Adobe Flex to JavaScript… why Conversion is Hard

I recently had a conversation with Simeon Bateman regarding the woes of mobile web development. We realized one of the reasons why Flex developers as in general have a hard time embracing JavaScript development.

The Problem

The particular JavaScript quirk we were discussing was window.innerHeight functions on mobile devices.  During our development on mobile devices, we ran into two frustrating issues.

Simeon’s issue was with the way window dimensions get messed up when an Android device is re-oriented.

My issue was with the way that window.innerHeight tells you how much space you have with the url bar on the screen, until the url bar is scrolled off the screen, then it reports the actual space that you can work with (since this is my post we’ll talk about my problem). This issue if frustrating because I’m trying to get a webpage to take up the whole screen on the mobile device, with the url bar scrolled out of view.

To illustrate what I’m discussing, I’ll show side by side screenshots.  The screenshot is of a page that reports the screen height and width and the window innerHeight and width and updates them on an interval.  On the left you have the URL bar, on the right the URL bar has been scrolled off the screen.  Notice how the screen size has remained the same, but the window.innerHeight has changed.

Window Size with URL barWindow Inner Height without URL bar

We both understood the problems we faced, but both believed there had to be a good and right way to solve the problem, a “best practice” if you will.  Having spent time working in the Flex community, we had come to expect an elegant way of solving the issues we faced.

Neither of us are foreign to forging our own paths through new territory, but we’re generally used to coming to a solution that feels right.  When things start getting hacky we feel like we’re in the wrong place and try to research the problem looking for a more elegant solution.

Finding A Solution

In our scenario with window.innerHeight we were trying to think how we could go about getting the height of the space we can use in an elegant fashion, and couldn’t come up with anything.  We knew how to accomplish our tasks in an inelegant fashion, but thought it was a common enough task that there would be a “right” or elegant solution.

Finally we realized that we knew of people out there who were doing what we wanted, and this is JavaScript after all, so we went and looked at the source. We checked in a few places, and discovered that most of the places we checked handled this problem in a similar way.  The great guys over at Sencha had this in their code for handling this problem and making sure the application is the correct size.

init: function (c, b) {
    var d = this,
        e = Math.max(window.innerHeight, window.innerWidth) * 2,
        a = Ext.getBody();
    this.initialHeight = window.innerHeight;
    this.initialOrientation = this.orientation;
    setTimeout(function () {
        setTimeout(function () {
            d.initialHeight = Math.max(d.initialHeight, window.innerHeight);
            if (c) {
                c.apply(b || window)
        }, 500)
    }, 500)

The variable names are not great as its beautified code that was minified, but if you follow it you can see what they’re doing.

In order to size the app to the proper height and be able to have the url bar scrolled off the top, they have to double the size of the container, to ensure that they can scroll past the url bar. Then they scroll… twice on 500ms timeouts, and then they can fix the size of the app to bring the size down to what it really is without the url bar, since window.innerHeight will now report they value they want.

The Difference

This is where JavaScript development diverges from Adobe Flex development.  The fractured landscape of so many browsers and the impossibility of getting users to upgrade in a timely manner has left JavaScript developers with no choice but to hack their way through.

This is not to say that JavaScript lacks elegance… but that there are some areas where the hack is just what you need to do.

In Flex there are times where you need to implement a hack, but you generally implement it as a patch to the Flex SDK and your application code is spared the hack. This example underscores one of the big issues that Flex developers face as they move from the world of the Flash Player to the fractured world of browsers. To a Flex developer this feels like an inelegant hack, but to a JavaScript developer this is a great solution, because it works across all the different platforms we need to support.


I don’t present this information as a way of excusing Flex Developers from exploring HTML/JS development, but wanted to help developers understand this difference that can help on both platforms.

With this new found understanding if you feel like hopping into some HTML/JS development, may I suggest another article, by Simeon Bateman.

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