1. Meet Qt 5

Section author: jryannel

Note

The source code of this chapter can be found in the assets folder.

This book shall provide you a walk through the different aspect of application development using Qt version 5.x. It focuses on the new Qt Quick technology but also provides necessary information of writing C++ back-ends and extension for Qt Quick.

This chapter provides a high level overview of Qt 5. It shows the different application models available for developers and a Qt 5 showcase application to get a sneak preview of things to come. Additionally the chapter aims to provide a wide overview of the Qt 5 content and how to get in touch with the makers of Qt 5.

1.1. Preface

History

Qt 4 has evolved since 2005 and provided a solid ground for thousands of applications and even full desktop and mobile systems. The usage patterns of computer users changed in the recent years. From stationary PCs towards portable notebook and nowadays mobile computers. The classical desktop is more and more replaced with mobile touch-based always connected screens. With it the desktop UX paradigms also changes. Where as in the past Windows UI has dominated the world we spend more time nowadays on other screens with another UI language.

Qt 4 was designed to satisfy the desktop world to have a coherent set of UI widgets available on all major platforms. The challenge for Qt users has changed today and it lies more to provide a touch-based user interface for a customer driven user interface and to enable modern user interface on all major desktop and mobile systems. Qt 4.7 started to introduce the Qt Quick technology which allows users to create a set of user interface components from simple elements to achieve a complete new UI, driven by customer demands.

1.1.1. Qt 5 Focus

Qt 5 is a complete refreshing of the very successful Qt 4 release. With Qt 4.8, the Qt 4 release is almost 7 years old. It’s time to make an amazing toolkit even more amazing. Qt 5 is focused on the following:

  • Outstanding Graphics: Qt Quick 2 is based on OpenGL (ES) using a scene graph implementation. The recomposed graphics stack allows a new level of graphic effects combined with an ease of use never seen before in this field.
  • Developer Productivity: QML and JavaScript are the primary means for UI creation. The back-end will be driven by C++. The split between JavaScript and C++ allows a fast iteration for front-end developers concentrating on creating beautiful user interfaces and back-end C++ developers concentrating on stability, performance and extending the runtime.
  • Cross-platform portability: With the consolidated Qt Platform Abstraction, it is now possible to port Qt to a wider range of platforms easier and faster. Qt 5 is structured around the concept of Qt Essentials and Add-ons, which allows OS developer to focus on the essentials modules and leads to a smaller runtime altogether.
  • Open Development: Qt is now a truly open-governance project hosted at qt.io. The development is open and community driven.

1.2. Qt 5 Introduction

1.2.1. Qt Quick

Qt Quick is the umbrella term for the user interface technology used in Qt 5. Qt Quick itself is a collection of several technologies:

  • QML - Markup language for user interfaces
  • JavaScript - The dynamic scripting language
  • Qt C++ - The highly portable enhanced c++ library
../../_images/qt5_overview.png

Similar to HTML, QML is a markup language. It is composed of tags called elements in Qt Quick enclosed in curly brackets Item {}. It was designed from the ground up for the creation of user interfaces, speed and easier reading for developers. The user interface can be enhanced using JavaScript code. Qt Quick is easily extendable with your own native functionality using Qt C++. In short the declarative UI is called the front-end and the native parts are called the back-end. This allows you to separate the computing intensive and native operation of your application from the user interface part.

In a typical project the front-end is developed in QML/JavaScript and the back-end code, which interfaces with the system and does the heavy lifting, is developed using Qt C++. This allows a natural split between the more design oriented developers and the functional developers. Typically the back-end is tested using Qt Test, the Qt unit testing framework, and exported for the front-end developers to be used.

1.2.2. Digesting a User Interface

Let’s create a simple user interface using Qt Quick, which showcases some aspects of the QML language. At the end we will have a paper windmill with rotating blades.

../../_images/scene.png

We start with an empty document called main.qml. All our QML files will have the suffix .qml. As a markup language (like HTML) a QML document needs to have one and only one root element, which in our case is the Image element with a width and height based on the background image geometry:

import QtQuick 2.5

Image {
    id: root
    source: "images/background.png"
}

As QML doesn’t restrict the choice of element type for the root element, we use an Image element with the source property set to our background image as the root element.

../../_images/background.png

Note

Each element has properties, e.g., an image has width and height properties (each holding a count of pixels), and also other properties such as a source property. Since the size of the image element is automatically derived from the image size, we don’t need to set the width and height properties ourselves.

The most standard elements are located in the QtQuick module which is made available by the import statement at the start of the .qml file.

The id is a special optional property that contains an identifier which can be used to reference its associated element elsewhere in the document. Important: An id property cannot be changed after it has been set and it cannot be set during runtime. Using root as the id for the root-element is just a convention used in this book which makes referencing the top-most element predictable in larger QML documents.

The foreground elements representing the pole and the pin wheel in the user interface are included as separate images.

../../_images/pole.png
../../_images/pinwheel.png

We want to place the pole horizontally in the center of the background, but offset vertically towards the bottom. And we want to place the pinwheel in the middle of the background.

Although this beginners example only uses image elements, as we progress you will create more sophisticated user interfaces that are composed of many different element types.

Image {
    id: root
    ...
    Image {
        id: pole
        anchors.horizontalCenter: parent.horizontalCenter
        anchors.bottom: parent.bottom
        source: "images/pole.png"
    }

    Image {
        id: wheel
        anchors.centerIn: parent
        source: "images/pinwheel.png"
    }
    ...
}

To place the pin wheel in the middle we use a complex property called anchor. Anchoring allows you to specify geometric relations between parent and sibling objects. For example, place me in the center of another element ( anchors.centerIn: parent ). There are left, right, top, bottom, centerIn, fill, verticalCenter and horizontalCenter relations on both ends. Naturally, when two or more anchors are used together, they should complement each other: it wouldn’t make sense, for instance, to anchor an element’s left side to the top of another element.

For the pinwheel, the anchoring only requires one simple anchor.

Note

Sometimes you will want to make small adjustments, for example, to nudge an element slightly off-center. This can be done with anchors.horizontalCenterOffset or with anchors.verticalCenterOffset. Similar adjustment properties are also available for all the other anchors. Please consult the documentation for a full list of anchors properties.

Note

Placing an image as a child element of our root element (the Image element) illustrates an important concept of a declarative language. You describe the visual appearance of the user interface in the order of layers and grouping, where the topmost layer (our background image) is drawn first and the child layers are drawn on top of it in the local coordinate system of the containing element.

To make the showcase a bit more interesting, we would like to make the scene interactive. The idea is to rotate the wheel when the user presses the mouse somewhere in the scene.

We use the MouseArea element and make it cover the entire area of our root element.

Image {
    id: root
    ...
    MouseArea {
        anchors.fill: parent
        onClicked: wheel.rotation += 90
    }
    ...
}

The mouse area emits signals when a user clicks inside the area it covers. You can connect to this signal by overriding the onClicked function. When a signal is connected it means that the function or functions it corresponds to is called whenever the signal is emitted. In this case we have said that when the mouse area is clicked the element whose id is wheel (i.e., the pinwheel image) should rotate by +90 degrees.

Note

This technique works for every signal, with the naming convention being on + SignalName in title cases. Also all properties emit a signal when their value changes. For these signals the naming convention is:

on + PropertyName + Changed

For example, if a width property is changed you can observe it with onWidthChanged: print(width).

The wheel will now rotate whenever the user clicks, but the rotation takes place in one jump, rather than a fluid movement over time. We can achieve smooth movement using animation. An animation defines how a property change occurs over a period of time. To enable this we use an animation type called property behavior. The Behaviour specifies an animation for a defined property for every change applied to that property. In other words, whenever the property changes, the animation is run. This is only one of many ways of doing animation in QML.

Image {
    id: root
    Image {
        id: wheel
        Behavior on rotation {
            NumberAnimation {
                duration: 250
            }
        }
    }
}

Now whenever the wheel’s rotation property changes it will be animated using a NumberAnimation with a duration of 250 ms. So each 90 degree turn will take 250 ms, producing a nice smooth turn.

../../_images/scene2.png

Note

You will not actually see the wheel blurred. This is just to indicate the rotation. (A blurred wheel is in the assets folder, in case you’d like to experiment with it.)

Now the wheel looks much better and behaves nicely, as well as providing a very brief insight into the basics of how Qt Quick programming works.

1.3. Qt Building Blocks

Qt 5 consists of a large number of modules. In general, a module is a library for the developer to use. Some modules are mandatory for a Qt enabled platform and form the set called Qt Essentials Modules. Many modules are optional and form the Qt Add-On Modules. It’s expected that the majority of developers will not need to use them, but it’s good to know them as they provide invaluable solutions to common challenges.

1.3.1. Qt Modules

The Qt Essentials modules are mandatory for a Qt enabled platform. They offer the foundation to develop a modern Qt 5 Application using Qt Quick 2.

Core-Essential Modules

The minimal set of Qt 5 modules to start QML programming.

Module Description
Qt Core Core non-graphical classes used by other modules
Qt GUI Base classes for graphical user interface (GUI) components. Includes OpenGL.
Qt Multimedia Classes for audio, video, radio and camera functionality.
Qt Network Classes to make network programming easier and more portable.
Qt QML Classes for QML and JavaScript languages.
Qt Quick declarative framework for building highly dynamic applications with custom user interfaces.
Qt SQL Classes for database integration using SQL.
Qt Test Classes for unit testing Qt applications and libraries.
Qt WebKit Classes for a WebKit2 based implementation and a new QML API. See also Qt WebKit Widgets in the add-on modules.
Qt WebKit Widgets WebKit1 and QWidget-based classes from Qt 4.
Qt Widgets Classes to extend Qt GUI with C++ widgets.
digraph essentials {
QtGui -> QtCore
QtNetwork ->QtCore
QtMultimedia ->QtGui
QtQml -> QtCore
QtQuick -> QtQml
QtSql -> QtCore
}

Qt Addon Modules

Besides the essential modules, Qt offers additional modules for software developers, which are not part of the release. Here is a short list of add-on modules available.

  • Qt 3D - A set of APIs to make 3D graphics programming easy and declarative.
  • Qt Bluetooth - C++ and QML APIs for platforms using Bluetooth wireless technology.
  • Qt Contacts - C++ and QML APIs for accessing addressbooks / contact databases
  • Qt Location - Provides location positioning, mapping, navigation and place search via QML and C++ interfaces. NMEA backend for positioning
  • Qt Organizer - C++ and QML APIs for accessing organizer events (todos, events, etc.)
  • Qt Publish and Subscribe
  • Qt Sensors - Access to sensors via QML and C++ interfaces.
  • Qt Service Framework - Enables applications to read, navigate and subscribe to change notifications.
  • Qt System Info - Discover system related information and capabilities.
  • Qt Versit - Support for vCard and iCalendar formats
  • Qt Wayland - Linux only. Includes Qt Compositor API (server), and Wayland platform plugin (clients)
  • Qt Feedback - Tactile and audio feedback to user actions.
  • Qt JSON DB - A no-SQL object store for Qt.

Note

As these modules are not part of the release the state of each module may differ depending how many contributors are active and how well it’s tested.

1.3.2. Supported Platforms

Qt supports a variety of platforms including all major desktop and embedded platforms. Through the Qt Application Abstraction it’s now easier than ever to port Qt to your own platform if required.

Testing Qt 5 on a platform is time consuming. A sub-set of platforms was selected by the Qt Project to build the reference platforms set. These platforms are thoroughly tested through the system testing to ensure the best quality. However, keep in mind that no code is error free.

1.4. Qt Project

From the Qt Project wiki:

“The Qt Project is a meritocratic consensus-based community interested in Qt. Anyone who shares that interest can join the community, participate in its decision making processes, and contribute to Qt’s development.”

The Qt Project is an organisation which developes the open-source part of the Qt further. It forms the base for other users to contribute. The biggest contributor is DIGIA, which holds also the comercial rights to Qt.

Qt has an open-source aspect and a comercial aspect for companies. The comercial aspect is for companies which can not or will not comply with the open-source licenses. Without the comercial aspect these companies would not be able to use Qt and it would not allow DIGIA to contribute so much code to the Qt Project.

There are many companies world-wide, which make their living out of consultancy and product development using Qt on the various platforms. There are many open-source projects and open-source developers, which rely on Qt as their major development library. It feels good to be part of this vibrant community and to work with this awesome tools and libraries. Does it make you a better person? Maybe:-)

Contribute here: http://wiki.qt.io/