Friday, October 23, 2009

InDesign Scripters and Plug-In Developers: How To Avoid Confusing File Duplications

In short: how to avoid copying or shuffling scripts and plug-ins during development on Mac or Windows.

When it comes to scripts or plug-ins, Mac alias files can be used as if they are 'the real thing' - InDesign will treat an alias file as if it is the script or plug-in it is referring to. I'll explain how you can use that feature to your advantage.

Sadly enough, a Windows shortcut file is not treated with the same respect by InDesign - a Windows shortcut file is simply ignored, so shortcuts are out.

Luckily, Windows has a 'hard-linking' feature that can be used in the same way as Mac alias files - I'll explain that too.

The basic idea is to avoid 'scattering' copies of your script or plug-in around your hard disk. As soon as you start copying stuff around, it becomes easy to lose track of which is which, and in the heat of the moment, you might get older and newer versions mixed up.

A typical scenario would be: you're creating a script that needs to work both on InDesign CS3 and InDesign CS4. You're testing and debugging - and each time you want to swap between CS3 and CS4, you need to copy the script in progress from one Scripts folder to the other.

And then the phone rings, and you're caught in mid-swap. After the phone call, you forgot: did you complete the copy or not? So, where is the most recent version - in the CS3 folder or in the CS4 folder? Frustrating, isn't it?

To avoid doing 'the shuffle', you can instead store a single 'master copy' of your plug-in or script somewhere on your hard disk.

If you are using a source code control system like SVN or CVS, the master copy would probably reside somewhere in a folder structure managed with the source code control system.

Then, instead of copying the script or plug-in to it's 'active location' (e.g. one of the InDesign plug-ins folder, or one of the InDesign scripts folders), you instead create a 'stand-in' which always refers back to the master copy of the file.

On Mac, you can use an alias file for that - pretty easy. Create an alias of the script or plug-in and plunk the alias into the proper InDesign subfolder - and everything will work as if the 'real thing' was there.

On Windows, you might be tempted to try shortcut files - but that does not work. Instead, you need to use a hard link, which you can create from a command-line window with the following command:

fsutil hardlink create [destination] [original]

where [destination] is the path of the hard link to be created and [original] is the path of the original file. Depending on your setup and Windows OS version, you might need to launch the command-line window as user 'Administrator', so you have enough privileges.

You can use this command to create hard links to folders as well as files - but I recommend you only use it for hard links to files.

Also keep in mind that this command only works on NTFS volumes (so FAT volumes are out), and both original and destination need to be on the same volume - but in most cases that's all you need.

Hard links are a low-level NTFS feature, and hard links to folders are not well supported in Explorer - and as a result, they're very dangerous things - they don't behave like Windows shortcuts, and that is where the danger lies.

Suppose you had created a hard link from a folder, and then you attempt to delete the hard link later on. Doing that in Explorer would actually also delete all the items that reside in the original folder - not what you'd expect. Explorer treats the hard link as the real thing, and when you delete a folder, it simple-mindedly will empty the folder first - blissfully unaware that the folder is still being used via the original directory entry.

Once a hard link to a folder is created, it's not easy to get rid of without also losing the contents of the folder.

In short: avoid issues - only create hard links to files on Windows; that's much safer.

There's another caveat with regards to hard links on Windows. If you use a hard link to a script file, you must make sure that the text editor program you use does not create backup files because that tends to mess up the hard link - typically, the text editor will simply rename the original file 'test.jsx' to 'test.jsx.bak' or so - taking the hard link along, so it now refers to the .bak file instead of the modified .jsx file.

Turn the backup feature off, and all will be well. I've tried it with Notepad and ExtendScript toolkit, and things seem to work well: if I edit the script via its hard link, the original script is updated as well. I also use UEStudio as a text editor - and at first I ran into problems because this editor makes .bak files by default. Once I switched that off, things worked well.

With regards to maintaining hard links to plug-ins generated from Visual Studio: make sure to use Build, not Rebuild - Rebuild will destroy the original and break the link.

So, that's it for now - hope this makes your life a bit easier!

Friday, October 9, 2009

Display Workflow-Related Meta-Info For Your Users From An InDesign Script

When developing workflow software around Adobe® InDesign® or Adobe® InDesign Server®, as a scripter, you often find yourself attaching 'meta-info' or metadata in some form or shape to various page elements in an InDesign document.

In this blog post, the samples should work with InDesign CS and above on Mac as well as on PC, and I'll use ExtendScript for InDesign for the scripts.

But the information presented here can be applied just as well in AppleScript or VBScript. The syntax is slightly different, but it works equally well.

Meta-info would be any info that is not directly related to the page layout per se, but that needs to be associated with elements of the page layout.

Examples of meta-info you might like to attach to a page item would be things like invoice data, prices, product codes, file names, script labels, XML tags, user names, document history information, destinations, job ticket data...

In many cases, this meta-info can remain hidden from the end-user and not be displayed on the page layout at all - the data is typically picked up by various automated components of your workflow (scripts, applications, plug-ins...) and used to control processes and routing of info and documents.

One of the most popular methods to attach meta-info to InDesign page items is to use the extractLabel and insertLabel methods. These two essentially allow you to 'attach' any number of arbitrary strings to any page item, where you identify each of the strings you want to stash away with a key string.

For example, try the following script.

Open or create a document, select a page item and run the following script. (Be careful: the script has no error checking whatsoever, so it is not user-friendly. You need to select exactly one page item, and with the item selected, you need to run the script via the Scripts Palette).

// Script1.js
var theItem = app.selection[0];
theItem.insertLabel("com.rorohiko.statusquo","Whatever you want tada tada whatever you need tada tada");

Nothing apparent will seem to happen - that's OK. Now run the second script, while keeping the same page item selected:

// Script2.js
var theItem = app.selection[0];
var theData = theItem.extractLabel("com.rorohiko.statusquo");

This shows how you can attach a string to a page item. I do recommend that you use a globally unique string for the keys, for example, like I did, based on my reversed domain name. That helps ascertain that you don't accidentally use the same key as another scripter.

For example, if your domain name is, and you want to store, say, a user name, you should write something like:


instead of


The latter will also work, of course, but you always run the risk that your end user might try to run two scripts from two different developers.

Imagine she tries to use a script created by and also another script created by, and both scripts would use the same key username for slightly different purposes. Lots of weirdness would result.

Better be safe than sorry - so if you use be.yourcompany.username, and I use com.rorohiko.username as the key to insertLabel / extractLabel, there will never be a conflict - are we cool on that?

The string you store in the keyed location can be pretty much anything - I often store a very looong string, for example, with carriage returns separating individual records, and tabs separating individual columns, and then use .split to convert the string in to a table.

const kMyDataKey = "com.rorohiko.keyforimportantdata";
//... more code ...
// Little table of data with columns separated by tabs
// and lines separated by carriage returns
// 12 13 Kris
// 15 17 John
var myImportantData = "12\t13\tKris\r15\t17\tJohn\r";
//... more code ...
var theData = theItem.extractLabel(kMyDataKey);
theData = theData.split("\r");
for (var recordIdx = 0; recordIdx <>
theData[recordIdx] = theData[recordIdx].split("\t");
//... more code ...

Or you could encode the data you want to stash into a big XML formatted string - that works really well too - something like:

const kMyDataKey = "com.rorohiko.thecoolKeyForXMLData";
//... more code ...
var myImportantData = "";
myImportantData += "<data>"
myImportantData += "<record>"
myImportantData += "<x>12</x><y>13</y><name>Kris</name>";
myImportantData += "</record>"
myImportantData += "<record>"
myImportantData += "<x>15</x><y>17</y><name>John</name>";
myImportantData += "</record>"
myImportantData += "</data>"
//... more code ...
var theData = theItem.extractLabel(kMyDataKey);
// Use the built-in XML parser to parse the XML data back into its components
//... more code ...

Or any other scheme you can come up with to convert the data you want to store into a string- you can do things like ASCIIEncode or ASCII85 the data if you want to store binary info in a pure ASCII string - your imagination is the limit.

Now, what if you wanted some of this data to be visible to the end-user?

For example, the end-user could use one of your scripts to tag individual page items, maybe to let your automated workflow 'see' where it needs to insert a header and where it needs to put an image, and so on.

Wouldn't it be great if you could give the user some visual feedback in this regard?

That's where our APID ToolAssistant comes in. APID ToolAssistant was conceived as a 'scripters toolkit' and it offers a whole range of functionality that could help the serious scripter.

You might have heard about APID ToolAssistant, because it offers a very 'fine grained' event model that allows scripts to be triggered by user interaction with the document - but APID ToolAssistant has a lot more to offer than just some event-driven facilities.

One of the coolest features in the APID ToolAssistant toolkit is that it offers the scripter a way to display any 'meta-info' next to a page item. To display this meta-info, APID ToolAssistant can add little, non-printing 'labels' (also known as adornments) to any page item, and in those labels, you can display anything you like: some text, or a PNG image like a logo or an icon, all under the control of your script.

These adornments are not page items - they are instead very similar in nature to the selection handles and the overset text indicator on page item frames. They are nothing more than visual cues for the user, and they are not visible in the printed end-result.

The way APID ToolAssistant works its magic is by adding some new methods and attributes to the InDesign object model. There is a pair of methods called setDataStore / getDataStore which behave very similar in many respects to how the built-in insertLabel / extractLabel work - i.e. you store data identified by a unique key.

But there's a twist - some of the unique keys have a special meaning - they are 'magical'.

If a key starts with $ADORNMENT_ and ends with $, it tells APID ToolAssistant the stored data is something that has to be interpreted as content for a little info-label.

Install APID ToolAssistant 1.0.47 or higher (you can download it from ), and enter the following script:

// Script3.js
var theItem = app.selection[0];
theItem.setDataStore("$ADORNMENT_com.rorohiko.sample$","Hello World");

Just like with the first sample scripts you need to select a single page item, and then run the script.

Is that cool or what? (If your APID ToolAssistant has been installed for a while, it might have reverted to unlicensed mode, in which case you'd see 'DEMO: Hello World' in the little info-label).

Now, this is only a simple example - instead of a simple string "Hello World" you can actually provide an array with data to setDataStore, and through various parameter values ask APID ToolAssistant to display the label on the left, right or bottom sides of the frame.

Or you can ask it to change the background color. Or for really fancy stuff, you can display a PNG image instead of text. The possibilities are endless.

To get some ideas about what you could do with this functionality, have a look at what I've done with our FrameReporter tool at . FrameReporter is really not much more than a very thin layer of code on top of APID ToolAssistant.
For more detailed info, you need to look at the information provided in the Active Page Items Developer toolkit - .

The necessary documentation is included in the free demo download - you don't need to purchase the toolkit if all you want to do is use this 'meta-info-label' feature. Check the reference manual to find out about all the variations of the adornment features.

So, keep in mind - if you want to show meta-info to an end-user, all you need is a US$25 license for APID ToolAssistant (to get rid of those 'DEMO:' prefixes added by the unlicensed version), and you can script away!

More info can also be found here: