Category Archives: Development

Developing & debugging an HTML5 (phonegap) app – part 1 DEVELOPING

Over the past week, I spent my mornings developing an HTML5 mobile app. The main idea behind the project was that I wanted to learn a couple of new tools and technologies out there, as well as figure out how far you could push HTML5 apps in general (“are they close to native at all, or can you possibly get them there?” kind of thing). I set out to use the following new tools to develop the app:

Following is a summary of the things that surprised me most, hopefully providing some people with a shortcut to the right tools and techniques that I had to look pretty hard for 🙂

This post is made up of 2 parts, make sure to check them both out if you think they could be helpful! 🙂

  1. DEVELOPING – this one
  2. DEBUGGING

Developing…

The Cloud9 IDE

First of all, as I pointed out, I have been using the Cloud9IDE to develop my app and I have been more than happy with that. I love the live css preview, the code-completion and the general feel of the IDE itself. What was most interesting for me, however, was that I could test my code, live on an Android and / or iOS device through the use of SauceLabs (integrated with the Cloud9IDE). I did a separate post on Cloud9 here, so I won’t go into more detail in this post.

Adobe phonegap BUILD

Available at build.phonegap.com, this service enables you to upload your html5 code (or github repository) and it spits back a fully functional native (hybrid) app using PhoneGap. Using this service has MANY advantages ranging from auto-updating plugins (you specify your phonegap plugins in config.xml, but the BUILD service makes sure you always use the latest available version when compiling) to updating your app over the air (a service called Hydration) which I’ll get into a bit later. As I was really embracing the development in the cloud, all of this meant I could continue to get away with not installing ANYTHING and never leaving the browser 🙂

Hydration service

Whilst using the BUILD service, you have an option to enable “Hydration” under the “settings” tab of your app.

basic settings adobe built

 

This will adds a little snippet of code to your app which will enable you to update it over the air the next time you upload / update the source code of your app (and ask BUILD to rebuild it). The way it goes is simple:

You update your app source code -> commit to git -> ask BUILD to “pull latest source code” -> builds a new app -> open up your app on your phone and it will ask you to update it -> DONE

Documentation

It doesn’t happen a lot, so when it does it’s worth to point it out: the documentation on PhoneGap BUILD is very good. You can find it at http://docs.build.phonegap.com/ and it really does cover anything you need to get up-and-running.

Google Drive Forms as survey in-app!

This is my first jab at developing an HTML5 mobile app and I wanted to get a little feedback on it from people, mainly to figure out how their experience was in relation to the performance of the app. I was very happy to realize that all I had to do was to create a Google Drive Form, get the embed iframe and insert it in the app. That was it and I was ready to go.

the Ionic Framework

For my first html5 mobile app, I decided to use the Ionic framework. This was partly based on some research on popular mobile frameworks I had done before and partly because they used Angular JS, which I also really wanted to get in to (and thus, this gave me a good excuse to do so).

Set-up

Again, in combination with Cloud9IDE, getting set up to develop with the ionic framework was extremely easy. I ran a single command in the console and I was up-and-running.

Learning curve

Ionic itself is really nicely documented and is easy to pick up. If you are unfamiliar with Angular JS however, you probably have a little bit of a learning curve ahead of you (as did I, and I’m still learning :)).

Other than the Angular JS aspect, the framework is really nice and easy to use and very powerful once you get into it. It’s also accompanied by a pretty active community, which was useful to me mainly because it meant most of the questions I had, had already been answered previously (and thus google picked them up :)).

Conclusion

This is my first try and proper html5 mobile development, so there are probably many tools I should be mentioning here, but I might add them as I find out about them :). I hope this post will help some people get set-up a little more quickly and effectively than I did (as I had to look around for these tools) and of course, all comments welcome!

Developing & debugging an HTML5 (phonegap) app – part 2 DEBUGGING

Over the past week, I spent my mornings developing an HTML5 mobile app. The main idea behind the project was that I wanted to learn a couple of new tools and technologies out there, as well as figure out how far you could push HTML5 apps in general (“are they close to native at all, or can you possibly get them there?” kind of thing). I set out to use the following new tools to develop the app:

Following is a summary of the things that surprised me most, hopefully providing some people with a shortcut to the right tools and techniques that I had to look pretty hard for 🙂

This post is made up of 2 parts, make sure to check them both out if you think they could be helpful! 🙂

  1. DEVELOPING
  2. DEBUGGING – this one

Debugging…

My main pain whilst starting the development of my HTML5 app was debugging and more importantly figuring out: how to debug the app once it was packaged as a PhoneGap app?…

I searched google for many tools and came up with results such as

but none of them could show me my JS console events such as errors, warnings, etc. (WEINRE came closest, but it could only EXECUTE statements in the console, not read events). UNTIL!

Chrome developer tools

This seems pretty obvious now, but no blog or other site I was reading mentioned it: Chrome inspector can debug your HTML5 Android apps like it can debug any normal website! The rule is: as long as it contains a webview, you can debug it using chrome! You can launch this through your usual Chrome Developer Tools menu: Tools > Inspect devices

chrome inspect devices screenshot

screenshot & more info from this site: http://www.letzwrite.com/how-to/remote-debug-mobile-website-android-chrome-firefox/

And if you have your phone connected to your PC (with USB debugging enabled) + a phonegap app running on it, you should see something like this:

inspect devices chrome

Those tools have definitely been a lifesaver and as soon as I got to see the console, it took me about 2 minutes to identify the problem my phonegap app was having (which was related to a different way of resolving urls than what the chrome browser does).

SauceLabs emulators

As I used the Cloud9 IDE, sauce labs emulators came fully integrated and enabled me to test my code straight on live ios / android devices. This was also pretty neat and definitely helped me out a LOT 🙂

Long time no write – Cloud9IDE

It’s been quite a while I didn’t write anything, mostly due to the fact I simply didn’t take the time to do so. I will try and get back into the habit of making this at least a weekly thing, but we’ll see if that’s realistic 🙂

Cloud9IDE

cloud9ide logo

 

For the past couple of weeks, I have been trying out Cloud9 IDE over the weekends and am really happy I did. I made the switch to a full cloud work environment about 6 months ago, but hadn’t tried actually developing that way (my current job doesn’t require me to do a lot of actual coding) so I thought it a good idea to give it a go with a small project and see how it would work.

Starter: Sign-up to new project

The initial sign-up is very smooth and quick. Not many details to fill-in and, most importantly: they do not force you to give a credit card (A REAL TRIAL! :)). You can then go on and create 1 private (as in, without anyone else being able to look at your source code) project with the free account and that is where the real fun starts.

When you create a new project, this is called a “Workspace” in Cloud9. You can choose from a variety of starter packs (that pre-configure your workspace for the types of technology you’re going to use) or simply go for something “custom”. The first interesting thing I saw whilst creating this workspace was “clone from url”. This option enabled me to specify a github url and create a workspace directly linked to it (pulling the code and letting me commit without a problem). That was a really nice surprise to start off with, as I was anxious as to how I would solve problems with getting stuff into the cloud during my development process.

First steps

The IDE looks pretty neat from the first try. Here is an example of both the first page you see (upon project creation — node.js here) and some syntax highlighting

cloud9 new project screenCloud 9 screen with syntax highlights

The editor is really smooth and definitely works as nicely as any text-editor I have used natively (granted, I haven’t tried a 3000 line file yet, but still). It is very easy to create files, write code and most importantly… run it…

Running your code

It is in running, testing and debugging my code that I see the enormous benefit of using cloud9. A couple of things quickly jump to mind:

  1. Live-preview in the same browser tab. It simply updates as you save your files
  2. SauceLabs integration enables you to test in ANY browser you want – MOBILE INCLUDED. Yup, you heard that right: it takes 10 seconds to save your file and have it run on both an emulated android and an ios device…

cloud9 mobile testing with saucelabs

  1. Live link. If the “live preview” is not good enough for you and you want to test your code outside of the cloud9IDE preview, you can simply take the link and open it up in another tab, to test it the old fashioned way.

Wonderful easter-eggs

Whilst getting to grips with Cloud9, I was trying to learn a little on html5 mobile app development at the same time, so I wanted to use phonegap and, more specifically, ionic (a framework based around phonegap for html5 mobile development). That is when the power of the terminal became really apparent. I thought I would have to go through all the trouble to get node.js installed and then make it work with phonegap, but no. Node.js was already fully running and the only command I had to put into the terminal was “npm install -g cordova ionic”. That was it… and I’m not even kidding… No errors, no hassle, everything simply installed and my whole workspace was set-up to start developing apps for mobile…

Another useful thing was that at some point I wanted a public URL for my app. As it was HTML5 I also wanted to support normal browsers so I decided to get a heroku app and push it there. Again, I thought I would have to set up the heroku toolbelt and some other things to get this working, but no… IT WAS ALREADY THERE. This meant that the whole process of pushing my code live on a new heroku app took under a minute (setting up the new heroku app INCLUDED).

Conclusion

After 3 days (over the space of 3 weeks) with Cloud9IDE, I am completely sold. I think it is one of the better applications I have tried out over the last years and definitely feels like a major leap forward in the development landscape in general.

I haven’t tried out very heavy set-ups yet, so I’m not saying this is for everyone and every project, but I am definitely recommending this for small to medium-scale web development and any html5 mobile development.

Hope this overview was useful, but let me know if you have any thoughts / comments!

 

 

Trello (& Agile) review

At my current company, I inherited the use of « Trello » (www.trello.com). Initially I wasn’t too psyched with it, probably due to my own habits and the fact this meant changing, but I have grown really fond of it!

Trello is an online task management tool that “gets back to the basics”. In essence, it somewhat replicates the good-old whiteboard with post-its, but makes it digital, multi-user, cross-platform, mobile & simply amazing Smile. It consists of a very simple column system, with each column containing several tickets. Each ticket can contain text, images, due dates, labels, etc. and be assigned to users. You can create as many columns as you want, suiting different needs. This creates for a very flexible workflow that can be tailored within minutes to do what you want it to do.

Agile use case

In our case, we started out a bit messy, simply keeping a backlog of tickets in “To Do”, moving to “Doing” when worked on, “Done” when finished and “Deployed” when deployed (duh… Smile). However, switching over to a scrum-like model is as simple as adding a column “Current Sprint” and applying the needed logic of daily scrums, grooming, etc.

Conclusion

All-in-all I am really pleased with Trello and will definitely be using it for the foreseeable future. As flexible as it is, it seems to enable me to cater specific boards to specific scenarios of project management. I Would recommend everyone who’s looking for an effective project management suite to give it a go and let me know how it went !

Heroku, AWS and SSL

I haven’t posted on my blog for a while, but as always after a period of holidays, you have good intentions and posting on this blog is one of mine, so I thought I’d start today and make it more regular.

Over the past couple of months I have been using Heroku for a couple of websites with both PHP & Python / Django. It’s been a very good experience, although there are some real hiccups and I thought I’d put some of them up here for whoever might be interested in using it:

download

Pros

In terms of simplicity, I don’t think you could make it any simpler: you push from git to Heroku and the rest is automatic. For quick iterations and continuous deployment this is pretty much the dream, and it’s all done for you.

On top of this first step being very easy and automated, there are a bunch of modules that you can add to it through a simple click. This makes for very fast integrations of mail servers, logging, etc. that would take you a lot longer to set-up otherwise.

Other than making it easier to set-up, I think the biggest point for Heroku is that it enables you to focus on the application you present to your users.

Cons

It’s expensive. Heroku uses AWS and adds a bunch of automated stuff on top. As AWS is not the most inexpensive cloud provider, you can imagine Heroku can become costly pretty quickly.

Also, SSL is badly integrated. You can only use a single certificate, which means you generally have to buy a wildcard and that becomes expensive. It is an even bigger problem if you host multiple domains on the same heroku instance: it is impossible to use an SSL certificate on heroku in this case.

A last, but very important point is that you lose control over your infrastructure. You are reliant not only on Heroku, but also AWS (as Heroku uses AWS). Over the past 3 months, we have had several hours of downtime and another 12h+ where the Heroku API was inaccessible (effectively cutting access to deploy anything). This is of course to be expected, as no service can be perfect, but something to take into account when you make the choice to move to Heroku.

Conclusion

As of today, I am still undecided. We will continue using it for a bit and try to find possible fail-safes that would enable us to fall back on other services if we need to. As we are still a start-up, iterating fast is more important than scaling costs, but that is only the case until the costs become too high to bear.

Setting up a VirtualBox development instance with NAT port forwarding

I just spent another couple of hours figuring out how to effectively re-install my development instance (Ubuntu Server running in VirtualBox on my Windows host) and thought I’d write it down for personal reference and in case someone needs it :).

  1. Install VirtualBox (of course)
  2. Install Ubuntu Server
  3. Enable port forwarding from 127.0.0.1 to 10.0.2.15 on port 80
  4. Install guest additions
    1. sudo apt-get install dkms build-essentials
    2. mount guest additions
    3. sudo mount /dev/cdrom /media/cdrom
    4. cd media cdrom
    5. sudo ./VBoxLinuxAdditions.run
  5. Reboot
  6. You’re done ! You should now be able to access your linux guest by going to localhost on your host 🙂

Now you might want to set up folder sharing and map your local www folder to /var/www, but that is easy from here I guess :).

Note: do not forget to sudo adduser “youruser” vboxsf to enabled permissions on your shared folder!

Development of an Android Application for Moodle – Pre-development (1)

As I am approaching the end of my time at King’s College London, I have to write a BSc project. In my case, I decided to write an Android application that interfaces with Moodle and a timetabling solution, to give students a nice client when they forgot to download their slides, take notes and interact with fellow students. As my work might someday be useful to someone, I thought I’d just start writing about it as it goes along. Most of the parts of what will be written here are parts of my report, so please do excuse me if they seem a bit formal. This post is the first of two that outline my considerations before I started developing.

Building on top of an existing project

In today’s globalised and internet-enabled world, people are starting and abandoning projects all the time. By nature, developers are builders and our first instinct is to start from scratch no matter what we do. However, this leads to massive time-wasting, creating the same software over and over again without even taking the time to see what is already out there. Re-inventing the wheel is not productive and should be avoided as much as possible.

As the open-source movement has exploded in the past couple of years, there are many projects available whose authors are more than happy for you to hack around with their existing source code, as long as they are attributed the credit where appropriate. For this reason, I owed it to the credibility of the project to find out if there was an existing basis that I could build my application on top of and my search was fruitful.

As my background research pointed out, at the start of my project there were two Android applications available that properly integrated with Moodle. One of them turned out to be fully open-sourced and its main developer more than happy to help out.

Moodle-for-Android (initial project)

Moodle-for-Android[1] is a project that was started by a group of Monash IT students in collaboration with Yew Cheung International School Puxi Campus and presents very similar features to my initial project specifications

Features

The application is working, although a little buggy and currently integrates the following functionality

Authenticating a user through Moodle

The application provides a way for the user to authenticate to the correct Moodle instance, obtains a token and uses it to authenticate its requests for information at later stages. This authentication method is also referred to as oAuth[2].

Obtaining and displaying the user’s subscribed courses

Once the user is authenticated, he / she has access to a list of courses they are enrolled in through Moodle.

Obtaining the documents related to the user’s courses

The user has access to all of the documents that are uploaded on Moodle, related to the courses they are enrolled in.

Offline storage of documents

The user can decide to download his / her course documents and store them for offline reference. We will be performing a full offline synchronization, meaning that the application checks for updates of documents on the server and re-downloads them when appropriate.

Automatic downloading of documents

The user has a possibility to specify that the application should (or should not) download all of the course documents accessible to it, automatically, for offline usage.

Showing course assignment details and deadlines

The user has access to all of the course assignments that are present on Moodle, related to the courses they are enrolled in. We will only be handling showing the course assignments, meaning the user cannot use any real interaction (like uploading a document).

Providing web-access to forums

Direct access to the web-forums from within the application is not available. However, a list of the existing forums (available to the user on the Moodle platform) is provided, but with web links to them. This enables the user to access these forums on the browser of his / her mobile device (it does mean the user has to re-authenticate him / herself to Moodle within the browser).


[1] https://github.com/M0nk3yofdoom/Moodle-for-Android

[2] http://oauth.net/