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
$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

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
ExpanDrive 4.2.1 - Access cloud storage...
ExpanDrive builds cloud storage in every application, acts just like a USB drive plugged into your Mac. With ExpanDrive, you can securely access any remote file server directly from the Finder or... Read more

Latest Forum Discussions

See All

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 »
Far Cry 4, Assassin’s Creed Unity, Desti...
Far Cry 4, Assassin’s Creed Unity, Destiny, and Beyond – AppSpy Takes a Look at AAA Companion Apps Posted by Rob Rich on December 19th, 2014 [ permalink ] These day | Read more »
A Bunch of Halfbrick Games Are Going Fre...
A Bunch of Halfbrick Games Are Going Free for the Holidays Posted by Ellis Spice on December 19th, 2014 [ permalink ] Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad | Read more »

Price Scanner via MacPrices.net

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
Holiday sales this weekend: MacBook Pros for...
 B&H Photo has new MacBook Pros on sale for up to $300 off MSRP as part of their Holiday pricing. Shipping is free, and B&H charges NY sales tax only: - 15″ 2.2GHz Retina MacBook Pro: $1699... Read more
Holiday sales this weekend: MacBook Airs for...
B&H Photo has 2014 MacBook Airs on sale for up to $120 off MSRP, for a limited time, for the Thanksgiving/Christmas Holiday shopping season. Shipping is free, and B&H charges NY sales tax... Read more
Holiday sales this weekend: iMacs for up to $...
B&H Photo has 21″ and 27″ iMacs on sale for up to $200 off MSRP including free shipping plus NY sales tax only. B&H will also include a free copy of Parallels Desktop software: - 21″ 1.4GHz... Read more
Holiday sales this weekend: Mac minis availab...
B&H Photo has new 2014 Mac minis on sale for up to $80 off MSRP. Shipping is free, and B&H charges NY sales tax only: - 1.4GHz Mac mini: $459 $40 off MSRP - 2.6GHz Mac mini: $629 $70 off MSRP... Read more
Holiday sales this weekend: Mac Pros for up t...
B&H Photo has Mac Pros on sale for up to $500 off MSRP. Shipping is free, and B&H charges sales tax in NY only: - 3.7GHz 4-core Mac Pro: $2599, $400 off MSRP - 3.5GHz 6-core Mac Pro: $3499, $... Read more
Save up to $400 on MacBooks with Apple Certif...
The Apple Store has Apple Certified Refurbished 2014 MacBook Pros and MacBook Airs available for up to $400 off the cost of new models. An Apple one-year warranty is included with each model, and... Read more
Save up to $300 on Macs, $30 on iPads with Ap...
Purchase a new Mac or iPad at The Apple Store for Education and take up to $300 off MSRP. All teachers, students, and staff of any educational institution qualify for the discount. Shipping is free,... Read more
iOS and Android OS Targeted by Man-in-the-Mid...
Cloud services security provider Akamai Technologies, Inc. has released, through the company’s Prolexic Security Engineering & Research Team (PLXsert), a new cybersecurity threat advisory. The... 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.