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Reflecting Graph Silverlight Demo

In one of my Ajax applications I wanted a REALLY cool interface for some of my data modeling. I was a bit stuck until I heard that Microsoft published a beta of Silverlight 1.0 (an actually working one too!) This of course opened up an entirely new planet of new design possibilities.

The design that I came up with was a tree model where each element was a node in a mesh like structure where the user can move the elements as well as the entire structure in one smooth motion and where the user can zoom in and out with their mouse scroller... something that was incredibly simple to build in Silverlight.

To demonstrate what I built, I would like to use toned-down version of the same thing to show a simple type reflector with a Silverlight interface. In this demo, simply select an assembly and select a type. The type will show up as a graph with branches for reflected members, organized by methods, properties, and events.

The mechanics of this is actually really simple. First, define a few canvases so that an inner canvas can scale and translate to give the effect of a zoom and canvas movement. Second, have a method that accepts a JSON structure containing the model for your tree. In the iteration plot the ball element, the text as as well as a line that goes from itself to its parent. The trick in this step is to get the math right to know where exactly to plot the element. I'll discuss this in a bit. Lastly, watch for mousedown, mouseup, and mousemove events on the elements and the on canvas as well as mouse scrolling events on the canvas.

Placing the elements on the screen is really just basic geometry. We know that the first element can go anywhere and that its sole purpose is to set a positioning basis for all other elements. Plotting the children is just about as easy. For perfectly symmetrical elements, you just have to plot them at equal points from each other around a 360 degree radius. For mathematical details on this, see the essential mathematics page below.

Having symmetrical elements is all well and good, but it's ugly and nasty. [See image 1] So, to take it a bit further, I played with the angle a bit. If the element was the first child, I just plotted it normally via symmetry. If not, make the angle an increment of 45. This will just make the children the same length from each other regardless of how many there are. [See image 2] After this, I scaled down the separation of the elements by how many elements there were. [See image 3]

Next, I wanted to make sure the children were pointing in the same general direction their their parents pointed in. So I subtracted the angle of the parent (minus 90) to make it go in the same general area. Remember that all the elements are grouped together, so now we are moving groups of elements, not just a single element. [See image 4]

At this point it doesn't look too bad, but the child groups don't really line up with their parents. For them to line up I needed to add 45 degrees plus half the radius of the entire child set (another 45 degrees scaled by how many children there are). [See image 5]

Now we have something that looks like it it could grow nicely... however, it would be nice if it didn't look like a robot built it. To give it a more organic feel I added a random angle to every element. No, it's not the most sophisticated method for creating a more natural look, but it does work rather nicely. [See image 6]

As far as the events are concerned. If you get a mousedown on an element, you are in dragging mode and when you get a mousemove, adjust the element, text, and line accordingly. Silverlight will automatically redraw the line based on the new X, Y endpoint of the line. If you get a mouseup, then you are no longer in dragging mode and mousemove, doesn't do anything. If you get a mousedown that's on the canvas, then you simply need to adjust the translation of the canvas. If you get a mouse scroll simply, adjust the scaling of the canvas. It's extremely important to take the scaling into effect when you work with the moveable elements as the coordinate system completely shifts. In the provided demo, I added a few adjustments for this, but it could be much better it a live version.

As a closing note, this demo can also act as an example for an asymmetrical schema Ajax service. The service I wrote here accepts an XML message, but responds with JSON data. It's important to remember that the focus of communication is on receiving, not on transmission. If a person from France and a person from German want to have a conversation and each CAN speak the other's language, but understand their own flawlessly, the one from French may speak German so as to maximize communication and the person from German may speak French to the same end. So in this example, JavaScript speaks XML to .NET, which can easily deserialize it to a usable object and .NET speaks JSON back to JavaScript for easy direct use.

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