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How EOAssociations Work

An EOAssociation monitors its display object for user input or other events while also observing changes in the selection or contents of its EODisplayGroups. The basic purpose of an EOAssociation is to assure that changes at one end are reflected on the other. When the selection in a display group changes, for example, the association updates the state of its display object to reflect this new selection. The following sections describe this process in detail.

The Display Object

In the package, an EOAssociation is tied to a single display object. Each EOAssociation assumes the roles defined for one or more outlets of this object. An EOControlAssociation, for example, appropriates the target and action outlets of the NSControl it is bound to. When the user activates the control or changes its value, the action is fired and the EOAssociation correspondingly updates a property of the display group's selected enterprise object. An EOControlAssociation also sets itself as the control's delegate in order to receive various editing and validation messages.

In the package, any outlets an association claims cannot be used for other purposes. The class method objectKeysTaken returns the names of any outlets a given EOAssociation subclass appropriates, and InterfaceBuilder disables them in its Connections Inspector if the inspected object has been associated. A button acting as an EOControlAssociation's display object, for example, has its target outlet dimmed.

Although display objects are typically user-interface controls such as text fields and pop-up menus, they can be any kind of object. A notable example of this is an EOMasterDetailAssociation, where the display object is a "detail" EODisplayGroup populated with the destination enterprise objects of a relationship in the "master" display group. See the EOMasterDetailAssociation class specification for more information on master-detail configurations.

Bindings: Aspects, EODisplayGroups, and Keys

Although an EOAssociation has only one display object it may have any number of aspects. Aspects define the EODisplayGroup characteristics that the association observes. Aspects are bound to a display group by a key of the enterprise objects contained by the association. Depending upon a given EOAssociation subclass, aspects may be optional or mandatory. They might all have to be bound to a single EODisplayGroup or they may span several. Some aspects can be mutually exclusive.

On the display side, aspects are typically bound to visible facets of the EOAssociation's display object, such as the value or values it displays and any interactive state. Each aspect's value is determined by the contents of the enterprise-object property in the EODisplayGroup that the aspect is bound to. This value may be taken from all enterprise objects in the EODisplayGroup or only those in the current selection. Some aspects are "read-only" in that they merely reflect the contents of the display group, but others change enterprise-object values when the display object is manipulated.

An EOControlAssociation, for example, defines "value" and "enabled" aspects. To configure a text field to display the salary for the selected enterprise object you must create an EOControlAssociation with the text field as its display object and bind the EOControlAssociation's "value" aspect to the appropriate display group's "salary" key. You might also bind the EOControlAssociation's "enabled" aspect to some key such as "eligibleForRaise" so that the text field is made editable if this property evaluates to non-zero. When focus leaves the text field, the newly entered value is sent to the EODisplayGroup.

A multi-valued aspect can represent the destination of a to-many relationship or it can define a range of possible values for an enterprise object's property. EOComboBoxAssociation, for example, has a "titles" aspect that defines all possible values for a key, and all these values then appear in the pop-up menu. If, for example, you bind the "titles" aspect to the "name" key of an EODisplayGroup containing Departments, you get a pop-up menu containing the names of all departments. EOComboBoxAssociation also has a "selectedObject" aspect which, when bound to a relationship property of an enterprise object, determines the selection in the "titles" display group.

As EODelayedObservers, EOAssociations add themselves to the list of objects observing the display groups they are bound to. When a display group changes its selection or contents, observing EOAssociations are sent a subjectChanged message. This message does not indicate which EODisplayGroup has changed, so the receiver must query each one. When an EOAssociation wishes to modify the contents of a EODisplayGroup, it typically does so through the setValueForAspect. This process and the querying of display groups are described under "Monitoring Changes from the Display Object".

Setting up an EOAssociation Programmatically

Although you normally use the Interface Builder application (and the EOPalette palette) to set up EOAssociations, you can do so programmatically as well. Because EOAssociation coordinates the actions of many objects, linking a display object to a display group is a multi-step process, as shown by the following code fragment; this fragment assumes that salaryText and employeeGroup already exist.

JTextComponent salaryText;
EODisplayGroup employeeGroup;
EOTextAssociation association;

association = new EOTextAssociation(salaryText);
association.bindAspect(EOTextAssociation.ValueAspect, employeeGroup, "salary");
    EOTextAssociation.EnabledAspect, employeeGroup, "eligibleForRaise");

Although an association is initialized with the display object it monitors, this really represents only half of the required initialization; the association and therefore the display object have yet to be bound to any display group. The two invocations of bindAspect define the specifics of the field's interaction with employeeGroup. Once these aspects have been bound, establishConnection causes the association to register as an observer of employeeGroup and complete its internal initialization. Note that when using the APIs you can safely release a newly instantiated association once you invoke establishConnection because this method retains the association for the lifespan of the display object.

Creating a Subclass of EOAssociation

If none of the standard EOAssociation subclasses meets your needs, you can create a new one without much effort. To do so, you need to define four areas of functionality:

The following four sections describe how to do each of these.

Defining Capabilities

If you're creating a subclass, a significant part of creating an EOAssociation subclass is defining and advertising what the subclass works with. The characteristics that your subclass should define are:

Aspects (required)
Your EOAssociation subclass must define an aspects class method that returns an NSArray of aspect names, as Strings. Some standard aspects are:value, the value of an attribute or relationship; enabled, whether the control should be enabled; titles, all existing values for an attribute; and selectedTitle, the value of the selected attribute (bound to the same key as "titles").
What the subclass works with (required)
Interface Builder asks each EOAssociation subclass if it can work with a given object when it displays its Connections Inspector. Your subclass should implement the isUsableWithObject class method to examine the object provided and return true if it can work with that object. This method can examine the class of the object provided, or any of its attributes, to determine whether it can work with the object. For example, EOPopUpAssociation verifies that the object is an NSPopUpButton, while EOMasterDetailAssociation checks that the object is an EODisplayGroup whose data source is an EODetailDataSource.
Aspect signatures (optional)
Aspects by default are made available for any kind of property-single-valued attributes, to-one relationships, and to-many relationships. If your subclass has aspects that only have meaning for one or two of these, it should define an aspectSignatures class method that returns an NSArray of Strings corresponding to the aspects defined for the class. Each string should contain a subset of the string "A1M", where "A" indicates that the aspect can be used with attributes (where the value is a value-bearing object such as String or Number), "1" that it can be used with to-one relationships (where the value is an enterprise object), and "M" indicates that the aspect can be used with to-many relationships (where the value is an array of enterprise objects). EOControlAssociation only displays single attributes, so its aspect signature for "value" and "enabled" is the array ("A", "A"). EOMasterDetailAssociation only works with relationships, so the aspect signature for its aspect "parent" is the array ("1M").
Which outlets it uses (optional)
Interface Builder disables connections to outlets used by an EOAssociation, so if your subclass uses any it should advertise them by defining the objectKeysTaken class method to return an NSArray containing the names of the outlets. These are typically the standard "target", "delegate", "dataSource", and so on.
EOAssociation classes superseded (optional)
If your EOAssociation subclass applies uniquely to display objects that other kinds of EOAssociations simply happen to work with, it should implement the associationClassesSuperseded class method to return an array of these classes. EOPopUpAssociation, for example, works with EOPopUpButton, which as a subclass of NSControl is also eligible for the EOControlAssociation. Since this isn't a meaningful or useful EOAssociation for a pop-up button, EOPopUpAssociation supersedes it, and Interface Builder doesn't present it in its Connections Inspector when a pop-up button is selected.
Display name (optional)
If you want your subclass to be listed in Interface Builder's Associations pop-up list with a name other than that of its class, it can override the displayName to return that name. This is often done to truncate long names so they fit in the pop-up button.
Primary aspect (optional)
If your subclass implements the primaryAspect class method, Interface Builder automatically selects it the first time the user drags a connection from the display object and chooses your EOAssociation subclass in the Connections Inspector.
Binding ability (optional)
If your subclass defines aspects that are mutually exclusive, available only for a particular kind of display object, or are otherwise not always available, you might want to implement the instance method canBindAspect to check these types of conditions. Interface Builder uses this information to enable and disable aspects, to guide the user in property setting up EOAssociations.
Priority (optional)
EOAssociation uses the default EODelayedObserver priority of EODelayedObserverPriorityThird. If your subclass need a higher or lower priority, it should override the priority method appropriately. EOMasterDetailAssociation, for example, uses EODelayedObserverPrioritySecond to catch updates before other EOAssociations based on it.

Setting Up

EOAssociation's constructor is

public EOAssociation(Object object)

but you rarely need to write custom initialization code in this method. Instead, you override establishConnection, which is where the real initialization takes place, as described above in "Setting up an EOAssociation Programmatically".

Your subclass's implementation of establishConnection should first invoke the superclass implementation to initialize the observation of bound EODisplayGroups and then establish their notification relationship with the display object. Once the association has been bound to its display groups and appropriately attached to its display object it is ready to perform real work.

Monitoring Changes from the EODisplayGroup

An EOAssociation is notified of changes in EODisplayGroup selections and changes through EODelayedObserver's subjectChanged method. An EOAssociation sublcass, in its implementation of this method, propagates these changes to the display object. Because subjectChanged provides no additional information about the change that triggered its invocation, associations must query their bound display groups for details. The EOAssociation method displayGroupForAspect, in conjunction with EODisplayGroup's contentsChanged and selectionChanged, faciliate efficient aspect-by-aspect change analysis. Once you have determined the set of affected aspects, your subclass must update its display object to reflect their new values. How this is done is specific to the class of display object and to the aspects your EOAssocation subclass supports.

Monitoring Changes from the Display Object

When an EOAssociation is notified of a change to the state of its display object, it must update the affected display groups so that they reflect the new state. Updating can involve changing a display-group value, sending messages to the display group, or sending messages to some set of the enterprise objects the display group contains. As a simple example, an association with a "value" aspect would update the value of the bound display group's selected enterprise object by invoking setValueForAspect with the display object's new contents. Complex associations might set enterprise object values more directly via EODisplayGroup's setSelectedObjectValue , setValueForObject, or setValueForObjectAtIndex in conjunction with EOAssocation"s displayGroupKeyForAspect. An association with a button as its display object might go even further, sending the message defined by its "action" aspect to the enterprise objects selected in a display group whenever the button is clicked.

For display objects that support editing, such as text fields, an association must observe events signifying the beginning or end of an editing operation and then inform the appropriate display groups using EODisplayGroup's associationDidBeginEditing and associationDidEndEditing. This operation is important because a display group requests an end to editing when it is asked to perform tasks such as the insertion of a new enterprise object or a save. It requests and end to editing by sending an endEditing message to the association it believes currently has an edit in progress. Implementations of endEditing should attempt to propagate the current state of the display object to the receiver's display groups and return false if this attempt fails, indicating that the request has been disallowed. EOAssociations that support the display of multiple values and the notion of a selection must also propagate changes in this selection to the appropriate display groups using EODisplayGroup's setSelectionIndexes.


Although validation of values entered by the user can happen in several places, EOAssociations generally concern themselves only with data entry errors. These errors are typically caught by the display object or an NSFormatter, and result in a message to the delegate of the display object. For example, an NSControl sends controlIsValidObject and controlDidFailToFormatStringErrorDescription to its delegate, allowing the delegate to validate values itself or to handle errors caught by an NSFormatter. Your implementation of a method such as controlIsValidObject should simply try to save the new value, using EOAssociation's setValueForAspect or setValueForAspectAtIndex, returning true or false as that message does. For controlDidFailToFormatStringErrorDescription, the typical response should be to invoke shouldEndEditing or shouldEndEditingAtIndex.

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