Architecture of Liferay Screens for Android

Liferay Screens applies architectural ideas from Model View Presenter, Model View ViewModel, and VIPER. Screens isn’t considered a canonical implementation of these architectures, because it isn’t an app, but it borrows from them to separate presentation layers from business-logic. This tutorial explains Screen’s high-level architecture, its components’ low-level architecture, and the Android Screenlet lifecycle. Now go ahead and get started examining Screens’s building blocks!

High-Level Architecture

Liferay Screens for Android is composed of a Core, a Screenlet layer, a View layer, Interactors, and Server Connectors. Interactors are technically part of the core, but are worth covering separately. They facilitate interaction with both local and remote data sources, as well as communication between the Screenlet layer and the Liferay Mobile SDK.

screens-android-architecture-01.png

Figure 1: Here are the high-level components of Liferay Screens for Android. The dashed arrow connectors represent a “uses” relationship, in which a component uses the component its pointing to.

Each component is described below.

Core: includes all the base classes for developing other Screens components. It’s a micro-framework that lets developers write their own Screenlets, Views, and Interactors.

Screenlets: Java view classes for inserting into any activity or fragment view hierarchy. They render a selected layout in the runtime and in Android Studio’s visual editor and react to UI events, sending any necessary server requests. You can set a Screenlet’s properties from its layout XML file and Java classes. The Screenlets bundled with Liferay Screens are known collectively as the Screenlet Library.

Server Connectors: a collection of classes that interact with different Liferay versions. These classes abstract away the complexity of communicating with different Liferay versions. This allows the developer to call API methods and the correct Interactor without worrying about the specific Liferay version (currently 6.2 or 7).

Interactors: implement specific use cases for communicating with servers. They can use local and remote data sources. Most Interactors use the Liferay Mobile SDK to exchange data with a Liferay instance. If a user action or use case needs to execute more than one query on a local or remote store, the sequence is done in the corresponding Interactor. If a Screenlet supports more than one user action or use case, an Interactor must be created for each. Interactors are typically bound to one specific Liferay version, and instantiated by a Server Connector. Interactors run in a background thread and can therefore perform intensive operations without blocking the UI thread.

Views: a set of layouts and accompanying custom view classes that present Screenlets to the user.

Next, the core layer is described in detail.

Core Layer

The core layer is the micro-framework that lets developers write Screenlets in a structured and isolated way. All Screenlets share a common structure based on the core classes, but each Screenlet can have a unique purpose and communication API.

screens-android-architecture-02.png

Figure 2: Here’s the core layer of Liferay Screens for Android.

Here are the core’s main components:

Interactor: the base class for all Liferay Portal interactions and use cases that a Screenlet supports. Interactors call services through the Liferay Mobile SDK and receive responses asynchronously through the EventBus, eventually changing a View’s state. Their actions can vary in complexity, from performing simple algorithms to requesting data asynchronously from a server or database. A Screenlet can have multiple Interactors, each dedicated to supporting a specific operation.

BaseScreenlet: the base class for all Screenlet classes. It receives user events from a Screenlet’s View, instantiates and calls the Interactors, and then updates the View with operation results. Classes that extend it can override its template methods:

  • createScreenletView: typically inflates the Screenlet’s View and gets the attribute values from the XML definition.
  • createInteractor: instantiates an Interactor for the specified action. If a Screenlet only supports one Interactor type then that type of Interactor is always instantiated.
  • onUserAction: runs the Interactor associated with the specified action.

Screenlet View: implements the Screenlet’s UI. It’s instantiated by the Screenlet’s createScreenletView method. It renders a specific UI using standard layout files and updates the UI with data changes. When developing your own Views that extend a parent View, you can read the parent Screenlet’s properties or call its methods from this class.

EventBus: notifies the Interactor when asynchronous operations complete. It decouples the AsyncTask class instance from the activity life cycle, to avoid problems typically associated with AsyncTask instances.

Liferay Mobile SDK: calls a Liferay instance’s remote services in a type-safe and transparent way.

SessionContext: a singleton class that holds the logged in user’s session. Apps can use an implicit login, invisible to the user, or a login that relies on explicit user input to create the session. User logins can be implemented with the Login Screenlet. This is explained in detail here.

LiferayServerContext: a singleton object that holds server configuration parameters. It’s loaded from the server_context.xml file, or from any other XML file that overrides the keys defined in the server_context.xml.

server_context.xml: specifies the default server, companyId (Liferay instance ID) and groupId (site ID). You can also configure other Screens parameters in this file, such as the current Liferay version (with the attribute liferay_portal_version) or an alternative ServiceVersionFactory to access custom backends.

LiferayScreensContext: a singleton object that holds a reference to the application context. It’s used internally where necessary.

ServiceVersionFactory: an interface that defines all the server operations supported in Liferay Screens. This is created and accessed through a ServiceProvider that creates the Server Connectors needed to interact with a specific Liferay version. The ServiceVersionFactory is an implementation of an Abstract Factory pattern.

Now that you know what makes up the core layer, you’re ready to learn the Screenlet layer’s details.

Screenlet Layer

The Screenlet layer contains the Screenlets available in Liferay Screens for Android. The following diagram uses Screenlet classes prefixed with MyScreenlet to show the Screenlet layer’s relationship with the core, View, and Interactor components.

screens-android-architecture-03.png

Figure 3: This diagram illustrates the Android Screenlet layer’s relationship to other Screens components.

Screenlets are comprised of several Java classes and an XML descriptor file:

MyScreenletViewModel: an interface that defines the attributes shown in the UI. It typically accounts for all the input and output values presented to the user. For instance, LoginViewModel includes attributes like the user name and password. The Screenlet can read the attribute values, invoke Interactor operations, and change these values based on operation results.

MyScreenlet: a class that represents the Screenlet component the app developer interacts with. It includes the following things:

  • Attribute fields for configuring the Screenlet’s behavior. They are read in the Screenlet’s createScreenletView method and their default values can optionally be set there too.
  • A reference to the Screenlet’s View, specified by the liferay:layoutId attribute’s value. Note: a View must implement the Screenlet’s ViewModel interface.
  • Any number of methods for invoking Interactor operations. You can optionally make them public for app developers to call. They can also handle UI events received in the view class through a regular listener (such as Android’s OnClickListener) or events forwarded to the Screenlet via the performUserAction method.
  • An optional (but recommended) listener object for the Screenlet to call on a particular event.

MyScreenletInteractor: implements an end-to-end use case that communicates with a server or consumes a Liferay service. It might perform several intermediate steps. For example, it might send a request to a server, compute a local value based on the response, and then send this value to a different server. On completing an interaction, the Interactor must notify its listeners, one of which is typically the Screenlet class instance. The number of Interactors a Screenlet requires depends on the number of server use cases it supports. For example, the Login Screenlet class only supports one use case (log in the user), so it has only one Interactor. The DDL Forms Screenlet class, however, supports several use cases (load the form, load a record, submit the form, etc.), so it uses a different Interactor class for each use case.

MyScreenletConnector62 and MyScreenletConnector70: the classes that create the Interactors required to communicate with a specific Liferay version. The ServiceProvider creates a singleton ServiceVersionFactory that returns the right Connector.

MyScreenletDefaultView: a class that renders the Screenlet’s UI with the default layout. The class in Figure 3, for example, belongs to the Default View set. The View object and the layout file communicate using standard mechanisms, like a findViewById method or a listener object. User actions are received by a specified listener (for example, OnClickListener) and then passed to the Screenlet object via the performUserAction method.

myscreenlet_default.xml: an XML file that specifies how to render the Screenlet’s View. Here’s a skeleton of a Screenlet’s layout XML file:

<?xml version="1.0" encoding="utf-8"?>
<com.your.package.MyScreenletView 
    xmlns:android="http://schemas.android.com/apk/res/android">

    <!-- Put your regular components here: EditText, Button, etc. -->

</com.your.package.MyScreenletView>

Refer to the tutorial Creating Android Screenlets for more Screenlet details. Next, the View layer’s details are described.

View Layer

The View layer lets developers set a Screenlet’s look and feel. Each Screenlet’s liferay:layoutId attribute specifies its View. A View consists of a Screenlet class, view class, and layout XML file. The layout XML file specifies the UI components, while the Screenlet class and view class control the View’s behavior. By inheriting one or more of these View layer components from another View, the different View types allow varying levels of control over a Screenlet’s UI design and behavior.

There are several different View types:

Themed: presents the same structure as the current View, but alters the theme colors and tints of the View’s resources. All existing Views can be themed with different styles. The View’s colors reflect the current value of the Android color palette. If you want to use one View Set with another View Set’s colors, you can use those colors in your app’s theme (e.g. colorPrimary_default, colorPrimary_material, colorPrimary_westeros).

Child: presents the same behavior and UI components as its parent, but can change the UI components’ appearance and position. A Child View specifies visual changes in its own layout XML file; it inherits the parent’s view class and Screenlet class. It can’t add or remove any UI components. The parent must be a Full View. Creating a Child View is ideal when you only need to make visual changes to an existing View. For example, you might create a Child View for Login Screenlet’s Default View to set new positions and sizes for the standard text boxes.

Extended: inherits the parent View’s behavior and appearance, but lets you change and add to both. You can do so by creating a custom view class and a new layout XML file. An Extended View inherits all the parent View’s other classes, including its Screenlet, listeners, and Interactors; if you need to customize any of them, you must create a Full View to do so. An Extended View’s parent must be a Full View. Creating an Extended View is ideal for adding, removing, or changing an existing View’s UI components. For example, you can extend the Login Screenlet’s Default View to present different UI components for the user name and password fields.

Full: provides a complete standalone View. It doesn’t inherit another View’s UI components or behavior. When creating a Full View, you must therefore create its Screenlet class, view class, and layout XML file. You should create a Full View when you don’t need to inherit another View or when you need to alter the core behavior of a Screenlet by customizing its listeners or calling custom Interactors. For example, you could implement a Full View with a new Interactor for calling a different Liferay Portal instance. Default Views are Full Views.

Liferay Screens Views are organized into View sets that contain Views for several Screenlets. Liferay’s available View sets are listed here:

  • Default: a mandatory View Set supplied by Liferay. It’s used by a Screenlet if no layout ID is specified or if no View is found with the layout ID. The Default View Set uses a neutral, flat white and blue design with standard UI components. In the Login Screenlet, for example, the Default View uses standard text boxes for the user name and password, but the text boxes are styled with the Default View’s flat white and blue design. You can customize this View Set’s properties, such as its components’ colors, positions, and sizes. See the Default View Set’s styles.xml file for specific values. Since the Default View Set contains Full Views, you can use them to create your own custom Child and Extended Views.

  • Material: the View Set containing Views that conform to Android’s Material design guidelines.

  • Westeros: the View Set containing Views for the Bank of Westeros sample app.

For information on creating or customizing Views, see the tutorial Creating Android Views.

Great! Now you know how Liferay Screens for Android is composed. However, there’s something you should know before moving on: how Screenlets interact with the Android life cycle.

Screenlet Lifecycle

Liferay Screens automatically saves and restores Screenlets’ states using the Android SDK methods onSaveInstanceState and onRestoreInstanceState. Each Screenlet uses a uniquely generated identifier (screenletId) to assign action results to action sources.

The Screenlets’ states are restored after the onCreate and onStart methods, as specified by the standard Android lifecycle. It’s a best practice to execute Screenlet methods inside the activity’s onResume method; this helps assure that actions and tasks find their destinations.

Awesome! Now you know the nitty gritty architectural details of Liferay Screens for Android. Let this tutorial be a resource for you as you work with Liferay Screens.

Related Topics

Using Screenlets in Android Apps

Using Views in Android Screenlets

Creating Android Screenlets

Creating Android Views

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