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Coldfusion 4.5- Should You Upgrade

Coldfusion 4.5- Should You Upgrade

If you're questioning whether to upgrade to ColdFusion 4.5, let me put that issue to rest for you: Yes! Even though the change from 4.0 to 4.5 is considered only a mid-level upgrade, it's actually a significant improvement.

The enhancements in this new release are too many to cover in just one article. This month I'll review the improvements to ColdFusion Studio; in a forthcoming issue I'll walk you through the changes to the ColdFusion Server and ColdFusion Markup Language (CFML).

Editor Enhancements
At first glance, ColdFusion Studio 4.5 looks much like 4.0 (see Figure 1). It still has the Resource Window on the left, the Editor Window on the right and the Main Toolbar and Quick Bar on the top.

The Editor Window still has the same three modes (selectable by the tabs at the top of the window): Edit, Browse and Design. There are a few noteworthy changes to the Edit mode (see Figure 2).

Allaire has added the ability to split an open document into two panes. This feature allows you to view and edit two different sections of the same document at the same time - very handy for those long templates. You can select Split Editor mode from the Options menu or from a button on the Editor Toolbar (located on the left side of the Editor Window).

Another welcome addition to the Editor is the ability to collapse text. This feature lets you hide blocks of code so you can focus on the code you need. Simply highlight a block of text in the Editor and click on one of the little collapse buttons that appear in the editor gutter, or right-click on the selection and choose Collapse Selection from the menu. Your selected block will collapse into an icon on the page that shows just the first few characters of the code. To expand the block again, double-click on the icon.

Also worth mentioning is a new multiple-entry clipboard. Studio now keeps track of the last 36 entries copied to the clipboard (this limit is customizable). In addition to the regular Paste icon, three new icons on the main toolbar allow you to Show Clipboard, Paste All and Clear Clipboard. If you click on the Show Clipboard icon, you're presented with a drop-down window from which you can select the entry to paste into the active document. You can also assign your own keyboard shortcuts to these new options.

The Movable Resource Window
In Studio 4.0 the Resource Window was resizable or could be hidden completely, but if visible it was available only on the left side of the screen. In 4.5, however, you can resize it, float it or dock it on the left, right, top or bottom of the screen. Not only can you dock or float the entire Resource Window, but you can dock or float individual sections of it. For example, you can float just the Databases window so you don't have to jump back and forth between it and the Files window.

The Universal File Browser
If you're like me, you'll probably install the upgrade and run Studio without even breaking the shrink-wrap on the documentation. That's exactly what I did. My first question when Studio 4.5 came up was, "Where did the Remote Files tab go?" I clicked on all the tabs and browsed through all the menus but, alas, never found any reference to Remote Files.

Allaire has merged the Local Files and Remote Files tabs into one tab called "Files." The feature is actually called the Universal File Browser, and once you get used to it it's pretty cool. To see your local files, simply select the drive letter from the drop-down list and navigate to your particular subdirectory as usual. For remote files (on RDS or FTP servers) select the Allaire FTP & RDS option from the drop-down list. If you don't have any remote servers listed, right-click and choose Add RDS Server or Add FTP Server. Once the server is listed, simply double-click it to establish the connection. You can then navigate the directory structure of that server just as you would your local file system.

Another new feature of the Universal File Browser is one you might not notice unless you looked at the documentation. If you open up your Windows Explorer application, you'll now have a new listing with My Computer and all your drives: Allaire FTP & RDS. That's right. They've integrated the Universal File Browser into Windows Explorer so you can browse FTP (File Transfer Protocol) and RDS (Remote Development Service) servers without running Studio. This is a great feature if you're constantly copying files from a remote server to your local machine and vice versa.

New Image Map Editor
As an instructor I'm constantly being asked to recommend other software packages to help with Web design where CF Studio falls short, particularly in the creation of Image Maps. Allaire's Fast Track to HTML class covers the use of image maps, but we haven't been able to demonstrate how to create them in Studio because until now it didn't have that capability.

Studio 4.5 now has a built-in image map to create "hot spots" on complex images. This is a full-featured image map editor that allows you to create square, polygon and circle hot spots. You can enlarge the image up to 250% for better detail. Simply draw your hot spot on the image, tell the editor which URL to jump to when that hot spot is clicked, then choose "Save and Exit." All of the necessary HTML is placed in the active document at the current cursor location. It doesn't get much easier than that.

Advanced Project Management
I have to admit that with all of the code I've written and the sites I've built through the years, I've rarely used the Project Management feature of Studio. Many other developers I talk to say the same thing. This may change, however, with the new release. Allaire has significantly improved the way Studio handles projects, so it's worth a new look if you've previously given up on it.

Essentially, you can create your own file system that contains only the files you need for developing your site (or project). There are many benefits to using Studio's project features: easy access to the files you need, streamlined deployment of those files and simplified code maintenance. You can work with or create new projects by clicking on the Projects tab in the Resource Window.

New to the Project Management feature of Studio is the ability to create virtual folders. This means you can emulate the directory structure of your server without having to create the same physical directory structure on your development machine.

As for physical folders (those that are directly tied or mapped to a directory on your computer), they can be flagged as auto-inclusive or manual-inclusive. Auto-inclusive folders automatically include every file in that directory. Manual-inclusive folders require you to tell Studio which files to include in the project.

Just in case you did create projects in Studio 4.0, Studio 4.5 will read and convert those projects to the new format (an XML-defined WDDX format). Studio 4.0, however, won't read the new 4.5 project files. Both versions can coexist because the project file extensions are different. The old files end with ".apf" and the new files end with ".apj".

Scriptable Deployment
I haven't had enough time to really get into this, but scriptable deployment promises to be a great new feature. In the previous version of Studio you could upload an entire project by clicking on the Upload Project button. This feature was limited because it was an all-or-nothing proposition. You had to upload the entire project to the selected server.

With Studio 4.5, however, Allaire has given us much more flexibility by adding scriptable deployment, which gives you the ability to specify exactly how you want a project to be deployed. You can specify which folders will be deployed to which servers or deploy your project to multiple servers in one deployment process (great if you're running server clusters). You can create deployment settings for the entire project or for specific folders. You can set "Relative to the Parent Folder Location" or "Specific Deployment Location" options. You can even mark some folders with the "Do not upload" option if you're not ready for those files to be uploaded.

Studio has a rather sophisticated deployment wizard that'll walk you through the process and create a JavaScript or VBScript file (you decide which one) that you can modify to your liking. When you're ready to deploy, simply run the deployment script file as you would any other Web page.

Function Insight
One of the things that has always made Studio (and HomeSite) stand above other editors is the features that make it easier to remember HTML and CFML tag syntax and attributes. I've always been fond of the Tag Insight feature that pops up a drop-list of appropriate attributes or values for the tag you're currently typing. This release of Studio has added Function Insight. It works just like Tag Insight but recognizes that you're typing a CFML function and automatically displays the appropriate arguments for that function - a welcome feature for those of us who don't have room to keep all those arguments in our heads. Function Insight and Tag Insight can be enabled or disabled from the Settings dialog (F8).

TopStyle CSS Editor
If you haven't yet acquainted yourself with cascading stylesheets (CSS), let me recommend that you do (see Figure 3).

CSS is gaining popularity - it's being widely supported by major browsers and strongly encouraged in the HTML 4.0 specification.

Studio 4.0 had a built-in CSS editor, but it was fairly limited. This release includes a new CSS editor called TopStyle Lite, an application written by Nick Bradbury (the original developer of HomeSite) that's a significant improvement over the old editor. One thing I like very much about TopStyle Lite is that it has its own online help system that completely explains cascading stylesheets, from a strong overview of how they work to specific usage. The editor itself is straightforward and easy to use, and has an accurate preview window to let you see how your styles will look.

Summary
Other tweaks and improvements show up throughout the application, though some places could stand improvement. Overall, Studio 4.5 is definitely worth the upgrade and in my opinion is still the best tool for developing ColdFusion applications. It sure beats the text editor and macros I used for way too many years before I started using Studio. Install the new version and see for yourself.

More Stories By Bruce Van Horn

Bruce Van Horn is president of Netsite Dynamics, LLC, a certified ColdFusion developer/instructor, and a member of the CFDJ International Advisory Board.

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