AS3 Synchronous URL (XML) Loading

Yes, you read that right, synchronous. After years and years of Flash programming, I finally came across a situation where I needed a synchronous solution over the normal asynchronous alternative. Here’s the quick rundown…

I am building a holiday card creator where little kids can place stamps and words and things to build cards for their friends and family. Once they’re done, they can share the cards via e-mail or Facebook. To send the data, I’m using a multi-part form post via a library written by a real awesome Flash dude. Lets call the service I’m using to send the data, “Service #1”. So far, so good.

Next, the client wanted us to add a profanity filter into the form so keep naughty little kids from spreading their potty-mouths across the interwebz. This filter will be called, “Service #2”.

Here’s where the problem came in. Now, when the users click “send”, I have to submit data to Service #2 first, wait for the asynchronous response, then, if it is valid, submit the data to Service #1. It’s not nuclear physics or anything. And I’d know, cause I learned that stuff back in the day. Unfortunately, this is where Adobe stepped in and ruined my party.

SecurityError: Error #2176: Certain actions, such as those that display a pop-up window, may only be invoked upon user interaction, for example by a mouse click or button press.

Now that I am calling Service #1 in the event handler of Service #2, it is disconnected from the original mouse click action. The result is this really nasty Flash security error. Boo!

I was left with a nasty problem and only a few possible solutions.

  1. Get Service #1 and #2 to execute inside the mouse event handler
  2. Fake a mouse event for Service #1
  3. Combine the services (this one was totally valid and probably the way to go, but I didn’t do it for reasons explained below)
  4. Change the internal operation of the Multi-Part URLLoader class to send a property other than “filetype” and thus bypass Flash Security
  5. Cry

I ended up choosing option #1 since the only challenge was getting Service #2 to execute synchronously. It should be the easiest thing in the world!

Surprise, surprise, getting AS3 to hit a service synchronously is stupidly annoying. My options quickly degraded to choosing between writing my own socket connection and handling everything manually, or figuring out a way to do it in JavaScript, and do it with ExternalInterface. My JavaScript chops, while not great, are better than my experience with socket connections. Thus the following utility class was born:


Lets take a closer look at what I’m doing here. First, I’m utilizing ExternalInterface to call a JavaScript function that I have hard-coded into my class as a constant. I know that ExternalInterface performs its calls synchronously, so that’s perfect for my needs right away. Second, I learned that the JavaScript object XMLHttpRequest can perform its load operations synchronously or asynchronously depending on a boolean. (One could argue that building Flash’s URLLoader the same way would have made a little more sense than forcing developers to have only one option. Developers without options = angry developers.)

Now XMLHttpRequest is a newer class and some IE versions don’t have it, so I needed to use their weird ActiveXObject versions. You’ll notice that weird little block of try..catches doing the heavy lifting. That’s pulled almost directly from the wiki page for the class. Finally, I need to perform my request. I pass in the URL and the parameters as, well, parameters, then format everything and make my call.

There’s a few things to note. First, without the request headers, the service doesn’t understand what type of data it’s getting, so those are a must. That took some time to figure out. Second, the “params” should be a string of url-encoded name/value pairs, separated by ampersands. At the end, we return back the string of the server response to our flash method. We’ll let Flash try to parse that string into a native XML element. If it works, everyone is happy and you have your results, synchronously. Hooray!!!

Now the caveat: XMLHttpRequest can’t operate across domains. There might be some sneaky ways around that, but it’s out of scope for this solution. If you know a good way, let me know in the comments!

Also, you’ll notice I’m using my Availability class in here. For those that are unfamiliar, all it does is test to see if we are in an environment where ExternalInterface is available. You can make that work your own way, or grab the class from my server… whatever floats your boat.

Finally, and I really mean it this time, I promised I’d explain why I used this solution instead of just combining the services and making one call. To put it simply, AS3 forums pissed me off. I searched around for 15 minutes looking to see if someone had already solved my problem for me (like you are likely doing right now), only to find a frustrating number of post replies saying things like, “Why are you trying to do it synchronously?! That’s NEVER a good solution. Whine-whine-whine…” Sometimes I just wish people would answer the questions asked instead of going off on nerd-rants. Oh well!

Enjoy, comment, share, modify, whatever. Have a blast.

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