a break from buying a truck load of components every time Delphi is updated.

Saving money

The thing about DLL services, is that you can save a lot of money. I’m actually using an ElevateDB license that was for Delphi 2007. I compiled the engine using D2007 into a DLL service — and then I consume that DLL from my more modern Delphi editions. I have no problem supporting or paying for components, that is right and fair, but having to buy new licenses for every single component each time Delphi is updated? This is unheard of in other languages, and I would rather ditch the platform all together than forking out $10k ever time I update.

dll_project

A DLL server can be used for many things if you are creative about it

While we are on the subject – Hydra is another great money saver. It allows you to use .net and Java libraries (both visual and non-visual) with Delphi. With Hydra you can design something in .net, compile it into a DLL file, and then use that from Delphi.

But — you can also compile things from Delphi, and use it in newer versions of Delphi. Im not forking out for a Developer Express update just to use what I have already paid for in the latest Delphi. I have one license, I compile the forms and components into a Hydra Module — and then use it from newer Delphi editions.

hydra

Hydra, which is a separate product, allows you to stuff visual components and forms inside a vanilla DLL. It allows cross  language use, so you can finally use Java and .net components inside your Delphi application

Bonjour support

Another feature I love is the zero configuration support. This is one of those things that you often forget, but that suddenly becomes important once you deploy a service stack on cluster level.

apple_bonjour_medium-e1485166557218Remoting SDK comes with support for Apple Bonjour, so if you want to use that functionality you have to install the Bonjour library from Apple. Once installed on your host machines, your RemObjects services can find each other.

ZeroConfig is not that hard to code manually. You can roll your own using UDP or vanilla messages. But getting service discovery right can be fiddly. One thing is broadcasting an UDP message saying “here I am”, it’s something else entirely to allow service discovery on cluster level.

If Bonjour is not your cup of tea, the SDK provides a second option, which is RemObjects own zero-config hub. You can dig into the documentation to find out more about this.

What about that IPC stuff you mentioned?

I mentioned IPC (inter process communication) at the beginning here, which is a must have if you are making a service stack where each member is expected to talk to the others. In a large server-system the services might not exist on the same, physical hardware either, so you want to take height for that.

With the SDK this is just another service. It takes 10 minutes to create a DLL server with the functionality to send and receive messages – and then you just load and plug that into all your services. Done. Finished.

Interestingly, Remoting SDK supports named-pipes. So if you are running on a Windows network it’s even easier. Personally I prefer to use a vanilla TCP/IP based server and channel, that way I can make use of my Linux blades too.

Building on the system

There is nothing stopping you from expanding the system that RemObjects have established. You are not forced to only use their server types, message types and class framework. You can mix and match as you see fit – and also inherit out your own variation if you need something special.

firm_foundation-720x340For example, WebSocket is an emerging standard that has become wildly popular. Remoting SDK does not support that out of the box, the reason is that the standard is practically identical to the RemObjects super-server, and partly because there must be room for third party vendors.

Andre Mussche took the time to implement a WebSocket server for Remoting SDK a few years back. Demonstrating in the process just how easy it is to build on the existing infrastructure. If you are already using Remoting SDK or want WebSocket support, head over to his github repository and grab the code there: https://github.com/andremussche/DelphiWebsockets

I could probably write a whole book covering this framework. For the past 15 years, RemObjects Remoting SDK is the first product I install after Delphi. It has become standard for me and remains an integral part of my toolkit. Other packages have come and gone, but this one remains.

Hopefully this post has tickled your interest in the product. No matter if you are maintaining a legacy service stack, or thinking about re implementing your existing system in something future-proof, this framework will make your life much, much easier. And it wont break the bank either.

You can visit the product page here: https://www.remotingsdk.com/ro/default.aspx

And you can check out the documentation here: https://docs.remotingsdk.com/

30% discount on all RemObjects products!

July 8, 2019 Leave a comment

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

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

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

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

Use the coupon code: “DelphiDeveloper”

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

 

A Delphi propertybag

July 7, 2019 10 comments

A long, long time ago, way back in the previous century, I often had to adjust a Visual Basic project my company maintained. Going from object-pascal to VB was more than a little debilitating; Visual Basic was not a compiled language like Delphi is, and it lacked more or less every feature you needed to produce good software.

source

I could probably make a VB clone using Delphi pretty easily. But I think the world has experienced enough suffering, no need to add more evil to the universe

Having said that, I have always been a huge fan of Basic (it was my first language after all, it’s what schools taught in the 70s and 80s). I think it was a terrible mistake for Microsoft to retire Basic as a language, because it’s a great way to teach kids the fundamentals of programming.

Visual Basic is still there though, available for the .Net framework, but to call it Basic is an insult of the likes of GFA Basic, Amos Basic and Blitz Basic; the mighty compilers of the past. If you enjoyed basic before Microsoft pushed out the monstrosity that is Visual Basic, then perhaps swing by GitHub and pick up a copy of BlitzBasic?  BlitzBasic is a completely different beast. It compiles to machine-code, allows inline assembly, and has been wildly popular for game developers over the years.

A property bag

The only feature that I found somewhat useful in Visual Basic, was an object called a propertybag. It’s just a fancy name for a dictionary, but it had a couple of redeeming factors beyond lookup ability. Like being able to load name-value-pairs from a string, recognizing datatypes and exposing type-aware read/write methods. Nothing fancy but handy when dealing with database connection-strings, shell parameters and the like.

So you could feed it strings like this:

first=12;second=hello there;third=3.14

And the class would parse out the names and values, stuff it in a dictionary, and you could easily extract the data you needed. Nothing fancy, but handy on rare occasions.

A Delphi version

Im mostly porting code from Delphi to Oxygene these days, but here is my Delphi implementation of the propertybag object. Please note that I haven’t bothered to implement the propertybag available in .Net. The Delphi version below is based on the Visual Basic 6 version, with some dependency injection thrown in for good measure.

unit fslib.params;

interface

{.$DEFINE SUPPORT_URI_ENCODING}

uses
  System.SysUtils,
  System.Classes,
  Generics.Collections;

type

  (* Exceptions *)
  EPropertybag           = class(exception);
  EPropertybagReadError  = class(EPropertybag);
  EPropertybagWriteError = class(EPropertybag);
  EPropertybagParseError = class(EPropertybag);

  (* Datatypes *)
  TPropertyBagDictionary = TDictionary ;

  IPropertyElement = interface
    ['{C6C937DF-50FA-4984-BA6F-EBB0B367D3F3}']
    function  GetAsInt: integer;
    procedure SetAsInt(const Value: integer);

    function  GetAsString: string;
    procedure SetAsString(const Value: string);

    function  GetAsBool: boolean;
    procedure SetAsBool(const Value: boolean);

    function  GetAsFloat: double;
    procedure SetAsFloat(const Value: double);

    function  GetEmpty: boolean;

    property Empty: boolean read GetEmpty;
    property AsFloat: double read GetAsFloat write SetAsFloat;
    property AsBoolean: boolean read GetAsBool write SetAsBool;
    property AsInteger: integer read GetAsInt write SetAsInt;
    property AsString: string read GetAsString write SetAsString;
  end;

  TPropertyBag = Class(TInterfacedObject)
  strict private
    FLUT:       TPropertyBagDictionary;
  strict protected
    procedure   Parse(NameValuePairs: string);
  public
    function    Read(Name: string): IPropertyElement;
    function    Write(Name: string; Value: string): IPropertyElement;

    procedure   SaveToStream(const Stream: TStream);
    procedure   LoadFromStream(const Stream: TStream);
    function    ToString: string; override;
    procedure   Clear; virtual;

    constructor Create(NameValuePairs: string); virtual;
    destructor  Destroy; override;
  end;

implementation

{$IFDEF SUPPORT_URI_ENCODING}
uses
  system.NetEncoding;
{$ENDIF}

const
  cnt_err_sourceparameters_parse =
  'Failed to parse input, invalid or damaged text error [%s]';

  cnt_err_sourceparameters_write_id =
  'Write failed, invalid or empty identifier error';

  cnt_err_sourceparameters_read_id =
  'Read failed, invalid or empty identifier error';

type

  TPropertyElement = class(TInterfacedObject, IPropertyElement)
  strict private
    FName:      string;
    FData:      string;
    FStorage:   TPropertyBagDictionary;
  strict protected
    function    GetEmpty: boolean; inline;

    function    GetAsInt: integer; inline;
    procedure   SetAsInt(const Value: integer); inline;

    function    GetAsString: string; inline;
    procedure   SetAsString(const Value: string); inline;

    function    GetAsBool: boolean; inline;
    procedure   SetAsBool(const Value: boolean); inline;

    function    GetAsFloat: double; inline;
    procedure   SetAsFloat(const Value: double); inline;

  public
    property    AsFloat: double read GetAsFloat write SetAsFloat;
    property    AsBoolean: boolean read GetAsBool write SetAsBool;
    property    AsInteger: integer read GetAsInt write SetAsInt;
    property    AsString: string read GetAsString write SetAsString;
    property    Empty: boolean read GetEmpty;

    constructor Create(const Storage: TPropertyBagDictionary; Name: string; Data: string); overload; virtual;
    constructor Create(Data: string); overload; virtual;
  end;

//#############################################################################
// TPropertyElement
//#############################################################################

constructor TPropertyElement.Create(Data: string);
begin
  inherited Create;
  FData := Data.Trim();
end;

constructor TPropertyElement.Create(const Storage: TPropertyBagDictionary;
  Name: string; Data: string);
begin
  inherited Create;
  FStorage := Storage;
  FName := Name.Trim().ToLower();
  FData := Data.Trim();
end;

function TPropertyElement.GetEmpty: boolean;
begin
  result := FData.Length < 1;
end;

function TPropertyElement.GetAsString: string;
begin
  result := FData;
end;

procedure TPropertyElement.SetAsString(const Value: string);
begin
  if Value  FData then
  begin
    FData := Value;
    if FName.Length > 0 then
    begin
      if FStorage  nil then
        FStorage.AddOrSetValue(FName, Value);
    end;
  end;
end;

function TPropertyElement.GetAsBool: boolean;
begin
  TryStrToBool(FData, result);
end;

procedure TPropertyElement.SetAsBool(const Value: boolean);
begin
  FData := BoolToStr(Value, true);

  if FName.Length > 0 then
  begin
    if FStorage  nil then
      FStorage.AddOrSetValue(FName, FData);
  end;
end;

function TPropertyElement.GetAsFloat: double;
begin
  TryStrToFloat(FData, result);
end;

procedure TPropertyElement.SetAsFloat(const Value: double);
begin
  FData := FloatToStr(Value);
  if FName.Length > 0 then
  begin
    if FStorage  nil then
      FStorage.AddOrSetValue(FName, FData);
  end;
end;

function TPropertyElement.GetAsInt: integer;
begin
  TryStrToInt(FData, Result);
end;

procedure TPropertyElement.SetAsInt(const Value: integer);
begin
  FData := IntToStr(Value);
  if FName.Length > 0 then
  begin
    if FStorage  nil then
      FStorage.AddOrSetValue(FName, FData);
  end;
end;

//#############################################################################
// TPropertyBag
//#############################################################################

constructor TPropertyBag.Create(NameValuePairs: string);

begin
  inherited Create;
  FLUT := TDictionary.Create();

  NameValuePairs := NameValuePairs.Trim();
  if NameValuePairs.Length > 0 then
    Parse(NameValuePairs);
end;

destructor TPropertyBag.Destroy;
begin
  FLut.Free;
  inherited;
end;

procedure TPropertyBag.Clear;
begin
  FLut.Clear;
end;

procedure TPropertyBag.Parse(NameValuePairs: string);
var
  LList:      TStringList;
  x:          integer;
  LId:        string;
  LValue:     string;
  LOriginal:  string;
  {$IFDEF SUPPORT_URI_ENCODING}
  LPos:       integer;
  {$ENDIF}
begin
  // Reset content
  FLUT.Clear();

  // Make a copy of the original text
  LOriginal := NameValuePairs;

  // Trim and prepare
  NameValuePairs := NameValuePairs.Trim();

  // Anything to work with?
  if NameValuePairs.Length > 0 then
  begin
    {$IFDEF SUPPORT_URI_ENCODING}
    // Check if the data is URL-encoded
    LPos := pos('%', NameValuePairs);
    if  (LPos >= low(NameValuePairs) )
    and (LPos  0 then
    Begin
      (* Populate our lookup table *)
      LList := TStringList.Create;
      try
        LList.Delimiter := ';';
        LList.StrictDelimiter := true;
        LList.DelimitedText := NameValuePairs;

        if LList.Count = 0 then
          raise EPropertybagParseError.CreateFmt(cnt_err_sourceparameters_parse, [LOriginal]);

        try
          for x := 0 to LList.Count-1 do
          begin
            LId := LList.Names[x].Trim().ToLower();
            if (LId.Length > 0) then
            begin
              LValue := LList.ValueFromIndex[x].Trim();
              Write(LId, LValue);
            end;
          end;
        except
          on e: exception do
          raise EPropertybagParseError.CreateFmt(cnt_err_sourceparameters_parse, [LOriginal]);
        end;
      finally
        LList.Free;
      end;
    end;
  end;
end;

function TPropertyBag.ToString: string;
var
  LItem: TPair;
begin
  setlength(result, 0);
  for LItem in FLut do
  begin
    if LItem.Key.Trim().Length > 0 then
    begin
      result := result + Format('%s=%s;', [LItem.Key, LItem.Value]);
    end;
  end;
end;

procedure TPropertyBag.SaveToStream(const Stream: TStream);
var
  LData: TStringStream;
begin
  LData := TStringStream.Create(ToString(), TEncoding.UTF8);
  try
    LData.SaveToStream(Stream);
  finally
    LData.Free;
  end;
end;

procedure TPropertyBag.LoadFromStream(const Stream: TStream);
var
  LData: TStringStream;
begin
  LData := TStringStream.Create('', TEncoding.UTF8);
  try
    LData.LoadFromStream(Stream);
    Parse(LData.DataString);
  finally
    LData.Free;
  end;
end;

function TPropertyBag.Write(Name: string; Value: string): IPropertyElement;
begin
  Name := Name.Trim().ToLower();
  if Name.Length > 0 then
  begin
    if not FLUT.ContainsKey(Name) then
      FLut.Add(Name, Value);

    result := TPropertyElement.Create(FLut, Name, Value) as IPropertyElement;
  end else
  raise EPropertybagWriteError.Create(cnt_err_sourceparameters_write_id);
end;

function TPropertyBag.Read(Name: string): IPropertyElement;
var
  LData:  String;
begin
  Name := Name.Trim().ToLower();
  if Name.Length > 0  then
  begin
    if FLut.TryGetValue(Name, LData) then
      result := TPropertyElement.Create(LData) as IPropertyElement
    else
      raise EPropertybagReadError.Create(cnt_err_sourceparameters_read_id);
  end else
  raise EPropertybagReadError.Create(cnt_err_sourceparameters_read_id);
end;


end.

Calling node.js from Delphi

July 6, 2019 Leave a 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 Leave a 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.

 

Two new groups in the Developer family

July 1, 2019 2 comments

Delphi Developer is a group on Facebook that have been going strong for 12+ years. It was one of the first groups on Facebook, created the same week that Facebook allowed groups. With that group well established, it’s time to expand and clean up the feed.

RO-Single-Gear-512Last month I introduced a new group, RemObjects Developer, which is a group for developers that use RemObjects components, like the Remoting SDK, Data Abstract and/or Hydra – but more in particular, developers using Oxygene, C#, Swift, Java or Go via Elements (RemObjects compiler toolchain).

Two new groups

To further simplify syndication, and clean up the feeds (which so far has been a pot-purrey of many topics, dialects and products) an additional two groups is now in place:

Obviously there will be some overlapping. Since FPC and Delphi has much in common and are for the most part compatible, some news will be shared between those groups. But all in all this is to clean up the newsfeed which has so far been a mix and match of everything.

org

Simple overview of the groups

Node.js Developer is not meant to be purely about vanilla JavaScript. Node.js is ultimately a JavaScript runtime-engine. Which means you can use it to run or host WebAssembly libraries (as produced by Oxygene), or generate code via DWScript or Freepascal. You can think of it as a service-host if you like.

So if you are writing WebAssembly applications using Elements, then the node.js group will no doubt be interesting too. Same goes for DWScript users, Smart Pascal users and Freepascal users – providing web tech is what they like.

What is this Quartex Components?

It’s easier to manage multiple groups if you attach them to a parent-page. So if you wonder why all the groups says “by Quartex Components”, that is just a top-level page that helps me deal with with syndication. For some reason Facebook’s API only works for pages, not groups. So it’s impossible to auto-import news (for example) without a page.

The name, “Quartex Components” is ultimately the name of my personal company. I used to produce security components for Delphi, but decided to open-source those for the community.

So Quartex Components is just an organizational element.

Raspberry PI 4 at last!

June 25, 2019 2 comments

It was with astonishment that I opened up my browser this morning to read some daily IT news, only to discover that the Raspberry PI v4 has finally arrived! And boy what a landslide update to the 3.x family it is!

Three times the fun

There are plenty of sites that entertains page-up and page-down with numbers, but I will save all that for an article where I have the physical kit in my posession. But looking at the preliminaries I think it’s safe to say that we are looking at a solid 3x the speed of the older yet capable PI 3b+.

Raspberry-Pi-4-4

The PI returns, and what a joy it is!

While the 3x speed boost is enough to bump the SoC up, from entertaining to serious for business applications – it’s ultimately the memory footprint that will make all the difference. While the Raspberry PI is probably the most loved SBC (single board computer) of all time, it’s always been cut short due to lack of memory. 512 megabyte can only do so much in 2019, and even the slimmest of Linux distributions quickly consumes more ram that older versions could supply.

VideoCore 6, two screens and 4k video

The new model ships in three different configurations, with 1, 2 and 4 gigabytes of ram respectively. I strongly urge people to get the 4Gb version, because with that amount of memory coupled with a good solid-state-disk, means you can enable a proper swap-partition. No matter how fast a SoC might be, without memory to compliment it – the system simply wont be able to deliver on its potential. But with 4Gb, a nice solid state disk (just use a SSD-To-USB with one of the sexy new USB 3.x ports) and you are looking at an OK mini-computer capable of most desktop applications.

I have to admit I never expected the PI to ship with support for two monitors, but lo-and-behold, the board has two mini-hdmi out ports! The board is also fitted with the VideCore 6 rather than VideoCore 4.

Not missing the boat with Oxygene and Elements

One of the most frustrating episodes in the history of Delphi, is that we never got a Delphi edition that could target Raspberry PI (or ARM-Linux in general). It was especially frustrating since Allen Bauer actually demonstrated Delphi generating code that ran on a PI in 2012. The result of not directly supporting the PI, even on service level without a UI layer – is that Delphi developers have missed the IOT market completely.

Before Delphi developers missed the IOT revolution, Delphi also missed out on iOS and Android. By the time Delphi developers could target any of these platforms, the market was completely saturated, and all opportunities to make money was long gone. In other words, Delphi has missed the boat on 3 revolutionary platforms in a row. Something which is borderline unforgivable.

The good news though is that Oxygene, the object-pascal compiler from RemObjects, supports the Raspberry PI SoC. I have yet to test this on v4, but since the PI v4 is 100% backwards compatible I don’t see any reason why there should be any issues. The code generated by Oxygene is not bound to just the PI either. As long as it runs on a debian based distro, it should run just fine on most ARM-Linux SoC’s that have working drivers.

And like I have written about elsewhere, you can also compile for WebAssembly, running either in node.js or in the browser — so there are plenty of ways to get your products over!

Stay tuned for the lineup

This week im going to do a lot of testing on various ARM devices to find out just how many SBC’s Oxygene can target, starting with the ODroid N2. But for Raspberry PI, that should be a slam-dunk. Meaning that object-pascal developers can finally make use of affordable off-the-shelves parts in their hardware projects.

As of writing im preparing the various boards I will be testing. We have the PI 3b+, the Tinkerboard from ASUS, NanoPI, Dragonboard, Odroid XU4 – and the latest power-board, the ODroid N2. Out of these offerings only the N2 is en-par with the Raspberry PI v4, although I suspect the Videocore 6 GPU will outperform the Mali G52.

Hydra now supports Freepascal and Java

June 15, 2019 2 comments

In case you guys missed it, RemObjects Hydra 6.2 now supports FreePascal!

This means that you can now use forms and units from .net and Java from your Freepascal applications – and (drumroll) also mix and match between Delphi, .net, Java and FPC modules! So if you see something cool that Freepascal lacks, just slap it in a Hydra module and you can use it across language barriers.

I have used Hydra for years with Delphi, and being able to use .net forms and components in Delphi is pretty awesome. It’s also a great framework for building modular applications that are easier to manage.

64296152_10156282425590906_705072396930908160_n

Being able to tap into Freepascal is a great feature. Or the other way around, with Freepascal showing forms from Delphi, .net or Java.

For example, if you are moving to Freepascal, you can isolate the forms or controls that are not available under Freepascal in a Hydra module, and voila – you can gradually migrate.

If you are moving to Oxygene Pascal the same applies, you can implement the immediate logic under .net, and then import and use the parts that can’t easily be ported (or that you want to wait with).

The best of four worlds — You gotta love that!

Check out Hydra here:

https://hydra.remobjects.com/hydra/whatsnew/default.aspx

 

RemObjects VCL, mind blown!

June 12, 2019 12 comments

For a guy that spends most of his time online, and can talk for hours about the most nerdy topics known to mankind – being gobsmacked and silenced is a rare event. But this morning that was exactly what happened.

Now, Marc Hoffman has blogged regularly over the years regarding the evolution of the RemObjects toolchain; explaining how they decoupled the parts that make up a programming language, such as syntax, rtl and target, but I must admit haven’t really digested the full implications of that work.

Like most developers I have kept my eyes on the parts relevant for me, like the Remoting SDK, Data Abstract and Javascript support. Before I worked at Embarcadero I pretty much spent 10 years contracting -and building Smart Mobile Studio on the side together with the team at The Smart Company Inc.

xo

Smart Pascal gained support for RemObjects SDK servers quite early

Since both the Remoting SDK and Data Abstract were part of our toolbox as Delphi developers, those were naturally more immediate than anything else. We also added support for RemObjects Remoting SDK inside Smart Mobile Studio, so that people could call existing services from their Javascript applications.

Oxygene then

Like most Delphi developers I remember testing Oxygene Pascal when I bought Delphi 2005. Back then Oxygene was licensed by Borland under the “Prism” name and represented their take on dot net support. I was very excited when it came out, but since my knowledge of the dot net framework was nil, I was 100% relient on the documentation.

In many ways Oxygene was a victim of Rad Studio’s abhorrent help-file system. Documentation for Rad Studio (especially Delphi) up to that point had been exemplary since Delphi 4; but by the time Rad Studio 2005 came out, the bloat had reached epic levels. Even for me as a die-hard Delphi fanatic, Delphi 2005 and 2006 was a tragic experience.

image

Removing Oxygene was a monumental mistake

I mean, when it takes 15 minutes (literally) just to open the docs, then learning a whole new programming paradigm under those conditions was quite frankly impossible. Like most Delphi developers I was used to Delphi 7 style documentation, where the docs were not just reference material – but actually teaches you the language itself.

In the end Oxygene remained very interesting, but with a full time job, deadlines and kids to take care of, I stuck to what I knew – namely the VCL.

Oxygene today

Just like Delphi has evolved and improved radically since 2005, Oxygene has likewise evolved above and beyond its initial form. Truth be told, we copied a lot of material from Oxygene when we made Smart Pascal, so I feel strangely at home with Oxygene even after a couple of days. The documentation for Oxygene Pascal (and Elements as a whole) is very good: https://docs.elementscompiler.com/Oxygene/

But Oxygene Pascal, while the obvious “first stop” for Delphi developers looking to expand their market impact, is more than “just a language”. It’s a language that is a part of a growing family of languages that RemObjects support and evolve.

As of writing RemObjects offers the following languages. So even if you don’t have a background in Delphi, or perhaps migrated from Delphi to C# years ago – RemObjects will have solutions and benefits to offer:

  • Oxygene (object pascal)
  • C#
  • Swift
  • Java
water

Water is a sexy, slim new IDE for RemObjects languages on Windows. For the OS X version you want to download Fire.

And here is the cool thing: when you hear “Java” you automatically expect that you are bound hands and feet to the Java runtime-libraries right? Same also with C#, you expect C# to be purely limited to the dot-net framework. And if you like me dabbed in Oxygene back in 2005-2006, you probably think Oxygene is purely a dot-net adapted version of Object Pascal right? But RemObjects have turned that on it’s head!

Remember the decoupling I mentioned at the beginning of this post? What that means in practical terms is that they have separated each language into three distinct parts:

  1. The syntax
  2. The RTL
  3. The target

What this means, is that you can pick your own combinations!

Let’s say you are coming from Delphi. You have 20 years of Object Pascal experience under your belt, and while you dont mind learning new things – Object Pascal is where you will be most productive.

Well in that case picking Oxygene Pascal covers the syntax part. But you don’t have to use the dot-net framework if you don’t want to. You can mix and match these 3 parts as you see fit! Let’s look at some combinations you could pick:

  • Oxygene Pascal -> dot net framework -> CIL
  • Oxygene Pascal -> “VCL” -> CIL
  • Oxygene Pascal -> “VCL” -> WinAPI
  • Oxygene Pascal -> “VCL” -> WebAssembly

(*) The “VCL” here is a compatibility RTL closely modeled on the Freepascal LCL and Delphi VCL. This is written from scratch and contains no proprietary code. It is purely to get people productive faster.

The whole point of this tripartite decoupling is to allow developers to maximize the value of their existing skill-set. If you know Object Pascal then that is a natural starting point for you. If you know the VCL then obviously the VCL compatibility RTL is going to help you become productive much faster than calling WinAPI on C level. But you can, if you like, go all native. And you can likewise ignore native and opt for WebAssembly.

Sound cool? Indeed it is! But it gets better, let’s look at some of the targets:

  • Microsoft Windows
  • Apple OS X
  • Apple iOS
  • Apple WatchOS
  • Android
  • Android wearables
  • Linux x86 / 64
  • Linux ARM
  • tvOS
  • WebAssembly
  • * dot-net
  • * Java

In short: Pick the language you want, pick the RTL or framework you want, pick the target you want — and start coding!

(*) dot-net and Java are not just frameworks, they are also targets since they are Virtual Machines. WebAssembly also fall under the VM category, although the virtual machine there is bolted into Chrome and Firefox (also node.js).

Some example code

Webassembly is something that interest me more than native these days. Sure I love the speed that native has to offer, but since Javascript has become “the defacto universal platform”, and since most of my work privately is done in Javascript – it seems like the obvious place to start.

Webassembly is a bit like Javascript was 10 years ago. I remember it was a bit of a shock coming from Delphi. We had just created Smart Mobile Studio, and suddenly we realized that the classes and object the browser had to offer were close to barren. We were used to the VCL after all. So my work there was basically to implement something with enough similarity to the VCL to be familiar to to Delphi developer, without wandering too far away from established JS standards.

Webassembly is roughly in the same ballpark. Webassembly is just a runtime engine. It doesn’t give you all those nice and helpful classes out of the box. You are expected to either write that yourself – or (as luck would have it) rely on what language vendors provide.

RemObjects have a lot to offer here, because their “Delphi VCL” compatibility RTL compiles just fine for Webassembly. There is no form designer though, but I haven’t used a form designer in years. I prefer to do everything in code because that’s ultimately what works when your codebase grows large enough anyways. Even my Delphi projects are done mainly as raw code, because I like to have the option to compile with Freepascal and Lazarus.

My first test code for Oxygene Pascal with Webassembly as the target is thus very bare-bone. If there is something that has bugged me to no end, it’s that bloody HTML5 canvas. It’s a powerful thing, but it’s also overkill for per-pixel operations. So I figured that a nice, ad-hoc DIB (device independent bitmap) class will do wonders.

Note: Oxygene supports pointers, even under WebAssembly (!), but out of old habit I have avoided it. I want my code to compile for all the targets, without marking a class as “unsafe” in the dot-net paradigm. So I have avoided pointers and just use offsets instead.

namespace qtxlib;

interface

type

  // in-memory pixel format
  TPixelFormat = public (
      pf8bit  = 0,  //___8 -- palette indexed
      pf15bit = 1,  //_555 -- 15 bit encoded
      pf16bit = 2,  //_565 -- 16 bit encoded
      pf24bit = 3,  //_888 -- 24 bit native
      pf32bit = 4   //888A -- 32 bit native
      );

  TPixelBuffer = public class
  private
    FPixels:  array of Byte;
    FDepthLUT: array of Integer;
    FScanLUT: array of Integer;
    FStride:  Integer;
    FWidth:   Integer;
    FHeight:  Integer;
    FBytes:   Integer;
    FFormat:  TPixelFormat;
  protected
    function  CalcStride(const Value, PixelByteSize, AlignSize: Integer): Integer;
    function  GetEmpty: Boolean;
  public
    property  Width: Integer read FWidth;
    property  Height: Integer read FHeight;
    property  Stride: Integer read FStride;
    property  &Empty: Boolean read GetEmpty;
    property  BufferSize: Integer read FBytes;
    property  PixelFormat: TPixelFormat read FFormat;
    property  Buffer[const index: Integer]: Byte read (FPixels[&index]) write (FPixels[&index]);

    function  OffsetForPixel(const dx, dy: Integer): Integer;
    procedure Alloc(NewWidth, NewHeight: Integer; const PxFormat: TPixelFormat);
    procedure Release();

    function Read(Offset: Integer; ByteLength: Integer): array of Byte;
    procedure Write(Offset: Integer; const Data: array of Byte);

    constructor Create; virtual;

    finalizer;
    begin
      if not GetEmpty() then
        Release();
    end;
end;

TColorMixer = public class
end;

TPainter = public class
private
  FBuffer:    TPixelBuffer;
public
  property    PixelBuffer: TPixelBuffer read FBuffer;

  constructor Create(const PxBuffer: TPixelBuffer); virtual;
end;

implementation

//##################################################################################
// TPainter
//##################################################################################

constructor TPainter.Create(const PxBuffer: TPixelBuffer);
begin
  inherited Create();
  if PxBuffer  nil then
    FBuffer := PxBuffer
  else
    raise new Exception("Pixelbuffer cannot be NIL error");
end;

//##################################################################################
// TPixelBuffer
//##################################################################################

constructor TPixelBuffer.Create;
begin
  inherited Create();
  FDepthLUT := [1, 2, 2, 3, 4];
end;

function TPixelBuffer.GetEmpty: Boolean;
begin
  result := length(FPixels) = 0;
end;

function TPixelBuffer.OffsetForPixel(const dx, dy: integer): Integer;
begin
  if length(FPixels) > 0 then
  begin
    result := dy * FStride;
    inc(result, dx * FDepthLUT[FFormat]);
  end;
end;

procedure TPixelBuffer.Write(Offset: Integer; const Data: array of Byte);
begin
  for each el in Data do
  begin
    FPixels[Offset] := el;
    inc(Offset);
  end;
end;

function TPixelBuffer.Read(Offset: Integer; ByteLength: Integer): array of Byte;
begin
  result := new Byte[ByteLength];
  var xOff := 0;
  while ByteLength > 0 do
  begin
    result[xOff] := FPixels[Offset];
    dec(ByteLength);
    inc(Offset);
    inc(xOff);
  end;
end;

procedure TPixelBuffer.Alloc(NewWidth, NewHeight: Integer; const PxFormat: TPixelFormat);
begin
  if not GetEmpty() then
    Release();

  if NewWidth < 1 then
    raise new Exception("Invalid width error");

  if NewHeight  0 then
    result := ( (Result + AlignSize) - xFetch );
end;

end.

This code is just meant to give you a feel for the dialect. I have used a lot of “Delphi style” coding here, so chances are you will hardly see any difference bar namespaces and a funny looking property declaration.

Stay tuned for more posts as I explore the different aspects of Oxygene and webassembly in the days to come 🙂

RemObjects Remoting SDK?

June 3, 2019 Leave a comment

Reading this you could be forgiven for thinking that I must promote RemObjects products, It’s my job now right? Well yes, but also no.

dataabstract-illustration-rework-ro-1100The thing is, I’m really not “traveling salesman” material by any stretch of the imagination. My tolerance for bullshit is ridiculously low, and being practical of nature I loath fancy products that cost a fortune yet deliver nothing but superficial fluff.

The reasons I went to work at RemObjects are many, but most of all it’s because I have been an avid supporter of their products since they launched. I have used and seen their products in action under intense pressure, and I have come to put some faith in their solutions.

Trying to describe what it’s like to write servers that should handle thousands of active user “with or without” RemObjects Remoting SDK is exhausting, because you end up sounding like a fanatic. Having said that, I feel comfortable talking about the products because I speak from experience.

I will try to outline some of the benefits here, but you really should check it out yourself. You can download a trial directly here: https://www.remotingsdk.com/ro/

Remoting framework, what’s that?

RemObjects Remoting framework (or “RemObjects SDK” as it was called earlier) is a framework for writing large-scale RPC (remote procedure call) servers and services. Unlike the typical solutions available for Delphi and C++ builder, including those from Embarcadero I might add, RemObjects framework stands out because it distinguishes between transport, host and message-format – and above all, it’s sheer quality and ease of use.

compo

RemObjects Remoting SDK ships with a rich selection of channels and message formats

This separation between transport, host and message-format makes a lot of sense, because the parameters and data involved in calling a server-method, shouldn’t really be affected by how it got there.

And this is where the fun begins because the framework offers you a great deal of different server types (channels) and you can put together some interesting combinations by just dragging and dropping components.

How about JSON over email? Or XML over pipes?

The whole idea here is that you don’t have to just work with one standard (and pay through the nose for the privilege). You can mix and match from a rich palette of transport mediums and message-formats and instead focus on your job; to deliver a kick-ass product.

And should you need something special that isn’t covered by the existing components, inheriting out your own channel or message classes is likewise a breeze. For example, Andre Mussche have some additional components on GitHub that adds a WebSocket server and client. So there is a lot of room for expanding and building on the foundation provided by RemObjects.

And this is where RemObjects has the biggest edge (imho), namely that their solutions shaves weeks if not months off your development time. And the central aspect of that is their integrated service designer.

Integration into the Delphi IDE

Dropping components on a form is all good and well, but the moment you start coding services that deploy complex data-types (records or structures) the amount of boilerplate code can become overwhelming.

The whole point of a remoting framework is that it should expose your services to the world. Someone working in .net or Java on the other side of the planet should be able to connect, consume and invoke your services. And for that to happen every minute detail of your service has to follow standards.

61855462_10156255129755906_1396051777802993664_o

The RemObjects Service Builder integrates directly into the Delphi IDE

When you install RemObjects SDK, it also integrates into the Delphi IDE. And one of the features it integrates is a complete, separate service designer. The designer can also be used outside of the Delphi IDE, but I cannot underline enough how handy it is to be able to design your services visually, right there and then, in the Delphi IDE.

This designer doesn’t just help you design your service description (RemObjects has their own RODL file-format, which is a bit like a Microsoft WSDL file), the core purpose is to auto-generate all the boilerplate code for you — directly into your Delphi project (!)

So instead of you having to spend a week typing boilerplate code for your killer solution, you get to focus on implementing the actual methods (which is what you are supposed to be doing in the first place).

DLL services, code re-use and multi-tenancy

The idea of multi-tenancy is an interesting one. One that I talked about with regards to Rad-Server both in Oslo and London before christmas. But Rad-Server is not the only system that allows for multi-tenancy. I was doing multi-tenancy with RemObjects SDK some 14 years ago (if not earlier).

Remember how I said the framework distinguishes between transport, message and host? That last bit, namely host, is going to change how you write applications.

When you install the framework, it registers a series of custom project types inside the Delphi IDE. So if you want to create a brand new RemObjects SDK server project, you can just do that via the ordinary File->New->Other menu option.

One of the project types is called a DLL Server. Which literally means you get to isolate a whole service library inside a single DLL file! You can then load in this DLL file and call the functions from other projects. And that is, ultimately, the fundamental principle for multi-tenancy.

And no, you don’t have to compile your project with external packages for this to work. The term “dll-server” can also be a bit confusing, because we are not compiling a network server into a DLL file, we are placing the code for a service into a DLL file. I used this project type to isolate common code, so I wouldn’t have to copy unit-files all over the place when delivering the same functionality.

It’s also a great way to save money. Don’t want to pay for that new upgrade? Happy with the database components you have? Isolate them in a DLL-Server and continue to use the code from your new Delphi edition. I have Delphi XE3 Database components running inside a RemObjects DLL-Server that I use from Delphi XE 10.3.

project_types

DLL server is awesome and elegantly solves real-life problems out of the box

In my example I was doing business-logic for our biggest customers. Each of them used the same database, but they way they registered data was different. The company I worked for had bought up these projects (and thus their customers with them), and in order to keep the customers happy we couldn’t force them to re-code their systems to match ours. So we had to come up with a way to upgrade our technology without forcing a change on them.

The first thing I did was to create a “DLL server” that dealt with the database. It exposed methods like openTable(), createInvoice(), getInvoiceById() and so on. All the functions I would need to work with the data without getting my fingers dirty with SQL outside the DLL. So all the nitty gritty of SQL components, queries and whatnot was neatly isolated in that DLL file.

I then created separate DLL-Server projects for each customer, implemented their service interfaces identical to their older API. These DLL’s directly referenced the database library for authentication and doing the actual work.

62174838_10156255134895906_9195165500563259392_n

When integrated with the IDE, you are greeted with a nice welcome window when you start Delphi. Here you can open examples or check out the documentation

Finally, I wrapped it all up in a traditional Windows system service, which contained two different server-channels and the message formats they needed. When the service was started it would simply load in the DLL’s and manually register their services and types with the central channel — and voila, it worked like a charm!

Rock solid

Some 10 years after I delivered the RemObjects based solution outlined above, I got a call from my old employer. They had been victim of a devastating cyber attack. I got a bit anxious as he went on and on about damages and costs, fearing that I had somehow contributed to the situation.

targets

But it turned out he called to congratulate me! Out of all the services in their server-park, mine were the only ones left standing when the dust settled.

The RemObjects payload balancer had correctly dealt with both DDOS and brute force attacks, and the hackers were left wanting at the gates.