Tool of Thought

APL for the Practical Man

"You don't know how bad your code is until you write about it."

Modal Dialog Boxes 1: Alert

April 29, 2024

JavaScript provides at least three methods for small, utility, modal dialog boxes: alert, confirm, and prompt.

While handy, these methods have limitations. At a minimum we want to be able to style these dialog boxes, and that cannot be done as they are implemented by the underlying operating system. More importantly, we need additional behaviors. For example, the confirm method provides two buttons, Yes and No, and we may want different labels or more than two choices. In addition, we may want to be able to pause an APL function mid execution, server-side, waiting for the response to a set of choices from the user.

Abacus thus provides 3 analogous components: AlertBox, ConfirmBox, and PromptBox. These are all built with the native HTML <dialog> element. All three of these components are modal from the perspective of the user - that is, the use cannot access any other part of the page or app until the dialog box is closed. However, from the programmer's perspective, they behave very differently.

The simplest is the AlertBox component. It provides a message to the user in a modal dialog that may dismissed by pressing the OK button or the Esc key.

Abacus components are not formally classes, just a few functions in a namespace, inlcuding New to create a new instance and CSS to define the styling. Depending on the component, additional functions like Show, Run, or Init may be defined.

The AlertBox is called using its Show method:

      d A.AlertBox.Show 'Hello world!'

The important thing to note about this is that your code does not wait here. The alert box is displayed, and the calling APL function keeps on running. So you cannot use alerts as a debugging tool to pause and display state, as you might have done with MsgBox using ⎕WC. The behavior of AlertBox is in contrast to, as we shall see in the next post, the way the ConfirmBox component behaves. It would be easy enough to make the alert box modal with a capital M and to wait in the APL code for the user to click OK. However, as far as I can tell, there is no real use case for this, other than perhaps debugging, for which we already have much better tools. Furthermore, the confirm box with a single button works this way, so it can be used to pause and display state if necessary.

The left argument Show is the application document, the right argument is the message to display. The Show method calls the New method to construct the component, and then the ShowModal function to insert it into the document and to display it:

     ⍺ A.ShowModal New ⍵
     ⍝ ⍵ ←→ Message
     ⍝ ← ←→ New dialog element
     p←d A.New'p'm
     b←d A.New'button' 'OK'
     ⍝ ⍺ ←→ Document
     ⍝ ⍵ ←→ dialog element
     b←GetBody ⍺
     _←⍺ SetDefaultId Elements ⍵
     _←b AppendChild ⍵
     ⍵ ExecuteOnElement'showModal()'

In Abacus, dialog boxes are created and disposed of every time they are called on to appear. So, for the alert box, we use the same callback for the click event and the close event, which deletes the component from the DOM:

     d←⍵.CurrentTarget ##.GetNearest'dialog'
     ##.DeleteElement d

The alert box is a simple component. It has no knowledge of the state of the server, or the client for that matter. It puts a message on the screen and forces the user to acknowledge it for continuing to use the app.