Nerd wannabe

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XAML vs MXML (part 1)

with 2 comments

Lately I have accepted a job involving WPF (Windows Presentation Foundation) and all the .net 3.5 nastiness.

I have a little previous exposure on Flex (MXML) and that only kick-started me to write a(nother) markup language for Gtk+.

It is only now that I came to reckon what XAML is about. And thought you might want to know how it stacks agains Flex, too.

Before going to code and charts, let me tell you that Microsoft’s offer is far more spreaded that Adobe’s:

Abobe Flex was just the flash plugin for “stage”-oriented advertising and online games, which later got widgets (the Flex SDK) then strong-typeness (ActionScript 3), and now tries to conquer the desktop world with Adobe AIR, which is a standalone runtime that gives access to local files.
The flash player is now a full-blown virtual machine, with a garbage collected, strong-typed language, with access to all the graphic features flash already has and since version 10, access to 3D features.

Microsoft has a very long history of dominating the desktop (Win32 hacks were common-knowledge for 15+ years), then switched to a “bytecode”-like technology which was running against the same Win32 platform widgets (.NET Windows.Forms).
Much more later they introduced this XAML markup (plus a widget toolkit refactoring – WPF) and implemented something for Firefox, something less for MacOS, helped some more the Novell Linux guys implementing even less on Linux (Moonlight)… and are generally heading towards RIA.
So now Microsoft offers full-blown desktop applications only for Windows, XBAP (WPF browser applications) for Firefox and IE but only on Windows, Silverlight applications on Windows and MacOS, and Moonlight on Linux (see above).
What is interesting is that if you compare the Silverlight 2 browser plugin vs a WPF application shows that the former cannot do networking using binary protocols, and cannot do accelerated 3D, both of which Flash/Flex do. So there should be no ‘browser plugin is limited’ mindset, but there is.

That is, the history of desktop-to-web transition is reversed for the two players (MS and Adobe).

(The good part from this race is that the old .res/.rc are ditched now, the macros from MFC are less and less used, and spaghetti code generated by Visual Studio.NET xxxx interface designers is now history (I am looking at you, Java!). Long live Application Markup!

Markup Comparison

So basically this is a comparison of the ‘markups‘ named used in Silverlight and WPF (XAML) and the one used in Flex and AIR (MXML), but also of a couple of other features of the platforms.

But how is this markup made? is it something like HTML DOM + JS? something like Mozilla’s XUL? Something like OpenLaszlo?

No. This is where MXML and XAML are alike: they are unlike any of the above.

What they do have in common is:

  • tags are (usually) classes
  • attributes are properties (fields with automatic getter and setter method call)
  • the root tag of the XML is the base class you’re inheriting
  • all other tags are instances that are added up to the parent container
  • both use xml namespaces in a similar way (although the URL schemes are different), to specify that the name of a class belongs to another AS3 package or C# namespace(s)

For example, this is the minimum source code for an application in Flex:


And in WPF:

  xmlns:x="" />

One of the first differences is that XAML seems to need 2 xml prefixes: one for the Application and other tags, and a special one for meta-attributes specific to xaml. That, is ‘x:Class‘, is not an attribute of the Application class, but a meta-attribute valid only on the first tag.
The class name includes the namespace definition.

Flex, apparently, simply uses name, an existing attribute which is present on all UI components, to give the class name. But if you’re not stopping at generating classes with Flex Builder but code your own by hand, you’ll notice that in fact the file name is the name of the class, and the ‘name’ attribute is just run-time information (i.e. exactly the value of the ‘name’ property). Even more, the whole subdirectories path represents the package in which the class resides.

Including actual code

So far so good, you can define your application or another object like this. But how does one include ActionScript code (for MXML) or .NET code (for XAML) to.. actually accomplish something?

In MXML’s case, there is a ‘special’ tag in the mx namespace: <mx:Script> which accepts either direct text content (usually written as a CDATA section) or you can use <mx:Script source=… to specify a file from where the code should be included at compile time. Notice that Script is not actually an object that is added to the UI of the application, but a specially-handled tag.

      //code here

In XAML, the preffered way is code behind. You have your App.xaml file automatically associated with App.xaml.cs if the following apply: the .cs file (or .vb) defines the same class in the same namespace, the class in the .cs file is ‘partial’, and both are included in the files to be compiled list of Visual Studio. That is, automagically:)

public partial class App : Application
//code here

XAML’s x: prefix also includes an <x:Code> tag (notice that it’s in the XAML-specific namespace) but its use is highly discouraged by Microsoft.


This post was only a warm-up (for you, for me) to give the general impression of how the two technologies are similar a bit of their differences.

The part 2 will continue to explore all the features of these two Application Markups.


Written by vlad

December 6, 2008 at 11:21 pm

Posted in gtkaml

2 Responses

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  1. Very interesting. When will Part II be out?

    William Chadwick

    January 21, 2009 at 10:40 pm

  2. Thanks for your interest in this. I am currently flipping between WPF, Flex and Silverlight development at my current workplace and would take some time to deepen the part II (no more than another week)


    January 21, 2009 at 11:10 pm

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