Mobile users may encounter difficulty getting or maintaining a network connection at certain locations or times of day. Using offline mode with Screenlets ensures that your app still functions in these situations. You should note, however, that some difficulties may arise when using an app offline. For example, allowing users to edit data in an app when they’re offline may cause synchronization conflicts with the portal when they reconnect. By detailing how offline mode is implemented in Liferay Screens, this tutorial helps you be aware of such difficulties and know how to handle them.
Understanding Offline Mode’s Basics
Screenlets in Liferay Screens support the following phases:
- Get information from the portal.
- Show information to the user.
- Collect the user’s input (if necessary).
- Send input to the portal (if necessary).
The following diagram summarizes these phases:
Note that not all Screenlets need to execute each phase. For example, the Web Content Display Screenlet only needs to retrieve and display portal content. Conversely, Login Screenlet and Sign Up Screenlet only need to handle user input. Only the most complex Screenlets, like the DDL Form Screenlet and the User Portrait Screenlet, need to do both.
So what does all this have to do with offline mode? Liferay Screens’s offline infrastructure is a small layer of code that intercepts information going to and coming from the portal. It stores this information in a local data store for use when there’s no Internet connection. The following diagram illustrates this, with Local cache representing the local data store:
With offline mode enabled, any Screenlet can persist information exchanged with the portal. You can also configure exactly how offline mode works with the Screenlet you’re using. You do this through policies.
Using Policies with Offline Mode
Policies configure how a Screenlet behaves with offline mode when it sends or receives data. The Screenlet adheres to the policy even if the data operation fails. Screenlets support the following policies:
remote-only: The Screenlet only uses network connections to load data. Screenlets functioned this way prior to the introduction of offline mode. Use this policy when you want the Screenlet always to use remote content. Your app won’t work, however, if a network connection is unavailable. Also, apps using this policy tend to be slower due to network lag. Note that if the request succeeds, the Screenlet stores the data in the local cache for later use.
cache-only: The Screenlet only uses local storage to load data (it doesn’t use the network connection). Use this policy when you want the Screenlet to always use offline content. Note that in the app’s local cache, some portal data may not exist or may be outdated.
remote-first: The Screenlet first tries to use the network connection to load data. If this fails, it then tries to load data from local storage. Use this policy when you want the Screenlet to use the latest portal data when there’s a connection, but also want to support a fallback mechanism when the connection is gone. Note that the Screenlet may use outdated information when there’s no connection. In many cases, however, this is better than showing your users no information at all.
cache-first: The Screenlet first tries to load data from local storage. If this fails, it then tries to use the network connection. Use this policy when you want the Screenlet to optimize performance and network efficiency. You can update data in a background process, or let the user update on-demand (via an option, for example). Note that while the information retrieved from local storage may be outdated, loading times and bandwidth consumption are typically lower.
These policies behave a bit differently depending on the data’s direction. In other words, when a Screenlet set to a specific policy retrieves information from the portal, it may behave differently than when it submits information to the portal. As an example, consider the possible scenarios for User Portrait Screenlet:
When loading the portrait:
remote-only: The Screenlet always attempts to load the portrait from the portal. If the request fails, the operation also fails.
cache-only: The Screenlet always attempts to load the portrait from the local cache. The operation fails if the portrait doesn’t exist there.
remote-first: The Screenlet first attempts to load the portrait from the portal. If the request succeeds, the Screenlet stores the portrait locally for later use. If the request fails, the Screenlet tries to load the portrait from the local cache. If the local cache doesn’t contain the portrait, the Screenlet can’t load it, and calls the standard error handling code (call the delegate, use the default placeholder, etc…).
cache-first: The Screenlet first attempts to load the portrait from the local cache. If the portrait doesn’t exist there, it’s then requested from the server.
When submitting the portrait:
remote-only: The Screenlet first sends the new portrait to the portal. If the submission succeeds, the Screenlet also stores the portrait in the local cache. If the submission fails, the operation also fails.
cache-only: The Screenlet only stores the portrait locally. The portrait may be loaded from the cache later, or synchronized with the portal.
remote-first: The Screenlet first tries to send the new portrait to the portal. If this fails due to lack of network connectivity, the Screenlet stores the portrait in the local cache for later synchronization with the portal.
cache-first: The screenlet first stores the new portrait locally, then sends it to the portal. If the submission fails, the Screenlet still stores the portrait locally, but the send operation fails.
Synchronization can be a tricky problem to solve. What initially seems straightforward quickly evolves into scenarios where you’re not sure which version of the data to use. Having offline users complicates things further. The following diagram illustrates how the Screenlet retrieves and stores portal data.
When a user edits the data in the app, the Screenlet needs to send the new data to the portal. But what happens if the user is offline? In this case, the new data can’t reach the portal and the local and portal data are out-of-sync. In this scenario, the app has the new data while the portal has the old data. The app’s data in this synchronization state is called the dirty version. Put away your soap and washcloth. We don’t recommend giving your mobile device a bath. In this context, dirty means that the data should be synchronized with the portal as soon as possible. When the Screenlet synchronizes the dirty version, it removes the dirty flag from the local data.
There are other complicated synchronization states. For example, portal data may change while out-of-sync with a Screenlet’s local data. To avoid data loss, the local data can’t overwrite the portal data, and vice versa. In this situation, the synchronization process produces a conflict when it runs. The following diagram illustrates this.
The developer needs to resolve the conflict by choosing the local data or portal data. Synchronization conflicts have four possible resolutions:
Keep the local version: The Screenlet overwrites the portal data with the local data. This results in the local cache and the portal having the same version of the data (Version 2 in the above diagram).
Keep remote version: The Screenlet overwrites the local data with the portal data. This results in the local cache and the portal having the same version of the data (Version 3 in the above diagram).
Discard: The Screenlet removes the local data, and the portal data isn’t overwritten.
Ignore: The Screenlet doesn’t change any data. The next synchronization event reproduces the conflict.
Great! Now that you know how offline mode works, you’re ready to put it to use.
Using Screenlets in Android Apps