Saturday, 13 September 2008

Ruby GUI

I have been looking at how easy it would be to put a GUI front-end on Ruby. Ruby has no native support for a GUI (one place Java and C# really win over Ruby), and while Rails has become the standard for web aplications, there are numerous options for a GUI plug-in.

I have had a look at Tk, Fox and Swing (for JRuby). Recently, however, I found Ruby Shoes. Shoes is a very simple GUI, but that is part of its appeal. I doubt it has the comprehensive range of widgets that Tk does, for instance, but it can cope with JPEGs, which Tk cannot (as far as I could find). Also Shoes is dead easy to use:. Download. Install. Start the Shoes application, point it at your ruby file (or one of the samples included). Your application is runnning.

Unlike most other GUI toolkits, Shoes is not just a Ruby front end to an existing kit, which seems to make it feel more Ruby-like.

However, the big problem with Shoes is that there is no menu support incorporated. See this forum thread for a discussion on that:

Find Shoes here:

My Quick Guide to Shoes

Everything in Shoes goes inside a block (usually, anyway). The simplest Shoes application is therefore do

You can put in some options at this point - in a hash of course. :title => "A Great Application", :width => 400, :height => 600, :resizable => false do

As usual, your require statements go at the very top of the file. Inside the block you can place the code that determines the GUI format and your methods.

Widgets are laid out inside either of two layouts, stacks for vertical stacking, and flows for horizonal flowing widgets. They can be nested for complex interfaces.

flow do

stack :margin_left => 5, :margin_right => 10, :width => 1.0, :height => 200, :scroll => true do

Note that the width in the second example is 1.0, i.e., 100%. You can assign the layout to a class variable, and then manipulate it later in a method for dynamic interfaces.

@gui_completed = stack

Flow and stack are not analogous. In the flow layouts, components fill a line, then go on to the next line, while in a stack, it is strickly one above the other. Shoes does not like horizontally scrollbars (neither do I). Sometimes components will stretch to fill the available room, and if they do that for a flow, they end up on the next line, and it looks more like a stack. The solution is to specify widths.

You can also use absolute positioning with :left and :top.

The background method set the background. If this is inside a layout, the background for the layout is set. The border method works the same

background white
background "back.jpg", :height => 40 # Set the top 40 pixels tan
border blue, :strokewidth => 5
background "#000".."#FFF", :curve => 15 # Gradient filled, black at the top
background "#000".."#FFF", :curve => 15, :angle => 90 # Gradient rotated 90 degrees anti-clockwise

You can use :width, :height, :right, :bottom to put different backgrounds along a certain side or corner. The :curve option should give your panel rounded corners, but not if you specify a border (note that the KNS manual says :radius; this is out of date).

You can manipulate your panels.

@my_stack.clear { add_new_stuff }
@my_stack.append { add_new_stuff }
@my_stack.prepend { add_new_stuff }
@my_stack.before existing_component { add_new_stuff }
@my_stack.after existing_component { add_new_stuff }
@my_stack.remove existing_component

Text can be done with: banner, title, subtitle, tagline, caption, para, inscription (in descending order of size).

title 'Here is my Application'
para 'some simple text'
caption "A caption, in red", :margin => 8
para strong('Some text in bold (like caption)')
para "Some fancy text", :stroke => red, :fill => yellow, :font => "Monospace 12px"

As well as accepting a string, these methods will also take arrays. You can use that to put in formatting within a line. In the second example, a link is created (looking as on a web page); click on it and the do_stuff method is invoked.

para ['Some text with ', strong('this'), ' in bold']
capture 'Please click ', link('here') { do_stuff }, '.' # Square brackets are optional

Options include strong, em, code, del, ins, link, span, sub, sup. It does not seem to cope well with characters outside the standard ASCII set. You can dynamically change content with the replace method.

You can change the style of a link (for the whole application).
style(Link, :underline => false, :stroke => 'red')

Text boxes can be done with edit_line or edit_box. The second example has some default text. The block gets invoked each time the text box is used, so @note will always have the text currently in the text box. How easy is that?

@text1 = edit_line :margin_left => 10, :width => 180
@text2 = edit_box "Default text", :width => 1.0, :height => 200, :margin_bottom => 20 do
@note = @text2.text

Buttons are easy too. When the button is pressed, the code in the block is invoked.

button("Add", :margin_left => 5) { add_todo(@add.text); @add.text = '' }
button "Swap" do

There are some built in functions for dialog boxes:

ask("What is your name?")
confirm("Would you like to proceed?")
ask_color("Pick a Color")

Most components can be moved and resized

@comp.move(x, y)
@comp.size(w, h)

You can capture mouse movement like this:

motion do x, y
@o.move width - x, height - y

click do button, x, y
# button is 1for left button, 2 for right

Images are very easy, just use image, with the path to your image (plus style optins as required). Images can be changed on the fly by setting the path attribute (but why not have a replace method like there is for text elements?).

@little_image = image 'picture.jpg', :width => 50, :height => 50
@little_image.path = 'alternative.jpg'

You can even access the clipboard:

self.clipboard = ""

Shoes supports dropdown lists (list_box), checkboxes (check) and radio buttons (radio). see the manual included with the download for details. The big omission is menus, as mentioned earlier, but hopefully this will be rectified by the end of the year.

See also:

Struggling with Ruby: Contents Page


Beagle123 said...


Thanks for the post. I tried Shoooes, and I found it to be a bit limited. I'd take a look at this:

It uses GTK which can do much more.


Beagle123 said...


Thanks for the post. I tried Shoooes, and I found it to be a bit limited. I'd take a look at this:

It uses GTK which can do much more.