Flex 4.5 Hidden Additions*

2011 July 15th by todd anderson

Maybe not necessarily hidden per se, but with the main focus on delivering Flex to mobile, there are a few things that have snuck into the Flex 4.5 SDK release that don’t get much coverage. I am not talking about Molehill, native JSON support, GC advice, etc. disclosed in this announcement – which are very exciting. I wanted to shed some light on some things I found kicking around in the new SDK that I have not heard very much about. Truthfully, they may have been a bi-product of getting the framework to be more performant on a mobile device – not sure – but they are things that I (and probably you) have created over and over for projects with varying degrees of functionality and *API completeness as was deemed fit for the requirements at hand.

They are:

  1. s:Image
  2. ContentCache
  3. LinkedList

read on to find out more about them…

1. s:Image

Finally, a Spark equivalent of mx:Image! And with it comes its own skin – ImageSkin – that allows the ability to show loading progress (with its own skin!). I can’t tell you how many times i have made these for client projects. Many – let’s keep it at that. However, the skin contract I would create for these custom “images-with-loading-indicator-components” (as I would call them) defined an mx:Image as the graphics container. The reason being a security issue with trying to manipulate bitmap data added to a BitmapImage.

Fortunately it looks like some updates to BitmapImage have been added as well in Flex 4.5, of which i am assuming clears up the security issues seeing as the skin contract for s:Image defines a BitmapImage as its graphic layer. Maybe I will dig into it later and come up with more info (or if someone reading knows, please tell), but what immediately pops out are the new load events and properties such as trustedSource, contentLoader and bitmapData (which returns a clone).


<s:Image source="[http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/archive/4/4e/20090913162821](http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/archive/4/4e/20090913162821)!Pleiades_large.jpg"

                width="800" height="600"



Remember how i mentioned contentLoader as a new property for BitmapImage (and the decorating s:Image)? That is typed to an IContentLoader interface, of which ContentCache is an implementation.

2. ContentCache

Many 3rd party libraries have been written for this. I’ve created some in AS2, some in AS3. Basically just a lookup on file access either remote or embedded so as not to load or generate new content – some with load queues, some with instant request. And that is what ContentCache provides – a queueable, cacheable loader for files on a remote resource. Another cool feature is being able to assign a grouping for queued requests and priority in loading – (another property on s:Image and BitmapImage not addressed previously).

If we look at the load() signature on ContentCache:

public function load(source:Object, contentLoaderGrouping:String=null):ContentRequest

we can see the grouping designation associated with the load request as the second argument. The first argument can be either a URLRequest object or a String (well technically you can supply anything there, but it will either be resolved to a URLRequest or String within the load function). We also see that load() returns an instance of ContentRequest. That can either be an active request in the queue or currently running or filled and considered complete from cache.

The content property on ContentRequest is typed as an Object and the docs suggest it can be anything. In the instance of the one returned from ContentCache it looks as though it is always typed to LoaderInfo (the target loader of the request). Pretty cool. So basically, you request ContentCache to load your image file, check for complete on the returned ContentRequest, if false, assign event handlers for complete. When using ContentCache, the content value on the ContentRequest (from what i see) will always be LoaderInfo. Obviously it is flexible enough to create your own IContentLoader implementation to return content of a different type.


public var cache:ContentCache;

public var requests:Vector.<ContentRequest>;

protected function requestImages():void


    cache = new ContentCache();

    cache.prioritize( "walls" );

    cache.enableCaching = true;

    cache.enableQueueing = true;

    requests = new Vector.<ContentRequest>();

    requests.push( cache.load( "[http://30.media.tumblr.com/tumblr_loc6v1EmWE1qzpsuoo1_500.jpg](http://30.media.tumblr.com/tumblr_loc6v1EmWE1qzpsuoo1_500.jpg)", "superheros" ) );

    requests.push( cache.load( "[http://26.media.tumblr.com/tumblr_locs8oFznL1qzpsuoo1_400.jpg](http://26.media.tumblr.com/tumblr_locs8oFznL1qzpsuoo1_400.jpg)", "walls" ) );

    requests.push( cache.load( "[http://25.media.tumblr.com/tumblr_loc2ysUcfw1qzpsuoo1_500.jpg](http://25.media.tumblr.com/tumblr_loc2ysUcfw1qzpsuoo1_500.jpg)", "superheros" ) )

    requests.push( cache.load( "[http://24.media.tumblr.com/tumblr_loarags4Du1qzpsuoo1_500.jpg](http://24.media.tumblr.com/tumblr_loarags4Du1qzpsuoo1_500.jpg)", "walls" ) )

    var request:ContentRequest;

    var i:int = requests.length;

    while( --i > -1 )


        request = requests[i];

        if( request.complete )


            requests.splice( i, 1 );

            addImage( (request.content as LoaderInfo).content as Bitmap );




            addRequestHandlers( request );




protected function addRequestHandlers( request:ContentRequest ):void


    request.addEventListener( Event.COMPLETE, handleRequestComplete );


protected function removeRequestHandlers( request:ContentRequest ):void


    request.removeEventListener( Event.COMPLETE, handleRequestComplete );


protected function handleRequestComplete( evt:Event ):void


    var request:ContentRequest = ( evt.target as ContentRequest );

    var index:int = requests.indexOf( request );

    requests.splice( index, 1 );

    removeRequestHandlers( request );

    var info:LoaderInfo = request.content as LoaderInfo;

    addImage( info.content as Bitmap );


protected function addImage( source:Bitmap ):void


    var img:BitmapImage = new BitmapImage();

    img.width = source.width;

    img.height = source.height;

    img.source = source;

    // imageHolder is just some container on the display list.

    imageHolder.addElement( img );


The Good?

Clean implementation. Remember that there is a contentLoader property on s:Image and BitmapImage now. You can use ContentLoader if it suits your needs, but you can also roll your own implementation of IContentLoader! I like.

The Bad?

Not necessarily bad implementations – we can certainly extend ContentLoader and make any modifications – these are more of things to consider when you are using it:

There is no add() and run() on the API, or at least an autostart argument to load(). Invoking load() immediately starts loading. I may want to build a queue then kick it off. Plus it kind of kills the prioritize, because say your first two calls are #1) without priority association #2) with priority association. The first one is already in the loading process, so #2 does not take priority.

Even with prioritizing, do not rely on the order in which you call load() to be the order in which you will receive complete on the requests. This is mainly due to varying load times, priority, and cacheing. So if you are using ContentLoader as a queue loader, maintain the order outside of the ContentLoader and as requests come in as complete, fill that order accordingly. In essence, ContentLoader should be thought of – in my opinion – more of a cache of requests, rather than a queue loader per se. The enableQueue property does not pertain to “order in, order out” but rather “wait your turn”. The above example utilizes the priority API of ContentLoader to just show an example. If you run that a couple times, you will see what i mean about the order of the queue and priority being not what you would expect.

Now what caught my eye as I was checking out ContentCache is that is used linked lists, and more over that LinkedList was now available in the SDK! I’ll be it, in the mx.utils package (why?!) but still.

3. LinkedList

If you are unfamiliar with the concept of linked lists, they are – in real simple terms – a great way to traverse a set of data using a node structure; unlike an array that stores data accessible from element index, a linked list really is more of an access point to nodes that have the knowledge of the next node and – depending on the type of linked list – at times, the previous node.

In the case of the LinkedList from the Flex SDK – which is a doubly linked list – each item in the list points to the previous and next item if existant. So you can imagine, if you want to traverse the list from the first element to the last, you just point the next node from the current node. Not only does each node hold a reference to the next and previous node, but also the data which you are storing. So basically when you add data to a linked list, you are requesting the data be wrapped in a node and hold reference to the previous and next node depending on where you insert it.

There have been some great implementations out there – such as ones found in polygonal’s data structures – and i have built a couple in my day for clients with varying functionality based on requirements.

I should say that it is a great exercise to create your own linked list and I recommend that you should do so. The one included in the SDK is good, but in my opinion very limited (or maybe i should say “lightweight”) and its implementation is a little different than how I would have handled. But, implementation aside, there is a LinkedList in the SDK now. It’s bare bones. No iterator, no traversal API on the list itself, and you traverse by accessing the nodes directly through the list.


var list:LinkedList = new LinkedList();

list.push( "foo" );

list.push( "bar" );

list.push( "baz" );

var node:LinkedListNode = list.head;

while( node.next )


    trace( "Node value: " + node.value );

    node = node.next;


// <<outputs>>

// Node value: foo

// Node value: bar

// Node value: baz

The Good?

If i need a simple linked list, i dont have to create a new one again… yay!

The Bad?

Again, not necessarily bad in implementation but things i may have done differently:

One thing i would prefer is that you don’t have access the LinkedListNode directly. I think that the node wrapper for your data should be hidden or only accessible from the linked list (or iterator). This means that access to the data is provided through another layer of API and when you call things like head(), next(), or previous() you would actually be returned the data you sent to store – not the node. And typically this would be resolved by exposing access to an iterator that provides an API to traverse the linked list. So, the linked list has an API on how to store the data (ie. push(), insertAt(), remove(), etc.) and the iterator has the traversal API (ie. next(), previous(), etc.). But that would just be my way of working with a linked list and I see nothing stopping me from adding that layer myself to this lightweight doubly linked list from the SDK.

Is it fast? I’ll leave that to Jackson Dunstan to find out… I am guessing no – or rather not as fast as it could be if it were part of the player globals like Array and Vector. And why oh why is it stuck in the mx package?!? I don’t mean to complain, but it seems like there is no reason to have LinkedList stuck in the Flex framework. There’s no binding. Its not even in MX collections. Whatever. Maybe it was just a quick implementation to use in request of icon images for speed on Flex mobile.

So in any event, I would say it is a great exercise to roll your own linked list so you have it for any ActionScript-only AND Flex projects. But you can also find some really useful implementations out there.


Nothing really to conclude. I just found these while digging around and became intrigued as they were fairly common things that i implemented over and over with varying functionality on projects based on requirements and now they are available in the Flex 4.5 SDK. If you have found some that you really like, let me know.

Posted in Flash, Flex, Flex 4.5.