A feature request we get fairly frequently is the ability to convert an HTML document to a PDF. Maybe it’s a report of some sort or a group of charts but the goal is the same – faithfully replicate a HTML document as a PDF. If you try Google, you’ll get a bunch of options from the open source wkhtmltopdf to the commercial (and pricey) Prince PDF. We’ve tried those two as well as a couple of others and never been thrilled with the results. Simple documents with limited CSS styles work fine but as the documents get more complicated the solutions fail, often miserably. One conversion method that has consistently generated accurate results has been using Chrome’s “Print to PDF” functionality. One of the reasons for this is that Chrome uses its rendering engine, Blink, to create the PDF files.
So then the question is how can we run Chrome in a way to facilitate programmatically creating PDFs? Enter, Electron. Electron is a framework for building cross platform GUI applications and it provides this by basically being a programmable minimal Chrome browser running nodejs. With Electron, you’ll have access to Chrome’s rendering engine as well as the ability to use nodejs packages. Since Electron can leverage nodejs modules, we’ll use Gearman to facilitate communicating between our Electron app and clients that need HTML converted to PDFs.
The code as well as a PHP example are below:
As you can see it’s pretty straightforward. And you can start the Electron app by running “./node_modules/electron/dist/electron .” after running “npm install”.
One caveat is you’ll still need a X windows display available for Electron to connect to and use. Luckily, you can use Xvfb, which is a virtual framebuffer, on a server since you obviously wont have a physical display. If you’re on Ubuntu you can run the following to grab all dependencies and setup the display:
sudo apt-get install chromium-browser libgconf-2-4 xvfb Xvfb :19 -screen 0 1024x768x16 & export DISPLAY=:19
After that, you can launch your Electron app normally and it’ll use a virtual display.
Anyway, as always let me know if you have any questions or feedback!
Over the past few day we’ve been evaluating using Angular 1.x vs. Angular 2 for a new project on which in the past we would have used Angular 1.x without much debate. However, with release of Angular 2 around the corner we decided to evaluate what starting a project with Angular 2 would involve. As we started digging in it became clear that using Angular 2 without programming in TypeScript would be technically possible but painful to put it lightly. Because of the tight timeline of the project we decided that was too large of a technical risk so we decided to move forward with 1.x. But I decided to spend some time looking at TypeScript anyway, for science. I didn’t have anything substantial to write but needed to hammer out a quick HTML scraper so I decided to whip it up in TypeScript.
Discovering functionality in modules is easier. In order to properly interface with nodejs modules you’ll need to grab type definitions from somewhere like DefinitelyTyped. The definition files are similar to “.h” files from C++, code stubs that just provide function type signatures to TypeScript. An awesome benefit of this is that it’s much easier to “discover” the functionality of nodejs modules by looking at how the functions transform data between types. It also makes it much easier to figure out the parameters of a callback without having to dig into docs or code.
TypeScript is definitely interesting and it’s tight coupling to Angular 2 only bolsters how useful it’ll be in the future. Next up, I’d be interested in building something more substantial with both a client and server component and hopefully share some of the same code on both.
As always, questions and comments are more than welcome!
Note: This is a bad idea™. Don’t do it unless you know why you’re doing it.
What you need to do is create a custom directive to render you form, use the directive’s “link” function to grab the form element, and then use jQuery’s serialize() function to generate a string that you could shoot off in a POST request.
Here’s a sample implementation:
Again, you should really only do this if you have a valid reason since you’re really fighting the framework by manipulating data this way.
Posted In: AngularJS
After testing our React Native app on the simulator for a day or two we, similar to a young Kobe Bryant, decided to forgo college and take our talents to the big leagues, by testing our native app on an actual device.
This is a good practice because from a hardware standpoint you’re phone is a very different device than your Mac. Because of the more powerful CPU in your computer there is always the chance that applications that run seamlessly on the Computer’s simulator run choppy on an actual device.
For our purposes we wanted to ensure that our react Native components looked and felt native on a device, and that the positive results produced on the simulator were not just a fluke.
In our experience the process of getting an App on an actual device is somewhat painful. To help you avoid the same pitfalls that caused us headaches we wanted to give you some solutions to the most common problems you will run into while trying to get your app on your device.
One of the nice things about nodejs is that since the majority of its libraries are asynchronous it boasts strong support for concurrently performing IO heavy workloads. Even though node is single threaded the event loop is able to concurrently progress separate operations because of the asynchronous style of its libraries. A canonical example would something like fetching 10 web pages and extracting all the links from the fetched HTML. This fits into node’s computational model nicely since the most time consuming part of an HTTP request is waiting around for the network during which node can use the CPU for something else. For the sake of discussion, let’s consider this sample implementation:
Request debugging is enabled so you’ll see that node starts fetching all the URLs at the same time and then the various events fire at different times for each URL:
So we’ve demonstrated that node will concurrently “do” several things at the same time but what happens if computationally intensive code is tying up the event loop? As a concrete example, imagine doing something like compressing the results of the HTTP request. For our purposes we’ll just throw in a while(1) so it’s easier to see what’s going on:
If you run the script you’ll notice it takes much longer to finish since we’ve now introduced a while() loop that causes each URL to take at least 5 seconds to be processed:
And now back to the original problem, how can we fetch the URLs in parallel so that our script completes in around 5 seconds? It turns out it’s possible to do this with node with the child_process module. Child_process basically lets you fire up a second nodejs instance and use IPC to pass messages between the parent and it’s child. We’ll need to move a couple of things around to get this to work and the implementation ends up looking like:
What’s happening now is that we’re launching a child process for each URL we want to process, passing a message with the target URL, and then passing the links back to the parent. And then running along with a timer results in:
It isn’t exactly 5 seconds since there’s a non-trivial amount of time required to start each of the child processes but it’s around what you’d expect. So there you have it, we’ve successfully demonstrated how you can achieve parallelism with nodejs.