UI Control of the Week: Repeater control generates multiple copies of UI elements
February 27, 2012
User interfaces invariably entail a certain degree of repetition; they’re filled with vertical or horizontal sequences of UI elements that behave identically are are styled identically. Sometimes the elements in such a sequence vary only in their label, and sometimes even that doesn’t vary; the controls really are all exactly the same. As an example, if we go back to the first post in this series on UI controls, we find that Apple’s sliding pages with dots control contains a horizontal sequence of little dot buttons. The variant of this control on Apple’s web Store uses blue dots:
Those little dots along the bottom don’t contain any data, and so their DOM representation of each is essentially identical. (The blue selected state comes from a style applied with a class.) Sequences of completely identical UI elements like this are relatively rare in a production UI. During design and development, however, it’s pretty common to want to throw a bunch of placeholder controls into the UI. Early in the design process, a prototype’s toolbar might have buttons labeled, “Button 1”, “Button 2”, “Button 3”, and so on, until the team can work out exactly what commands they want to offer users there.
But, despite the repetition, creating a collection of buttons like that is generally a manual process: the designer or developer must manually create a set of buttons, and carefully give them each a unique, placeholder name. Alternatively, one writes a bit of throwaway script to generate a given number of controls, although that can take a few minutes to work up.
The recent post on placeholder controls pointed out that it can be worthwhile to have a UI control even if it’s only used during the design process; anything that saves time helps. Here, I think it’s interesting to have a control specifically for the task of generating repetitions in a UI. As with the previously-discussed ListBox, this is effectively a higher-order meta-control: a control that creates or manipulates other controls. This can be useful for mocking things up during design. And, per the Apple example above, it might even be useful in production UI.
The QuickUI Catalog contains a Repeater control. Given a control class and a number, it will create that many instances of that class. If you create a Repeater and give it a dot button class and a count of 5, you’ll get:
With that in hand, you can easily bump the count up or down to get whatever number you need. If you want to see what things look like with 20 copies of the dot control, instead of doing a cut-and-paste of your UI code, you can just change the desired count to 20:
If you give the Repeater some content, each generated copy of the control will end up with that content. Here a Repeater has been told to create 5 instances of a simple button class and set their content to the text, “Button”:
For a bit of variety, you can also ask the Repeater to append an incrementing integer to the content:
This is another one of those controls that, now that I have it, I end up using quite a bit. When poking around with a layout idea, it’s great to be able to fill up the UI quickly with a sequence of elements.
The implementation of Repeater has become simpler over time as the QuickUI framework has gotten better at supporting the creation of meta-controls. These controls generally have one or more properties that accept a control class as a value. Creating such a property is easily done in a single line using a Control.property() declaration. A recent update to the QuickUI runtime makes it also possible to pass in arbitrary UI in Control JSON format, so you can use the Repeater control to generate n copies of some brand-new UI fragment containing a mixture of other controls.
As suggested above, a Repeater is incorporated into the implementation of the Catalog’s SlidingPagesWithDots and RotatingPagesWithDots (which adds automatic rotation) controls. Once the number of children (pages) is known, the control can simply pass that number to the Repeater’s count() property to generate the required number of dot buttons.