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

Four apps to help improve your Super Bow...
Super Bowl Sunday is upon us, and whether you’re a Panthers or a Broncos fan you’re no doubt gearing up for it. [Read more] | Read more »
LooperSonic (Music)
LooperSonic 1.0 Device: iOS Universal Category: Music Price: $4.99, Version: 1.0 (iTunes) Description: LooperSonic is a multi-track audio looper and recorder that will take your loops to the next level. Use it like a loop pedal to... | Read more »
Space Grunts guide - How to survive
Space Grunts is a fast-paced roguelike from popular iOS developer, Orange Pixel. While it taps into many of the typical roguelike sensibilities, you might still find yourself caught out by a few things. We delved further to find you some helpful... | Read more »
Dreii guide - How to play well with othe...
Dreii is a rather stylish and wonderful puzzle game that’s reminiscent of cooperative games like Journey. If that sounds immensely appealing, then you should immediately get cracking and give it a whirl. We can offer you some tips and tricks on... | Read more »
Kill the Plumber World guide - How to ou...
You already know how to hop around like Mario, but do you know how to defeat him? Those are your marching orders in Kill the Plumber, and it's not always as easy as it looks. Here are some tips to get you started. This is not a seasoned platform... | Read more »
Planar Conquest (Games)
Planar Conquest 1.0 Device: iOS Universal Category: Games Price: $12.99, Version: 1.0 (iTunes) Description: IMPORTANT: Planar Conquest is compatible only with iPad 3 & newer devices, iPhone 5 & newer. It’s NOT compatible with... | Read more »
We talk to Cheetah Mobile about its plan...
Piano Tiles 2 is a fast-paced rhythm action high score chaser out now on iOS and Android. You have to tap a series of black tiles that appear on the screen in time to the music, being careful not to accidentally hit anywhere else. Do that and it's... | Read more »
Ultimate Briefcase guide - How to dodge...
Ultimate Briefcase is a simple but tricky game that’s highly dependent on how fast you can react. We can still offer you a few tips and tricks on how to survive though. Guess what? That’s exactly what we’re going to do now. Take it easy [Read more... | Read more »
SoundPrism Link Edition (Music)
SoundPrism Link Edition 1.0 Device: iOS Universal Category: Music Price: $4.99, Version: 1.0 (iTunes) Description: ***Introductory price for a the first few days after launch - if you're reading this, get it while it's fresh out of... | Read more »
Pre-register now for hack and slasher An...
Fincon, which won Facebook's Studio to Watch award in 2015, has announced that pre-registration is now open for the massive 3.0 update for its award-winning hack and slasher Angel Stone. Angel Stone is a post-apocalyptic action RPG in which the... | Read more »

Price Scanner via MacPrices.net

Apple refurbished 2014 13-inch Retina MacBook...
Apple has Certified Refurbished 2014 13″ Retina MacBook Pros available for up to $400 off original MSRP, starting at $979. An Apple one-year warranty is included with each model, and shipping is free... Read more
Macs available for up to $300 off MSRP, $20 o...
Purchase a new Mac or iPad using Apple’s Education Store and take up to $300 off MSRP. All teachers, students, and staff of any educational institution qualify for the discount. Shipping is free, and... Read more
Watch Super Bowl 50 Live On Your iPad For Fre...
Watch Super Bowl 50 LIVE on the CBS Sports app for iPad and Apple TV. Get the app and then tune in Sunday, February 7, 2016 at 6:30 PM ET to catch every moment of the big game. The CBS Sports app is... Read more
Two-thirds Of All Smart Watches Shipped In 20...
Apple dominated the smart watch market in 2015, accounting for over 12 million units and two-thirds of all shipments according to Canalys market research analysts’ estimates. Samsung returned to... Read more
12-inch 1.2GHz Retina MacBooks on sale for up...
B&H Photo has 12″ 1.2GHz Retina MacBooks on sale for $180 off MSRP. Shipping is free, and B&H charges NY tax only: - 12″ 1.2GHz Gray Retina MacBook: $1499 $100 off MSRP - 12″ 1.2GHz Silver... Read more
12-inch 1.1GHz Gray Retina MacBook on sale fo...
B&H Photo has the 12″ 1.1GHz Gray Retina MacBook on sale for $1199 including free shipping plus NY sales tax only. Their price is $100 off MSRP, and it’s the lowest price available for this model... Read more
Apple now offering full line of Certified Ref...
Apple now has a full line of 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... Read more
Free GUI Speedometer – The Ultimate Digital D...
Miami, Florida based RMKapps has announced the official release of GUI Speedometer 1.0, their digital dashboard display developed for iOS devices. GUI Speedometer allows users to track their precise... Read more
FutureCalc: Ergonomic iOS Calculator App For...
London, United Kingdom based Independent software developer and entrepreneur, Hovik Melikyan has announced the release and immediate availability of FutureCalc 1.0, his new ergonomic calculator app... Read more
Save up to $600 with Apple refurbished Mac Pr...
Apple has Certified Refurbished Mac Pros available for up to $600 off the cost of new models. An Apple one-year warranty is included with each Mac Pro, and shipping is free. The following... Read more

Jobs Board

*Apple* Subject Matter Expert - Experis (Uni...
This position is for an Apple Subject Matter Expert to assist in developing the architecture, support and services for integration of Apple devices into the domain. Read more
*Apple* Macintosh OSX - Net2Source Inc. (Uni...
…: * Work Authorization : * Contact Number(Best time to reach you) : Skills : Apple Macintosh OSX Location : New York, New York. Duartion : 6+ Months The associate would Read more
Computer Operations Technician ll - *Apple*...
# Web Announcement** Apple Technical Liaison**The George Mason University, Information Technology Services (ITS), Technology Support Services, Desktop Support Read more
Restaurant Manager - Apple Gilroy Inc./Apple...
…in every aspect of daily operation. WHY YOU'LL LIKE IT: You'll be the Big Apple . You'll solve problems. You'll get to show your ability to handle the stress and Read more
Simply Mac *Apple* Specialist- Service Repa...
Simply Mac is the largest premier retailer of Apple products in the nation. In order to support our growing customer base, we are currently looking for a driven Read more
All contents are Copyright 1984-2011 by Xplain Corporation. All rights reserved. Theme designed by Icreon.