One question I heard a lot in the last weeks was about the round-trip between Flash Catalyst and Flash Builder 4. Out of the box, there is no round-trip between these two products. We do, however, support round trip between Flash Catalyst and Illustrator/Photoshop, and between Flash Builder 4 and Flash Professional CS 4.
Let’s take this workflow:
- The designer creates the user interface in Illustrator
- Using Flash Catalyst he transforms the static design into a functional design
- He hands the FXP project created by the Flash Catalyst tool to the developer
- The developer imports the FXP project into Flash Builder 4 and starts to add client logic and data services
- The designer has to change something, and wants to work directly on the developer’s project.
This is the message you get when you try step 5:
What are the challenges for a round-trip between Fc and Fb?
Why does this limitation exist in the first place? Before answering this question, let me tell you that we definitely want to have a round-trip between these two products, and we might have it in the future (keep in mind that Flash Catalyst is a version 1 product). Now, if you have a look at how a developer can work in Flash Builder 4 you can see two main approaches: Design view, or Code view. Sometimes you create custom components, and you do a lot of tricks and magic in order to create the desired application, and when you switch to Design view, nothing appears on the screen. This is really no big deal, because you can continue work in Code view, and press the Run button to check the application.
However, if you are the designer, and you work in Flash Catalyst, then all you have is the design view. If the design view can not render the application user interface and interactions on the stage, then the designer can’t work at all. Imagine trying to work on an Illustrator file without being able to visualize the document. It is really the same situation.
After giving this matter some thought, I think there is some kind of a round-trip that can be employed between these two products.
There are couple of things you need to do in order to succeed:
- The designer always keeps an instance of the FXP project that will not be touched by the developer. For example when he gives the FXP to the developer, he makes sure that he also keeps a copy of that file.
- The developer does his magic on the file received from the designer.
Now, suppose the designer has to modify the UI of the application to accommodate client’s wishes. He opens his FXP project, and makes all the changes. When he finishes, he gives a copy of the project to the developer. It doesn’t matter what kind of changes the designer made; if you look at the project you might find: new files, files deleted, existing files changed.
Which means that the easiest way to merge the designer changes into the developer project is by using a Merge tool or File/Folder Comparison tool such as Araxis. And just to illustrate my point, I added a new button in Flash Catalyst, then I saved the project. After this I unzipped the new project in a folder called v2 and the first version (or the developer’s project) in a folder called v1. Then, using Araxis I compare the two folders:
I can see very quickly if there are new files (like Button4.mxml), or if there are changes in the existing files (like Main.mxml). In the next image you can see the differences highlighted for Main.mxml.
Finally, there is a way to see the generated code in Flash Catalyst it self, and even to change it. Flash Catalyst offers a Code view (on the top-right corner you can choose between Code and Design view):
If you go in Code view, actually you can see the project as it will appear in Flash Builder when imported. While being in Code view, if you open an MXML file, you can see the code, but you cannot change it. And this is perfect, because, as I said, this is a designer tool and designers usually don’t work with code, but with tools. If you really want to play with the code inside of Flash Catalyst (maybe you are a designer/developer), you right-click on a file and choose to open it with Text Editor, then you can actually change it inside of the tool. But keep in mind, you might ruin the Design view by doing this.
I am not saying this is easy to do. But I really think it can speed up the integration of the designer changes into the developer project. And because we are still working on version one of the Flash Catalyst, we are still thinking and figuring out things.
Please, let me know what your opinion is on this matter.