Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Getting Started with Flex – for Flash Developers

The good news is that you are at your brother’s home if you are coming from Flash AS 3 background. As it happens with siblings, there are many similarities as well as differences between the two. Flash started as an animation tool and grew up to RIA development. Flex on the other hand has born with the objective of providing an integrated environment to develop RIA with ease.

Flash developers who want to get started with Flex need to unlearn few things along with keeping few things from Flash development experience. One of the major differences between Flash and Flex is that Flex does not have the concept of timeline. It does not even give you any tool for designing a simple line. All it has is components which are called controls in Flex. There are various types of controls such as layout controls, UI controls, charting controls, data connectivity controls etc. These controls can be either visual or non-visual. The application development in Flex is done with the help of Flex provided or custom controls.

In Flex, there are two ways of developing an application, MXML or/and ActionScript 3. MXML is an xml based language developed by Macromedia before Adobe Systems acquired Macromedia. There is no official meaning for the acronym MXML, but the backronym used by some developers is “Magic eXtensible Markup Language”. MXML is primarily used to layout the application interface (which can be done in Design View of Flex builder which eventually generates MXML tags). However, MXML can also be used to write business logic or application behavior for small applications. MXML can be used in conjunction with Action Script to write complex business logic for the applications. It gives an opportunity to a person with not very strong in programming background to be able to develop RIA with ease.

Developers can create their own controls in MXML or Action Script to write the business logics or application behaviors. The output of a Flex application is SWF which is targeted to Flash Player 9 or above. Anyone coming from Flash needs to understand that Flex is an application development platform. It does not give any environment to create animations as created in Flash. However, Flex does have some effects and transitions which can be used to create cool interfaces. One can also extend and create his own effects in Flex.

Application development in Flex can be done by using free open source Flex SDK or Flex Builder 3 (Flex 3 is the latest version of Flex and the next version will be called Gumbo) Software provided by Adobe. Flex Builder can help a developer accelerate application development. If you are looking forward to develop RIA in Flex, there are many nice books available along with the resources/tutorials provided on Adobe site. Some of the books you may consider are McGraw Hill’s ‘Flex 3 A Beginners Guide’ or ‘The Essential Guide to Flex 3’ by friends of ED.

Happy Learning…

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