CF & Flex
An Introduction To Adobe Flex For ColdFusion Developers
If you're new to Flex or haven't tried it yet, this article provides an introduction, from a ColdFusion developer's perspective
By: Oliver Merk
Aug. 15, 2007 12:45 PM
There's been a lot of talk in the ColdFusion community lately about the newly released Flex 2. If you're new to Flex or haven't tried it yet, this article provides an introduction, from a ColdFusion developer's perspective, to what Flex is and is not.
I'll also put Flex in the perspective of what you already know as a ColdFusion developer, so that your introduction to this exciting and powerful technology will have a familiar context.
Like many of you, I've been using ColdFusion for several years, keeping up with the latest bells and whistles as they were introduced: the Java platform, CFCs, reporting, Flash forms. As an Adobe Certified ColdFusion Instructor, I made sure I kept up with these new features, even if I didn't use them day-to-day, simply because I knew I'd get questions about them.
Little did I know that arming myself with these snippets of knowledge and best practices would help ease my introduction to Flex enormously.
What Is the ColdFusion-Flex Relationship?
What Exactly Is Flex?
To create a Flash movie, developers traditionally use Adobe's Flash IDE, a timeline-based application that is exceptionally well suited to creating animations. If you've never seen the Flash IDE, it's worth taking the time to download the free trial. The Flash IDE, however, was not originally intended to be a tool for application developers like us. While some incredible applications have been created using the Flash IDE, developers who come from a coding background have had a hard time getting comfortable building applications this way. I certainly did.
The Flex team was well aware of this and, to their credit, recognized that if Flash was going to play a significant role in the next generation of Web applications, especially at the enterprise level, they would need to entice coders to get in the game. Wouldn't it be great, they thought, to be able to create Rich Internet Applications (RIAs) using only code?
And so, Flex was born.
Flex allows you, the developer, to create Flash applications using code. The good news is that the code is very similar to the HTML and CFML you already know.
Here is a simple example:
<?xml version="1.0" encoding="utf-8"?>
Notice that Flex uses opening and closing tags, just like HTML and ColdFusion. In this case, the markup language is called MXML. Also, the first line tells you that MXML documents are standards-compliant XML files.
What Is ActionScript?
<?xml version="1.0" encoding="utf-8"?>
ActionScript is where the real work of your Flex application occurs. It can be used to manipulate the application's visual elements as well as gather, send, and retrieve data from remote sources such as Web services, Java objects, and even ColdFusion Components (CFCs).
Flex also uses Cascading Style Sheets syntax to style the visual elements of your application, so those CSS skills will come in handy with Flex as well.
What About ColdFusion?
Is ColdFusion no longer needed? Are your hard-earned skills going to be abandoned now that Flex has arrived?
Flex represents what's known as the presentation layer of an application; the view part of that model-view-controller stuff that's all the rage these days (see Table 1 above). That is, its primary concern is to render the interface for the user and provide an environment that is comfortable and intuitive. For example, we're all used to dragging and dropping things within our desktop environments, so Flex has this functionality built in - and it's easy to implement.
What Flex does not do is all the back-end transactional things that an applications needs. It cannot directly send a query to a database. It cannot POP an e-mail account. It cannot manipulate files on the server. Is this a drawback to using Flex? No. In fact, it's its greatest strength. Flex leaves the choice of back-end technology up to the developer or organization. This means that the initial investments made to create such systems can be repurposed with a rich front end.
Flex contains several built-in functions that can talk to various back-end technologies, including native connections to ColdFusion CFCs and Java objects, XML files, as well as Web services. That last one is important; Flex can talk to any Web service, regardless of the technology used to create it. This means that an organization that has invested heavily in their technology of choice, say .NET, can retain that code base, while adding a sophisticated presentation layer that is difficult or impossible to achieve with a straight HTML interface.
Where Do I Start?
I would also suggest an official Adobe Flex training course. There are three Flex courses currently available, with more to follow. Visit the link in my bio for more information.
What Other New Things Will I Learn?
As ColdFusion developers we are living in a very exciting time. Our years of experience are being put to a new use. The same joy we felt when we first learned ColdFusion is about to be rekindled with another technology that, like ColdFusion, makes seemingly difficult tasks easy and satisfying.
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