The Big Move

I’d like to have Android and iOS versions of Drum Score Editor, I’ve been asked many times. To do this, the recommended way according to each of the vendors of the platforms (Google, Apple, Microsoft) is to buy and learn their proprietary implementation languages to get the best seamless experience, completely rewrite your app and have it feel like it belongs on their platform, naturally. Drum Score Editor is 25,000 lines of Java, I’m not rewriting that several times!

  • Mac OS X: learn a language called Swift, the Xcode IDE, the Mac OS APIs, the Mac App Store, proprietary licensing and in-app purchase technology
  • iOS: as above, but with a bunch of different underlying iOS APIs ……
  • Microsoft Windows: a different language, C++, different Windows APIs, a different App Store, licensing and purchasing technologies
  • Android: well it’s written in Java, but not as we know it Jim. A different build environment, yet another set of app store and purchasing technologies

Unfortunately that means lots of different skills, and lot’s of code rewriting multiple times; skills I can’t afford to employ or learn, and time I’d lose for little functional progress as Drum Score Editor is my hobby, not some multi-million dollar IT conglomerate.

However, there’s new technologies becoming available from the open source world that might make the concept of one piece of software for all platforms possible. Drum Score Editor is written in a language called Java and it’s user interface built using the Swing libraries. There’s a new way of writing desktop apps in Java called JavaFX. Once written in JavaFX, you can use various technologies to make your app installable, and runnable on Mac OS X, Windows, iPads and Android tablets. Some work will need to be done for each platform to make the app feel natural, but the bulk of the effort remains common.

Sidebar: I don’t think I’ll ever get away from the differing app stores and technologies, I do like the reach the app store concept gives, e.g. the free 1.97 version of Drum Score packaged for the Mac App Store had 1,077 downloads. Neat, but to replicate on all platforms, and provide an in-app purchase for the studio workflows is a lot of work.

Looking into the technologies needed to get closer to having the bulk of Drum Score’s source code being the same across all platforms and to reduce the amount of effort involved in packaging and releasing it, the first thing I need is a cross-platform build system. Gradle is touted as the way to go with the best integrations for Android and iOS, as well as being designed with Java in mind in the first place. Currently I use Eclipse’s built in build mechanism to produce an executable jar, and then use the javabuilder tool to create installers for Mac and Windows. Gradle appears to consume all of that, and integrate with Eclipse.

So ….. the plan!
Step 1: convert to Gradle, ensuring I can retain the Eclipse IDE, source code control in Git, and build Mac and Windows packages as before.
Step 2: convert Drum Score Editor to JavaFX, leveraging the development and packaging system in step 1, producing Mac and Windows packages
Step 3: produce iOS package, and see how usable it is & introduce platform specific code in Drum Score Editor for the iOS platform
Step 4: repeat step 3 for Android

Step 1: Convert to gradle
A little tricky figuring it out. There’s lot’s of documentation but it doesn’t seem to be complete, it’s hard to pick through it, and in some cases various stack exchange answers were the only source. Nevertheless if you’re used to working open source you’ll be used to picking around for the ultimate truths.

I wanted to leverage the convention over configuration paradigm as much as possible, without changing actual program source code.

My settings.gradle file looks like this: = 'DrumScoreEditor'

This ensures the produced jar file with the application in has the same name, rather than the name of the directory you’ve put the code in to build it.

The step 1 build.grade looks like this so far:

apply plugin: 'java'
apply plugin: 'eclipse'

dependencies {
     compile fileTree(dir: 'libs', include: ['*.jar'])

sourceSets {
     main {
          resources {
               srcDir 'src/main/java'

jar {
     from configurations.compile.collect { it.isDirectory() ? it : zipTree(it) }
     manifest {
          attributes 'Main-Class': 'org.whiteware.DrumScoreEditor'

The dependencies statement is needed because I always copy locally the exact versions of 3rd party libraries I’m using. We can argue about best practises but this is to reduce my overheads. I do a lot of development disconnected from the network so need to be self-contained and as few distractions due to changing versions of these libraries. This effectively tells the compiler where to look for the 3rd party libraries. This is one area where I had to change the project structure.

The sourcesets resources directive is because the resources, i.e. images, that the app loads are currently in a well known location in the source tree, and this ensure they’re copied over into the equivalent location in the class tree that’s bundled into the final jar. I could have tried moving them, so the convention would work but that means a source code change – could be simple as I used a public static constant for the path, not taking the distraction on just yet.

The jar statement is all about how to configure the produced jar file. Here we say bundle all 3rd party libraries in the jar, and then specify the entry point to the program.

At this stage ensure you can run your jar, after ‘gradle build’ it’s in build/libs. A ‘java -jar DrumScoreEditor.jar’ and all was eventually well, once I’d got the build.gradle file looking as above.

A quick ‘gradle eclipse’ and the necessary files were created to allow a relatively drama free import into eclipse using File->Import, Existing Project Into Workspace. Ran first time, due to having resolved all the runtime libraries first as per the build.gradle.


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