TweetFollow Us on Twitter

Tk: A Portable GUI Toolkit

Volume Number: 19 (2003)
Issue Number: 4
Column Tag: Section 7

Tk: A Portable GUI Toolkit

Expressiveness and Simplicity Count for a lot

by Rich Morin

Last month, I mentioned Tk, referring to it as an X11 toolkit. This month, I'd like to cover Tk in a bit more detail. I should begin, however, by clarifying that Tk is not just an X11 toolkit; in fact, it is a platform- and language-independent GUI toolkit.

Tk can be used with C, Perl, Python, Ruby, Tcl (Tk's original counterpart), and many other programming languages. It can be used with Aqua, PalmOS, X11, and assorted Microsoft APIs. In summary, any modern computer with the appropriate hardware probably has Tk support.

Tk also wins big on expressiveness and simplicity. Most GUI toolkits (e.g., Cocoa and assorted X11 "widget sets") are complex and have steep learning curves. Tk, in contrast, is remarkably simple to program, once a few basic concepts have been mastered. Although Tk may not have all the features of Cocoa, it supports most of the widgets you are likely to need; it also has ways to add new widgets, if you're feeling sufficiently motivated.

Tcl/Tk

Because Tk started as a toolkit for the Tcl language, most of the Tk resources you'll find are actually for Tcl/Tk, the language/toolkit combination. Also, because Tcl/Tk is the focus of development, the other language bindings (e.g., Perl/Tk, Tkinter) occasionally lag behind. Finally, if you want to extend Tk, you'll probably find yourself coding some Tcl in the process.

In short, you should plan to learn a bit of Tcl, even if you intend to use Tk with some other language. Fortunately, this isn't particularly painful; Tcl syntax only takes about five minutes to learn (most of which you'll spend accepting the idea of how simple the syntax really is :-).

Pick up a copy of the Mac OS X Tcl/Tk port from:

http://www.apple.com/downloads/macosx/unix_open_source/tcltk.html

Be sure to look at the ReadMe files; they contain a number of useful pointers and critical details. After the (dmg, mpkg) installation finishes, you should find a copy of "Wish Shell":

/Applications/Utilities/Wish Shell.app

When you start up the app, two windows will appear. The "Console" window allows you to run Tcl commands, viewing the output:

set a 123
123
() 2 % set b [expr $a * 2]
246
() 3 %

Tcl isn't a conventional language and it isn't processed in a conventional manner. Although some parts of Tcl syntax look a bit like C or Perl, the interpreter is simply performing a sequence of commands and string substitutions. Thus, the first line sets a variable ("a") to the text string ("123"). You may think of this as a numeric value, but the Tcl interpreter doesn't.

The second line does three things. First, it performs a "variable substitution", replacing "$a" with the value "123". Next, it performs a "command substitution", replacing the expression "[expr $a * 2]" with the result (246). Finally, it sets "b" to the resulting value.

Now, let's bring Tk and the other (Wish Shell) window into play:

() 3 % button .b -text "Hello, world!" -command exit
.b
() 4 % pack .b
() 5 %

If all went as expected, the "Wish Shell" window should now contain a button labeled "Hello, world!". Pushing that button should cause the Wish Shell to exit (and both of its windows to disappear). In two lines of code, you have created and run a (tiny) windowing application!

If you simply want to program in Tcl/Tk, you are now in a position to do so. The results will look nicely Aquafied (Aquatic?) and you don't have to tell anyone how little code you wrote! If you become intrigued with Tcl/Tk, be sure to pick up John Ousterhout's excellent (if dated) "Tcl and the Tk Toolkit" (Addison-Wesley). John created both Tcl and Tk, so he's eminently qualified to say how they should be used.

Perl/Tk

Although Tcl is syntactically interesting, extremely portable, and quite flexible, you may prefer (as I do) to do your actual programming in some other language. Perl/Tk allows Perl programmers to use Tk widgets, while keeping the rest of their code in Perl. As hinted above, analogous libraries are available for C, Python, Ruby, and other programming languages.

Having said this, I should note that Tk calls may not be a smooth fit into the syntax of the chosen language. Here is a Perl/Tk translation of our simple window example:

use Tk;
my ($b, $mw);
$mw = new MainWindow;
$b  = $mw->Button(-text    => 'Hello, world!',
                  -command => sub { exit; });
$b->pack();
Mainloop();

This code is substantially larger, but the original Tk commands and arguments are still present (albeit buried in Object-Oriented Perl syntax :-). Several lines of overhead code bring in the Tk module, declare a couple of variables, create a window, and finally, start up the Tk event loop. Also note that we are no longer using the Tcl exit command; instead, we have created an anonymous Perl function which uses Perl's own exit command.

If you want to play with Perl/Tk, your first step should be to purchase a copy of "Learning Perl/Tk" (Nancy Walsh, O'Reilly). Buy Ousterhout's book, too, if you can; you won't regret it!

Now for the bad news: installing Perl/Tk on Mac OS X is quite complex and (worse) still in a state of flux. It is possible, with some difficulty, to make Perl/Tk work with Apple's X11 server and Developer Kit. I don't know of a way to get Perl/Tk to work with the native Tk port (as installed above), but I hope to have more information by the time this column is in print. Look for instructions on

http://www.cfcl.com/rdm/section7/perltk.html

I also suggest, for the brave-hearted, the following links:


Rich Morin has been using computers since 1970, Unix since 1983, and Mac-based Unix since 1986 (when he helped Apple create A/UX 1.0). When he isn't writing this column, Rich runs Prime Time Freeware (www.ptf.com), a publisher of books and CD-ROMs for the Free and Open Source software community. Feel free to write to Rich at rdm@ptf.com.

 
AAPL
$98.15
Apple Inc.
-0.23
MSFT
$43.58
Microsoft Corpora
-0.31
GOOG
$587.42
Google Inc.
+1.81

MacTech Search:
Community Search:

Software Updates via MacUpdate

Knock 1.1.7 - Unlock your Mac by knockin...
Knock is a faster, safer way to sign in. You keep your iPhone with you all the time. Now you can use it as a password. You never have to open the app -- just knock on your phone twice, even when it's... Read more
Mellel 3.3.6 - Powerful word processor w...
Mellel is the leading word processor for OS X and has been widely considered the industry standard since its inception. Mellel focuses on writers and scholars for technical writing and multilingual... Read more
LibreOffice 4.3.0.4 - Free Open Source o...
LibreOffice is an office suite (word processor, spreadsheet, presentations, drawing tool) compatible with other major office suites. The Document Foundation is coordinating development and... Read more
Freeway Pro 7.0 - Drag-and-drop Web desi...
Freeway Pro lets you build websites with speed and precision... without writing a line of code! With it's user-oriented drag-and-drop interface, Freeway Pro helps you piece together the website of... Read more
Drive Genius 3.2.4 - Powerful system uti...
Drive Genius is an OS X utility designed to provide unsurpassed storage management. Featuring an easy-to-use interface, Drive Genius is packed with powerful tools such as a drive optimizer, a... Read more
Vitamin-R 2.15 - Personal productivity t...
Vitamin-R creates the optimal conditions for your brain to work at its best by structuring your work into short bursts of distraction-free, highly focused activity alternating with opportunities for... Read more
Toast Titanium 12.0 - The ultimate media...
Toast Titanium goes way beyond the very basic burning in the Mac OS and iLife software, and sets the standard for burning CDs, DVDs, and now Blu-ray discs on the Mac. Create superior sounding audio... Read more
OS X Yosemite Wallpaper 1.0 - Desktop im...
OS X Yosemite Wallpaper is the gorgeous new background image for Apple's upcoming OS X 10.10 Yosemite. This wallpaper is available for all screen resolutions with a source file that measures 5,418... Read more
Acorn 4.4 - Bitmap image editor. (Demo)
Acorn is a new image editor built with one goal in mind - simplicity. Fast, easy, and fluid, Acorn provides the options you'll need without any overhead. Acorn feels right, and won't drain your bank... Read more
Bartender 1.2.20 - Organize your menu ba...
Bartender lets you organize your menu bar apps. Features: Lets you tidy your menu bar apps how you want. See your menu bar apps when you want. Hide the apps you need to run, but do not need to... Read more

Latest Forum Discussions

See All

Murl the Squirrel (Games)
Murl the Squirrel 1.0 Device: iOS Universal Category: Games Price: $.99, Version: 1.0 (iTunes) Description: Meet Murl. He is teased by a group of flying squirrels because he can't fly. Determined to show them he's can fly, he meets... | Read more »
Celleste (Games)
Celleste 0.1 Device: iOS Universal Category: Games Price: $2.99, Version: 0.1 (iTunes) Description: Lots of cute action with amazing 3D graphics and a new type of gameplay! Take control over the forces of the universe to help a group... | Read more »
Super Heavy Sword (Games)
Super Heavy Sword 0.0.1 Device: iOS Universal Category: Games Price: $.99, Version: 0.0.1 (iTunes) Description: Get Ready to Get HEAVY! Monster Robot Studios presents SUPER Heavy Sword! The sequel to the smash hit HEAVY sword which... | Read more »
Angels In The Sky (Games)
Angels In The Sky 1.00 Device: iOS Universal Category: Games Price: $6.99, Version: 1.00 (iTunes) Description: - This game is only for the iPhone 5s. please do not use the iPad, iPhone 5 or earlier devices.- Just touch or holding... | Read more »
80 Days (Games)
80 Days 1.0.2 Device: iOS Universal Category: Games Price: $4.99, Version: 1.0.2 (iTunes) Description: 1872, with a steampunk twist. Phileas Fogg has wagered he can circumnavigate the world in just eighty days. Choose your own route... | Read more »
Micromon (Games)
Micromon 1.0 Device: iOS Universal Category: Games Price: $.99, Version: 1.0 (iTunes) Description: 130+ Animated Monsters to Catch & Battle! No waiting, play at your own pace! Embark on an epic monster capture RPG like none... | Read more »
Empire Manager (Games)
Empire Manager 1.0 Device: iOS iPhone Category: Games Price: $3.99, Version: 1.0 (iTunes) Description: Become ruler of an empire. Manage your economy, develop technology, hire an army and conquer the world in this addictive turn-... | Read more »
Empire Manager HD (Games)
Empire Manager HD 1.0 Device: iOS Universal Category: Games Price: $7.99, Version: 1.0 (iTunes) Description: Become ruler of an empire. Manage your economy, develop technology, hire an army and conquer the world in this addictive... | Read more »
Star Admiral Review
Star Admiral Review By Rob Thomas on July 30th, 2014 Our Rating: :: ADMIRABLE ADMIRALSUniversal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad While this new digital CCG may feel a bit familiar, Star Admiral offers a sci-fi twist and galaxy’s... | Read more »
Zap! Pow! Become a Badass Wizard in Phan...
Zap! Pow! | Read more »

Price Scanner via MacPrices.net

iPad Cannibalization Threat “Overblown”
Seeking Alpha’s Kevin Greenhalgh observes that while many commentators think Apple’s forthcoming 5.5-inch panel iPhone 6 will cannibalize iPad sales, in his estimation, these concerns are being... Read more
Primate Labs Releases July 2014 MacBook Pro P...
Primate Labs’ John Poole has posted Geekbench 3 results for most of the new MacBook Pro models that Apple released on Tuesday. Poole observes that overall performance improvements for the new MacBook... Read more
Apple Re-Releases Bugfixed MacBook Air EFI Fi...
Apple has posted a bugfixed version EFI Firmware Update 2.9 a for MacBook Air (Mid 2011) models. The update addresses an issue where systems may take longer to wake from sleep than expected, and... Read more
Save $50 on the 2.5GHz Mac mini, plus free sh...
B&H Photo has the 2.5GHz Mac mini on sale for $549.99 including free shipping. That’s $50 off MSRP, and B&H will also include a free copy of Parallels Desktop software. NY sales tax only. Read more
Save up to $140 on an iPad Air with Apple ref...
Apple is offering Certified Refurbished iPad Airs for up to $140 off MSRP. Apple’s one-year warranty is included with each model, and shipping is free. Stock tends to come and go with some of these... Read more
$250 price drop on leftover 15-inch Retina Ma...
B&H Photo has dropped prices on 2013 15″ Retina MacBook Pros by $250 off original MSRP. Shipping is free, and B&H charges NY sales tax only: - 15″ 2.3GHz Retina MacBook Pro: $2249, $250 off... Read more
More iPad Upgrade Musings – The ‘Book Mystiqu...
Much discussed recently, what with Apple reporting iPad sales shrinkage over two consecutive quarters, is that it had apparently been widely assumed that tablet users would follow a two-year hardware... Read more
13-inch 2.5GHz MacBook Pro on sale for $999,...
Best Buy has the 13″ 2.5GHz MacBook Pro available for $999.99 on their online store. Choose free shipping or free instant local store pickup (if available). Their price is $100 off MSRP. Price is... Read more
Save up to $300 on an iMac with Apple refurbi...
The Apple Store has Apple Certified Refurbished iMacs available for up to $300 off the cost of new models. Apple’s one-year warranty is standard, and shipping is free. These are the best prices on... Read more
WaterField Unveils 15″ Outback Solo & 13″...
Hard on the heels of Apple’s refreshed MacBook Pro Retina laptops announcement, WaterField Designs has unveiled a 15-inch version of the waxed-canvas and leather Outback Solo and a 13-inch version of... Read more

Jobs Board

Sr Software Lead Engineer, *Apple* Online S...
Sr Software Lead Engineer, Apple Online Store Publishing Systems Keywords: Company: Apple Job Code: E3PCAK8MgYYkw Location (City or ZIP): Santa Clara Status: Full Read more
Sr Software Lead Engineer, *Apple* Online S...
Sr Software Lead Engineer, Apple Online Store Publishing Systems Keywords: Company: Apple Job Code: E3PCAK8MgYYkw Location (City or ZIP): Santa Clara Status: Full Read more
*Apple* Solutions Consultant (ASC) - Apple (...
**Job Summary** The ASC is an Apple employee who serves as an Apple brand ambassador and influencer in a Reseller's store. The ASC's role is to grow Apple Read more
Sr. Product Leader, *Apple* Store Apps - Ap...
**Job Summary** Imagine what you could do here. At Apple , great ideas have a way of becoming great products, services, and customer experiences very quickly. Bring Read more
*Apple* Solutions Consultant (ASC) - Apple (...
**Job Summary** The ASC is an Apple employee who serves as an Apple brand ambassador and influencer in a Reseller's store. The ASC's role is to grow Apple Read more
All contents are Copyright 1984-2011 by Xplain Corporation. All rights reserved. Theme designed by Icreon.