TweetFollow Us on Twitter

Tiger. Automator

Volume Number: 21 (2005)
Issue Number: 5
Column Tag: Programming

Getting Started

Tiger. Automator

by Dave Mark

In last month's column, we learned a bit about the bash shell, then played a bit with MySQL. I was originally planning on following that up in this month's column with an intro to combining MySQL and PHP. But in between then and now, I ended up moving my baseline machines over to Tiger and, well, I ended up spending just a boatload of time playing with Tiger. So much so, that I decided to postpone my PHP MySQL column for a month so I could write about my favorite new toy, Automator.

Getting Started with Automator

Automator is an application that ships with every copy of Mac OS X 10.4, a.k.a. Tiger. Contrary to popular belief, Automator is not a replacement for AppleScript. Automator is not a scripting environment. Rather, Automator is a powerful sequencer that allows you to sequence a series of commands, called actions, to create a custom workflow.

Still confused? No problem. Let's build a couple of workflows and you'll soon see the power of Automator.

Start by launching Automator. You'll find it just where you'd expect it, in your Applications folder. Figure 1 shows the Automator icon.


Figure 1. The Automator icon.

When you launch Automator, a new, untitled workflow window will appear (see Figure 2). The workflow window is divided into 5 main areas. The upper part of the window is called the toolbar. In the workflow window shown in Figure 2, the toolbar consists of the search field (on the left), and the dimmed Run and Stop buttons (on the right).

Below the search field is the library. The library is a list of applications that support Automator, as well as example and saved workflows. An application is said to support Automator by shipping with its own set of Automator actions. For example, in Figure 2's library, iTunes is selected, and the action list (just to the right of the library list) shows all the actions that shipped with iTunes. Each time you re-launch it, Automator steps through your list of installed applications and rebuilds its library and action lists.

    Want to build your own actions? Check out Ben Waldie's excellent Mac OS X Technology Guide to Automator. The first half covers the details of using Automator. The second half tells you everything you need to know to roll your own actions, in either AppleScript or Objective-C. $14.95 for the eBook, $29.95 for the print book. Here's the link:

    http://spiderworks.com/books/automator.php

    If you've got an existing app and are even thinking about adding Automator support now or in the future, the first thing you should do is make your app scriptable. Making your app scriptable allows/encourages others to write scripts and create actions that incorporate your application into their own workflows. Once people use your app in an essential workflow, they are much less likely to switch to a competing product. Brilliant!

In addition to the toolbar, library, and action areas, the workflow window also features a workflow area and a description area. As you'll see, the workflow is where all the work gets done. We'll build a sample workflow next. In Figure 2, the workflow area says Drag or add actions here to build your workflow. The description area contains a description of the currently selected action. In Figure 2, the description area describes the action Start iTunes Playing.


Figure 2. An untitled Automator workflow window.

Building a Workflow

Nothing will connect the synapses in your brain more than actually running Automator through its paces. Let's build a workflow. Our first workflow will prompt you to select a folder, compress the folder into a .zip archive, then create a new mail message and attach the archive to the message.

In your workflow window, click on Finder in the Library list. A list of all the currently available Finder actions will appear in the Action list. Click and drag the action named Ask for Finder Items from the Action list into the workflow area (see Figure 3).


Figure 3. Adding the Ask for Finder Items action to the workflow.

As you can see in Figure 3, the Ask for Finder Items action is represented by a subpane in the workflow area. Each action comes with its own user interface and an appropriate description in the description area (lower left area of the window). Each action is numbered. As you can see in the upper-left corner of this action, the action is number 1 in our workflow sequence.

Since we want our action to prompt for a folder, select Folders from the Type: popup menu. I selected Desktop from the Start at: popup so the Finder would start prompting me at the desktop. I changed my prompt to say Choose a Folder: and I left the Allow Multiple Selection checkbox unchecked.

To test this workflow, click on the Run button on the right side of the toolbar (top of window). A panel will appear, prompting you to choose a folder (see Figure 4). Maneuver your way to a folder you like, then click the Choose button. Note that you are only allowed to select a folder, not a file, and that multiple selections are not allowed. Just as you specified. When you click the Choose button, the workflow stops.


Figure 4. This panel appears when you first run your workflow.

Not very exciting, but it does what it was supposed to. It prompted me for a folder. Since Ask for Finder Items is our only action, once we clicked Choose or Cancel, the workflow exits. Sure would be nice to be able to get a bit of feedback, make sure things are running properly. One way to do this is to open the log window. Select Show Log from the View menu. Figure 5 shows my log window after I ran my workflow. Note that the log window is extensible (drag the little dot at the bottom of the window) and that it is wiped at the beginning of each run session.


Figure 5. Automator's log window.

The log window is useful in tracking your progress, but it doesn't really show the result. In this example, it would be nice to get some feedback that Automator got the right folder. Automator provides an action, called View Results, that gives a bit of detail on the values returned by the previous action.

Click on the Automator entry in the library list, then drag the View Results action to the bottom of your workflow. Click the Run button. When prompted, select a folder and click the Choose button. Notice that the View Results action displays (see Figure 6) an AppleScript-looking result that reflects the folder you chose. You can select this text and copy it to the clipboard, if you ever find the need.


Figure 6. Adding the View Results action.

Take a closer look at the area, about 2/3 of the way across the action (from left to right), where the two actions actually connect. Figure 7 focuses in on this area. This area shows the type of data being passed along by the top action and expected by the bottom action. Notice that they match. Both actions are dealing with the same data type. As long as the types match, the data will get passed as expected and everything will end up just peachy-keen. If you pick an action that expects a different data type than you are passing, Automator will flag this by displaying the types in red and barking furiously (well, OK, not that last part). There will be times when you don't care about type mismatches (for example, if you are just ignoring the input) but that glaring red warning sign is really nice to have.


Figure 7. The interface between two actions.

Let's finish off our workflow. In the library list, click on Finder. In the action list, drag the action Create Archive into the middle of your workflow, below Ask for Finder Items but above View Results. Note that Automator automatically renumbers your actions so Create Archive becomes number two.

Figure 8 shows my version of the Create Archive action. Notice that this action features an Options disclosure triangle, which I've opened. Not all actions have Options. Worth looking for it, though. The Show Action When Run checkbox lets you customize the action's user interface, having the action prompt you for some or all of the settings instead of using the settings you specify.


Figure 8. The Create Archive action.

If you run the action again, you'll be prompted to choose a folder and that folder's contents will be saved as a .zip archive.

Let's add one last action. In the library, select Mail. In the Mail action list, select New Mail Message. Drag it below Create Archive and above View Results. Figure 9 shows my version of this action. Notice the options available to you. Run the workflow. You'll be prompted for a folder, the folder contents will be archived, a new email message will be created with the specified settings and the archive will be attached to the message. Cool beans! Now you're getting a real sense of the power of Automator. I totally love this app. Nicely done, Apple.


Figure 9. The New Mail Message action.

Take a Bow, BBEdit

One thing you'll notice as you look through the library list, is that nestled in among all the Apple applications that feature their own actions is our old buddy BBEdit. By the time you read this, there are sure to be other apps that ship with their own actions, but BBEdit was the first third party application to ship with Automator in mind. Figure 10 shows a list of the BBEdit actions.

Note that you'll need to have BBEdit 8.2 or later installed in order for the BBEdit actions to show up in Automator. Don't have BBEdit? Download the demo from http://bbedit.com. It doesn't suck!


Figure 10. The BBEdit actions.

One Final Example

I know this column is running a bit long, but I just can't help myself. Gotta do one more example. I think this one is very cool.

Start by launching iCal. In the Calendar menu, select Subscribe..., then enter this URL:

webcal://ical.mac.com/ical/DVDs.ics

Now click the Subscribe button. Your calendar should be populated with a new, weekly item called DVD Releases. Wouldn't it be cool if you could access that info in BBEdit? Maybe use BBEdit's actions to format the list in some cool way, then send the list as an email to your DVD-swapping buddies? Well, I'm not going to do all that work for you, but I will get you started.

In Automator, close any open workflows, then create a new, untitled workflow by selecting New from the File menu.

In the library list, click on iCal. Drag the action Find iCal Items to the workflow area. From the Find: popup menu, select Events. Notice that the action name changed to Find Events in iCal. Now make the Whose: sequence of popups read Calendar, then Is, then DVD Releases.

Now drag another iCal item, Event Summary, into the workflow, below the first action. In the For: popup menu, select This Week.

Finally, click on BBEdit in the library list, then drag the action New BBEdit Document to the end of your workflow. Figure 11 shows my final workflow.


Figure 11. The BBEdit workflow.

Go ahead and run the workflow. Note that the Event Summary action can take a while to cook through all the new DVDs. Figure 12 shows the BBEdit window that appeared when I ran my workflow. Note that I have my BBEdit prefs set to soft-wrap at 80 columns.


Figure 12. The new releases in a BBEdit window.

Until Next Month...

There is just so much you can do with Automator. Your assignment, should you choose to accept it, is to clean up the DVD listings. You'll want to take a look at the BBEdit actions Concatenate, Search and Replace (use grep), Delete Lines Containing, and Sort Lines. Of course, there are any number of ways to skin this cat.

Want to learn more about Automator? I already mentioned Ben Waldie's book (http://spiderworks.com/books/automator.php). Here's a pair of web sites dedicated to Automator:

http://automator.us

http://www.automatorworld.com

These sites are both well worth the visit. Lots of great examples, downloads, and other great resources. Enjoy, and see you next month!


Dave Mark is a long-time Mac developer and author and has written a number of books on Macintosh development. Dave has been writing for MacTech since its birth! Be sure to check out the new Learn C on the Macintosh, Mac OS X Edition at http://www.spiderworks.com.

 

Community Search:
MacTech Search:

Software Updates via MacUpdate

Adobe Lightroom 6.10.1 - Import, develop...
Adobe Lightroom is available as part of Adobe Creative Cloud for as little as $9.99/month bundled with Photoshop CC as part of the photography package. Lightroom 6 is also available for purchase as a... Read more
iPhoto Library Manager 4.2.7 - Manage mu...
iPhoto Library Manager allows you to organize your photos among multiple iPhoto libraries, rather than having to store all of your photos in one giant library. You can browse the photos in all your... Read more
Smultron 9.4 - Easy-to-use, powerful tex...
Smultron 9 is an elegant and powerful text editor that is easy to use. Use it to create or edit any text document. Everything from a web page, a note or a script to any single piece of text or code.... Read more
TextSoap 8.4 - Automate tedious text doc...
TextSoap can automatically remove unwanted characters, fix up messed up carriage returns, and do pretty much anything else that we can think of to text. Save time and effort. Be more productive. Stop... Read more
Merlin Project 4.2.3 - $349.00
Merlin Project is the leading professional project management software for OS X. If you plan complex projects on your Mac, you won’t get far with a simple list of tasks. Good planning raises... Read more
QuarkXPress 13.0.0.0 - Desktop publishin...
QuarkXPress 2017 is the new version that raises the bar for design and productivity. With non-destructive graphics and image editing directly within your layout, you no longer have to choose between... Read more
Path Finder 7.5 - Powerful, award-winnin...
Path Finder makes you a master of file management. Take full control over your file system. Save your time: compare and synchronize folders, view hidden files, use Dual Pane and full keyboard... Read more
Path Finder 7.5 - Powerful, award-winnin...
Path Finder makes you a master of file management. Take full control over your file system. Save your time: compare and synchronize folders, view hidden files, use Dual Pane and full keyboard... Read more
Merlin Project 4.2.3 - $349.00
Merlin Project is the leading professional project management software for OS X. If you plan complex projects on your Mac, you won’t get far with a simple list of tasks. Good planning raises... Read more
TextSoap 8.4 - Automate tedious text doc...
TextSoap can automatically remove unwanted characters, fix up messed up carriage returns, and do pretty much anything else that we can think of to text. Save time and effort. Be more productive. Stop... Read more

Latest Forum Discussions

See All

Magikarp Jump splashes onto Android worl...
If you're tired ofPokémon GObut still want something to satisfy your mobilePokémon fix,Magikarp Jumpmay just do the trick. It's out now on Android devices the world over. While it looks like a simple arcade jumper, there's quite a bit more to it... | Read more »
Purrfectly charming open-world RPG Cat Q...
Cat Quest, an expansive open-world RPG from former Koei-Tecmo developers, got a new gameplay trailer today. The video showcases the combat and exploration features of this feline-themed RPG. Cat puns abound as you travel across a large map in a... | Read more »
Jaipur: A Card Game of Duels (Games)
Jaipur: A Card Game of Duels 1.0 Device: iOS Universal Category: Games Price: $1.99, Version: 1.0 (iTunes) Description: ** WARNING: iPad 2, iPad Mini 1 & iPhone 4S are NOT compatible. ** *** Special Launch Price for a limited... | Read more »
Subdivision Infinity (Games)
Subdivision Infinity 1.03 Device: iOS Universal Category: Games Price: $2.99, Version: 1.03 (iTunes) Description: Launch sale! 40% Off! Subdivision Infinity is an immersive and pulse pounding sci-fi 3D space shooter. https://www.... | Read more »
Clash of Clans' gets a huge new upd...
Clash of Clans just got a massive new update, and that's not hyperbole. The update easily tacks on a whole new game's worth of content to the hit base building game. In the update, that mysterious boat on the edge of the map has been repaired and... | Read more »
Thimbleweed Park officially headed to iO...
Welp, it's official. Thimbleweed Park will be getting a mobile version. After lots of wondering and speculation, the developers confirmed it today. Thimbleweed Park will be available on both iOS and Android sometime in the near future. There's no... | Read more »
Pokémon GO might be getting legendaries...
The long-awaited legendary Pokémon may soon be coming to Pokémon GO at long last. Data miners have already discovered that the legendary birds, Articuno, Moltres, and Zapdos are already in the game, it’s just a matter of time. [Read more] | Read more »
The best deals on the App Store this wee...
If you’ve got the Monday blues we have just the thing to cheer you up. The week is shaping up to be a spectacular one for sales. We’ve got a bunch of well-loved indie games at discounted prices this week along with a few that are a little more... | Read more »
Honor 8 Pro, a great choice for gamers
Honor is making strides to bring its brand to the forefront of mobile gaming with its latest phone, the Honor 8 Pro. The Pro sets itself apart from its predecessor, the Honor 8, with a host of premium updates that boost the device’s graphical and... | Read more »
The 4 best outdoor adventure apps
Now that we're well into the pleasant, warmer months, it's time to start making the most of the great outdoors. Spring and summer are ideal times for a bit of trekking or exploration. You don't have to go it alone, though. There are plenty of... | Read more »

Price Scanner via MacPrices.net

13-inch 2.0GHz MacBook Pros on sale for $100...
B&H has the non-Touch Bar 13″ 2.0GHz MacBook Pros in stock today and on sale for $100 off MSRP. Shipping is free, and B&H charges NY & NJ sales tax only: - 13″ 2.0GHz MacBook Pro Space... Read more
15-inch 2.2GHz Retina MacBook Pro, Apple refu...
Apple has Certified Refurbished 2015 15″ 2.2GHz Retina MacBook Pros available for $1699. That’s $300 off MSRP, and it’s the lowest price available for a 15″ MacBook Pro. An Apple one-year warranty is... Read more
Apple refurbished 9-inch and 12-inch iPad Pro...
Apple has Certified Refurbished 9″ and 12″ Apple iPad Pros available for up to $160 off the cost of new iPads. An Apple one-year warranty is included with each model, and shipping is free: - 32GB 9″... Read more
Apple Certified Refurbished iMacs available f...
Apple has Certified Refurbished 2015 21″ & 27″ iMacs available for up to $350 off MSRP. Apple’s one-year warranty is standard, and shipping is free. The following models are available: - 21″ 3.... Read more
Sale! 15-inch 2.6GHz Silver Touch Bar MacBook...
DataVision has the 15″ 2.6GHz Silver Touch Bar MacBook Pro (MLW72LL/A) on sale for $2199 including free shipping. Their price is $200 off MSRP, and it’s the lowest price available for this model (... Read more
A Kaby Lake Processor Upgrade For The MacBook...
Now they tell me! Well, actually Apple hasn’t said anything official on the subject, but last week Bloomberg News’s Mark Gurman and Alex Webb cited unnamed “people familiar with the matter”... Read more
Kodak’s Camera-First Smartphone EKTRA Launche...
The Eastman Kodak Company and Bullitt Group have announced the availability of a U.S. GSM version of the KODAK EKTRA Smartphone. The U.S. launch coincides with a software update addressing requests... Read more
Apple Launches App Development Curriculum for...
Apple today launched a new app development curriculum designed for students who want to pursue careers in the fast-growing app economy. The curriculum is available as a free download today from Apple... Read more
Check Apple prices on any device with the iTr...
MacPrices is proud to offer readers a free iOS app (iPhones, iPads, & iPod touch) and Android app (Google Play and Amazon App Store) called iTracx, which allows you to glance at today’s lowest... Read more
9.7-inch 2017 iPad available for $298, save $...
Sams Club has 32GB 9.7″ Apple iPads available for $298 for Sams Club members. That’s $21 off MSRP. Order online and choose free local store pickup (if available) or free shipping. Read more

Jobs Board

Data Engineer - *Apple* Media Products - Ap...
Changing the world is all in a day's work at Apple . If you love innovation, here's your chance to make a career of it. You'll work hard. But the job comes with more Read more
*Apple* Store Leader Program - Apple, Inc (U...
…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 Read more
*Apple* Integration Specialist - A3 Solution...
Apple Integration Specialist Contract-To-HireWe are searching for dedicated, well-experienced and energetic individuals for an information technology corporation Read more
Sr. Software Engineer, *Apple* Online Store...
Changing the world is all in a day's work at Apple . If you love innovation, here's your chance to make a career of it. You'll work hard. But the job comes with more Read more
Senior Engineering Project Manager, *Apple*...
Changing the world is all in a day's work at Apple . If you love innovation, here's your chance to make a career of it. You'll work hard. But the job comes with more Read more
All contents are Copyright 1984-2011 by Xplain Corporation. All rights reserved. Theme designed by Icreon.