A really common problem that shows up in a lot of the Flash apps I build is the need to load external files and use them in multiple places. For Bitmaps, that’s not such a big deal. Copying the bitmap data and generating a new bitmap is a one line task. Things get more complex when you try to do the same thing with SWFs, though.
You can’t clone a SWF because you can’t clone a MovieClip in AS3. The problem is actually due to the Shape class. Unlike most of the other core display classes, Shape does not have a clone method. With a bit of recursion, you can duplicate most complex objects, but without Shape things hit a brick wall.
Depending on the type of SWF I’m loading, I’ve found a few silly ways around the problem. If the SWF is just a still image, you can do a bitmap clone in much the same way as you’d handle a normal Bitmap. You lose the ability to scale the vector information smoothly, but sometimes that’s okay. If you have more control of the source SWFs, you can build your assets into Library symbols with some linkage information, then instantiate as you need them. This has been my preferred method in the past as it allows you to perform only one external load, and you can control each instance as a fully vector, fully functional MovieClip object. Sometimes, though, you just don’t have the access and control needed to pull off that method. That’s where this other solution comes in.
Enter DuplicateLoader, another handy utility class from yours truly. This class loads your external SWF as a ByteArray, keeps a reference to it, and then as you need an instance, it processes that ByteArray through a Loader and voila, presto-chango, MovieClip! Simple right? Lets take a look.
There are two main segments to the class. The first is the load() method that grabs your external content and loads it up into the ByteArray using a URLLoader. It’s pretty self-explanatory. Following that process, we need to convert the ByteArray into a usable Flash DisplayObject. This type of decode operation is best left to the folks at Adobe. They’ve written some wonderful magic into the Loader class that lets us pass in just about anything to a loadBytes() method and get back a useful object.
Calling the convert() method tells the class that you’d like a new instance of your SWF to be made available. You might be asking, “Why can’t I just use a getter and grab an instance right away?” If you were asking that, kudos. I was asking the same thing myself. The short answer is, Adobe sucks. The long answer is, the Loader class loadBytes() method is asynchronous only. Stupid, right? Right.
If that’s something that annoys you as much as it annoys me, please feel free to vote for change on the Flash Bug Tracker. Maybe we’ll start getting methods with the option to perform the operation synchronously or asynchronously. A simple change like that would allow me to stop making wordy blog posts like this.
Back to the class at hand. We were talking about the convert() method and how it will tell the class to make a new instance available. You can call this guy over and over and over to your heart’s content. Each time you do so, it preps a new instance and stores it. Once the instance is ready, DuplicateLoader fires off a CHANGE event to let you know things have been converted. Finally, you can hit the getInstance() method and get back the handy instance you’ve always wanted.
Now, a few internal notes. DuplicateLoader loads all SWFs into their own LoaderContext to avoid collisions and avoid a nasty security hole left by loadBytes. Also, as soon as you getInstance(), the class gets rid of its reference to that instance. The idea behind this was, when you are done with the SWF, you should be able to just delete it yourself. If I were maintaining a reference in my class as well, poor ol’ garbage collector would never know it was okay to delete it. Also, if there’s an error anywhere in the class, I grab the messages and dispatch them to a nice generic ErrorEvent to simplify event handling. Too many listeners make my head hurt.
If you’d like to see the class in action, here is a sample project that shows it in action. As always, the class is free to use, rip apart, call names, drunk-dial, or whatever floats your boat. I’m always happy to hear your comments and see projects where you’ve found my code useful. Enjoy!
Special thanks to Kristine McDermott for pointing my head in the right direction on this one. She’s such a smarty.
Update: Please make sure to get the latest version of this code from my github repository.