27 November 2007

Flex Builder 3 Deep Linking: Awesome!

O.K, so, a little history.

Everyone reading this is aware of what a website is. Generally, it's a collection of hypertext pages that cross-link to each other.

At least, that's what they used to be. Increasingly over the past decade, more and more Flash websites have appeared. A Flash website is generally one interactive "movie" file that dynamically loads content according to user actions. In other words, a Flash website is not a collection of "pages"—it's a (potentially) complex application that can take on many different states.

With a traditional hypertext website, linking to any particular "page" is simple. Even linking to particular sections of particular pages is simple. Each page has its own address (a URL—Uniform Resource Locator), so you can just grab that in your browser and pass it off to someone else.

With Flash websites, it becomes a lot more complicated. The state of the Flash movie is not automatically reflected in the URL. Generally, you have to implement some kind of complex system, using JavaScript, to tack on information to the URL. The information flow has to go both ways. Flash has to be able to read the URL, determine the proper state, and move into it. At the same time, whenever the user induces Flash into entering a different state, that must be reported to the browser so it can be reflected in the URL. It's a major pain.

Enter Flex Builder 3.

Flex Builder is a development tool (also available as a plugin for the Eclipse development platform, which is what I use) that generates Flash content. Not long ago, Adobe released an alpha version of version 3.

I had heard that they had added a deep-linking feature, and had been meaning to read up on it Doubtless they would it some kind of customized implementation with my components.


Last night I was troubleshooting a bug with March of Man, and happened to upload some files generated by Flex Builder 3, which had not previously been uploaded. All of a sudden, there it was: deep-linking to every major section of the site.

I barely had to lift a finger.

O.K., so it's not perfect. The URLs are a bit ugly, and I'm not sure if they're going to work with future versions of the website. Also, it'd be nice if the browser title changed. But I'm sure with a little delving into the documentation and a few tweaks, it should be possible.

On another note, I am no longer the only artist on March of Man! (Well, already some of my works are heavily based on photographs taken by others, which is why I need to implement multiple attributions, but anyway....) With the addition of Stephen O'Connor's Homo erectus, this is finally what it was meant to be: a collaborative paleo-art project.

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