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Inside Macintosh: Programmer's Guide to MacApp / Part 1 - MacApp Theory and Architecture
Chapter 3 - Core Technologies


MacApp provides a dependency mechanism that allows objects to be registered as dependents of other objects and to be notified of changes in the objects on which they depend. Dependency management can be useful in many situations, including synchronization of multiple views of the same data and handling of complicated interactions between the controls in a dialog box.

An object that has one or more dependent objects is called a notifier. When a notifier changes, it informs its dependent object(s) of the change. An object that has been registered as depending on another object is called a dependent. A dependent is notified of changes in the object on which it depends.

An object can have multiple dependents and multiple notifiers, and one object can be both a notifier and a dependent.

The following sections describe

Figure 26-1 on page 587 shows some of the classes and methods that provide dependency support in MacApp.

Basic Operations on Dependencies

As a user of the dependency system, your application only needs to know about four basic dependency operations, each of which is supported by a method of the TObject class:

For more information on the dependency-related methods of the TObject class, see "Dependency Relationships," beginning on page 38.

Storing Dependency Relationships

A dependency space stores dependency relationships between objects and encapsulates a mechanism for notifying dependent objects when an object changes. MacApp defines TDependencySpace as an abstract superclass for dependency spaces and defines two subclasses, TSimpleDependencySpace and TStandardDependencySpace. These classes are discussed in more detail in "Updating Algorithms," beginning on page 47.

By default, a MacApp application has one dependency space, referenced by the global variable gMacAppDependencies. This instance is created in the TApplication method DoMakeDependencySpace and defaults to an object of type TStandardDependencySpace. The default dependency space can be accessed using the method TObject::GetDependencySpace.

Establishing and Removing Dependencies

A dependency can be established between two objects by calling the AddDependent method of the object that is to be the notifier or by directly calling the AddDependency method of the dependency space (normally gMacAppDependencies).

A dependency between two objects can be removed by calling the RemoveDependent method of the object that is the notifier or by directly calling the RemoveDependency method of the appropriate dependency space (normally gMacAppDependencies).

The TObject class supplies methods for removing all dependencies involving a given object as either a notifier or a dependent. For example, the Free method of TObject calls the RemoveDependenciesOnFree method and, if that method returns TRUE, calls RemoveAllDependencies. The RemoveAllDependencies method removes all dependency relationships that involve the freed object, either as a notifier or as a dependent, from the object's default dependency space.

As a performance optimization, RemoveDependenciesOnFree can be overridden to return FALSE for objects that are never involved in dependency relationships. MacApp does this for its frequently allocated TToolboxEvent objects.

Iterating Over Dependents and Notifiers

MacApp provides the iterator classes CDependentIterator and CNotifierIterator for iterating over the dependents or notifiers of a given object. The constructors of these iterators take a dependency space as an argument. For an example of how iterators are used, see Chapter 25, "Working With Lists and Iteration."

Change Notification and Command Objects

MacApp uses its dependency notification mechanism when performing commands. A command-handler object's DoPerformCommand method calls the command's DoIt method, then calls the command's DoNotification method. The TUndoRedoCommand::DoIt method also calls the command's DoNotification method, so notification takes place for undo and redo as well.

When you initialize a command object, you pass it a reference to an object to notify and the fObjectToNotify field is set to this reference. The DoNotification method of the TCommand class calls fObjectToNotify->Changed, passing a change ID obtained from the command object. This process gives the command the opportunity to notify its dependents. The default change ID passed is either the command number or cUndo.

For example, when the object to be notified by the command is a document object, the Changed method of the TDocument class adjusts the document object's change count, and calls Inherited::Changed to notify dependents.

Updating Algorithms

Your application informs an object that it has changed by calling its Changed method or by calling the NotifierChanged method of a dependency space. The Changed method of TObject calls the NotifierChanged method of the object's default dependency space.

The updating algorithm for MacApp's dependency mechanism is encapsulated in the NotifierChanged method of a dependency space. The key to this algorithm is that the DoUpdate method of each dependent object is called.

Your application can control the updating algorithm by specifying the type of dependency space used: TSimpleDependencySpace, TStandardDependencySpace, or a subclass of your own. MacApp's default dependency space is an object of type TStandardDependencySpace. To change the dependency space, you override the TApplication method DoMakeDependencySpace.


The simplest approach to notifying dependents of changes in their notifiers is to call the DoUpdate method of each immediate dependent of an object that changes. To propagate the update notification to dependents of dependents, objects would have to explicitly call Changed in their overrides of DoUpdate. Suppose object A has dependents B and C, which each have object D as a dependent, as shown in Figure 3-1.

Figure 3-1 Dependency relationship

Calling the Changed method of object A results in a call to the DoUpdate method of each of its dependents, object B and object C. Object B and object C must in turn call this->Changed to notify object D.

An advantage of this approach is that the algorithm is reentrant--you can call Changed from code that is called by DoUpdate. However, a disadvantage is that it can be inefficient: since there are multiple paths from object A to object D, object D gets two DoUpdate calls. In more complicated dependency graphs, numerous unnecessary updates of the same object can occur. Another disadvantage of this approach is that a cycle in the dependency relationship (for example, object A depends on object B, B depends on C, and C depends on A) will lead to an infinite loop of DoUpdate calls.


In the TStandardDependencySpace class, MacApp uses a "mark and sweep" algorithm that avoids the multiple-update problem and also works well with dependency graphs that contain cycles.

The TStandardDependencySpace algorithm has two phases, as can be seen by examining the TStandardDependencySpace implementation of NotifierChanged. The first phase recursively marks both direct and indirect dependents of the changed object as needing updating. In our example, objects B, C, and D would all be marked when A changes. In the second phase, each object with notifiers is examined. If an object is marked as needing updating, its DoUpdate method will be called after the algorithm has ensured that the DoUpdate method of all notifiers has been called. Once an object is updated it is unmarked, so that DoUpdate is never called more than once for each object.

This algorithm may add unnecessary overhead if your dependency space is a simple one with few multiple paths and no danger of cycles. However, it can be more efficient for complicated dependency spaces with many multiple paths.

Marking Objects

Some updating algorithms, like that of TStandardDependencySpace, require the ability to mark objects that need updating. The TStandardDependencySpace class has its own storage and methods for marking objects during updating. These should be adequate in most cases.

Your application can associate a label with a dependency and use that label for its own purposes. The TStandardDependencySpace class doesn't interpret your label but does flip the sign to mark the object during updating. Use the constant kNoLabel if you don't need to use the label.

Dependency Space Data Structures

For a dependency system to have acceptable performance, an object must be able to iterate quickly over its dependents and notifiers. And while it is useful to have dependency methods in TObject, it is preferable to avoid any storage overhead in TObject itself.

To achieve these goals, dependency relationships are stored as fields of TSimpleDependencySpace in two sorted dynamic arrays. (These same arrays are used by TStandardDependencySpace, a subclass of TSimpleDependencySpace.) Each element in each of these arrays stores a notifier/dependent relationship. One array is sorted by notifier, and the other by dependent. For the dependency relationship shown in Figure 3-1, the two arrays would appear as shown in Table 3-1 and Table 3-2. Note that the label fields are not currently used by MacApp.
Table 3-1 Notifier/dependent array
B D--
C D--
Table 3-2 Dependent/notifier array

To iterate over the dependents of an object, MacApp does a binary search for the object in the notifier/dependent array. This finds the location of an entry somewhere in the cluster of entries with the given object as notifier. MacApp then iterates backward to find the beginning of the cluster, then iterates forward from there (these are linear searches). To iterate over the notifiers of a given object, MacApp does the same thing with the dependent/notifier array.

Each entry in the arrays includes a long integer label field. It's conceivable that TSimpleDependencySpace could be used more generally for graph structures, with the label field used as an edge type. MacApp currently makes no use of the labels, except for TStandardDependencySpace, where the label's sign is flipped to indicate marking.

Although there is redundant storage of information in these tables, each dependency relationship takes only 24 bytes, so it should be possible to conveniently store hundreds of dependencies.

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© Apple Computer, Inc.
25 JUL 1996