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Grouping and collapsing in WireIt

I have recently been modifying the WireIt code to allow collapsing of multiple containers down into 1 composite container.
A quick summary of WireIt (from their site)

WireIt is an open-source javascript library to create web wirable interfaces for dataflow applications, visual programming languages, graphical modeling, or graph editors.

I got started on this when I was following on from Jonathan Lister’s work on using WireIt to create a non-technical user interface for Rabbit Streams. It was soon apparent that if you wanted to use this in practice you would end up with huge graphs with many containers and many wires going all over the place. Once above about 10 containers or so with a couple of wires per container it gets hard to see what is happening. To solve this problem some kind of abstraction is needed, in this case collapsing multiple containers down into 1 composite container.

After only a few containers things get hairyShrink down the 3 groups of containers for a cleaner graph

A collapsed group of containers essentially boils down to a single container representing a sub graph. So I started by looking at the JSON object produced when you save a complete WireIt graph and also how that JSON is then expanded into the complete graph on loading. Once identified it was relatively easy to implement those function for only a sub set of the whole graph.

The next challenge was maintaining the wires across a collapse/expand. The first step was to show the terminals from grouped containers on the composite container. Naming conflicts had to be handled (in the case of two duplicate internal terminals from different containers) which led to the creation of a map from external Terminals to internal Containers and their terminals. With this map I could iterate over the wires attached to terminals in the group and create copies of those wires going to the external terminals. Then on expansion an wires connected to the composite container were again mapped back to their counter parts. The same was done for fields.

In combination with the ability to manually select which fields and terminals are visible and manually set their names you can easily represent encapsulation.

I have made a fork of the WireIt GitHub repository which can be found here. I also have a small readme and example of the editor here.

James Uther

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