At the Forge - Dojo
This is a relevant point even before you download Dojo, because the download site requires that you choose which combination of features you prefer to use. Knowing that my server is on a relatively high-speed line, that my sites tend to be relatively lightweight and that I plan to explore Dojo as a developer, I installed the “everything” version, labeled as kitchen sink on the download site. But, if you are interested in Dojo solely for its rich-text editor, or for use in Ajax or charting, you might want to download one of the many smaller versions, each identified by the subset of Dojo's functionality it covers. For the purposes of this column, however, I assume you also have downloaded the kitchen sink version.
At the time of this writing, Dojo is at version 0.4.1, and the kitchen sink version is available from the URL download.dojotoolkit.org/release-0.4.1/dojo-0.4.1-kitchen_sink.tar.gz.
Once you have downloaded the file, unpack it:
tar -zxvf dojo-0.4.1-kitchen_sink.tar.gz
And, indeed, we can load Dojo into our Web pages using the standard <script> tag:
Although the above loads dojo.js into the browser's memory, this does not mean all of Dojo's commands are now available. Rather, including dojo.js makes it possible for us to load one or more of Dojo's individual packages. You can think of dojo.js as a bootloader, in that its only purpose is to make Dojo available to you later on, rather than to perform any tasks on its own.
Each of these pieces of functionality is available inside of a separate package, which is both loaded and identified with a hierarchical name structure. Thus, all Dojo functions begin with dojo (for example, dojo.declare and dojo.debug), and they are loaded as part of a similarly named hierarchy.
Loading a Dojo package is as simple as putting:
inside your HTML. You can load more than one package, using multiple invocations of dojo.require. Dojo's package loader is smart enough to take care of any dependencies that might exist.
var myNode = document.getElementById("target");
Dojo allows us to abbreviate this to:
var myNode = dojo.byId("target");
This is not quite as short as Prototype's $() operator, but it is still a significant improvement, making programs both shorter and more readable.
Dojo also provides some new mechanisms to work with arrays and other enumerated lists. For example, it provides a foreach loop:
The above code causes iterationFunctionName to be invoked once for each element of arrayName. Thus, we could say:
var names = ["Atara", "Shikma", "Amotz"]; dojo.lang.forEach(names, alert);
to print each of these names in an alert box. Dojo provides several other convenient functions for use with arrays, including dojo.map (which invokes an operation on each element of an array, producing a new array as a result) and dojo.filter (which returns an array of those items for which a function returns true). Stylistically, the documentation for Prototype seems to encourage users to write inline functions, whereas the Dojo documentation encourages users to write named functions and then refer to them. However, you can adopt whichever style is more appealing to you.
One of the easiest parts of Dojo to begin using is its collection of widgets. From the time that HTML forms were first standardized, Web developers have wanted a richer set of widgets from which to choose, in order to provide applications that resemble—in style, as well as power—parallel widgets available for desktop applications. Dojo provides a number of such widgets, making it possible to include rich-text editors, sliders and combo boxes in our programs.
For example, we might want to use the Dojo rich-text editor, allowing people to write using more than the plain text that a <textarea> tag provides. We can do that simply by creating a <div> and giving it a class of dojo-Editor:
<div class="dojo-Editor"> Hello from the Dojo editor! </div>
Once we have done this (producing the file shown in Listing 1), we suddenly have a rich-text editor at our disposal. This is wonderful, except for one thing—how do we submit the HTML-formatted file to an application on our server? One method would be to use Ajax to save the contents of our div on a regular basis, submitting its contents to the server without any need for explicit saving. And, indeed, this is what many Web-based applications, including word processors and spreadsheets, have done. No longer do you need to save documents; you simply work with them, and you can expect the computer to save what you've done reliably.
Listing 1. simple.html
This month, we take a simpler approach, including our rich-text editor in an HTML form submission. Unfortunately, it's still not obvious how we can pull this off, because HTML forms consist of <input> and <textarea> tags. Luckily, the Dojo team has taken this into consideration. Notice that we define a Dojo widget by its class, not by its tag type. This means we can attach the dojo-Editor class to anything, not only to an empty <div> tag. If we attach it to a <textarea>—which is a block element, just like <div>—our text editor will be attached to a textarea, which will be submitted to the server. In other words, we replace our <div> with:
<textarea name="text" class="dojo-Editor"> Hello from the Dojo editor! </textarea>
Listing 2 shows an example of how this might look when incorporated into a simple HTML form. When the contents of the form are sent to the server, all formatting is preserved using HTML tags. Your application will need to parse this HTML to understand any formatting that might appear in the text.
Listing 2. simple-form.html
Of course, if your plan is to take the input text and simply display it in a Web browser, not much (if any) work is needed on your part. You can stick the input into a database and then retrieve it whenever it is needed. (I haven't checked into the security of this widget to make sure it is immune to cross-site scripting attacks, so you might want to investigate it further before simply accepting, storing and displaying user data.)
As you can already see, Dojo offers a wide variety of functions and doesn't take much effort to start using. But using many of the other widgets Dojo includes, such as an attractive DatePicker, requires that we use Dojo's sophisticated event handler, which we did not examine here. Next month, we will look at events in Dojo and how that package lets us incorporate special effects, Ajax and many more widgets into our Web applications.
The main source for information about Dojo, as well as Dojo software releases, is at dojotoolkit.org. Documentation for the toolkit is still a bit sparse, but it has improved significantly in the last few months, and continued improvements seem likely, given Dojo's growing popularity. The main URL for Dojo documentation is at dojotoolkit.org/docs, with Dojo.book (the Wiki-based Dojo documentation) at manual.dojotoolkit.org/index.html.
Finally, a good introduction to rich-text editing with Dojo is at dojotoolkit.org/docs/rich_text.html.
Reuven M. Lerner, a longtime Web/database consultant, is a PhD candidate in Learning Sciences at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois. He currently lives with his wife and three children in Skokie, Illinois. You can read his Weblog at altneuland.lerner.co.il.