Nick Mudge Ignition Software Consulting & Development

The Vision Module, which is installed in Ignition by default, enables people to create Java-based graphical user interfaces. The underlying Java library that Vision Module GUIs are created upon is Java Swing. Java Swing is a standard graphics library that ships with Java, so you can learn all about it on the Internet and in books.

Because Vision Module-based GUIs are built on top of Java Swing, they follow the rules of Java Swing.

A primary rule of Java Swing is that the user interface is single threaded.

This single thread is called the Event Dispatch Thread or EDT. Code that touches the user interface is supposed to execute in the EDT. This paradigm eliminates numerous multithreading problems and hassles by not having multiple threads touch the GUI.

All the component event handling code in Ignition and the extension functions on components run in the EDT by default so you don't have to do anything special to make your code execute in the EDT. It is the default.

But if this was the end of the story there would be a big problem in Ignition GUI development. The GUI should be and needs to be very very fast - always. A slow, unresponsive GUI (even if it is just a little slow) means that a programmer didn't program it to be fast.

Some code is a little slower than very very fast, and some code is a lot slower, and there is no way around it. Database queries, requests over the network, computations over large sets of data, all these things can take awhile.

If long running code executes in the EDT then the GUI will freeze and appear slow. This is obvious since the EDT can't do anything else until it is done doing what it is currently doing. So if the EDT needs to make a database query (or other such thing) over a potentially slow network the GUI will freeze while this happens and the user will feel like the application is slow or broken.

Executing code that directly affects the GUI such as setting values on component properties, moving components, changing the display of components in some way, and configuring components is usually very fast. It is actually the non-GUI code that is most often slow, like getting data over a network and processing lots of data.

So the question is, How do you make a very fast GUI always when you have code that takes awhile to execute? The answer is to separate the slow (data processing or data retrieval) code from the fast GUI manipulation code. Put the slow code in a background thread. When the slow code completes execution have the background thread pass the data results to code in the EDT that configures and updates the GUI with that data.

Ignition provides the system.util.invokeAsynchronous(func) function to execute a function in a background thread. And Ignition provides the system.util.invokeLater(func) function to pass data produced in a background thread back into the EDT so the data can be used to update GUI components.

Here is a simple example:

#This code could be on an actionPerformed event of a button to retrieve, process and display data.
#This code will prevent the GUI from freezing if the code to get and process the data takes awhile.
def async():
    #Fetch and process a lot of data. Return a useful dataset
    dataset = functionThatTakesALongTimeToFinish()	
    def later():
        label = event.source.parent.getComponent("Label")
	label.text = "Processed and retrieved %s results."% dataset.getRowCount()
	event.source.parent.getComponent("Table").data = dataset

In the code example above the async function is executed in a background thread. The async function takes its time fetching and processing data. During this time the GUI is responsive and not frozen. Then the async function calls the system.util.invokeLater function, passing the function named 'later' as an argument. The system.util.invokeLater executes its argument (the function called later) in the EDT. Notice that function later can access and use the dataset variable that was created in the async function.

It is possible to sprinkle a background thread with multiple calls to system.util.invokeLater in order to update the user interface as the background thread makes progress. This keeps the user informed of the progress of something happening.

Note that the runScript expression function in Ignition executes in the EDT. So runScript should only execute Python code that is fast and not do things that is potentially slow like execute database queries or otherwise access the network.

The PA Power Scripting Module makes writing code that uses system.util.invokeLater and system.util.invokeAsynchronous easier with @run.


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