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Techniques for an alternative Report Preview UI

By Colin Nicholls
August 2005

Before we start

Quite a few of the discussions on the Universal Thread Visual FoxPro forum recently have been on the subject of the new Report Preview screen and how to control it. A particular concern is the behavior of the preview toolbar when a REPORT FORM.. PREVIEW is issued in a topform application. There is a bug in VFP9 (see code to repro here) that causes the associated toolbar to be visible, yet unavailable to mouse clicks. You still have functionality available via the preview window's right-click context menu, but at best this becomes a user-education problem - or you have to use the NOWAIT clause to force the preview to display as a modeless form. (This is not nearly so much of a problem now that we have the NOPAGEEJECT clause on the report form command. Many of the reasons that people think they need a modal preview no longer apply.)

Product bugs notwithstanding, in my sessions I have strived to show that the default preview application is just that - a default - and that alternative forms of a preview solution are not only possible, but easy to implement. So today I'm going to show you an alternative user interface for the report preview window that you can take away and customize to your heart's content.

Here's an, um, preview

This is what we're building:

It's a simple form with some buttons and a container frame, in which resides a shape control on which a single page of the report will appear to be rendered. The form allows us to zoom in and out, and drag the previewed page around inside a frame using the mouse.

Nothing to it, really.

Building the preview frame

First, let's build the preview frame: we can implement this as a Container control, with a child Shape object providing the target on which we will later render the report pages:

* The preview frame...
define class myFrame as Container
   Width  = 296
   Height = 372
   Left   = 12
   Top    = 12
   SpecialEffect = 1
   BackColor = rgb(192,192,192)

   add Object target as myTarget   && see below:


* ...and its child Shape:
define class myTarget as Shape
   Height = 330
   Width  = 255
   Left   = 20
   Top    = 20
   BackColor = rgb(255,255,255)

We will allow the shape to be moved around inside the frame by attaching code to the Shape object's .MouseDown event:

   procedure MouseDown
      lparameters nButton, nShift, nXCoord, nYCoord

      offsetX = m.nXCoord - THIS.Left
      offsetY = m.nYCoord - THIS.Top

      THISFORM.MousePointer = 5
      do while mdown()
         THIS.Left = mcol(0,3) - m.offsetX
         THIS.Top  = mrow(0,3) - m.offsetY
      THISFORM.MousePointer = 0 

A .MousePointer of 5 will set the mouse pointer to use the NSEW arrows instead of the usual mouse cursor. You can see it in action in the screen shot above.

Building the form class

Now we have the frame, we can create a myPreview form class and place the frame on it:

* The form class:
define class myPreview as Form

   add object frame as myFrame   && see above 

Along with the command buttons:

   add object cmdPrev    as myButton ;
      with Top=12,  Caption = "Previous"
   add object cmdNext    as myButton ;
      with Top=44,  Caption = "Next"
   add object cmdZoomIn  as myButton ;
      with Top=96,  Caption = "Zoom In"
   add object cmdZoomOut as myButton ;
      with Top=128, Caption = "Zoom Out"
   add object cmdReset   as myButton ;
      with Top=176, Caption = "Whole Page"
   add object cmdClose   as myButton ;
      with Top=220, Caption = "Close"

The myButton derived class I'm using here is just a template for .FontName, .FontStyle, and .Left position. We'll implement some .Click code shortly. Just be patient.

Seeing as we need to interact with the report engine, we will give the form a couple of custom properties: A placeholder for a reference to a ReportListener[msdn] object, and a numeric property for the current page number:

   Listener = .null.
   PageNo   = 1

The key to creating a report preview form in VFP9 is to use the ReportListener's OutputPage[msdn] method, passing it three parameters:

  • The number of the page to be rendered;
  • The device or object to render the page preview to;
  • A number indicating the type of device or object we are rendering to.

Since we are rendering to a Visual Foxpro object - THIS.Frame.Target - the device type parameter is 2. We will have the page number in THIS.PageNo, and the ReportListener reference in THIS.Listener, so the full syntax will be:

   THIS.Listener.OutputPage( THIS.PageNo, THIS.Frame.Target, 2 )

We'll put the full code - with boundary condition checking - into a custom method of the form, OutputPage():

   procedure Outputpage()
      with THIS
         if not isnull(.Listener) and .Listener.PageTotal > 0

            .Listener.OutputPage( .PageNo, .Frame.Target, 2 )

            .Caption = ;
                justfname(.Listener.commandClauses.file) ;
                     + " - page " + trans(.PageNo)

As you can see, we'll be using the Caption of the form to display the filename and current page number, just to keep things simple. In order to ensure that the report page is rendered whenever the form repaints, we add a call to our custom method in the form's Paint event:

   procedure Paint()

Get those buttons clicking

Remember those command buttons we added to the form? We have a couple for navigating around the report. It's important to take care of boundery conditions. The maximum page number that can be rendered is given by ReportListener.PageTotal:

   procedure cmdPrev.Click
      with THISFORM
         .PageNo = max(1,.PageNo-1)

   procedure cmdNext.Click
      with THISFORM
         .PageNo = min(.Listener.PageTotal,.PageNo+1)

We also have a couple for adjusting the magnification level of the preview. It's easy: just change the size of the Shape and call OutputPage to repaint:

   #define ZOOM_SCALE 1.3

   procedure cmdZoomIn.Click
      with THISFORM.Frame.Target
         .Width  = int(.Width * ZOOM_SCALE)
         .Height = int(.Height * ZOOM_SCALE)

   procedure cmdZoomOut.Click
      with THISFORM.Frame.Target
         .Width  = max(17,int(.Width / ZOOM_SCALE))
         .Height = max(22,int(.Height / ZOOM_SCALE))

As you can see, we're using some boundary conditions on the smallest size of the Shape, hard-coded to 8.5 x 11 which we should think about some more.

In case you get lost in the zooming and moving, a button to reset the size and position of the shape is handy:

   procedure cmdReset.Click
      with THISFORM.Frame.Target
         .Top    = 20
         .Left   = 20
         .Width  = 255
         .Height = 330

The Close button isn't really needed  - the form has a close box that works just fine. But let's add one anyway:

   procedure cmdClose.Click

Testing so far

OK, we're done! let's test it out. First we need to create a ReportListener:

   rl = newobject("ReportListener")
   rl.ListenerType = 3

Note that we are using a ListenerType[msdn] of 3. A ListenerType of 1 would cause the default preview container to be automatically invoked, which we do not want in this case: We just want to cache the rendered output for our own use.

Now let's get the report engine to feed a report to our listener:

   report form ? object m.rl

Choose any report you like. (I chose _SAMPLES+"\Solution\Reports\wrapping.frx" because it's pretty.)  Now we instantiate our UI and assign it a reference to our ReportListener instance, and ask it to show itself:

   x = newobject("myPreview")
   x.Listener = m.rl

Hopefully at this point we will have something like the form shown in the screen shot above.

  • Try navigating through the report. 
  • Try Zooming in.
  • Try dragging the page around.

A slight problem

OK, I confess I omitted an important fact earlier. (Article-writers do this all the time because they think it makes a good learning device.)

As you have probably noticed, the ReportListener.OutputPage() method uses the position and dimensions of the Shape object to render the page of the report on the surface of the form. It doesn't actually draw on the Shape itself.

As a result, the page overwrites the other controls on the form, yielding a disturbing visual effect. (see screen shot at right.)

There is a solution: we have to use the additional parameters to OutputPage() to specify constraints within which the image is drawn.

Specifying a clip area for OutputPage()

The documentation for the OutputPage method indicates that the additional parameters do not apply to a device type of 2 (2 = Foxpro object). This is not strictly correct. Indeed, the 4th, 5th, 6th, and 7th parameters are ignored, but the nClipLeft, nClipTop, nClipWidth, and nClipHeight parameters are indeed respected by ReportListener.OutputPage() for FoxPro objects.

These final four parameters define - in pixels - a "window" or "viewport" on the underlying form, through which the rendered output will appear. Any part of the image being drawn by OutputPage() that lies outside this area will not show up on the form.

Fortunately for us, we have a convenient way of determining the placement and dimensions of this clip area: the frame object itself will tell us!

Replace the line of code in the the form's OutputPage method so that the additional parameters are specified:

*       .Listener.OutputPage( .PageNo, .Frame.Target, 2 )

        .Listener.OutputPage( ;
             .PageNo, .Frame.Target, 2, ;
             0, 0 , 0 , 0 , ;
             .Frame.Left   +2, ;
             .Frame.Top    +2, ;
             .Frame.Width  -4, ;
             .Frame.Height -4 )

Now the preview form should work as we expect (see screen shot).

Exercises for the student

I think I've shown that the possibilities are quite exciting. But we're not done : there are still some additional things that you will need to do before using this code in a production-grade application.

You should:

  • adjust the code in the Shape's MouseDown() event to prevent the mouse from being dragged out-of-bounds of the frame border;
  • adjust the aspect ratio of the Shape to match the dimensions of the report, using the ReportListener's .GetPageWidth() and .GetPageHeight() methods;
  • allow the form to show accurate scaling for the screen's DPI level, including a "Zoom to 100%" option;
  • adjust the zooming code so that the center of the visible area of the Shape remains centered, rather than moving based on the position of the top left corner as it does currently;
  • maybe set a maximum zoom level as well as a minimum.

You could also:

  • make the form re-sizable.

And perhaps most usefully, you could also add additional code to the class so that it could be plugged in to Visual FoxPro's reporting system, providing an alternative Preview Container[msdn] when SET REPORTBEHAVIOR 90 is in effect.

...oh, alright then. Here's how it is done:

Packaging it up as a Preview Container

You will need to add these methods to the myPreview class:

* Methods required for operation 
* as a Preview Container :
procedure Release()
   if not isnull(THIS.Listener)
      THIS.Listener = .null.

procedure Destroy()
   THIS.Listener = null

procedure QueryUnload()

procedure SetReport( oRef )
   if not isnull(oRef) and vartype(oRef) = "O"
      THIS.Listener = m.oRef
      THIS.Listener = .null.

You'll also want to put the factory code stub at the top of the file, so you can just point  _REPORTPREVIEW directly to the program:

* Usage as a preview container:
*  _REPORTPREVIEW = "<this program>"
* Testing outside of the report system:
*    DO <this program>
lparameters oRef
if pcount()=0
   rl = newobject("ReportListener")
   rl.ListenerType = 3
   report form ? object m.rl
   x = newobject("myPreview")
   x.Listener = m.rl
   oRef = newobject("myPreview")


Here is the source code for this article.