TweetFollow Us on Twitter

A Fresh Perspective On AppleScript: An Interview with an AppleScript Newbie

Volume Number: 24 (2008)
Issue Number: 09
Column Tag: AppleScript

A Fresh Perspective On AppleScript: An Interview with an AppleScript Newbie

AppleScript insights and thoughts from a newcomer to the language

by Ryan Wilcox

Why This Article

AppleScript: the oft-maligned scripting language from Apple has been included on every Mac since System 7.1. AppleScript's key weapon might just be its English-like syntax, making AppleScripts very readable by just about anyone.

Sometimes talking to a newcomer to a technology or language reveals things we, in our familiarity, have forgotten. This article is meant to look at AppleScript, by interviewing a newcomer to the language.

About The Interviewee

Kevin Hartman majored in Studio Art with a Graphic Design concentration, where he used Macs heavily in his education. After college he got a job at a college in Rochester, NY, where he's been a Mac technology support specialist/system admin since 2007. Kevin is a switcher, having spent most of his time on Windows PCs. Along with AppleScript, Kevin dabbles in HTML/CSS, Flash/ActionScript, and a bit of Python.

The Interview

Tell us about your experiences writing your first script. How did you begin using AppleScript?

It was actually suggested by a coworker. He dabbled in it himself in the past, and when we needed a network drive [mounted automatically] he suggested we look into AppleScript to accomplish the task. So I started asking around and browsing forums and pulled together what I had found. Of course, it didn't work the first 20 times or so (maybe a little exaggeration), but I was able to tweak it and make it work for what we needed.

Tell me about that script

The script's purpose is to mount student's Active Directory home folders when they log into a lab computer. The script mounts the network volume using "whoami" to identify the specific user's folder. Worked great, except when the volume was already mounted, it couldn't get the folder to come up because the mount part would get an error "already mounted". So then I did some more browsing, figured out how to put in a conditional to detect if the volume was already mounted, then act accordingly.

We changed it slightly soon after. We thought, "what if the user closes out that folder? Then they would have to manually browse to it again." So, I wrote a second script, which I will refer to as the alias script. The alias script runs on login, again with a conditional, and creates an alias to the volume mount script on the desktop. That way, the user just double clicks the icon labeled "Open Your Network Drive" or something to that effect, and it mounts the volume and opens the folder... or just opens the folder if the volume is already mounted.

What do you think about AppleScript as a language?

Thus far, I think AS as a language/tool has been very useful and relatively easy to pick up. The English-style writing of the language makes it easily accessible for someone who, like me, has done little more than dabble in code in the past.

So how did you go about picking it up then? Do you have any resources for the total newbie?

The first script, the Active Directory home folder script, was done through forum searches and personal contacts to get it working. After that, I picked up a couple books. Beginning AppleScript by Kochan (from Wrox), and AppleScript The Definitive Guide by Neuburg (from O'Reilly). After that, I mostly used the Guide for reference, and used the dictionary viewer.

What I like about AppleScript is how easily approachable it is. For the most part, the phrasing for the code makes sense. As an example: tell application "Finder" to ... is like writing a sentence, and little or no strange characters and such... no $ # ! ; : to remember what each do.

You're right some experts write AS with lots of symbols, for complex things, but for the most part it's straightforward English.

When I look at AS examples, it makes sense... when I look at other code examples it just looks like a printer error that threw up on my screen.

Have you ever run up against something weird or confusing in AppleScript?

Yes: sometimes in AS you start using shell commands, and that can get confusing. I'm not exactly sure how it works, but I noticed that folder path was completely different, and knowing which one to use in which case...

Mac HD:Users:... vs /Users/... ?

Yeah.

Usually the former goes with alias "" and the latter goes with POSIX file "".

Anyway, beyond its English-like syntax, is there anything else you really like about AppleScript?

I really like the fact that AppleScript is integrated into the OS, making it easy to manipulate other programs with it.

True: you can talk to the Finder, then go over there and talk to another program, then...

Exactly.

Where do you think AppleScript could improve?

I think one thing that would help a lot would be examples of code within the dictionary, rather than just telling you what it does.

Another thing that would help for us beginners is some kind of list of what AppleScript uses for object names such as: drawer; text field, window, and panel, and where each one is used.

In my opinion, it's all well and good to have each of those in a dictionary or whatever, but if you don't know what you are looking for to begin with... Basically, knowing a drawer is "drawer" or a Label is "text field"... or a Custom View (in interface builder) is "view" in AppleScript... maybe what I'm looking for is a list of each class, like window, drawer, text field, view, etc.

The verbs in the dictionary viewer are grouped with the nouns... maybe an easier way to see all the nouns, no matter what "suite" they are in?

Yes. For example, there was one feature that was pretty nice in ActionScript 2.0 that gave you "hints" and auto-completion options while typing the code. If I started typing "on" it would pop up a window beneath the cursor, without interrupting, with all commands that follow "on". So it would start listing "(release)" "(releaseOutside)" etc etc. and you could either just keep typing, use the mouse to select one, or if you just hit return, it would use the top option. The list would be refined as you typed. Then, once you start typing a command, such as "goto", it would pop up anything with "goto" in it... so would pick "gotoAndStop", THEN it popped up a little yellow "note" with context for the gotoAndStop like so "gotoAndStop (frame # or name)". This feature was rather handy for the beginner, 'cause the hints and contexts were given to you on the spot

XCode has Code Sense, which works for AppleScript too, but it's not that involved. Script Editor has a Script Assistant feature which is better, which might help if you're writing just scripts... Have you tried out any of the third party AppleScript tools, like Script Debugger or Smile or Facespan?

Not really. I was using Lingon at one point, but that was mostly just a tool to make a script run on login and work with Launchd.

What are your suggestions for new users?

I would say pick up some books, check your online resources and try to find someone you can chat with for those times you get stuck.

Acknowledgements and Resources

Well thank you for your time today, Kevin. For you and other people trying to learn AppleScript, let me suggest some resources to help you out with learning AppleScript.

First, MacTech's archives include almost 3 dozen articles from Benjamin Waldie, from http://automatedworkflows.com. His articles are outstanding, and run the gamut from beginner articles to scripting specific applications. MacTech's archives have other AppleScript articles too, ranging from recent to ancient history. All of these articles can be found on-line at http://www.mactech.com/articles

Secondly, and already mentioned in the interview, there are several really good AppleScript books out there: Beginning AppleScript by Kochan (from Wrox), and AppleScript The Definitive Guide by Neuburg (from O'Reilly) are the two we mentioned, but Apple Training Series: AppleScript 1-2-3, written by two essential members of the AppleScript community, is certainly one to watch out for (coming July 27, 2008). There are also two books at http://www.spiderworks.com: Danny Goodman's AppleScript Handbook OS X Edition; and AppleScripting the Finder (by Benjamin Waldie). Spiderworks also has several other books on AppleScript and Automator.

Ryan Wilcox is a long time language dabbler, including AppleScript, which he's been using since Mac OS 8. His company, Wilcox Development Solutions (http://www.wilcoxd.com) has long used AppleScript for workflow optimization. He can be reached at rwilcox@wilcoxd.com.

 
AAPL
$102.50
Apple Inc.
+0.25
MSFT
$45.43
Microsoft Corpora
+0.55
GOOG
$571.60
Google Inc.
+2.40

MacTech Search:
Community Search:

Software Updates via MacUpdate

Skype 6.19.0.450 - Voice-over-internet p...
Skype allows you to talk to friends, family and co-workers across the Internet without the inconvenience of long distance telephone charges. Using peer-to-peer data transmission technology, Skype... Read more
VueScan 9.4.41 - Scanner software with a...
VueScan is a scanning program that works with most high-quality flatbed and film scanners to produce scans that have excellent color fidelity and color balance. VueScan is easy to use, and has... Read more
Cloud 3.0.0 - File sharing from your men...
Cloud is simple file sharing for the Mac. Drag a file from your Mac to the CloudApp icon in the menubar and we take care of the rest. A link to the file will automatically be copied to your clipboard... Read more
LibreOffice 4.3.1.2 - 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
SlingPlayer Plugin 3.3.20.505 - Browser...
SlingPlayer is the screen interface software that works hand-in-hand with the hardware inside the Slingbox to make your TV viewing experience just like that at home. It features an array of... Read more
Get Lyrical 3.8 - Auto-magically adds ly...
Get Lyrical auto-magically add lyrics to songs in iTunes. You can choose either a selection of tracks, or the current track. Or turn on "Active Tagging" to get lyrics for songs as you play them.... Read more
Viber 4.2.2 - Send messages and make cal...
Viber lets you send free messages and make free calls to other Viber users, on any device and network, in any country! Viber syncs your contacts, messages and call history with your mobile device,... Read more
Cocktail 7.6 - General maintenance and o...
Cocktail is a general purpose utility for OS X that lets you clean, repair and optimize your Mac. It is a powerful digital toolset that helps hundreds of thousands of Mac users around the world get... Read more
LaunchBar 6.1 - Powerful file/URL/email...
LaunchBar is an award-winning productivity utility that offers an amazingly intuitive and efficient way to search and access any kind of information stored on your computer or on the Web. It provides... Read more
Maya 2015 - Professional 3D modeling and...
Maya is an award-winning software and powerful, integrated 3D modeling, animation, visual effects, and rendering solution. Because Maya is based on an open architecture, all your work can be scripted... Read more

Latest Forum Discussions

See All

Rhonna Designs Magic (Photography)
Rhonna Designs Magic 1.0 Device: iOS Universal Category: Photography Price: $1.99, Version: 1.0 (iTunes) Description: Want to sprinkle *magic* on your photos? With RD Magic, you can add colors, filters, light leaks, bokeh, edges,... | Read more »
This Week at 148Apps: August 25-29, 2014
Shiny Happy App Reviews   | Read more »
Qube Kingdom – Tips, Tricks, Strategies,...
Qube Kingdom is a tower defense game from DeNA. You rally your troops – magicians, archers, knights, barbarians, and others – and fight against an evil menace looking to dominate your kingdom of tiny squares. Planning a war isn’t easy, so here are a... | Read more »
Qube Kingdom Review
Qube Kingdom Review By Nadia Oxford on August 29th, 2014 Our Rating: :: KIND OF A SQUARE KINGDOMUniversal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad Qube Kingdom has cute visuals, but it’s a pretty basic tower defense game at heart.   | Read more »
Fire in the Hole Review
Fire in the Hole Review By Rob Thomas on August 29th, 2014 Our Rating: :: WALK THE PLANKUniversal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad Seafoam’s Fire in the Hole looks like a bright, 8-bit throwback, but there’s not enough booty to... | Read more »
Alien Creeps TD is Now Available Worldwi...
Alien Creeps TD is Now Available Worldwide Posted by Ellis Spice on August 29th, 2014 [ permalink ] Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad | Read more »
Dodo Master Review
Dodo Master Review By Jordan Minor on August 29th, 2014 Our Rating: :: NEST EGGiPad Only App - Designed for the iPad Dodo Master is tough but fair, and that’s what makes it a joy to play.   | Read more »
Motorsport Manager Review
Motorsport Manager Review By Lee Hamlet on August 29th, 2014 Our Rating: :: MARVELOUS MANAGEMENTUniversal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad Despite its depth and sense of tactical freedom, Motorsport Manager is one of the most... | Read more »
Motorsport Manager – Beginner Tips, Tric...
The world of Motorsport management can be an unforgiving and merciless one, so to help with some of the stress that comes with running a successful race team, here are a few hints and tips to leave your opponents in the dust. | Read more »
CalPal Update Brings the App to 2.0, Add...
CalPal Update Brings the App to 2.0, Adds Lots of New Stuff Posted by Ellis Spice on August 29th, 2014 [ permalink ] | Read more »

Price Scanner via MacPrices.net

Apple now offering refurbished 21-inch 1.4GHz...
The Apple Store is now offering Apple Certified Refurbished 21″ 1.4GHz iMacs for $929 including free shipping plus Apple’s standard one-year warranty. Their price is $170 off the cost of new models,... Read more
Save $50 on the 2.5GHz Mac mini, on sale for...
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 $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
The Rise of Phablets
Carlisle & Gallagher Consulting Group, a businesses and technology consulting firm focused solely on the financial services industry, has released an infographic depicting the convergence of... Read more
Bad Driver Database App Allows Good Drivers t...
Bad Driver Database 1.4 by Facile Group is a new iOS and Android app that lets users instantly input and see how many times a careless, reckless or just plain stupid driver has been added to the... Read more
Eddy – Cloud Music Player for iPhone/iPad Fre...
Ukraine based CapableBits announces the release of Eddy, its tiny, but smart and powerful cloud music player for iPhone and iPad that allows users to stream or download music directly from cloud... Read more
A&D Medical Launches Its WellnessConnecte...
For consumers and the healthcare providers and loved ones who care for them, A&D Medical, a leader in connected health and biometric measurement devices and services, has launched its... Read more
Anand Lal Shimpi Retires From AnandTech
Anand Lal Shimpi, whose AnandTech Website is famous for its meticulously detailed and thoroughgoing reviews and analysis, is packing it in. Lal Shimpi, who founded the tech site at age 14 in 1997,... Read more
2.5GHz Mac mini, Apple refurbished, in stock...
The Apple Store has Apple Certified Refurbished 2.5GHz Mac minis available for $509, $90 off MSRP. Apple’s one-year warranty is included, and shipping is free. Read more
13-inch 2.5GHz MacBook Pro on sale for $999,...
B&H Photo has the 13″ 2.5GHz MacBook Pro on sale for $999.99 including free shipping plus NY sales tax only. Their price is $100 off MSRP. Read more

Jobs Board

*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...
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
Senior Event Manager, *Apple* Retail Market...
…This senior level position is responsible for leading and imagining the Apple Retail Team's global event strategy. Delivering an overarching brand story; in-store, Read more
All contents are Copyright 1984-2011 by Xplain Corporation. All rights reserved. Theme designed by Icreon.