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Creating Custom Delphi Components, Part II
Page 5: Sub-properties
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• Page 1: Component references
• Page 2: Sets
• Page 3: Binary properties
• Page 4: Collections

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Earlier on in this article we saw how it was possible to create an expandable property. The limitation of the earlier technique was that each sub-item appeared as a Boolean property. This next section will demonstrate how to create expandable properties that can contain any property type.

If a component requires a property that is a record type, this could quite easily be implemented by exposing each of the properties separately. If however our component needs to introduce two or more properties of the same complex type our Object Inspector view suddenly becomes very complicated.

The answer is to create a complex structure (alike to a record or object) and to publish this structure as a property whenever needed. The obvious problem is that Delphi does not know how to display this property unless we tell it. Creating a fully blown property editor (with dialogs etc) would be overkill, so luckily Delphi has provided a solution. As mentioned earlier, Delphi's internal streaming is based around the TPersistent class. The first step therefore is to derive our complex structure from this class.

  TExpandingRecord = class(TPersistent)
    FIntegerProp : Integer;
    FStringProp : String;
    FCollectionProp : TOurCollection;
    procedure SetCollectionProp(const Value: 
    constructor Create(AOwner : TComponent);
    destructor Destroy; override;

    procedure Assign(Source : TPersistent); override;
    property IntegerProp : Integer
      read FIntegerProp
      write FIntegerProp;
    property StringProp : String
      read FStringProp
      write FStringProp;
    property CollectionProp : TOurCollection
      read FCollectionProp
      write SetCollectionProp;

In the above structure we have created a descendent of TPersistent and given it three example properties, an integer, a string, and the collection that we created earlier in this article TOurCollection.

The constructor and destructor simply take care of creating and destroying the CollectionProp object, and the SetCollectionProp is implanted to stop this object reference from being lost (we Assign(value), rather than FCollectionProp := value). Whereas Assign is implemented in order to allow us to assign the properties of TExpandableRecord to another TExpandableRecord (again, this is necessary because we will need to Assign it when it is finally implemented as a property of a component).

procedure TExpandingRecord.Assign(Source: TPersistent);
  if Source is TExpandingRecord then
    with TExpandingRecord(Source) do begin
      Self.IntegerProp := IntegerProp;
      Self.StringProp := StringProp;

      //This actually assigns
      Self.CollectionProp := CollectionProp;    
    end else
      inherited; //raises an exception

constructor TExpandingRecord.Create(AOwner : TComponent);
  inherited Create;
  FCollectionProp := TOurCollection.Create(AOwner);

destructor TExpandingRecord.Destroy;

procedure TExpandingRecord.SetCollectionProp(const Value: TOurCollection);

Once this code has been implemented all of the hard work is done. To implement this class as an object is now quite straight forward.

(See ExpandingComponent.pas)

TExpandingComponent = class(TComponent)
    FProperty3 : TExpandingRecord;
    procedure SetProperty1(const Value :      
    procedure SetProperty2(const Value : 
    procedure SetProperty3(const Value : 
    constructor Create(AOwner : TComponent); override;
    destructor Destroy; override;
    property Property1 : TExpandingRecord
      read FProperty1
      write SetProperty1;
    property Property2 : TExpandingRecord
      read FProperty2
      write SetProperty2;
    property Property3 : TExpandingRecord
      read FProperty3
      write SetProperty3;

The constructor will need to create the three objects used as properties, the destructor will obviously need to destroy them. The SetPropertyX procedures will Assign(Value) to the correct object.

Compile this component into a package and drop a TExpandingComponent onto your form. Looking in the object inspector you will notice that our TExpandingRecord propertys all have a [+] next to them, clicking this button will expand our property to reveal all of its sub-properties.

Expanding component

At first glance all looks well, our properties are shown with an expandable sub-set of properties, but everything is not as perfect as it may first seem. Clicking on the […] button of our "CollectionProp" does not invoke the standard TCollection editor, in fact, it does nothing.

You may ask yourself "What have we done wrong ?", the answer is "Nothing !". The error here is not on our part at all, the fault lies with the developers of Delphi, Borland. Although I like to think of the developers of Delphi as infallible, they are not, and they do sometimes make mistakes, and this is a perfect example of one.

When you register a property editor you can limit the component scope that it applies to. You can specify that it should only work on certain property names, or only on certain components, and this is what they have done. Although Delphi's architecture defines that the lowest object-form capable of streaming is TPersistent, someone at Borland registered the property editor to work only on objects that descend from TComponent. An oversight I am sure, but that doesn't really help us at all.

The answer to this problem is to descend our TExpandableRecord from TComponent instead of TPersistent, then the property editor will be invoked. The problem is that Delphi's default property editor for properties of type TComponent (and descendents) shows a combobox rather than showing an expandable view of sub-properties.

The whole solution to this dilemma lies in property editors, and will be covered in the final part of this series.

First page > Component references > Page 1, 2, 3, 4, 5

Creating Custom Delphi Components >>
>> Part III.

All graphics (if any) in this feature created by Peter Morris.

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