Finnie, Sigbjorn O.
Composing graphical user interfaces in a purely functional language.
PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.
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This thesis is about building interactive graphical user interfaces in a compositional manner. Graphical user interface application hold out the promise of providing users with an interactive, graphical medium by which they can carry out tasks more effectively and conveniently. The application aids the user to solve some task. Conceptually, the user is in charge of the graphical medium, controlling the order and the rate at which individual actions are performed.
This user-centred nature of graphical user interfaces has considerable ramifications for how software is structured. Since the application now services the user rather than the other way around, it has to be capable of responding to the user's actions when and in whatever order they might occur. This transfer of overall control towards the user places heavy burden on programming systems, a burden that many systems don't support too well. Why? Because the application now has to be structured so that it is responsive to whatever action the user may perform at any time.
The main contribution of this thesis is to present a compositional approach to constructing graphical user interface applications in a purely functional programming language
The thesis is concerned with the software techniques used to program graphical user interface applications, and not directly with their design. A starting point for the work presented here was to examine whether an approach based on functional programming could improve how graphical user interfaces are built. Functional programming languages, and Haskell in particular, contain a number of distinctive features such as higher-order functions, polymorphic type systems, lazy evaluation, and systematic overloading, that together pack quite a punch, at least according to proponents of these languages. A secondary contribution of this thesis is to present a compositional user interface framework called Haggis, which makes good use of current functional programming techniques. The thesis evaluates the properties of this framework by comparing it to existing systems.
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