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.

 

Community Search:
MacTech Search:

Software Updates via MacUpdate

Ember 1.8.3 - Versatile digital scrapboo...
Ember (formerly LittleSnapper) is your digital scrapbook of things that inspire you: websites, photos, apps or other things. Just drag in images that you want to keep, organize them into relevant... Read more
Apple iTunes 12.1 - Manage your music, m...
Apple iTunes lets you organize and play digital music and video on your computer. It can automatically download new music, app, and book purchases across all your devices and computers. And it's a... Read more
LibreOffice 4.4.3 - Free, open-source of...
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
FoldersSynchronizer 4.2.1 - Synchronize...
FoldersSynchronizer is a popular and useful utility that synchronizes and backs-up files, folders, disks and boot disks. On each session you can apply special options like Timers, Multiple Folders,... Read more
Simon 4.0.2 - Monitor changes and crashe...
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
Cocktail 8.1.2 - General maintenance and...
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
Cyberduck 4.6.4 - FTP and SFTP browser....
Cyberduck is a robust FTP/FTP-TLS/SFTP browser for the Mac whose lack of visual clutter and cleverly intuitive features make it easy to use. Support for external editors and system technologies such... Read more
Herald 5.0.2 - Notification plugin for M...
Note: Versions 2.1.3 (for OS X 10.7), 3.0.6 (for OS X 10.8), and 4.0.8 (for OS X 10.9) are no longer supported by the developer. Herald is a notification plugin for Mail.app, Apple's Mac OS X email... Read more
DEVONthink Pro 2.8.3 - Knowledge base, i...
Save 10% with our exclusive coupon code: MACUPDATE10 DEVONthink Pro is your essential assistant for today's world, where almost everything is digital. From shopping receipts to important research... Read more
Boom 2 1.0.1 - System-wide pro audio app...
Boom 2 is a system-wide volume booster and equalizer app that is designed especially for OS X 10.10 Yosemite. It comes with a smart interface, self-calibrates itself according to your Mac, offers... Read more

Playworld Superheroes Review
Playworld Superheroes Review By Tre Lawrence on January 30th, 2015 Our Rating: :: HERO CRAFTINGUniversal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad It’s all about the imagination, fighting bad creatures — and looking good while doing so.   | Read more »
Join the SpongeBob Bubble Party in this...
Join the SpongeBob Bubble Party in this New Match 3 Bubble Poppin’ Frenzy Posted by Jessica Fisher on January 30th, 2015 [ permalink ] | Read more »
Handpick Review
Handpick Review By Jennifer Allen on January 30th, 2015 Our Rating: :: TANTALIZING SUGGESTIONSiPhone App - Designed for the iPhone, compatible with the iPad Handpick will make you hungry, as well as inspire you to cook something... | Read more »
Storm the Halls of Echo Base in First St...
Storm the Halls of Echo Base in First Star Wars: Galactic Defense Event Posted by Jessica Fisher on January 30th, 2015 [ permalink ] Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad | Read more »
Contradiction Review
Contradiction Review By Tre Lawrence on January 30th, 2015 Our Rating: :: SPOT THE LIEiPad Only App - Designed for the iPad Contradiction is a live action point and click adventure that’s pretty engaging.   Developer: Tim Follin... | Read more »
Unlock Sunshine Girl in Ironkill with th...
Unlock Sunshine Girl in Ironkill with this special 148Apps code Posted by Rob Rich on January 29th, 2015 [ permalink ] Robo-fighter Ironkill has been out on iOS a | Read more »
Crossroad Zombies Review
Crossroad Zombies Review By Jordan Minor on January 29th, 2015 Our Rating: :: CROSSWALKING DEADiPad Only App - Designed for the iPad Crossroad Zombies is a rough draft of a cool genre mash-up.   | Read more »
Blood Brothers 2 – Tips, Cheats, and Str...
War is hell: Is it the kind of hell you want to check out? Read our Blood Brothers 2 review to find out! Blood Brothers 2, DeNA’s follow-up to the original Blood Brothers, is an intriguing card collecting / role-playing / strategy hybrid. There’s... | Read more »
Blood Brothers 2 Review
Blood Brothers 2 Review By Nadia Oxford on January 29th, 2015 Our Rating: :: AN AGGRAVATING RELATIVEUniversal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad Blood Brothers 2 is built on a simple, solid foundation, but its free-to-play system... | Read more »
I AM BREAD, the Toast of the Town, is Ro...
Have you ever dreamt of being deliciously gluten-y? Do you feel passionate about Rye and Wheat? The guys at Bossa Studios do and that is why they are bringing I AM BREAD to iOS soon. The loafy app will feature all the new content that is being... | Read more »

Price Scanner via MacPrices.net

Intel Aims to Transform Workplace With 5th-Ge...
Intel Corporation today announced the availability of its 5th generation Intel Core vPro processor family that provides cutting-edge features to enable a new and rapidly shifting workplace. To meet... Read more
iOS App Sharalike Introduces New Instant Smar...
Sharalike slideshow and photo management software for iOS, is making it easier than ever to create shareable meaningful moments with its new instant SmartShow technology. Staying organized is a goal... Read more
Apple Becomes World’s Largest Smartphone Vend...
According to the latest research data from Strategy Analytics, as global smartphone shipments grew 31 percent annually to reach a record 380 million units in the fourth quarter of 2014. Apple became... Read more
Cut the Cord: OtterBox Resurgence Power Case...
Dead batteries and broken phones are two of the biggest issues for smartphone users today. Otterbox addresses both with the new Resurgence Power Case for Apple iPhone 6, promising to make those panic... Read more
13-inch Retina MacBook Pros on sale for up to...
B&H Photo has 13″ Retina MacBook Pros on sale for $200 off MSRP. Shipping is free, and B&H charges NY sales tax only: - 13″ 2.6GHz/128GB Retina MacBook Pro: $1199.99 save $100 - 13″ 2.6GHz/... Read more
15-inch 2.5GHz Retina MacBook Pro on sale for...
 B&H Photo has the 15″ 2.5GHz Retina MacBook Pro on sale for $2319.99 including free shipping plus NY sales tax only. Their price is $180 off MSRP, and it’s the lowest price available for this... Read more
Back in stock: Refurbished iPod nanos for $99...
The Apple Store has Apple Certified Refurbished 16GB iPod nanos available for $99 including free shipping and Apple’s standard one-year warranty. That’s $50 off the cost of new nanos. Most colors are... Read more
Apple lowers price on refurbished 256GB MacBo...
The Apple Store has lowered prices on Apple Certified Refurbished 2014 MacBook Airs with 256GB SSDs, now available for up to $200 off the cost of new models. An Apple one-year warranty is included... Read more
New Good Management Suite Simplifies Enterpri...
Good Technology has announced the availability of the Good Management Suite, a comprehensive cross-platform solution for organizations getting started with mobile business initiatives. Built on the... Read more
15-inch 2.0GHz Retina MacBook Pro (refurbishe...
The Apple Store has Apple Certified Refurbished previous-generation 15″ 2.0GHz Retina MacBook Pros available for $1489 including free shipping plus Apple’s standard one-year warranty. Their price is... Read more

Jobs Board

At-Home Chat Specialist- *Apple* Online Stor...
**Job Summary** At Apple , we believe in hard work, a fun environment, and the kind of creativity and innovation that only comes about when talented people from diverse Read more
SW QA Engineer - *Apple* TV - Apple (United...
**Job Summary** The Apple TV team is looking for experienced Quality Assurance Engineers with a passion for delivering first in class home entertainment solutions. **Key Read more
*Apple* Retail - Multiple Positions(US) - Ap...
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* Systems Engineer - Pre Sales, Educat...
…is responsible for proactively providing technical expertise to drive sales of Apple solutions into assigned accounts. The SE architects, validates, and assists in Read more
*Apple* Solutions Consultant - Retail Sales...
As an ambassador of the Apple brand, the ASC is accountable for driving sales performance by: Connecting with customers. Discovering customers' needs and values. Showing Read more
All contents are Copyright 1984-2011 by Xplain Corporation. All rights reserved. Theme designed by Icreon.