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7 - Adding and Extending Widgets

This chapter describes how to add your own widgets or extend existing widgets in FLTK.


New widgets are created by subclassing an existing FLTK widget, typically Fl_Widget for controls and Fl_Group for composite widgets.

A control widget typically interacts with the user to receive and/or display a value of some sort.

A composite widget widget holds a list of child widgets and handles moving, sizing, showing, or hiding them as needed. Fl_Group is the main composite widget widget class in FLTK, and all of the other composite widgets ( Fl_Pack, Fl_Scroll, Fl_Tabs, Fl_Tile, and Fl_Window) are subclasses of it.

You can also subclass other existing widgets to provide a different look or user-interface. For example, the button widgets are all subclasses of Fl_Button since they all interact with the user via a mouse button click. The only difference is the code that draws the face of the button.

Making a Subclass of Fl_Widget

Your subclasses can directly descend from Fl_Widget or any subclass of Fl_Widget. Fl_Widget has only four virtual methods, and overriding some or all of these may be necessary.

The Constructor

The constructor should have the following arguments:
    MyClass(int x, int y, int w, int h, const char *label = 0);
This will allow the class to be used in FLUID without problems.

The constructor must call the constructor for the base class and pass the same arguments:

    MyClass::MyClass(int x, int y, int w, int h, const char *label)
    : Fl_Widget(x, y, w, h, label) {
    // do initialization stuff...
Fl_Widget's protected constructor sets x(), y(), w(), h(), and label() to the passed values and initializes the other instance variables to:

Protected Methods of Fl_Widget

The following methods are provided for subclasses to use:

void Fl_Widget::damage(uchar mask)
void Fl_Widget::damage(uchar mask, int x, int y, int w, int h)
uchar Fl_Widget::damage()

The first form indicates that a partial update of the object is needed. The bits in mask are OR'd into damage(). Your draw() routine can examine these bits to limit what it is drawing. The public method Fl_Widget::redraw() simply does Fl_Widget::damage(FL_DAMAGE_ALL), but the implementation of your widget can call the private damage(n).

The second form indicates that a region is damaged. If only these calls are done in a window (no calls to damage(n)) then FLTK will clip to the union of all these calls before drawing anything. This can greatly speed up incremental displays. The mask bits are OR'd into damage() unless this is a Fl_Window widget.

The third form returns the bitwise-OR of all damage(n) calls done since the last draw().

When redrawing your widgets you should look at the damage bits to see what parts of your widget need redrawing. The handle() method can then set individual damage bits to limit the amount of drawing that needs to be done:

    MyClass::handle(int event) {
      if (change_to_part1) damage(1);
      if (change_to_part2) damage(2);
      if (change_to_part3) damage(4);
    MyClass::draw() {
      if (damage() & FL_DAMAGE_ALL) {
        ... draw frame/box and other static stuff ...
      if (damage() & (FL_DAMAGE_ALL | 1)) draw_part1();
      if (damage() & (FL_DAMAGE_ALL | 2)) draw_part2();
      if (damage() & (FL_DAMAGE_ALL | 4)) draw_part3();

void Fl_Widget::draw_box() const
void Fl_Widget::draw_box(Fl_Boxtype b, ulong c) const

The first form draws this widget's box(), using the dimensions of the widget. The second form uses b as the box type and c as the color for the box.

void Fl_Widget::draw_focus() const
void Fl_Widget::draw_focus(Fl_Boxtype b, int x, int y, int w, int h) const

Draws a focus box inside the widgets bounding box. The second form allows you to specify a different bounding box.

void Fl_Widget::draw_label() const
void Fl_Widget::draw_label(int x, int y, int w, int h) const
void Fl_Widget::draw_label(int x, int y, int w, int h, Fl_Align align) const

This is the usual function for a draw() method to call to draw the widget's label. It does not draw the label if it is supposed to be outside the box (on the assumption that the enclosing group will draw those labels).

The second form uses the passed bounding box instead of the widget's bounding box. This is useful so "centered" labels are aligned with some feature, like a moving slider.

The third form draws the label anywhere. It acts as though FL_ALIGN_INSIDE has been forced on so the label will appear inside the passed bounding box. This is designed for parent groups to draw labels with.

void Fl_Widget::set_flag(SHORTCUT_LABEL)

Modifies draw_label() so that '&' characters cause an underscore to be printed under the next letter.

void Fl_Widget::set_visible()
void Fl_Widget::clear_visible()

Fast inline versions of Fl_Widget::hide() and Fl_Widget::show(). These do not send the FL_HIDE and FL_SHOW events to the widget.

int Fl_Widget::test_shortcut() const
static int Fl_Widget::test_shortcut(const char *s)

The first version tests Fl_Widget::label() against the current event (which should be a FL_SHORTCUT event). If the label contains a '&' character and the character after it matches the key press, this returns true. This returns false if the SHORTCUT_LABEL flag is off, if the label is NULL or does not have a '&' character in it, or if the keypress does not match the character.

The second version lets you do this test against an arbitrary string.

uchar Fl_Widget::type() const
void Fl_Widget::type(uchar t)

The property Fl_Widget::type() can return an arbitrary 8-bit identifier, and can be set with the protected method type(uchar t) . This value had to be provided for Forms compatibility, but you can use it for any purpose you want. Try to keep the value less than 100 to not interfere with reserved values.

FLTK does not use RTTI (Run Time Typing Information), to enhance portability. But this may change in the near future if RTTI becomes standard everywhere.

If you don't have RTTI you can use the clumsy FLTK mechanism, by having type() use a unique value. These unique values must be greater than the symbol FL_RESERVED_TYPE (which is 100). Look through the header files for FL_RESERVED_TYPE to find an unused number. If you make a subclass of Fl_Window you must use FL_WINDOW + n (n must be in the range 1 to 7).

Handling Events

The virtual method int Fl_Widget::handle(int event) is called to handle each event passed to the widget. It can: Events are identified by the integer argument. Other information about the most recent event is stored in static locations and aquired by calling the Fl::event_*() functions. This information remains valid until another event is handled.

Here is a sample handle() method for a widget that acts as a pushbutton and also accepts the keystroke 'x' to cause the callback:

    int MyClass::handle(int event) {
      switch(event) {
        case FL_PUSH:
          highlight = 1;
          return 1;
        case FL_DRAG: {
            int t = Fl::event_inside(this);
            if (t != highlight) {
              highlight = t;
          return 1;
        case FL_RELEASE:
          if (highlight) {
    	highlight = 0;
    	// never do anything after a callback, as the callback
    	// may delete the widget!
          return 1;
        case FL_SHORTCUT:
          if (Fl::event_key() == 'x') {
    	return 1;
          return 0;
          return Fl_Widget::handle(event);

You must return non-zero if your handle() method uses the event. If you return zero, the parent widget will try sending the event to another widget.

Drawing the Widget

The draw() virtual method is called when FLTK wants you to redraw your widget. It will be called if and only if damage() is non-zero, and damage() will be cleared to zero after it returns. The draw() method should be declared protected so that it can't be called from non-drawing code.

The damage() value contains the bitwise-OR of all the damage(n) calls to this widget since it was last drawn. This can be used for minimal update, by only redrawing the parts whose bits are set. FLTK will turn on the FL_DAMAGE_ALL bit if it thinks the entire widget must be redrawn, e.g. for an expose event.

Expose events (and the above damage(b,x,y,w,h)) will cause draw() to be called with FLTK's clipping turned on. You can greatly speed up redrawing in some cases by testing fl_not_clipped(x,y,w,h) or fl_clip_box(...) and skipping invisible parts.

Besides the protected methods described above, FLTK provides a large number of basic drawing functions, which are described below.

Resizing the Widget

The resize(int x, int y, int w, int h) method is called when the widget is being resized or moved. The arguments are the new position, width, and height. x(), y(), w(), and h() still remain the old size. You must call resize() on your base class with the same arguments to get the widget size to actually change.

This should not call redraw(), at least if only the x() and y() change. This is because composite widgets like Fl_Scroll may have a more efficient way of drawing the new position.

Making a Composite Widget

A "composite" widget contains one or more "child" widgets. To make a composite widget you should subclass Fl_Group . It is possible to make a composite object that is not a subclass of Fl_Group, but you'll have to duplicate the code in Fl_Group anyways.

Instances of the child widgets may be included in the parent:

    class MyClass : public Fl_Group {
      Fl_Button the_button;
      Fl_Slider the_slider;
The constructor has to initialize these instances. They are automatically add()ed to the group, since the Fl_Group constructor does begin(). Don't forget to call end() or use the Fl_End pseudo-class:
    MyClass::MyClass(int x, int y, int w, int h) :
      Fl_Group(x, y, w, h),
      the_button(x + 5, y + 5, 100, 20),
      the_slider(x, y + 50, w, 20)
      ...(you could add dynamically created child widgets here)...
      end(); // don't forget to do this!
The child widgets need callbacks. These will be called with a pointer to the children, but the widget itself may be found in the parent() pointer of the child. Usually these callbacks can be static private methods, with a matching private method:
    void MyClass::static_slider_cb(Fl_Widget* v, void *) { // static method
    void MyClass::slider_cb() { // normal method
If you make the handle() method, you can quickly pass all the events to the children using the Fl_Group::handle() method. You don't need to override handle() if your composite widget does nothing other than pass events to the children:
    int MyClass::handle(int event) {
      if (Fl_Group::handle(event)) return 1;
      ... handle events that children don't want ...

If you override draw() you need to draw all the children. If redraw() or damage() is called on a child, damage(FL_DAMAGE_CHILD) is done to the group, so this bit of damage() can be used to indicate that a child needs to be drawn. It is fastest if you avoid drawing anything else in this case:

    int MyClass::draw() {
      Fl_Widget *const*a = array();
      if (damage() == FL_DAMAGE_CHILD) { // only redraw some children
        for (int i = children(); i --; a ++) update_child(**a);
      } else { // total redraw
        ... draw background graphics ...
        // now draw all the children atop the background:
        for (int i = children_; i --; a ++) {
          draw_outside_label(**a); // you may not need to do this
Fl_Group provides some protected methods to make drawing easier:

void Fl_Group::draw_child(Fl_Widget&)

This will force the child's damage() bits all to one and call draw() on it, then clear the damage(). You should call this on all children if a total redraw of your widget is requested, or if you draw something (like a background box) that damages the child. Nothing is done if the child is not visible() or if it is clipped.

void Fl_Group::draw_outside_label(Fl_Widget&) const

Draw the labels that are not drawn by draw_label(). If you want more control over the label positions you might want to call child->draw_label(x,y,w,h,a).

void Fl_Group::update_child(Fl_Widget&)

Draws the child only if its damage() is non-zero. You should call this on all the children if your own damage is equal to FL_DAMAGE_CHILD. Nothing is done if the child is not visible() or if it is clipped.

Cut and Paste Support

FLTK provides routines to cut and paste 8-bit text (in the future this may be UTF-8) between applications: It may be possible to cut/paste non-text data by using Fl::add_handler().

Drag And Drop Support

FLTK provides routines to drag and drop 8-bit text between applications:

Drag'n'drop operations are are initiated by copying data to the clipboard and calling the function Fl::dnd().

Drop attempts are handled via events:


Making a subclass of Fl_Window

You may want your widget to be a subclass of Fl_Window, Fl_Double_Window, or FL_Gl_Window. This can be useful if your widget wants to occupy an entire window, and can also be used to take advantage of system-provided clipping, or to work with a library that expects a system window ID to indicate where to draw.

Subclassing Fl_Windowis almost exactly like subclassing Fl_Group, and in fact you can easily switch a subclass back and forth. Watch out for the following differences:

  1. Fl_Window is a subclass of Fl_Group so make sure your constructor calls end() unless you actually want children added to your window.
  2. When handling events and drawing, the upper-left corner is at 0,0, not x(),y() as in other Fl_Widget's. For instance, to draw a box around the widget, call draw_box(0, 0, w(), h()), rather than draw_box(x(), y(), w(), h()).

You may also want to subclass Fl_Window in order to get access to different visuals or to change other attributes of the windows. See "Appendix F - Operating System Issues" for more information.

User Comments [ Add Comment ]

From Anonymous, 06:38 Sep 13, 2004 (score=3)

In the section: "Making a Composite Widget" in the second "for" loop:
    for (int i = children_; i --; a ++) { this should call children() not attempt to use children_, which is a protected member variable.
Reply ]

From Anonymous, 22:14 Jan 15, 2005 (score=2)

I don't fully understand the advantages to extending a Widget.  Could someone explain this in detail?  A few examples would be nice too.  Thanks.
Reply ]

From PeterW, 14:36 Oct 31, 2005 (score=3)

The advantage of creating new widgets is to create new functionality.  You can create something simple that no one has yet thought of, or you can take a bunch of widgets and group them together in a composite widget for the purpose of easy future re-use.
Reply ]

From Anonymous, 06:16 Sep 13, 2004 (score=2)

in the section: Protected Methods of Fl_Widget,

draw() is also a protected function. As far as I can tell, there is no place in the documentation where the draw() function is actually (fully) defined.  (For instance, the return data type is never specified as void.)  One has to guess the correct definition or search it out in the header files.
Reply ]


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