TweetFollow Us on Twitter

Reviews: Qt

Volume Number: 20 (2004)
Issue Number: 3
Column Tag: Reviews

Reviews: Qt

by Jono Bacon

A multi-platform graphical toolkit

The birth of the toolkit

In the software development world, there are many tools and services available to help developers maximise their application development cycle, and squeeze every bit of functionality out of their products. These tools include compilers, debuggers, development environments, profilers, and, of course, graphical toolkits. In this article, I will review a toolkit that is rapidly growing in reputation and ability; Qt, the flagship product from Norwegian company Trolltech. They state that Qt can make the "Code Less. Build More. Compile Anywhere" motto a reality.

In this article I will be reviewing the latest version of Qt available at the time of writing, version 3.2.2. I will assume you have never used Qt before, and so will evaluate the different aspects of the Qt system. Although I will be discussing many different features, not all of them are specific to the new 3.2.2 version; I will discuss specific features in this new version towards the end of the article. This way those of you familiar with Qt can find out what is new in 3.2.2, and those not can get a perspective on the whole Qt toolkit, and its features.

It's all about the code

Qt is a multi-platform toolkit. "Nothing new there" I hear you scream, citing Java as an example, but Qt offers a slightly different method of creating graphical applications. First, Qt is a native toolkit. This means that when you create a Qt application and compile it, a native binary is created to run on each specific operating system. The speed implications for the application are therefore drastically improved, and large applications should work, theoretically, as fast as any other native software, with the added benefits of Qt's cross platform source code.

The actual cross platform nature of Qt is largely a feature of its Application Programming Interface (API). The concept here is that the source code remains the same for each platform version of Qt, so to create a binary for another platform, you just recompile using the Qt for that platform. Sounds great in theory, but does it work? We will investigate this later in the article. Before we get onto the cross platform nature of Qt, however, let us first look at what Qt can do and what is available in it.

Qt Features

I have been familiar with Qt as a product since the release of the first version, and each major release has put more and more functionality under the hood. The first and most basic set of functionality is for creating graphical interfaces. Qt includes widgets (the equivalent of Controls) for buttons, checkboxes, radio buttons, tabs, icon panes, canvases, dialog boxes, and other common interface elements. In addition to these elements, there are special dialog boxes (such as a file picker, about box, etc.) and facilities that save the developer from having to re-implement these functions over and over.

In addition to these graphical components, Qt includes a number of additional features. One of the most critical set of features are the convenience classes for handling data and types. Qt provides a number of these classes to support Arrays, Strings, Vectors, Maps, and many more types. In addition to these basic classes there are also classes to handle networking, sockets, file transfer, sound, and many other aspects of software development. It is good to see that Trolltech has created a rich API that not only provides graphical widgets, but also provides a number classes that make the day to day tasks of programming it a little bit easier. Another feature in Qt is the concept of additional modules. These extra modules have specific functionality that can be added to the API. These modules include a graphical canvas, database access, networking, OpenGL, and XML facilities.

Although Qt is primarily a graphical toolkit and convenience classes, Trolltech has worked to supplement this API with tools and facilities to assist in the development of projects. These additional tools include the graphical dialog box creation tool Qt Designer, the translation tool Qt Linguist, the documentation tool Qt Assistant, and the compilation tool QMake. We will look at each of these tools later in this review.

Qt Usage

Qt is a C++ based toolkit, and Object Orientated Programming (OOP) is fundamental to using Qt. Each of the components is available as a class (such as a QPushButton to create a push button widget), and each class has a number of methods to handle common tasks and features. Although some developers use procedural programming for graphical applications, the nature of OOP lends itself well to GUI programming due to the fact that inheritance is fundamental to GUI's. As an example, there is the general concept of a button (something that you click on), and then specific types of buttons (push, radio, toolbar, etc). In Qt, inheritance is used in this way so that the general QButton class is inherited by a more specific QPushButton class, for example. This process gives the developer all the functionality that could be needed for that specific widget, and the lower level functionality for its inherited class. This is incredibly flexible and is implemented well in Qt.

Development of applications can be quite varied in Qt. When developers begin programming with a toolkit, they often use classes with a lot of functionality that is rarely used, that does nothing but increase the size of the binary. In Qt things are a little different. There are different classes that serve different uses. As an example, there is a QMainWindow class that provides a lot of functionality for typical office type applications with menus, toolbars, and a main content area. Although great for this kind of functionality, it may seem a little bit of overkill for more simplistic applications or graphical elements. Say you wanted to create a simple window with a single text box to type your password into, you could use a QDialog class that is much more efficient.

One of the most interesting features of Qt is the way in which user interaction is handled. In many toolkits there is the concept of events, messages, call backs, etc., where a particular widget will start a particular event when the user does something. It is then the programmers responsibility to capture the event and do something constructive in response to it. Trolltech has taken this (often bizarre and complicated) concept and refined it, coming up with a solution named Signals and Slots. The basic idea is that each class has a number of pre-defined signals that are emitted when something happens, such as clicking on a button or selecting an item in a menu.

For example, the QPushButton class that is used to create a simple push button (such as an OK and Cancel button in a dialog box) has a clicked() signal; this signal is emitted when someone clicks on the button. This particular signal can then be connected to a slot, which is any normal function. Using this system, you can easily connect any function to a user interaction. It requires only a single line of code to perform this connection.

Additional Tools

Earlier I mentioned that there are some tools included with Qt that can assist in developing your applications. These tools come in the form of Qt Designer, Linguist, Assistant, and QMake. All of these tools are genuinely useful, and speed up development with Qt.

Qt Designer

Qt Designer essentially gives you the ability to draw your graphical interface visually by dropping interface elements onto a window. Qt Designer is a very flexible tool, and has support for all of the graphical widgets that are available in the toolkit. Not only can you add items such as buttons, checkboxes, radio buttons, scrollbars, textboxes, etc., but you can also add menus, and their items. Adding the components to your application window is as simple as selecting the widget from the toolbar and then drawing it. Qt Designer does not stop there in terms of creating your interface. It also gives you the ability to define your signal/slot connections. This procedure is started by selecting the object that will emit the signal, then entering the name of the slot that the signal connects to.

When an interface has been created and the file is saved, Qt Designer will store your interface in a .ui file that is comprised of special XML code. It is a wise move on the part of Trolltech to use an open standard such as XML for their file format as the .ui files can then be repurposed for other uses such as XSL transformations to possibly link Qt Designer interfaces with web pages.

When the file is saved, a special tool called moc can be run on the file to convert it to the relevant C++ header and implementation file. Once the source code has been generated, you will have a boilerplate class for the interface available that can be used by re-implementing the class in your main code. You need to use polymorphism to use the class due to the fact that any modifications made to the generated class will be lost when you next generate the class. Using this method of re-implementing the class, you can then use the generated class and define your own slots of the same function name. This is a clever technique, and while a little confusing at first, gives the developer ultimate flexibility.

Qt Linguist

Qt Linguist is a tool for creating translations within Qt applications. The idea behind the tool is that you separate those who code the application from those who create translations. The traditional method of supporting multiple languages when developing software has been to implement multiple translations either within the code, or via a text file for each language. Qt prefers the more elegant technique of creating so called translation files that are created by the translators with Qt Linguist. Those files are then made use of by the developers in the Qt application. I like this technique because not only is it simple, but this kind of simplicity means that Qt developers can not only create multi-platform applications, but multi-platform, multi-language applications. I am sure that non-technical translators will appreciate this simplified method of dealing with translations, as well.

QMake

The final tool in the Qt toolbox (I will cover Qt Assistant in the next section) is QMake. This simple little tool lets you handle the building your applications easily. Many developers spread their code out over multiple source files, and traditionally developers have needed to edit Makefiles, and other build scripts, to get their applications to build. When you roll in the multi-platform nature of Qt with different compilers and build environments, this could get real challenging real fast. QMake seeks to simplify the process, and when run will generate a make file for building your application. I have some experience with the GNU tools to do this, such as automake, and QMake is a welcome change. I found QMake not only makes the build system seamless, but due to the fact that it is bundled with Qt, makes it even easier.

Documentation and Qt Assistant

One of the major strengths of Qt is its incredible documentation. As a developer, documentation is always something that is important to have available due to the fact that every intimate detail of the API may need to be used, and as such should be well documented. Luckily, the Qt documentation team have done an incredible job at not only creating an impressive reference manual for every minute detail of the API, but have also included a number of other features in the documentation. These include:

Qt Community

Information about mailing lists, newsletters, bug reporting and more.

Getting started

Details on how to begin programming with Qt. This section also includes two full tutorials, and many examples.

API Reference

A full and complete reference of every class, function, and definition in the Qt toolkit. The reference is concise, and easy to read.

Modules

Documentation, tutorials, and examples of each of the additional modules within Qt.

Overviews

This section provides a number of walkthrough, and discussion documents on various parts of the Qt toolkit, such as the Qt object modal, and signals and slots.

Porting and platforms

This section gives information, and details on supporting each of the different platforms for your project, compilation details, and specific platform notes.

Tools

This section provides documentation for each of the tools included with Qt, such as Qt Designer, Qt Linguist, Qt Assistant, and QMake.

Licenses and credits

This section provides information about the different licenses available with Qt.

The documentation available with Qt is in HTML format, and can be viewed in any web browser (as well as being available at http://doc.trolltech.com). Although a web browser suffices for basic viewing of the documentation, Qt includes a special tool for dealing with the documentation called Qt Assistant. Qt Assistant provides an interface for searching, and querying the documentation, and viewing it. Although a simple front-end to the documentation, Qt Assistant provides a more integrated method of reading the class reference/information instead of a web browser. I am impressed that Trolltech takes documentation this seriously, and have committed to not only providing good documentation, but a tool to access it.

In use

Qt is a powerful toolkit, and has been carefully developed. When using the toolkit, you always get a true feeling of quality with what you are doing. This is largely from the tried and tested development model that has been created by Trolltech. Using C++ for graphical development is a natural choice due to its OOP philosophy, and it is very rare that you are in a position where you can see no elegant way of doing something. The available number of classes in Qt is impressive, and there is a convenience class for most common processes involved with modern software development. Not only do the classes allow you to create functionality easily, but each class has a rich API, consisting of a number of methods that are useful in most situations.

Qt Designer is an integral part of the Qt system, and generally works well for most applications. A few releases back Qt Designer was considerably more primitive than it is these days, and the latest version of Qt Designer is quite a mature and useful tool. While not a fully RAD tool (in the sense that it does not actively generate code that is embedded directly in your project), it is about as RAD as you want it to be - it generates the code, and you put it into your project. This prevents the kinds of spaghetti code problems that are often associated with RAD tools.

Although it is possible to review and evaluate Qt in a sterile environment where only Qt is used, in the real world Qt faces stiff competition from the likes of Java, Cocoa, GTK, and others. From my experience, Qt stands up well to these competitors, and offers a compelling, and in many cases, superior product. The main areas that many developers seem to look at when evaluating a product is its ease of use, functionality, and stability. From my testing, Qt seems to stand up on all of these points and I cannot really think of many areas in which Qt would be unsuitable for development. One testament to the nature of Qt, in my opinion, is the extent to which it is used. Because of the dual licensing of the toolkit, and the availability of a GPL version, Qt has been used by the UNIX based KDE project (www.kde.org). The sheer scope of that project is a good demonstration of the ability of Qt as a toolkit. KDE can be installed on Mac OS X using the Fink system (fink.sourceforge.net).

New in 3.2.2

Qt 3.2 has implemented a number of new features, in addition to the already impressive set of the 3.1 release. These new features include:

New Splashscreen class

This new class provides a contemporary splashscreen class that can be used to show a splash screen while your program is loading. The class will also allow you to display status messages in the splash screen.

New toolbox widget

A new widget has been added to create a toolbox that has collapsible areas. The widget was originally used in Qt Designer, and not available as a common class. Now it is, and can be added using the Qt Designer interface.

Improved menu editor in Qt Designer

The menu editor in Qt Designer has always worked fine, but not worked as intuitively as you might have expected. It has been revamped in 3.2.2.

Thread local storage

Multi-threaded applications can be written in Qt, and a new class has been added to store thread variables between threads.

Input masks

Input masks for controlling what input is added to a text entry box has been added. This makes it easier to validate user input.

Improved SQL support

With the addition of a DB2 driver, there has been a revamp of the SQL support in Qt, and data aware widgets work better with queries now.

Improved indic and syriac support

Support for right to left languages has been improved, with full support for indic and syriac languages.

Improved printer setup dialog

Additional functionality has been added to the printer setup dialog.

There was also a long list of user and developer submitted bugs that were fixed with this release, and various changes to particular platform versions of Qt.

Conclusion

Qt is a great toolkit. I am impressed with the technical structure of the software, the feature set, and the documentation that is included. Qt seems to offer a nice combination of hard core power, and RAD development. C++ is a good choice for a language to base the toolkit on, although it would be nice to see bindings for Java, or possibly even PHP. The toolkit not only provides a good range of graphical components, but also provides high performance data handling classes, and nice additions, such as data aware database widgets and classes, OpenGL support, and other features. The addition of Qt Assistant, Qt Linguist, and particularly Qt Designer, are sensible choices by Trolltech. Qt Designer, in particular, rapidly increases development speed.

If you are looking for a toolkit where you can write your code once, and run it on a number of different platforms, Qt is well worth looking in to. In these days of Windows, Linux, and Mac OS X, using a toolkit such as Qt makes sense. It makes particular sense for those developers creating free clients, and software to give away, as the GPL edition provides equivalent functionality to the commercial version, with only a change in licensing. The commercial version licensing allows you to distribute closed source applications commercially.

I look forward to seeing how Trolltech will expand Qt in the future, and look forward to seeing more Qt applications running on all my computers.


Jono Bacon is a writer, musician, and developer based in the United Kingdom. Jono has an avid interest in Linux/Open Source and has been involved with a number of Open Source projects.

 
AAPL
$111.78
Apple Inc.
-0.87
MSFT
$47.66
Microsoft Corpora
+0.14
GOOG
$516.35
Google Inc.
+5.25

MacTech Search:
Community Search:

Software Updates via MacUpdate

NeoOffice 2014.6 - Mac-tailored, OpenOff...
NeoOffice is a complete office suite for OS X. With NeoOffice, users can view, edit, and save OpenOffice documents, PDF files, and most Microsoft Word, Excel, and PowerPoint documents. NeoOffice 3.x... Read more
LibreOffice 4.3.5.2 - 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
CleanApp 5.0.0 Beta 5 - Application dein...
CleanApp is an application deinstaller and archiver.... Your hard drive gets fuller day by day, but do you know why? CleanApp 5 provides you with insights how to reclaim disk space. There are... Read more
Monolingual 1.6.2 - Remove unwanted OS X...
Monolingual is a program for removing unnecesary language resources from OS X, in order to reclaim several hundred megabytes of disk space. It requires a 64-bit capable Intel-based Mac and at least... Read more
NetShade 6.1 - Browse privately using an...
NetShade is an Internet security tool that conceals your IP address on the web. NetShade routes your Web connection through either a public anonymous proxy server, or one of NetShade's own dedicated... Read more
calibre 2.13 - Complete e-library manage...
Calibre is a complete e-book library manager. Organize your collection, convert your books to multiple formats, and sync with all of your devices. Let Calibre be your multi-tasking digital librarian... Read more
Mellel 3.3.7 - 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
ScreenFlow 5.0.1 - Create screen recordi...
Save 10% with the exclusive MacUpdate coupon code: AFMacUpdate10 Buy now! ScreenFlow is powerful, easy-to-use screencasting software for the Mac. With ScreenFlow you can record the contents of your... Read more
Simon 4.0 - Monitor changes and crashes...
Simon monitors websites and alerts you of crashes and changes. Select pages to monitor, choose your alert options, and customize your settings. Simon does the rest. Keep a watchful eye on your... Read more
BBEdit 11.0.2 - Powerful text and HTML e...
BBEdit is the leading professional HTML and text editor for the Mac. Specifically crafted in response to the needs of Web authors and software developers, this award-winning product provides a... Read more

Latest Forum Discussions

See All

My Little Monster Review
My Little Monster Review By Jordan Minor on December 22nd, 2014 Our Rating: :: IT'S ALIVE!Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad What’s it worth to make your own monster?   | Read more »
Galaxy Trucker Pocket (Games)
Galaxy Trucker Pocket 1.0.8 Device: iOS iPhone Category: Games Price: $2.99, Version: 1.0.8 (iTunes) Description: Galaxy Truckers Wanted!================================================================= (5/5) "Galaxy Trucker isn’t... | Read more »
Make your own Tribez Figures (and More)...
Make your own Tribez Figures (and More) with Toyze Posted by Jessica Fisher on December 19th, 2014 [ permalink ] Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad | Read more »
So Many Holiday iOS Sales Oh My Goodness...
The holiday season is in full-swing, which means a whole lot of iOS apps and games are going on sale. A bunch already have, in fact. Naturally this means we’re putting together a hand-picked list of the best discounts and sales we can find in order... | Read more »
It’s Bird vs. Bird in the New PvP Mode f...
It’s Bird vs. Bird in the New PvP Mode for Angry Birds Epic Posted by Jessica Fisher on December 19th, 2014 [ permalink ] Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad | Read more »
Telltale Games and Mojang Announce Minec...
Telltale Games and Mojang Announce Minecraft: Story Mode – A Telltale Games Series Posted by Jessica Fisher on December 19th, 2014 [ permalink ] | Read more »
WarChest and Splash Damage Annouce Their...
WarChest and Splash Damage Annouce Their New Game: Tempo Posted by Jessica Fisher on December 19th, 2014 [ permalink ] WarChest Ltd and Splash Damage Ltd are teaming up again to work | Read more »
BulkyPix Celebrates its 6th Anniversary...
BulkyPix Celebrates its 6th Anniversary with a Bunch of Free Games Posted by Jessica Fisher on December 19th, 2014 [ permalink ] BulkyPix has | Read more »
Indulge in Japanese cuisine in Cooking F...
Indulge in Japanese cuisine in Cooking Fever’s new sushi-themed update Posted by Simon Reed on December 19th, 2014 [ permalink ] Lithuanian developer Nordcurrent has yet again updated its restaurant simulat | Read more »
Badland Daydream Level Pack Arrives to C...
Badland Daydream Level Pack Arrives to Celebrate 20 Million Downloads Posted by Ellis Spice on December 19th, 2014 [ permalink ] | Read more »

Price Scanner via MacPrices.net

Holiday sale continues: 15-inch Retina MacBoo...
 B&H Photo has the new 2014 15″ Retina MacBook Pros on sale for up to $300 off MSRP for a limited time. Shipping is free, and B&H charges NY sales tax only: - 15″ 2.2GHz Retina MacBook Pro: $... Read more
Holiday sale: 13-inch 128GB MacBook Air for $...
 Best Buy has the 2014 13-inch 1.4GHz 128GB MacBook Air on sale for $849.99, or $150 off MSRP, on their online store. Choose free home shipping or free local store pickup (if available). Price valid... Read more
13-inch 2.6GHz Retina MacBook Pro on sale for...
Best Buy has lowered their price on the 2014 13″ 2.6GHz/128GB Retina MacBook Pro to $1149.99 on their online store for a limited time. That’s $150 off MSRP and the lowest price available for this... Read more
Kodak Returns to CES With New Consumer Produ...
Former photography colossus Kodak is returning to CES for the first time in three years where the Kodak booth (#21818 South Hall 1) will showcase a wide range of innovative, imaging-related products... Read more
Invaluable Launches New Eponymously -Named A...
Invaluable, the world’s largest online live auction marketplace, hhas announced the official launch of the Invaluable app for iPad, now available for download in the iTunes App Store. Invaluable... Read more
IDC Reveals Worldwide Mobile Enterprise Appli...
International Data Corporation (IDC) last week hosted the IDC FutureScape: Worldwide Mobile Enterprise Applications and Solutions 2015 Predictions Web conference. The session provided organizations... Read more
Hello Vino Wine App Launches “Safe Ride Home”...
Hello Vino has announced addition of a new “Get a Safe Ride Home” feature in its Food & Drink app with a direct connection to Uber, the technology platform that connects users with rides. The... Read more
DEVON-technologies Releases DEVONthink To Go...
Coeur d’Alene, Idaho based DEVON-technologies, LLC has updated DEVONthink To Go, its mobile companion to DEVONthink, to version 1.5. The update includes an iOS 8 extension, compatibility with the... Read more
The Apple Store offering free next-day shippi...
The Apple Store is now offering free next-day shipping on all in stock items if ordered before 12/23/14 at 10:00am PT. Local store pickup is also available within an hour of ordering for any in stock... Read more
It’s 1992 Again At Sony Pictures, Except For...
Techcrunch’s John Biggs interviewed a Sony Pictures Entertainment (SPE) employee, who quite understandably wished to remain anonymous, regarding post-hack conditions in SPE’s L.A office, explaining “... Read more

Jobs Board

*Apple* Store Leader Program (US) - Apple, I...
…Summary Learn and grow as you explore the art of leadership at the Apple Store. You'll master our retail business inside and out through training, hands-on experience, Read more
Project Manager, *Apple* Financial Services...
**Job Summary** Apple Financial Services (AFS) offers consumers, businesses and educational institutions ways to finance Apple purchases. We work with national and Read more
*Apple* Retail - Multiple Positions (US) - A...
Sales Specialist - Retail Customer Service and Sales Transform Apple Store visitors into loyal Apple customers. When customers enter the store, you're also the Read more
*Apple* Retail - Multiple Positions (US) - A...
Sales Specialist - Retail Customer Service and Sales Transform Apple Store visitors into loyal Apple customers. When customers enter the store, you're also the Read more
*Apple* Retail - Multiple Positions (US) - A...
Job Description: Sales Specialist - Retail Customer Service and Sales Transform Apple Store visitors into loyal Apple customers. When customers enter the store, Read more
All contents are Copyright 1984-2011 by Xplain Corporation. All rights reserved. Theme designed by Icreon.