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September 94 - Implementing Inheritance In Scripts

Implementing Inheritance In Scripts


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"Programming for Flexibility: The Open Scripting Architecture" in develop Issue 18 showed you how to use scripts to increase your program's flexibility. This article builds on that one and explains how to implement an inheritance scheme in your application that will enable your AppleScript scripts to share handlers and properties and to support global variables. You'll also learn a way to support inheritance in other OSA languages with just a little extra work.

In Issue 18 ofdevelop , I showed you how to attach scripts to application-domain objects and how to delegate the handling of Apple events to those scripts. I left you with a challenge: to figure out how to support global variables and to enable scripts to share subroutines and handlers. To meet this challenge you need to implement inheritance. The AppleScript 1.1 API gives you all the necessary calls to implement inheritance in embedded AppleScript scripts, but not all are documented yet in Inside Macintosh . This article documents the calls you need and describes an inheritance scheme that relies on them.

In a nutshell, here's the scheme :

  1. Decide what kind of script inheritance hierarchy to use.
  2. Link your scripts together in an inheritance chain.
  3. Create a shared handlers script to define subroutines and Apple event handlers that are shared among all scripts. Make this script the parent of all other scripts in your program, in effect putting it at the end of the inheritance chain.
  4. Create a global variables script and add this to the start of the inheritance chain so that it's the first script to receive incoming messages. Save this script to disk when the program exits and reload it when the program restarts, so that variables persist.

You can use much the same scheme to implement inheritance in other Open Scripting Architecture (OSA) languages, but more work is required to link scripts together in an inheritance chain, and you must forgo the luxury of sharing global variables between scripts. At the end of this article, the section "Inheritance in Other OSA Languages" describes the extra work your program must do.

The sample program SimpliFace2 on this issue's CD demonstrates the inheritance mechanisms discussed here. SimpliFace2 is an extension of SimpliFace, the basic interface builder used to illustrate the article in Issue 18. The SimpliFace2 sample code has a compile-time flag qUseOSAinheritance, defined in the header file SimpliFace2Common.h. If this flag is undefined, the program uses the AppleScript-specific inheritance scheme described in the bulk of this article. If the flag is defined, SimpliFace2 uses a general-purpose scheme that involves the extra work outlined in the section on inheritance in other OSA languages.


The first thing to do is to decide what kind of script inheritance hierarchy to use. Youcan use a runtime containment hierarchy (like that used by HyperCard and FaceSpanTM), a class hierarchy (like that used by AgentBuilder), or some hybrid of the two, as demonstrated by SimpliFace2. Let's look at each of these hierarchy types in turn.

FaceSpan (formerly Frontmost) is the interface builder bundled with the AppleScript 1.1 Software Development Toolkit. Perhaps the best known OSA "client," FaceSpan was developed by Lee Buck (of "WindowScript" fame) of Software Designs Unlimited, Inc. AgentBuilder, from commstalk hq and Full Moon Software Inc., is a framework for the creation of communications and information-processing agents that uses embedded OSA scripts to customize agent behavior. *

Figure 1 shows a runtime containment hierarchy. In this kind of hierarchy, objects inherit behavior from their containers at run time. In the object containment hierarchy used by HyperCard, for example, the scripts of buttons and fields within cards are at the bottom of the hierarchy. Above them are the scripts of the cards that contain the buttons and fields, and above each card script is the script of the background that contains the card. Above each background script, in turn, is the script of the stack that contains all the backgrounds. The handlers in each container's script are shared by the scripts of all the objects it contains.

Figure 2 shows a class hierarchy. In this kind of hierarchy, objects inherit behavior from their parent classes. For instance, the behavior of AgentBuilder objects is defined in an "ancestor" object of each class, which is the parent of all instances of that class. This permits the standard scripted behavior of object classes to be overridden in derived class instances.

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Figure 1. A runtime containment hierarchy

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Figure 2. A class hierarchy

Figure 3 shows the hybrid script inheritance hierarchy used in SimpliFace2. In SimpliFace2, the scripts of user-interface objects -- such as windows, labels, and buttons -- are organized so that they inherit behavior from the runtime containment hierarchy. However, the script of the application object isn't included in the inheritance chain for the script of any user-interface object, and the shared handlers script becomes the ultimate parent of all other scripts. I chose to use this hybrid hierarchy in order to demonstrate a wider range of techniques, not for any reason intrinsic to the program design.

The kind of script inheritance hierarchy to use depends on the nature of the messages being handled in your program. Using a class hierarchy is most appropriate if the messages are Apple events defined in the program's 'aete' resource. If the incoming messages are primarily user-defined subroutines being handled inside scripts, using a runtime containment hierarchy is probably more natural for the scripter.

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Figure 3. The hybrid script inheritance hierarchy used in SimpliFace2

Another way to look at this choice is that if you want to enable users to customize your program's capabilities by attaching scripts to application-domain objects, using a runtime containment hierarchy isn't always the best idea. Because different application-domain objects handle the same Apple event message in different ways (in other words, the semantic meaning of the message differs depending on what object it's directed at), unwanted side effects could result from an object's handling an Apple event message intended for a different level in the containment hierarchy. Using a class hierarchy ensures that messages will be dealt with only by objects of the class that understands them.

Once you've chosen the type of script inheritance hierarchy most appropriate for your program, you can link scripts together in an inheritance chain.


Linking scripts together in an AppleScript inheritance chain is as simple as setting their parent properties. Before I tell you how to do that, though, let's review a few facts about script objects and inheritance. As mentioned in the Issue 18 article, a script context (a script compiled using the AppleScript OSA component) is equivalent to a script object in the AppleScript language, so everything I say here about script objects applies to script contexts as well.

Script objects can contain global variables, properties, and handlers for Apple event messages and subroutine calls. A script object can have as its parent property an object specifier or another script object. Thus, one script object can become the parent of another, and the child script object can inherit properties and handlers from the parent script object. Parent and child script objects are linked together in an inheritance chain; this is the path from child to parent to grandparent and so on in an inheritance hierarchy, as illustrated in Figure 4.

For (a lot) more on object specifiers, see "Apple Event Objects and You" by Richard Clark in develop Issue 10.*

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Figure 4. A script inheritance chain

An incoming Apple event message is received by the child script object at the start of the inheritance chain. If AppleScript can't resolve a reference to a handler or variable name within this script object, it searches through the entire inheritance chain to find it. The handler or variable is resolved wherever it's found in the inheritance chain. When a handler continues a message (that is, passes the message to its parent), AppleScript starts searching in its parent script object. Messages that target objects outside the program's domain, or that aren't handled anywhere in the script inheritance chain (such as Apple events defined in the program's 'aete' resource, which are handled in the program code instead), or that are continued out of the inheritance chain, are redispatched as Apple events.

Now that you understand the dynamics of script inheritance, I'll show you how to set a script's parent property and thus link it to an inheritance chain. In the AppleScript language, you simply say what you'd like the parent set to, as illustrated here:

script mom
    on getName()
        return "Fenella"
    end getName
end script

script toddler
    property parent : mom
    on getName()
        set myMom to continue getName()
        return "Bart, son of " & myMom
    end getName
end script

getName() of toddler --> returns "Bart, son of Fenella"

To set the parent of a script context from a programming language, you can use the AppleScript routine OSASetProperty. This general-purpose routine (defined in the header file ASDebugging.h, which was added with the AppleScript 1.1 API) accesses either a predefined property or a user- defined variable, depending on the AEDesc passed to it. To access a predefined property -- the parent property -- you create a descriptor of typeProperty (not typeType), specifying the property ID as the data. The parameters to the call are (1) the scripting component (probably the AppleScript component), (2) a mode flag (we use the null mode, indicating no special action should be taken; alternatively, we could instruct AppleScript to replace the property only if it already exists), (3) the script context ID that's to be changed, (4) the AEDesc, and (5) the value you're setting the property to, in our case the new parent. The OSA routine OSAGetProperty performs the converse function: you can use it to inspect the values of properties and variables.

Here's a fragment from SimpliFace2 that sets the parent of a script by calling OSASetProperty:

OSAError    err = noErr;
AEDesc      nameDesc;
DescType    thePropCode = pASParent;

err = AECreateDesc(typeProperty, (Ptr)&thePropCode,
                sizeof(thePropCode), &nameDesc);
if (err == noErr) {
    err = OSASetProperty(scriptingComponent, kOSAModeNull, contextID,
            &nameDesc, newParentID);

The structure of the inheritance chain is static; each parent link needs to be set up only once, as long as no scripts are replaced. The only exception to this is that the parent property of the global variables script used in SimpliFace2 needs to be set every time an incoming Apple event message is handled, as I'll explain later. Whenever a script in the chain is replaced by a new one, the script's OSAID will change and you'll need to set the parent property in the new script and in its children again.

By setting the parent properties of scripts and thus linking them in inheritance chains, your program limits unnecessary duplication of script objects. Still, when AppleScript sets the parent of a script, it stores a copy of the script's parent (and of the parent's parent, and so on) with the original script. This is the basis of the trick that allows SimpliFace to simulate sharing scripts between objects: every script carries with it a copy of all the scripts it shares. But this is wasteful -- it means that, for instance, each button script for a window contains a copy of the window's script, when only one copy is necessary. Because your program is directly controlling script inheritance chains, you'll want to block this behavior when it loads and stores scripts. You can do it by specifying the kOSAModeDontStoreParent flag when you call OSAStore and recreating the inheritance chain when the scripts are reloaded.

Listing 1 shows the routine used to set the script property of an object in SimpliFace2. Note how it's changed from the routine used in SimpliFace: it now strips the copied parent scripts from the incoming script so that SimpliFace2 can manage the inheritance chain itself.

Listing 1. TScriptable Object::SetProperty

OSErr TScriptableObject::SetProperty (DescType propertyID,
        const AEDesc *theData)
    OSAError            err = errAEEventNotHandled;

    switch (propertyID) {
    case pScript:
        OSAID theValueID = kOSANullScript;
        if (theData->descriptorType == typeChar
                || theData->descriptorType == typeIntlText)
            err = OSACompile(gScriptingComponent, theData, 
                      kOSAModeCompileIntoContext, &theValueID);
        else {  // If it's not text, we assume script is compiled.
            err = OSALoad(gScriptingComponent, theData, kOSAModeNull,
            // The following new section strips any existing parent
            // script.
            if (err == noErr) { 
                AEDesc      newData;
                err = OSAStore(gScriptingComponent, theValueID, 
                          kOSAModeDontStoreParent, &newData);
                if (err == noErr) {
                    OSADispose(gScriptingComponent, theValueID);
                    theValueID = kOSANullScript;
                    err = (OSErr)OSALoad(gScriptingComponent,
                              &newData,kOSAModeNull, &theValueID);
        if (err == noErr) { 
            if (fAttachedScript != kOSANullScript)
                OSADispose(gScriptingComponent, fAttachedScript);
            fAttachedScript = theValueID;
            err = SetCurParent(fParentObj);
            // This fixes up the references in any object that
            // has the current object as its parent.
    return (OSErr)err;


Now the plot thickens. You're going to use the inheritance chain you've set up to make it possible for your program's AppleScript scripts to share handlers and properties and to support global variables.

Our strategy, as demonstrated in SimpliFace2, is to attach a shared handlers script to the application object and a global variables script to the global script administrator object (which, as in SimpliFace, is responsible for fetching the script attached to objects and preparing it for execution). The shared handlers script, which as a convenience for the scripter I've made a property of the application object (in addition to the application object's attached script), defines common subroutines for all the object scripts known to the program. This script is added to the end of the inheritance chain so that it becomes the parent of all other scripts. Globals are created in the global variables script, which is always inserted at the start of the AppleScript inheritance chain when an Apple event is handled by a script.

Let me explain why the global variables script is necessary. The AppleScript OSA component creates global variables in the script context that received the current message, the one at the start of the inheritance chain. If the variables weren't predefined as properties when the parent script was defined, they won't be visible to all scripts. But we'd like variables that are declared in handlers with the Global keyword to be available to handlers in all scripts. We achieve this by adding the global variables script that we create to the start of the inheritance chain. Thus, the only script actually to be dispatched messages is the global variables script, and its parent becomes the currently resolved object's script. Because its parent changes to whatever is the appropriate script in the inheritance chain, messages are handled by the correct targets.

The AppleScript-only inheritance approach demonstrated in SimpliFace2 works like this: Whenever the Apple event prehandler receives an event that might be handled in a script, it tries to resolve the object that should handle it. If it can't resolve an object it assumes that the application object's script should handle the event instead. It then attaches the global variables script (the script that receives all incoming events) to the start of the inheritance chain that ends with the shared handlers script (the parent of all scripts). In between is the script of the object to which the event was targeted; if that object is a button or a field in a window, the inheritance chain also contains the window's script. The result is the inheritance chain shown in Figure 5.

The Apple event prehandler routine in SimpliFace2 calls the global script administrator object to manage the scripts, as shown in this extract from the prehandler:

TScriptableObject*  theScriptableObj = NULL;
TScriptableObject*  savedParent = NULL;

if (err == noErr && theToken)
    err = gScriptAdministrator->GetAttachedScript
            (theToken->GetTokenObj(), theScriptableObj, savedParent);
if (err == noErr) { // Pass to script for handling.
    if (theScriptableObj)
        err = ExecuteEventInContext(theEvent, theReply,
        err = errAEEventNotHandled;
    if (theToken)
            (theToken->GetTokenObj(), savedParent);

[IMAGE 089-099_Smith_final_html6.GIF]

Figure 5. The script inheritance chain used in SimpliFace2

The script administrator function GetAttachedScript (Listing 2) is responsible for adding the global variables script to the start of the inheritance chain by setting its parent to the script of the target object. Here's how it works: First, it asks the scriptable object that's the target for the Apple event message to deliver its attached script. If there's no attached script, the parent of the global variables script is set to be the shared handlers script. If the object does have an attached script, that script becomes the parent of the global variables script.

Listing 2. TScriptAdministrator::GetAttachedScript

OSAError    TScriptAdministrator::GetAttachedScript (
                       TScriptableObject* theObj,
                       TScriptableObject* &useObject,
                       TScriptableObject* &savedParent)
    OSAError        err = noErr;
    OSAID           theObjScript = kOSANullScript;
    if (theObj)
        theObjScript = theObj->GetObjScript();
    if (theObjScript != kOSANullScript)
        err = StartUsing(theObj, savedParent);
    else   // If target has no script, new parent is shared handlers.
        err = StartUsing(NULL, savedParent);
    if (err != noErr)
        useObject = NULL;
        useObject = this;   // If OK, return global variables script.
    return err;

GetAttachedScript returns the ID of the global variables script so that the prehandler can send the Apple event to the inheritance chain that the script now starts. The global variables script receives the Apple event message in the function ExecuteEventInContext, called from the prehandler. The StartUsing function in Listing 3, which is inherited by the script administrator from TScriptableObject, returns the current parent of the script so that it can be saved for subsequent restoration by the script administrator function ReleaseAttachedScript.

Listing 3. TScriptableObject::StartUsing

OSAError TScriptableObject::SetCurParent
            (TScriptableObject* theParent)
    OSAError        err = noErr;
    OSAID           newParentScriptID = GetParentScript();

    if (fAttachedScript != kOSANullScript)
        err = gScriptAdministrator->SetScriptParent
                  (gScriptingComponent, fAttachedScript,
    return err;

OSAError TScriptableObject::StartUsing (TScriptableObject* newParent,
                               TScriptableObject* &oldParent)
    oldParent = fParentObj;     // Returned in case it must be saved.
    return SetCurParent(newParent);

The parent of the global variables script must be saved and restored every time the Apple event prehandler handles an Apple event. This is because Apple events are dispatched recursively during the execution of scripts: you should assume that any Apple event handler can be interrupting the processing of another Apple event. For the same reason, if you need to set the resume/dispatch procedure differently in different handlers you must carefully save and restore it each time. The sample code in SimpliFace2 contains examples of how you might do this.

SimpliFace2 also shows how you can make global variables persistent, by saving the global variables script in a script file in the Preferences folder when the program exits and reloading it when the program starts up again. The code to handle this is in the script administrator routines SaveGlobalVariables and LoadGlobalVariables.

Be aware of a wrinkle: If you ever intend to dispatch the Run ('oapp') Apple event to an AppleScript inheritance chain, each script in the chain must contain a continue run handler.

on run
    continue run
end run

The reason for this is that when AppleScript compiles a script into a script context it collects all the top-level statements in the script (those not contained in any handler) into a default run handler, so that if the script is simply executed the top-level statements will run. If there are no top-level statements, an empty run handler is created. The trouble is, this default handler doesn't realize you want it to continue the Run message, so the message will be caught and lost in the script, never to be seen farther along in the inheritance chain.


The inheritance scheme just described is specific to AppleScript scripts because it relies on OSASetProperty to set up the inheritance chain. This call and others in the AppleScript 1.1 API aren't part of the required OSA API, so not all scripting components support them. If your program is to support inheritance in scripts written in other OSA languages, it must take control of the message passing between scripts in the chain at script execution time.

Your application can do this by simulating, entirely under program control, the mechanism that AppleScript uses. Messages that aren't handled in a particular script in the chain are passed along to the next script in the chain. If they're continued out of, or not handled in, the chain, the program routes them to its standard Apple event handlers. The drawback to this approach is that scripting becomes a little more rigid, because handlers are resolved only toward the parent rather than wherever they are in the chain. The advantage is that it will work with any OSA language that supports the event handling API and the Subroutine Apple event, which is the message protocol AppleScript uses to call subroutines.

When your program's Apple event prehandler deals with an incoming Apple event message by passing it to a script, it's responsible for manually redispatching messages that aren't handled or that are continued along the inheritance chain. The SimpliFace2 routine ExecuteEventInContext (Listing 4) shows how to do this. The first and second parameters to this routine are the Apple event and reply; the third parameter is the scriptable object that is to handle the message. This routine is first called from the prehandler, which passes it the scriptable object that starts the inheritance chain (the object to which the message was originally sent). The scriptable object has a field that's a reference to its parent object, which can be read using the accessor function GetParentObj. If the current object has a parent, the routine sets the OSA resume/dispatch procedure to be a recursive call to ExecuteEventInContext, passing the address of the parent object as the reference constant. If the current object doesn't have a parent (if the end of the chain has been reached), the routine sets the resume/dispatch procedure to be the program's standard Apple event handler, ignoring the prehandler.

If the Apple event message isn't handled in the script of the current object, the routineOSADoEvent returns the error errAEEventNotHandled. At this point you must manually redispatch the message, mirroring the OSA's resume/dispatch mechanism: if the current object has a parent, you recursively call ExecuteEventInContext, passing it the address of the parent object. If you've reached the end of the inheritance chain, you simply call the program's standard Apple event handler.


You've learned that implementing inheritance starts with choosing an appropriate script inheritance hierarchy. With this hierarchy in mind, you can link scripts in an inheritance chain, either by setting their parent properties (if you're working only with embedded AppleScript scripts) or by directly controlling inheritance at script execution time (if your program needs to support scripts in other OSA languages). Then you're ready to create a shared handlers script and put it at the end of the inheritance chain, making it the parent of all scripts, and (if you're working only with AppleScript scripts) to add a global variables script to the start of the inheritance chain where it can receive incoming messages and route them to the correct targets.

Listing 4. ExecuteEventInContext

static pascal OSErr ExecuteEventInContext (AppleEvent *theEvent, 
           AppleEvent *theReply, TScriptableObject* theScriptableObj)
    OSAError    err = errAEEventNotHandled;
    OSAID       theScriptID = kOSANullScript;
    if (theScriptableObj)
        theScriptID = theScriptableObj->GetObjScript();
    else if (gScriptAdministrator)
        theScriptID = gScriptAdministrator->GetSharedScript();
    if (theScriptID != kOSANullScript) {  
                                      // Pass to script for handling.
        AEHandlerProcPtr        oldResumeProc;
        long                    oldRefcon;
        TScriptableObject*      parentObj = NULL;
            &oldResumeProc, &oldRefcon);
        if (theScriptableObj) {
            parentObj = theScriptableObj->GetParentObj();
            err = OSASetResumeDispatchProc(gScriptingComponent,
            err = OSASetResumeDispatchProc(gScriptingComponent,
                      kOSAUseStandardDispatch, kOSADontUsePhac);
        if (err == noErr) {
            err = OSADoEvent(gScriptingComponent, theEvent,
                      theScriptID, kOSAModeAlwaysInteract, theReply);
            if (err == errAEEventNotHandled) {
                                            // Not handled in script.
                if (theScriptableObj)   // Make recursive call.
                    err = ExecuteEventInContext(theEvent, theReply,
                    // Otherwise, dispatch directly to standard
                    // handler.
                    err = StdAEvtHandler(theEvent, theReply, 0);
        OSASetResumeDispatchProc(gScriptingComponent, oldResumeProc,
    return (OSErr)err;

You've seen these techniques illustrated by the sample program SimpliFace2. You can simply drop the classes from SimpliFace2 into your own programs, use them as the basis of new programs, or use them as a guide to restructuring existing programs. Armed with the information in this article and its predecessor, you should now be able to implement an inheritance scheme for scripts in your own software.

PAUL G. SMITH (AppleLink COMMSTALK.HQ) took time out from his preferred occupation of snoozing on a beach to write this article. He also occasionally takes time out to write software for Full Moon Software Inc., provide consultancy services to corporate clients, and watch his cat, Mack, dismember his Macintosh's mouse. He was the lead developer of AgentBuilder and wrote ScriptWizard, the AppleScript debugger, before he found his true, totally prone, calling. *

Thanks to our technical reviewers Kevin Calhoun, Ron Karr, and Jeroen Schalk, and to Lee Buck of Software Designs Unlimited.*


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B&H Photo has 15″ MacBook Pros on sale for up to $200 off MSRP. Shipping is free, and B&H charges sales tax in NY & NJ only: – 15″ 2.8GHz MacBook Pro Space Gray (MPTR2LL/A): $2249, $150... Read more
Roundup of Apple Certified Refurbished iMacs,...
Apple has a full line of Certified Refurbished 2017 21″ and 27″ iMacs available starting at $1019 and ranging up to $350 off original MSRP. Apple’s one-year warranty is standard, and shipping is free... Read more
Sale! 27″ 3.8GHz 5K iMac for $2098, save $201...
Amazon has the 27″ 3.8GHz 5K iMac (MNED2LL/A) on sale today for $2098 including free shipping. Their price is $201 off MSRP, and it’s the lowest price available for this model (Apple’s $1949... Read more
Sale! 10″ Apple WiFi iPad Pros for up to $100...
B&H Photo has 10.5″ WiFi iPad Pros in stock today and on sale for $50-$100 off MSRP. Each iPad includes free shipping, and B&H charges sales tax in NY & NJ only: – 10.5″ 64GB iPad Pro: $... Read more
Apple iMacs on sale for up to $130 off MSRP w...
B&H Photo has 21-inch and 27-inch iMacs in stock and on sale for up to $130 off MSRP including free shipping. B&H charges sales tax in NY & NJ only: – 27″ 3.8GHz iMac (MNED2LL/A): $2179 $... Read more

Jobs Board

Engineering Manager, *Apple* Retail Enginee...
# Engineering Manager, Apple Retail Engineering Job Number: 58139948 Santa Clara Valley, California, United States Posted: 20-Oct-2017 Weekly Hours: 40.00 **Job Read more
*Apple* Retail - Multiple Positions - Apple,...
Job Description: Sales Specialist - Retail Customer Service and Sales Transform Apple Store visitors into loyal Apple customers. When customers enter the store, Read more
Commerce Engineer, *Apple* Media Products -...
Commerce Engineer, Apple Media Products (New York City) Job Number: 113028813New York City, New York, United StatesPosted: Sep. 20, 2017Weekly Hours: 40.00 Job Read more
US- *Apple* Store Leader Program - Apple (Un...
US- Apple Store Leader Program Job Number: VariousUnited StatesPosted: Oct. 19, 2017Retail Store Job Summary Learn and grow as you explore the art of leadership at Read more
Product Manager - *Apple* Pay on the *Appl...
Job Summary Apple is looking for a talented product manager to drive the expansion of Apple Pay on the Apple Online Store. This position includes a unique Read more
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