1 App Development


Components of an App

The absolute minimum necessary components of an Origin App include:

  • A file system folder with the same name as your App (the App folder).
  • A 32 X 32 pixel PNG file and a 16 X 16 pixel BMP file for the App icon residing in the aforementioned folder.


Additionally...

  • Usually, an App will also include at least one code file whether it be a LabTalk script file (*.OGS), Origin C file (*.C,*.CPP,*.H, *.OCZ), an X-Function (*.OXF) or even a Python file (*.PY). Sometimes there will be multiple files depending on the complexity of the App.
  • The folder for an App can contain non-code files such as OPJ, OGW, OGG files as well as various types of Origin template files. Apps can also include help files, PDFs, example data, "Read Me" text files, or other types of files.

During App development and after installation, the folder for an App is placed in the "%LocalAppData%\OriginLab\Apps" folder in the file system ("%LocalAppData%" represents the hidden "AppData\Local" folder for the current Windows user). As will be discussed later, the folder for an App can be accessed either via Windows File Explorer or directly from Origin's Code Builder environment.

In the process of creating an App, all the files in the folder for the App will eventually be packaged into an Origin package file (OPX). This file serves as the drag and drop installer for an App.

The Process of Creating an App

The process of creating an App is not especially difficult and can be broken down into a few essential steps:

  1. Deciding on an App Name
  2. Creating an App Icon
  3. Creating a Folder for an App
  4. Adding an App Icon to the App Folder
  5. Adding Source Code Files
  6. Packaging and Installing an App for the First Time
  7. Continuing to Develop an App
  8. Finishing and Distributing an App

Before Starting

Apps are created in a folder that is not visible by default in the Windows file system. So before going further, one must enable viewing Hidden items (Hidden files and folders) in Windows File Explorer, in order for the folder for an App to be visible.

Deciding on an App Name

The first step in creating an App is coming up with a name. The name can contain any characters that are valid for folder-naming in Windows but it is safest to limit the naming to ASCII alphanumeric characters and space or hyphen characters. It is also a very good practice to name the App as uniquely as possible to avoid conflicts with existing Apps or those that may be published in the future. For example, naming the app "Calculate Tangent" or "Fit Curve" is too generic. One suggestion is to add a prefix to the App name maybe based on a company name or some initials such as "ABC Calculate Tangent" or "CD Fit Curve".

Creating an App Icon

All Apps require an icon to run and because of this, the next logical step is to create at least a preliminary icon before going further. One can always change the icon later by simply replacing the file with a new one of the same name.

The icon for an App must be a 32x32px PNG file. The file can be saved with any color depth and even transparency. Naming the file is arbitrary but perhaps it is easiest to name it "AppIcon.png" because that is the default name for the icon expected when the Origin Package file (OPX) for the App, is generated later. For now, the PNG file can be saved to any location such as the user Desktop.

Also, a 16x16px bitmap version of the App icon must be created. The color depth of the BMP file must be 16-color and it cannot support Transparency. As is the case with the PNG file, it is suggested to name the file "AppIcon.bmp" and to save it to the same location as the PNG file.

Note: Icon image files cannot be created from within Origin. It requires the use of a third-party image editing application of which there are many on the market including free ones.

Creating a Folder for an App

The next step is to create a folder for the App. From the View menu in the main Origin interface, select Code Builder. The Code Builder environment will open. Along the left side of Code Builder there will be a tab entitled Workspace which can be clicked to open. One of the folders in the Workspace window is entitled Apps. It is from this folder that one can create the folder for the App being developed and manage associated files.

To create the folder for a new App, right-click on the Apps and select New and then name the folder to the name of the App as per the illustration below. This process creates an actual folder in the file system under "%LocalAppData%\OriginLab\Apps" ("%LocalAppData%" represents the hidden "AppData\Local" folder for the current Windows user).

CreateAppFolder.png

Adding an App Icon to the App Folder

At this point, one can add the PNG and BMP icons for the App to the App folder. Right-click on the folder for the App in the Code Builder workspace and select Add Files.... In the "Add Files to Workspace" dialog, select the icon files from the location where they were previously saved. The files will be added to the folder for the App, both in the workspace and in the file system.

AddAppIcon2.png

Adding Source Code Files

Now one can start adding one or more source code files to the newly created folder for the App. Depending on the functionality of the App, these can be LabTalk script files (*.OGS), Origin C files (*.C,*.CPP,*.H, *.OCZ), X-Functions (*.OXF) or even a Python files (*.PY). At this point, the choice of source code file type is not irrevocable- the number and types of files can be modified down the road.

New source code files can be created and added to an App by right-clicking on the folder for the App in the Code Builder workspace and selecting "New File...". Then select the name and type of file and it will automatically be added to the App folder, both in the workspace and in the file system

If there is an existing file that needs to be added to an App folder, simply right-click on the folder in the Code Builder workspace and select "Add Files...". In the "Add Files to Workspace" dialog, select the file from the location where it was previously saved. The file will be added to the folder for the App, both in the workspace and in the file system.

AddAppSrcFile2.png

In the above illustration, a new LabTalk script file (launch.ogs) was added to the App folder. This script file contains the logic necessary to launch the App when its icon is clicked in the App Gallery after installation. While it is not necessary to create an actual script file to launch the App, it may be easier to do this in the long run as will be explained in Packaging and Installing an App for the First Time. Just to start, the contents could be something simple such as that illustrated below:

AppLaunchOgs3.png

Packaging and Installing an App for the First Time

At this point, the next logical step is to package the new App into an OPX file for the first time so that it can be installed before further development (In order to actually launch an App from the App Gallery, it must be installed a first time).

Again in the Workspace window of Code Builder, right-click on the folder for the App and select Generate.... The Package Manager will open with many of the required fields already filled in. However, as illustrated below, a few fields require may require editing by the developer. In particular, the Launch Script field. That is a single-line LabTalk script that will run when the icon is clicked in the App Gallery.

AppsPackMan2.png

In the case illustrated above, the Launch Script simply calls the "launch" section in the "launch.ogs" file as previously illustrated. Note: %@A is a read-only String Register that contains the absolute path to the users main App folder. The value includes a final backslash (e.g. C:\Users\<user name>\AppData\Local\OriginLab\Apps\).

Once all of the fields have been properly filled in, the OPX file can be saved (from the File menu of Package Manager), to an arbitrary location in the file system. The name of the OPX should be the same as that of the App.

Note: The two fields, Origin Pro Required and Encrypt C and CPP Files, were added in Origin 2018. These are advanced fields that can be ignored for basic App development. However, they are discussed in App Distribution.

Once saved, the OPX can be dragged into Origin to actually install the App. Note: the first time the App is installed during the development process, there will be a prompt to replace the existing files. As long as nothing has been changed since the OPX was saved, it is okay to replace the files.

For a more detailed look at Package Manager, see Packaging Multiple Files as OPX.

Important Note: When an OPX file has been generated this way, one should not attempt to modify it by opening the OPX file in Package Manager, directly. First, the list of files in the package is locked. Second, it may cause the OPX file to become out of sync with the internal settings for it in Origin. One should always modify the OPX file by right-clicking on the folder for the App in the Workspace window and selecting Generate....

About the "Origin Version Required" Field

Setting the proper Origin Version Required value during OPX generation is important to App development. It tells Package Manager what the minimum version of Origin should be when an App is actually going to be installed. If a user tries to install an App in an earlier version of Origin than the Origin Version Required value assigned to the App, the user will be warned and the App will not install. One generally should set the Origin Version Required value to be the same version of Origin with which the App is being developed.

This field expects a certain pattern: <Majorversion.MinorversionServicerelease>. Some theoretical examples based on the current and potential future Origin releases:

  • 9.40 -> Origin 2017
  • 9.41 -> Origin 2017 SR1
  • 9.42 -> Origin 2017 SR1
  • 9.5 -> Origin 2018

etc...

OPX File Location and App Folder Backing-Up

It is very important to select a good, secure location to save your OPX file in order to protect it from being accidentally deleted. If one uninstalls an App, even an App that is under development and listed in the Workspace window, the folder for the App and thus all of its files are permanently deleted. Therefore, it is good to always have a "safe" copy of the OPX file in case the App needs to be reinstalled to get the files back. It is also a very good idea to frequently generate a new OPX in order to not accidentally lose any important changes that may have been made. It might even be a good idea to create a backup copy of the actual App folder.

Continuing to Develop an App

At this point, one will probably want to continue developing an app by adding additional code to the source code files. Perhaps one might add, delete, or change the name of a source code file as well. At any point in the development process, a new OPX file can be generated to reflect the recent changes.

Adding and Deleting Files in an App

There may be a point at which one wants to add, delete, or change the name of one or more files for an App being developed. New files can be created via Code Builder as previously described. Files should be renamed or deleted via Windows File Explorer (assuming they are not open on the Code Builder editor).

If files have been added, deleted, or their names changed directly in the file system, the App file file in the Workspace window must be updated. Here are the relevant steps:

  • Add a File: Right-click on the App folder and select Add Files... and selected the relevant file. It will be moved to the folder for the App.
  • Delete a File: Right-click on the file and select Remove. This will not actually delete the file from the file system.
  • If one has changed the name of a file, then it is simply a matter of first removing it and adding it back as per the above steps.

Regenerating/Updating an OPX File

Any time after creating the OPX file for the first time, one can update the OPX with the latest App changes. Simply right-click again on the folder for the App in the Workspace window and select Generate.... All of the fields from the last time the OPX was created, are already filled in and Package Manager has repackaged the files as listed in the workspace. It is generally recommended to increment the version number at this time. If the OPX file is still in the same file system location as the last time it was saved, Package Manager will save the OPX to that folder.

Note: One does not have to reinstall an App every time its OPX it updated. When one updates an OPX for an installed App, Origin will automatically incorporate the changes into the information it stores internally about the App. For example, if the version number is incremented, it will be reflected in the App Gallery for the App.

Adding a Toolbar to an App

Apps may also contain toolbars that pop up when the App icon is clicked. For instructions on how to add a toolbar to an App see Adding a Toolbar to an App in Advanced Topics in App Development.

Including Sample Files with an App

Sample files (projects, data for import, etc) may also be included with Apps. For more information see Including Sample Files with an App in Advanced Topics in App Development.

Finishing and Distributing an App

At some point, one can decide that the App has reached a point where it is finished (at least for the current version). At this point a "final" OPX can be generated as per previous steps and then the decision can be made about how to distribute it if desired. See Distributing an App for more information.