Traditional application programmers found it challenging to adapt to the animation metaphor upon which the Flash Platform was originally designed. Flex seeks to minimize this problem by providing a workflow and programming model that is familiar to these developers. MXML, an XML-based markup language, offers a way to build and lay out graphic user interfaces. Interactivity is achieved through the use of ActionScript, the core language of Flash Player that is based on the ECMAScript standard.

The Flex SDK comes with a set of user interface components including buttons, list boxes, trees, data grids, several text controls, and various layout containers. Charts and graphs are available as an add-on. Other features like web services, drag and drop, modal dialogs, animation effects, application states, form validation, and other interactions round out the application framework.

In a multi-tiered model, Flex applications serve as the presentation tier. Unlike page-based HTML applications, Flex applications provide a stateful client where significant changes to the view don’t require loading a new page. Similarly, Flex and Flash Player provide many useful ways to send and load data to and from server-side components without requiring the client to reload the view. Though this functionality offered advantages over HTML and JavaScript development in the past, the increased support for XMLHttpRequest in major browsers has made asynchronous data loading a common practice in HTML-based development too.

Technologies that are commonly compared to Flex include OpenLaszlo, Ajax, XUL, JavaFX and Windows Presentation Foundation technologies such as Silverlight.

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