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O'Reilly Book Excerpts: Programming Visual Basic for the Palm OS

Building Palm Conduits, Part 1

Related Reading

Programming Visual Basic for the Palm OS
By Matthew Holmes, Patrick Burton, Roger Knoell

by Roger Knoell and Matthew Holmes, Patrick Burton

The original concept of the Palm was of a device tethered to data on the desktop. The PDA is an extension of the desktop, not its replacement. 3Com (the Palm PDA manufacturer) has expanded this design concept; it now calls the Palm device the "connected organizer." Palm wants you to build applications that function in today's mobile and connected world.

In this chapter, we look at building conduits using Microsoft Visual Basic (VB). Conceptually, a conduit is the tether that moves data back and forth, connecting your Palm application and its data store. A conduit is a piece of software that runs on the desktop when the PDA is synchronizing, under the control of the Palm HotSync manager. In this book, we are going to build conduits using VB and ActiveX.

By design, a conduit is dedicated to a single Palm application, which will have one or more associated Palm databases. Keep in mind that, even though the conduit is a piece of desktop software, the application data may be located anywhere--on the desktop, in a relational database, or even on the Internet. Once you have decided where your application's data resides, it is then your responsibility to build a conduit capable of delivering that data to the Palm device. The Palm Conduit Development Kit provides a framework for ActiveX conduit development, which we'll explain in detail later in this chapter.

Note that conduits developed in VB can be used with any application and database on the PDA, not only those created with AppForge. The high-level HotSync architecture is shown in Figure 4-1.


Figure 4-1. Overview of HotSync COM architecture

The Palm HotSync manager is in control of the synchronization process. It maintains a list of configured conduits in the system registry, and it handles the interface with the Palm PDA. The HotSync manager uses a set of COM objects--the Sync Suite API--to communicate with ActiveX conduits. The conduit manages application-specific data and supplies a userinterface if appropriate.

This chapter covers how to compile and register an ActiveX conduit with the HotSync manager, how to use the Sync Suite API to synchronize Palm PDA data with the desktop, and how to handle the user interface.

Applications and Conduits

Before we get to the mechanics of conduit development, let's review the concept of data synchronization as it applies to Palm applications and databases. If the handheld is an extension of the desktop, then it is natural to ask: How should the data flow between the handheld and the desktop? This is going to depend in great deal on the design and purpose of your application and its databases.

Entertainment or utility programs rarely have a conduit--they don't have data worth moving to the desktop. These applications usually save any data in the system Preferences database, which is automatically backed up and restored by the HotSync manager. We covered application preferences in Chapter 3.

More typical is the unidirectional conduit, in which the data flows from the Palm device to the desktop, or the other way around. This type of conduit is useful in applications like questionnaires, where the Palm is used primarily as a remote data collection tool.

The Palm PDA's native applications, like Address and To-Do, use a mirror-image conduit, where changes on the desktop and the device are replicated in both directions. This type of synchronization is so important that Palm has documented exactly how a mirror-image conduit should behave. We will cover mirror-image synchronization in detail later in this chapter.

A transactional conduit processes data to produce intermediate results, which are written back to the Palm device. The data flow in a transactional conduit can be in one or both directions. You could implement this sort of conduit for an application that uploads orders to a SQL database for fulfillment processing and then downloads invoices to the Palm. We discuss this type of conduit in Chapter 5.

Finally, there are system functions such as installation and backup that use special- purpose conduits to perform their functions. The default backup conduit synchronizes databases whose applications don't have a custom conduit, or databases that have a conduit but whose type is not DATA. The backup conduit, which is supplied by the Palm desktop installation, simply makes an exact copy of your application's database or databases on the desktop. (Technically, to be backed up by the default conduit, a Palm database must have the backup bit set.)

Conduit Types

Palm had to design the HotSync manager and conduit interface to support a wide variety of data synchronization and replication needs. Each conduit registers its unique creator identifier and synchronization type with the HotSync manager. Note that your conduit might support more than one type of synchronization; in that case, you should provide a user interface to allow the user to customize the behavior of your conduit. We'll show you how to do this later in the chapter.

Here are the types of conduits supported by the Palm Conduit Development Kit, as documented in the Conduit Reference manual:

Fast
Performs a fast synchronization

Slow
Performs a slow synchronization

HHtoPC
Copies handheld database to the desktop and overwrites all old records

PCtoHH
Copies desktop database to the handheld and overwrites all old records

Install
Installs new application to the handheld (system function)

Backup
Backs up handheld database to the desktop (system function)

DoNothing
Doesn't perform any synchronization

ProfileInstall
Performs a profile download (system function)

The HotSync manager on the desktop keeps track of when the user last synchronized his or her Palm device with this desktop. It uses this information to determine which conduits to call, and the type of synchronization each conduit is to perform.

TIP:   The HotSync manager supports multiple users on the desktop. It also supports a single user with multiple Palm devices. The HotSync API provides identifiers during a HotSync session to enable a conduit to determine which user and/or device is synchronizing. We don't discuss this capability further in this book, but it is covered in the Palm Windows Conduit Companion and Reference.

Of course, the user may set the type of synchronization manually, as illustrated in Figure 4-2.


Figure 4-2. User dialog for HotSync preferences

If a conduit does not support a user interface, the HotSync manager uses the conduit's default synchronization type. We show how to implement a custom user interface for your conduit later in this chapter.

TIP:   Conduits should always have a UI. Otherwise, your user will click the Change button in the Custom dialog and nothing will happen. Not only is this rude, it will leave your user wondering if something is broken.

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