Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Little Known Facts About InDesign Plug-Ins - There is More To It Than Meets The Eye

Installing a plug-in for Adobe InDesign is normally fairly straightforward.

• Quit or exit out of InDesign.
• Navigate to the folder that contains the InDesign application file.
• Find the folder called 'Plug-Ins'.
• For neatness, create a subfolder inside 'Plug-Ins' - e.g. 'Third Party Plug-Ins'. Drag the plug-in icons (and possibly any associated files) into that subfolder.
• Relaunch InDesign

That's fairly easy.

But when it comes to upgrading things might become a bit more complex.

In short, you might want to first remove the previous version of the plug-in, then start and immediately exit InDesign, and only then install the updated version.

In other words - perform an 'empty' start/stop of InDesign before installing the updated plug-in.

Whether this is really necessary depends on the plug-in - most plug-ins won't need this. But if you're battling a mysterious problem, this is worth a try.

Here's what might happen.

Each time you launch InDesign it will scan the Plug-Ins folder and its subfolders, looking for any new plug-ins. If it cannot find any new plug-ins, nothing special happens - we have a bog-standard, normal InDesign launch.

But when InDesign does find a new plug-in - a plug-in it has not 'seen' before, things are different, and the launch takes longer than normal.

Most people won't notice it - the difference in launch time is not very large. If you're really observant, you'll also see some extra messages flash by in the InDesign splash screen.

Behind the curtain, InDesign is analyzing the new plug-in and extracting information from it.

For example, information on how the new plug-in can be scripted, and information about the wording on the dialogs and palettes the plug-in can display.

A lot of this extracted information is then stashed away by InDesign for 'later reference' - this to avoid having to re-analyze the same plug-in on each re-start.

So, the next time InDesign launches, it again checks for new plug-ins. If no new stuff can be found, it relies on its information stash (also known as 'cache'), and it can launch faster, because it does not have to spend time analyzing any plug-ins.

This 'trick' is called 'caching' - caches are used in many situations, to avoid needless effort to re-obtain data that has been obtained before.

For example, your web browser does it too - the first time ever you access a particular web page, it will be a tad sluggish, especially when there are a lot of graphics. Navigate to that same page a little bit later, and in most cases it will come up a lot faster.

The browser has cached the page content and instead of accessing the web site far, far away, it is showing you a copy of the page it had cached in its local web file cache. The web page comes straight off your hard disk, which is a lot faster than pulling it through the internet.

So, keep in mind: to improve launch times, InDesign caches a lot of information that is normally stored inside of the plug-in files.

Now suppose you have a plug-in installed. It's working fairly well, but there are some issues.

Some time later the software developer releases an updated version of the plug-in, which should fix the issues. You download the new version, and overwrite the old version with it.

Done? Is it that easy? Not always!

The problem is that InDesign might not scan the updated plug-in: for all it knows, it 'saw' file 'xyz.pln' before, and it still sees 'xyz.pln' - InDesign might feel no urge to re-scan 'xyz.pln'.

As a result, InDesign might be relying on the outdated info from the previous version of the plug-in that it has in its information stash.

And weird things might start to happen - things mysteriously don't work well on some computers, but work fine on others, that kind of stuff.

Morale: it might be a good idea to force InDesign to re-scan the new plug-in. To achieve that, you can use the following procedure:

0) Exit out of InDesign
1) Completely remove the plug-in you're about to upgrade
2) Launch InDesign (without the plug-in installed). It will notice the plug-in is missing, and it will erase any cached data it had extracted from it.
3) Exit out of InDesign
4) Install the updated version of the plug-in
5) Launch InDesign (with the updated plug-in installed). It will see the 'new' plug-in and re-scan it - so the cached data is now up-to-date.

Keep in mind: this info is quite general, and might not apply to your situation. But if all else fails - give it a go!



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