Virtual buffer Library code started
As the web access solution in NVDA will allow users to use both object navigation and a flat model approach, we have to start writing a replacement for NVDA's current virtual buffer code.
At the time of this blog entry, Quite a bit of the code has already been written. That being the storage module, whos job is to allow the storage and retreavel of text and fields. And part of the client and management code has already been written.
To access the source code, you can grab it from http://svn.nvda-project.org/nvda/virtualBufferLibrary/
As the virtualBuffer library must be fast and light-weight, it is being written in c++. It also will be written so that parts of it (such as the rendering/updating of the buffer) will be executed in-process. This means that for instance if virtualizing some web content fromFirefox, then some of the code will be executed with in Firefox itself.
The basic idea of a virtual buffer is that a screen reader wants to access a flat model of some content in a particular window. It is the job of the virtual buffer to render and update the flat model inside the window, and allow the screen reader to query for certain information about the flat model.
In order to facilitate the execution of code in-process, the library needs to firstly be able to inject itself in to another process, and also then be able to send information to and from the code that was injected.
The virtual buffer library itself only manages the window, and allows the reading from storage. However particular backend libraries must be also written which know how to work with particular object models in Mozilla Gecko etc, in order to render and update content, storing it in storage so that the virtual buffer can read and interact with it.
The library is split up in to a few distinct parts: dllMain, client, internal, wm, storage.
DllMain is very small, but its job is to initialize common variables etc, that must exist for any instance of the library, whether it be in or out of process. For now this is just a handle to the opened dll, and also it needs to initialize all the window message values.
Wm keeps and manages all the window messages that will be used to communicate information between processes. As the library will be injecting itself in to processes and then intercepting window messages from any window the client tells it to, it is necessary that the library's own window messages be values that don't clash with any other messages already used for that particular window. The win32 API call RegisterWindowMessage is useful for this task as it can assign unique values to the libraries window messages. However, this does mean though that each time the dll is loaded in to a process, all the window message values have to be initialized. RegisterWindowMessage (given the same string argument) will always give back the same message value, at least until the system is rebooted.
Wm also contains quite a few struct types which are used to hold arguments needed for a window message. When a message is sent with SendMessage, it is necessary to allocate either system memory, or virtual memory in the process the message is being sent to, and using this memory as the struct, and then giving SendMessage a pointer to this memory.
Client contains all the high-level functions that will be used by a screen reader to create and read from the virtual buffer. It can create a buffer, destroy a buffer, get text between two offsets, find out a field ID at a particular offset, get an XML representation of the text and fields between two offsets, find particular text, and even find a field given certain properties.
These client functions all pretty much just send a window message to the given window, passing a buffer handle, and perhaps a pointer to system allocated memory containing further arguments for the message.
Client also contains some functions which can prepare and unprepare a window. These functions are what manage the injection of code in to a process, indirectly intercepting a chosen window. How it does this is to temporarily set a window message filter hook on the thread who owns the window, then send the window a message (to make sure the hook gets called at least once), and then unregister the hook. Because the hook function the library used is actually part of the library, Windows automatically loads the library in to the process who owns the window. However, it is then up to this hook function to intercept the window, and make sure that windows can't unload the library from the process when the hook is unregistered.
Internal contains the hook function, and a window procedure. The hook function's job is to pass on any window messages it receives, ignoring them, unless its the window message that client sent in prepare window. If it is this message, the hook function intercepts the window that message was for by retreaving the window's current window procedure, saving it as a property on the window for later use, and setting the window's window procedure as the window procedure in the library. It finally finds out the file path of the library, and uses the win32 api call LoadLibrary to up the reference count of the library, so that Windows won't automatically unload it once the hook function is unregistered. This all means that from then on, any message for that window will travel through the libraries own window procedure.
The hook function will also have to load a backend library, and instruct it to render the current content, and also register any events it might need so that it can continue to update the content.
The libraries window procedure will pass on any message it receives to the old window procedure, unless its one of the library's own window messages. If it is one of these messages, then the window procedure will perform the appropriate action and return the result. e.g. ask storage for the text between to offsets, and return the result.
However if the message is for unpreparing the window, then the window procedure has to replace the window's old window procedure, and call FreeLibrary, allowing Windows to finally unload the library from this process. It would also have to do this if it detected that the window was going to be destroied.
Storage is the code that manages the actual text and fields. It stores fields as a tree of nodes (with next, previous, parent, firstChild and lastChild relationships). Each node has a given ID, and also contains properties such as a role, value, states etc. It also contains start and end offsets, which are used to work out what text goes with what field. The text is all stored in one large c++ string.
There is also a map of IDs to nodes, to make it easy to locate a node for any given ID.
There are functions to perform all the tasks that the client needs to perform (such as getting text between two offsets, finding text, finding fields, getting an xml representation for text and fields between two offsets).
No backends have been written yet. But their job will be to render and update the content, using storage to store the rendered content.
This description is a very rough idea of how the library will work. Please look at the actual source code for more detail.
There is still much code to write, and many things to decide upon.