Editor Toolbox

The editor toolbox provides a foundation for two common kinds of applications:

  1. Programs that need a sophisticated text editor -- The simple text field control is inadequate for text-intensive applications. Many programs need editors that can handle multiple fonts and non-text items.

  2. Programs that need a canvas with dragable objects -- The drawing toolbox provides a generic drawing surface for plotting lines and boxes, but many applications need an interactive canvas, where the user can drag and resize individual objects.

Both kinds of applications need an extensible editor that can handle text, images, programmer-defined items, and even embedded editors. The difference between them is the layout of items. MrEd therefore provides two kinds of editors via two classes:

MrEd's editor architecture addresses the full range of real-world issues for an editor -- including cut-and-paste, extensible file formats, and layered text styles -- while supporting a high level of extensibility. Unfortunately, the system is fairly complex as a result,15 and using the editor classes effectively requires a solid understanding of the structure and terminology of the editor toolbox. Nevertheless, enough applications fit one (or both) of the descriptions above to justify the depth and complexity of the toolbox and the learning investment required to use it.

A brief example illustrates how MrEd editors work. To start, an editor needs an editor-canvas% to display its contents. Then, we can create a text editor and install it into the canvas:

(define f (instantiate frame% ("Simple Edit" #f 200 200)))
(define c (instantiate editor-canvas% (f)))
(define t (instantiate text% ()))
(send c set-editor t)
(send f show #t)

At this point, the editor is fully functional: the user can type text into the editor, but no cut-and-paste operations are available. We can support all of the standard operations on an editor via the menu bar:

(define mb (instantiate menu-bar% (f)))
(define m-edit (instantiate menu% ("Edit" mb)))
(define m-font (instantiate menu% ("Font" mb)))
(append-editor-operation-menu-items m-edit #f)
(append-editor-font-menu-items m-font)

Now, the standard cut and paste operations work, and the user can even set font styles. The user can also insert an embedded editor by selecting Insert Text from the Edit menu; after selecting the menu item, a box appears in the editor with the caret inside. Typing with the caret in the box stretches the box as text is added, and font operations apply wherever the caret is active. Text on the outside of the box is rearranged as the box changes sizes. Note that the box itself can be copied and pasted.

The content of an editor is made up of snips. An embedded editor is a single snip from the embedding editor's point-of-view. To encode immediate text, a snip can be a single character, but more often a snip is a sequence of adjacent characters on the same line. The find-snip method extracts a snip from a text editor:

(send t find-snip 0 'after)

The above expression returns the first snip in the editor, which may be a string snip (for immediate text) or an editor snip (for an embedded editor).

An editor is not permanently attached to any display. We can take the text editor out of our canvas and put a pasteboard editor in the canvas, instead:

(define pb (instantiate pasteboard% ()))
(send c set-editor pb)

With the pasteboard editor installed, the user can no longer type characters directly into the editor (because a pasteboard does not support directly entered text). However, the user can cut text from elsewhere and paste it into pasteboard, or select one of the Insert menu items in the Edit menu. Snips are clearly identifiable in a pasteboard editor (unlike a text editor) because each snip is separately dragable.

We can insert the old text editor (which we recently removed from the canvas) as an embedded editor in the pasteboard by explicitly creating an editor snip:

(define s (instantiate editor-snip% (t))) ; t is the old text editor
(send pb insert s)

An individual snip cannot be inserted into different editors at the same time, or inserted multiple times in the same editor:

(send pb insert s) ; no effect

However, we can make a deep copy of the snip and insert the copy into the pasteboard:

(send pb insert (send s copy))

Applications that use the editor classes typically derive new versions of the text% and pasteboard% classes. For example, to implement an append-only editor (which allows insertions only at the end and never allows deletions), derive a new class from text% and override the can-insert? and can-delete? methods:

(define append-only-text% 
  (class text%
    (inherit last-position) 
    (override can-insert? can-delete?)
    (define (can-insert? s l) (= s (last-position)))
    (define (can-delete? s l) #f)
    (super-instantiate ())))

8.1  Editor Structure and Terminology

MrEd supports extensible and nestable editors by decomposing an editor assembly into three functional parts:

These three parts are illustrated by a simple word processor. The editor corresponds to the text document. The editor object receives keyboard and mouse commands for editing the text. The text itself is distributed among snips. Each character could be a separate snip, or multiple characters on a single line could be grouped together into a snip. The display roughly corresponds to the window in which the text is displayed. While the editor manages the arrangement of the text as it is displayed into a window, the display determines which window to draw into and which part of the editor to display.

Each selectable entity in an editor is an item. In a pasteboard, all selection and dragging operations work on snips, so there is a one-to-one correspondence between snips and items. In an editor, one snip contains one or more consecutive items, and every item belongs to some snip. For example, in a simple text editor, each character is an item, but multiple adjacent characters may be grouped into a single snip. The number of items in a snip is the snip's count.

Each place where the insertion point can appear in a text editor is a position. A text editor with n items contains n + 1 positions: one position before each item, and one position after the last item.

The order of snips within a pasteboard determines each snip's drawing plane. When two snips overlap within the pasteboard, the snip that is earlier in the order is in front of the other snip (i.e., the former is drawn after the latter, such that the former snip may cover part of the latter snip).

When an editor is drawn into a display, each snip and position has a location. The location of a position or snip is specified in coordinates relative to the top-left corner of the editor. Locations in an editor are only meaningful when the editor is displayed.

8.1.1  Administrators

Two extra layers of administration manage the display-editor and editor-snip connections. An editor never communicates directly with a display; instead, it always communicates with an editor administrator, an instance of the editor-admin% class, which relays information to the display. Similarly, a snip communicates with a snip administrator, an instance of the snip-admin% class.

The administrative layers make the editor hierarchy flexible without forcing every part of an editor assembly to contain the functionality of several parts. For example, a text editor can be a single item within another editor; without administrators, the text% class would also have to contain all the functionality of a display (for the containing editor) and a snip (for the embedded editor). Using administrators, an editor class can serve as both a containing and an embedded editor without directly implementing the display and snip functionality.

A snip belongs to at most one editor via a single administrator. An editor also has only one administrator at a time. However, the administrator that connects the an editor to the standard display (i.e., an editor canvas) can work with other such administrators. In particular, the administrator of an editor-canvas% (each one has its own administrator) can work with other editor-canvas% administrators, allowing an editor to be displayed in multiple editor-canvas% windows at the same time.

When an editor is displayed by multiple canvases, one of the canvases' administrators is used as the editor's primary administrator. To handle user and update events for other canvases, the editor's administrator is temporarily changed and then restored through the editor's set-admin method. The return value of the editor's get-admin method thus depends on the context of the call.

8.1.2  Styles

A style, an instance of the style<%> interface, parameterizes high-level display information that is common to all snip classes. This includes the font, color, and alignment for drawing the item. A single style is attached to each snip.

Styles are hierarchical: each style is defined in terms of another style. There is a single root style, named "Basic", from which all other styles in an editor are derived. The difference between a base style and each of its derived style is encoded in a style delta (or simply delta). A delta encodes changes such as

Style objects are never created separately; rather, they are always created through a style list, an instance of the style-list% class. A style list manages the styles, servicing external requests to find a particular style, and it manages the hierarchical relationship between styles. A global style list is available, the-style-list, but new style lists can be created for managing separate style hierarchies. For example, each editor will typically have its own style list.

Each new style is defined in one of two ways:

Usually, when text is inserted into a text editor, it inherits the style of the preceding snip. If text is inserted into an empty editor, the text is usually assigned a style called "Standard". By default, the "Standard" style is unmodified from the root style. The default style name can be changed by overriding default-style-name.

The exception to the above is when change-style in text% is called with the current selection position (when the selection is a position and not a range). In that case, the style is remembered, and if the next editor-modifying action is a text insertion, the inserted text gets the remembered style.

See get-styles-sticky in text% for more information about the style of inserted text.

8.2  File Format

To allow editor content to be saved to a file, the editor classes implement a special file format. (The format is used when cutting and pasting between applications or eventspaces, too). The file format is not documented, except that it begins ``WXME01nn ## ''. Otherwise, the load-file and save-file methods define the format internally. The file format is the same for text and pasteboard editors. When a pasteboard saves its content to a file, it saves the snips from front to back, and also includes extra location information.

Editor data is read and written using editor-stream-in% and editor-stream-out% objects. Editor information can only be read from or written to one stream at a time. To write one or more editors to a stream, first call the function write-editor-global-header to write initialization data into an output stream. When all editors are written to the stream, call write-editor-global-footer. Similarly, reading editors from a stream is initialized with read-editor-global-header and finalized with read-editor-global-footer. Optionally, to support streams that span versions of MrEd, use write-editor-version and read-editor-version before the header operations.

The editor file data format can be embedded within another file, and it can be extended with new kinds of data. The editor file format can be extended in two ways: with snip- or content-specific data, and with editor-specific global data. These are described in the remainder of this section.

8.2.1  Encoding Snips

The generalized notion of a snip allows new snip types to be defined and immediately used in any editor class. Also, when two applications support the same kinds of snips, snip data can easily be cut and pasted between them, and the same data files will be readable by each program. This interoperability is due to a consistent encoding mechanism that is built into the snip system.

Graceful and extensible encoding of snips requires that two issues are addressed:

Snip classes, snip data, and snip data classes solve problems related to encoding and decoding snips. In an application that has no need for saving files or cut-and-paste, these issues can be safely ignored.

Snip Classes

Each snip can be associated to a snip class. This ``class'' is not a class description in the programmer's language; it is an object which provides a way to create new snips of the appropriate type from an encoded snip specification.

Snip class objects can be added to the eventspace-specific snip class list, which is returned by get-the-snip-class-list. When a snip is encoded, the snip's class name is associated with the encoding; when the snip needs to be decoded, then the snip class list is searched by name to find the snip's class. The snip class will then provide a decoding function that can create a new snip from the encoding.

If a snip class's name is of the form "(lib ...)", then the snip class implementation can be loaded on demand. The name is parsed using read; if the result has the form (lib string ...), then it is supplied to dynamic-require along with 'snip-class. If the result is a snip-class% object, it is inserted into the current eventspace's snip class list, and loading or saving continues using the new class.

Editor Data

While a snip belongs to an editor, the editor may store extra information about a snip in some specialized way. When the snip is to be encoded, this extra information needs to be put into an editor data object so that the extra information can be encoded as well. In a text editor, extra information can be associated with ranges of items, as well as snips.

Just as a snip must be associated with a snip class to be decoded (see Snip Classes), an editor data object needs an editor data class for decoding. Every editor data class object can be added to the eventspace-specific editor data class list, returned by get-the-editor-data-class-list. Alternatively, like snip classes, editor data class names can use the form "(lib ...)" to enable on-demand loading. The corresponding module should export an editor-data-class% object named 'editor-data-class.

To store and load information about a snip or region in an editor:

  1. derive new classes from editor-data% and editor-data-class%.

  2. derive a new class from the text% or pasteboard% class, and override the get-snip-data and set-snip-data methods and/or the get-region-data and set-region-data methods.

    Note: the get-region-data and set-region-data methods are called for cut-and-paste encoding, but not for file-saving encoding; see Global Data: Headers and Footers for information on extending the file format.

8.2.2  Global Data: Headers and Footers

The editor file format provides for adding extra global data in special header and footer sections. To save and load special header and/or footer records:

  1. Pick a name for each header/footer record. This name should not conflict with any other header/footer record name in use, and no one else should use these names. All names beginning with ``wx'' are reserved for internal use. By tagging extra header and footer records with a unique name, the file can be safely loaded under a system that does not support the records.

  2. Derive a new class from the text% or pasteboard% class, and override the write-headers-to-file, write-footers-to-file, read-header-from-file and/or read-footer-from-file methods.

When an editor is saved, the methods write-headers-to-file and write-footers-to-file are invoked; at this time, the derived text% or pasteboard% object has a chance to save records. To write a header/footer record, first invoke the begin-write-header-footer-to-file method, at which point the record name is provided. Once the record is written, call end-write-header-footer-to-file.

When an editor is loaded and a header/footer record is encountered, the read-header-from-file or read-footer-from-file method is invoked, with the record name as the argument. If the name matches a known record type, then the data can be loaded.

See also write-headers-to-file and write-headers-to-file.

8.3  End of Line Ambiguity

Because an editor can force a line break even when there is no carriage return item, a position alone does not always specify a location for the caret. Consider the last position of a line that is soft-broken (i.e., no carriage return is present): there is no item between the last item of the line and the first item of the next line, so two locations (one end-of-line and one start-of-line) map to the same position.

For this reason, position-setting and position-getting methods often have an extra argument. In the case of a position-setting method, the argument specifies whether the caret should be drawn at the left or right side of the page (in the event that the location is doubly defined); #t means that the caret should be drawn on the right side. Similarly, methods which calculate a position from a location will take an extra boxed boolean; the box is filled with #t if the position is ambiguous and it came from a right-side location, or #f otherwise.

8.4  Flattened Text

In plain text editors, there is a simple correlation between positions and characters. In an editor<%> object, this is not true much of the time, but it is still sometimes useful to just ``get the text'' of an editor.

Text can be extracted from an editor in either of two forms:

  1. Simple text, where there is one character per item. Items that are characters are mapped to themselves, and all other items are mapped to a period. Line breaks are represented by carriage-return characters (ASCII 13).

  2. Flattened text, where each item can map to an arbitrary string. Items that are characters are still mapped to themselves, but more complicated items can be represented with a useful string determined by the item's snip. Newlines are mapped to platform-specific character sequences (linefeed under X, carriage return under Mac OS X, and linefeed-carriage return under Windows). This form is called ``flattened'' because the editor's items have been reduced to a linear sequence of characters.

8.5  Caret Ownership

Within a frame, only one object can contain the keyboard focus. This property must be maintained when a frame contains multiple editors in multiple displays, and when a single editor contains other editors as items.

When an editor has the keyboard focus, it will usually display the current selection or a line indicating the insertion point; the line is called the caret.

When an editor contains other editors, it keeps track of caret ownership among the contained sub-editors. When the caret is taken away from the main editor, it will revoke caret ownership from the appropriate sub-editor.

When an editor or snip is drawn, an argument to the drawing method specifies whether the caret should be drawn with the data. This argument can be any of (in increasing order):

The 'show-inactive-caret display mode is useful for showing selection ranges in text editors that do not have the focus. This 'show-inactive-caret mode is distinct from 'no-caret mode; when editors are embedded, only the locally-active editor shows its selection.

8.6  Cut and Paste Time Stamps

Methods of editor<%> that use the clipboard -- including copy, cut, paste, and do-edit-operation -- consume a time stamp argument. This time stamp is generally extracted from the mouse-event% or key-event% object that triggered the clipboard action. X uses the time stamp to synchronize clipboard operations among the clipboard clients.

All instances of event% include a time stamp, which can be obtained using get-time-stamp.

If the time stamp is 0, it defaults to the current time. Using 0 as the time stamp almost always works fine, but it is considered bad manners under X.

8.7  Clickbacks

Clickbacks in a text% editor facilitate the creation of simple interactive objects, such as hypertext. A clickback is defined by associating a callback function with a range of items in the editor. When a user clicks on the items in that range, the callback function is invoked. For example, a hypertext clickback would associate a range to a callback function that changes the selection range in the editor.

By default, the callback function is invoked when the user releases the mouse button. The set-clickback method accepts an optional argument that causes the callback function to be invoked on the button press, instead. This behavior is useful, for example, for a clickback that creates a popup menu.

Note that there is no attempt to save clickback information when a file is saved, since a clickback will have an arbitrary procedure associated with it.

8.8  Internal Editor Locks

Instances of editor<%> have three levels of internal locking:

The internal lock for an editor is not affected by calls to lock.

Methods that report location-independent information about an editor never trigger a lock. A method that reports location information may trigger a flow lock or write lock if the relevant information has not been computed since the last modification to the editor (see locations-computed? in editor<%>). A method that modifies the editor in any way, even setting the selection position, can trigger a read lock, flow lock, or write lock.

8.9  Editors and Threads

An editor is not tied to any particular thread or eventspace, except to the degree that it is displayed in a canvas (which has an eventspace). Concurrent access of an editor is always safe, in the sense that the editor will not become corrupted. However, because editor access can trigger locks, and because lock-rejected operations tend to fail silently, concurrent access can produce unexpected results.

Nevertheless, the editor supports certain concurrent patterns reliably. One relevant pattern is updating an editor in one thread while the editor is displayed in a canvas that is managed by a different (handler) thread. To ensure that canvas refreshes are not performed while the editor is locked for flowing, and to ensure that refreshes do not prevent editor modifications, the following are guaranteed:

Thus, disabling an editor-canvas% object (using enable) is sufficient to ensure that a background thread can modify an editor displayed by the canvas, as long as all modifications are in edit sequences. The background modifications will impair canvas refreshes minimally and temporarily, and refreshes will not impair modifications in the background thread.

A second supported pattern is reading an editor in a background thread while the editor may be manipulated in other threads. Since no location-independent reads introduce locks, the such reads in the background thread will not impair other threads. However, other threads may interfere with the background thread, causing it to receive erroneous or out-of-date content information. This one-sided guarantee is useful if the background thread's work can be discarded when the editor is modified.


15 Nearly half of this manual is dedicated to documenting the editor classes.

16 This is the usual kind of style inheritance, as found in word processors such as Microsoft Word.

17 This is analogous to multi-level styles, like the paragraph and character styles in FrameMaker. In this analogy, the paragraph style is the base style, and the character style is the shift style. However, FrameMaker allows only those two levels; with join styles support any number of levels.