Monday, July 30, 2007

Lightning Brain Podcast: Click here to listen to "Getting Started with the Adobe InDesign SDK"

Opinions, ideas and other musings about software development for printing and prepress...

Recommended book list:

| Added remark, 15-Jul-2008: I have since written my own book
| about getting started:

Effective C++
by Scott Myers
ISBN 0-201-92488-9

More Effective C++
by Scott Myers
ISBN 0-201-63371-X

STL Tutorial and Reference Guide
by Musser, Derge & Saini
ISBN 0-201-37923-6

Effective STL
by Scott Myers
ISBN 0-201-74962-9

Design Patterns – Elements of Reusable Object-Oriented Software
by Erich Gamma, Richard Helm, Ralph Johnson, John Vlissides
ISBN 0-201-63361-2

The C++ Programming Language (Special 3rd Edition)
by Bjarne Stroustrup
ISBN 0-201-70073-5



Adobe InDesign Developer Centre:

Rough podcast transcript:

InDesign can be approached in two ways - either you can use a high-level approach, using one of supported script languages, or you can use a low-level approach, using C++.

The high-level approach is often sufficient for automating various repetitive tasks; we'll discuss this high-level approach in more detail in some future podcasts. At Rorohiko, for our own sofware development, we always try to achieve as much as possible using scripting, because development-wise scripting is so much more cost-efficient when compared to using the low-level approach and the SDK.

The low-level approach becomes necessary when it comes to really tight integration, for example, getting invoived in the various drawing processes, or providing new user-interface elements. Then there is no other alternative but to use the InDesign SDK and C++ to achieve the desired results.

The main aim of this particular podcast is to offer some insights into the low-level approach using C++.

If you are a software developer, you might already have experience with a number of environments and languages - QuarkXPress XTension development, C, C++, Java, JavaScript,... and expect to ease into InDesign development with roughly the same amount of effort as you have needed when you started using these other environments and languages.

The InDesign SDK is probably very different to anything you've ever handled before.

The actual InDesign SDK is not very difficult. Granted, it is very extensive, but the concepts behind it are not much different from those in other, similar SDKs.

The main difference is that the InDesign SDK is built on top of a fair number of other methodologies and concept, all fairly recent developments. If you try to step into the InDesign SDK without being well versed in most of these underlying foundations, nothing much will make sense.

A would-be InDesign SDK developer should keep in mind that there are no shortcuts: you must first cover the basics before trying to work with the InDesign SDK, at the risk of repeatedly losing a lot of head-scratch time trying to understand things that are actually quite simple.

It would be like trying to build and launch a satellite without first studying mathematics and physics.

So, these are the four things you need to do before you can get started:

1) You MUST have a very good grasp of C++ and various techniques. This is the first and foremost requirement. My recommendation is to at least read Scott Meyer's books (Effective C++, More Effective C++) a few times, especially if you come from a C background. I am sure even experienced C++ programmers who have not yet read these books will learn some important new things.

2) You must gave a grasp of C++ Standard Library, specifically the STL (Standard Template Library), and the boost C++ Libraries (Boost provides free peer-reviewed portable C++ source libraries).

You don't need to become an expert on these, but you need to have a good idea about what a vector is, what an iterator is, and how you use them. You also need to get a good idea of the 'mindset' behind STL and boost, and how C++ templates are used in a clever way to generate a lot of magic.

3) You must be able to read UML diagrams. UML diagrams use a number of similar, but slightly different symbols to express relationships between things. Unless you know what the symbols mean, you'll miss out on a lot of information that is packed into the UML diagrams inside the InDesign SDK documentation.

4) You must have had some exposure to the idea of 'Software Patterns' - the book 'Design Patterns' by the gang of four is highly recommended. You don't need to read this book from cover to cover, but you should at least read about the most important patterns and ideas.

Once these four requirements are fulfilled (good grasp of C++, grasp of STL and boost, understanding UML, grasp of common software patterns) you are ready to tackle InDesign SDK programming.

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