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Build a Simple Website Template Using SWFAddress

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SWFAddress is a Javascript/ActionScript library which gives you the power to change the browser's URL, add entries to its history list and fire off ActionScript events when the URL changes. It also allows search engines to find specific content in your site. This is all functionality which, according to its creators, is missing in today's rich web technologies.

Let's take a look..


Before we jump right into the code, we'll explore what SWFAddress is and how we need to adjust our work flow to use it. Essentially, SWFAddress is a javascript/ActionScript library which gives you the ability the change the browser's URL, add entries to it's history list and fire off ActionScript events when the browser changes its URL. SWFAddress will listen for specific browser events (URL changes) and signal its ActionScript counterpart to trigger certain events. The ActionScript class also gives us an easy to use API for controlling various browser actions (ie. changing the URL, changing the page title).

SWFAddress sites differ from some traditional sites because the navigation logic must be string based and it must have a central junction. It's common for many flash based sites to have a unique function attached to every navigation element. For example, the first button may trigger a function showPage1() and the second could trigger a function showPage2() etc. In a SWFAddress page every navigation element will trigger the same function, namely the one that instructs SWFAddress to change the URL.

SWFAddress will also simultaneously trigger its change event at which point you will need to evaluate the current URL and decide what action to take. Once you get comfortable with this difference you'll find that SWFAddress creates little resistance to your regular workflow. In fact, many developers already use a similar navigation architecture on their non-SWFAddress sites.

This tutorial will begin by building a basic page with 4 navigation elements. We'll then introduce SWFAddress into the mix to give us some deeplinking support. Finally, for the advanced users, we'll swap out our static menu/text and use an external XML file to supply the content.

Step 1: Setting Up the Workspace

Our SWFAddress powered website will consist of a few key files. We'll need our main FLA, the SWF it compiles, an HTML page, the SWFAddress .as libraries, the SWFAddress .js libraries and the SWFObject libraries (the javascript libraries are in the swfaddress and swfobject folders).

Step 2: The HTML File

Our HTML page is a basic SWFObject dynamic embed with a line for SWFAddress. We won't go too in depth into it since the HTML and js are beyond the scope of this tutorial. Suffice to say, the only differences between a typical SWFObject HTML template and this is the HTML on line #7 (see the line highlighted in blue).

Step 3: Basic FLA Setup

Now that the source files are in place we'll start making our FLA. Create a new AS3 document, set its dimensions to 600 x 400px then save it to the project directory as "tutorial.fla". We'll also set the background color to #999999 so it looks less boring.

Step 4: Menu Items Array

For this tutorial we're going to make an array to hold our menu items. This will make it easier to incorporate an XML based menu at a later date if you want. We'll start by making a new layer on the timeline which we'll call "actions". We'll then pull up the actions panel (with that layer selected) and use the following code:

It should look something like this:

Step 5: Drawing the Menu Holder

Now we're going to start making the menu. We'll make a new layer (call it "menu") and begin by drawing a simple 400 x 50px rectangle with a 2px corner radius on the new layer. The color isn't important because we'll tweak it later.

Step 6: Converting the Menu to a Movie Clip

Now we'll select the menu and press F8 to convert it to a movie clip. We'll give it a library identifier of "menu" and an instance name of "menuHolder".

Step 7: Making the Menu Background

Double-click on the newly created menu movie clip to enter its edit mode. We'll select the shape inside and again convert it to a movieclip (F8). This time however, we'll be applying a 9 slice scaling grid to it. We do this so we can have a background for the menu that we can scale cleanly without having to scale the menu itself. We'll give it a library and instance name of "menubg".

I've also added a subtle blue glow to the menu using a glow filter with the blurx and blury set to 6, strength set to 50% and the color set to #32CCFF.

Step 8: Drawing the Menu Items

Now we'll go back to the main document and begin creating the actual menu items (ie. the "links" that will populate the menu). Although we're drawing these on the main document we could draw them anywhere as they'll be dynamically added to the stage later. We'll first create a textfield and set it to dynamic and give it an instance name of "txt". We'll set the font to Arial, the size at 22pts and the color to white #ffffff. Make sure the textfield is not selectable (the first button below the anti-alias drop down menu). Finally, we'll embed the font. You can use any font you like, but you'll need to remember to adjust the font size so that it fits the menu height wise.

Step 9: Exporting Menu Items for ActionScript

We'll now convert the menu items to movie clips, but we'll need to take an extra step since we'll be re-using this movie clip in our ActionScript. Select the textfield and press F8 to bring up the movieclip dialog, input "menuItem" into the name field then select the "Export for ActionScript" check box. Once done click OK, then click OK again on the following confirmation dialog (it may not appear depending on your settings).

Step 10: Creating the Menu Items (ActionScript)

We'll use the following code to populate the menu with the appropriate menu items:

Basically we're looping through the elements of our array and for each element creating a new instance of menuItem. Then we're setting the textfield inside menu item to "autoSize = left" so that it expands to fit the text that's placed inside it. The next line sets the text inside the textfield according to the array element which corresponds with the current iteration of the loop. xval is a variable we use that stores the position of the menu item so we can place them beside each other. Then we center the menu Item within the menu and finally add the menu Item's width and the padding value to xval. Next we add the menu item to the menuHolder. The last 2 lines of code make the menuHolder's background stretch to fill the menu holder (we add 20px for padding) and center the menu on the stage.

Step 11: Creating the Content Area

Before we move on to assigning actions to the menu items and setting up SWFAddress, we'll need to create some content to display. For the sake of simplicity we'll use the default flash tweening engine. Create a new layer called content. On this layer create a rectangle measuring 500 x 250px and convert it to a movie clip with an instance name of "content".

Step 12: Adding Textfield to Content Area

Now that we've created the content area we'll double click it to enter edit mode and place a dynamic textfield on it. This textfield should be the almost as large as the "content" movie clip. We'll use the same text settings as the menu (arial 22pt, white) with fonts embeded. We'll give it an instance name of txt and change the behavior (under paragraph settings) to multi line.

Step 13: Creating the content

Now let's create some content that we can populate the content area with when menu items are selected. For the sake of simplicity we'll just create 4 different string variables, but in a more advanced site you would likely be replacing this with some external data source. Add the following 4 variables to our ActionScript code:

You can place these near the top of the code.

Step 14: Making the Textfield's Change Function

We'll now create a simple function that changes the textfield's content and animates the transition. Paste in the following code then we'll explore it line by line:

The first 2 lines simply import the tween class and easing functions. The next line initializes the tween so we can more easily manipulate it with the continueTo function. The 4th line creates a variable which holds the current string, this variable will be set by SWFAddress and the content area will load this variable into its textfield whenever it's tweening back into position. The textChange function tweens the content area off to the side and sets an event listener to trigger the setText function when it's done. The setText function tweens the content area back on stage and sets its textfield to whatever mainText has been set to by SWFAddress.

Step 15: Initializing SWFAddress

To initialize SWFAddress we simply need to add its CHANGE event and create that event's handler. These few lines of code will do it;

The "addressChange" function will run every time the browser changes the URL (via back/forward buttons, re-writing the address bar URL or any other method) or you change the URL (via the SWFAddress.setValue function).

Step 16: Adding Actions to the Menu Items

Our next step is to add some behavior to the menu buttons we created earlier. We'll be doing this by revisiting the menu creation loop we built earlier.

The last line before the closing brace is the one we need to add. It creates an event on the menu items that fires when a menu item is clicked. We'll now need to add the corresponding event handler.

The last three lines of code we added are executed every time a menu item is clicked. It instructs SWFAddress to execute its setValue function which changes the page and fires its CHANGE event handler. The parameter we're passing to the setValue function is the text of the menu item that the user has clicked.

At this point, if we uploaded the files to our web server and tested the HTML file, we would have the address URL changing as we clicked the buttons but the file wouldn't do anything as we haven't told SWFAddress what to do when the address changes.

Step 17: SWFAddress Actions

We now have the menu set up and the menu buttons are properly triggering SWFAddress. The last part of the equation is to tell SWFAddress what to do when it's triggered. Earlier in the tutorial (Step 15) we created the SWFAddress event listener and handler. We'll revisit that block of code and add the following:

The key difference is all the code inside the "addressChange" function. We created several conditional statements that check what the current page is, set "mainText" to the appropriate text then launch the "textChange" function which is responsible for animating the transition and setting the text of the content area. The last line sets the page's HTML title to the current page. This function could be cleaned up with a switch case, but for the sake of simplicity we'll leave it as is.

Step 18: All Done

Your files should now match the ones in the source files. Publish the FLA, upload the files to your server and you'll now have a fully functional page.


We've now completed our simple SWFAddress powered page. This file should serve as a suitable base for any SWFAddress site and can easily be extended with dynamic content with minimal extra code. I hope you enjoyed following along!

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