Elements underneath PathNodes

The problem

  • This page will explain how and why we had to draw components behind path nodes. A component is a big rectangle wich can be filled with a color. Without a filling color, we would not even have a problem here. But since components can be filled, this means that if the components are drawn after the path nodes and that the figure fill its interior with a certain color, the path nodes under the component will get covered with the color. So we had to find a way to draw the component first and then draw the path nodes.

  • The other problem was that our connections where drawn on top of our path nodes. So this way when the user tried to select a path node, he would try to click on the path node, but then the connection could be on top of the path node, so the selection could not work if the user clicked on the connection... The user was trying to click on the path node, but the connection was selected instead. So we had to find a way to put the connections under the path nodes.

Layers in GEF


The preceding figure show the hiearchy of the layers in GEF. This is really important to understand. Here is a quote from the RedBook:

"Layers are used to separate and/or group figures of EditParts to better control their overlapping. Actually, all figures are placed into the primary layer. Figures representing connections are placed on the connection layer and so they are always painted above the other figures. Special figures (like drag or drop feedback or handles) are painted into special layers above the scalable layers. This is important because if you ever want to paint something in the feedback or handle layers, you must be aware that you need to scale this manually before painting."

  • So now that you understand what is a layer and where it is used, we can now explain how to insert a new layer and change the order they are painted. First of all we have to know where in the framework we can insert a new layer and where we can change their order. This is usually done in the RootEditPart of your application.

The solution

  • As mentionned in the last section, we can insert a new layer into our layer hiearchy using the RootEditPart for our application. In our case it is ConnectionOnBottomRootEditPart. Here is the method we need to change if we want to replace the order of the layers and add new ones. In our case we want to change the order of the printable layer, so we overwrite the following method:

protected LayeredPane createPrintableLayers() {
FreeformLayeredPane layeredPane = new FreeformLayeredPane();

FreeformLayer comp = new FreeformLayer();
comp.setLayoutManager(new FreeformLayout());

layeredPane.add(comp, COMPONENT_LAYER);
layeredPane.add(new ConnectionLayer(), CONNECTION_LAYER);
layeredPane.add(new FreeformLayer(), PRIMARY_LAYER);
return layeredPane;

So as you can see, we create a new FreeformLayer with the id COMPONENT_LAYER and we add it first in the stack of layers. So it'll be the bottom most layer. Then we add the connection layer and then the primary layer where all the figures (including the path nodes) will get drawned.

So now our layer hierarchy look more something like that:

  • PrintableLayer
    • Primary Layer
    • Connection Layer
    • Component Layer

Components at the bottom, then connection then all the other figures. But it's not as simple as that...

Problems with this solution

Now that we know GEF better with all the experience we gained with the project, we know that this was probably not a good solution. The fact that we wanted to draw our components figures to the component layer now gave birth to a horde of problems. Normally, GEF draws every non-connection figure to the primary layer. Now that we inserted a new layer, we had to separate the components from the path nodes in two different layers. Although this statement appears to be easy, it's not.

For doing this we had to rewrite a lot of functions from the EditPart class. All the following methods had to be rewritten from the class MapAndPathGraphEditPart to take into account that components were now in a separate layer:

  • protected void addChild(EditPart child, int index)
  • protected void addChildVisual(EditPart childEditPart, int index)
  • public void refreshChildren()
  • protected void registerVisuals()
  • protected void removeChildVisual(EditPart childEditPart)
  • protected void reorderChild(EditPart child, int index)
  • public void setLayoutConstraint(EditPart child, IFigure childFigure, Object constraint)

In fact the most important method in this list is refreshChildren. The problems arised from this method and all the other methods had to be changed just to accomodate the refreshChildren method.

The main problem with the refreshChildren method was that now since we had two separate layers for the components and our path nodes, the figures were painted in two differnet layers instead of the same one as before. This complicate the matters a lot since now you have to update two place at a time. A single EditPart was not designed to update two layers at a time. What happens when an EditPart is no longer used and needs to get deleted?

The old refreshChildren keep a count of how many model elements it has at a given time. But now for our purpose, we had to have two variable, one for the count of components and one for the count of path nodes. Thoses counts are used to insert of update the right component or path node at the right place in arrays. Depending on the count, sometimes we had to trash some elements, sometimes not etc. For each element we have to trash, do we have to delete it from the component layer or the primary layer? If you want to have a closer look to that kind of problem, you can have a look at the code, it's pretty well documented with lots of comments.

Alternative Solution

We could we have done instead now that we know GEF better? At the beginning of the project, we made a bad decision that made our life harder for the rest of the project for the kind of things we talk in this page. We put the Map and the PathGraph in the same EditPart. This was an error because they are two distinct model elements and they contains different things.

What should have we done? Make an EditPart for the Map and another for the PathGraph. Both Map and PathGraph EditParts figure would have been a FreeformLayer. Then since the Map is higher in the hiearchy than PathGraph, the Map layer would have been under the path nodes and since Maps contains components, the components would have been drawned under path nodes. But then a problem remain, how do we draw the connections under path nodes but not under components?

The answer I think is that we could have done a new layer in our RootEditpart like mentionned in the solution section and then say to the Map layer figure to draw in the component layer now. Now since Map and PathGraph are now separated, we don't have anymore problems of having to update two separate layers for the same EditPart. We just have to update the component layer.

I think this could be done just by separating the MapAndPathGraphEditPart into two class, MapEditPart and PathGraphEditPart. This would require a LOT of testing though.

jkealey: I'm 100% for trying to implement this solution as it would reduce our reimplementation of framework code tremendously and because many bugs were caused by our implementation. What I would worry about is which one of these editparts would receive create requests (by palette). Having two edit parts that take up all the visible space and overlap each other might be problematic. However, it might not be as we can still select components even though they are behind the MapAndPathGraphEditPart. Therefore, the framework might query the underlying layer with the CreateRequest if the top layer says it can't handle it.

-- EtienneTremblay - 13 Jul 2005
Topic revision: r3 - 13 Jul 2005, JasonKealey
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