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<title>Using Nasal with FlightGear</title>
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<h1>Using Nasal with FlightGear</h1>

<p>This document is a tutorial on how to interface Nasal scripts
with FlightGear.  It is not an introduction to the Nasal language
itself.  For that, see Andy's <a
href="">Nasal website</a> at <a
The information there is sparse, but you should have it ready for
reference while reading this document.

<h2>Basic Nasal/FlightGear Integration</h2>

<h3>Calling Nasal from Configuration File Bindings</h3>

Nasal scripts can be used as FGBinding objects, and can therefore
appear anywhere in a configuration file (keyboard, mouse and joystick
bindings, etc...) that accepts a <code>&lt;binding&gt;</code> tag.
The relevant command type is "nasal", and you place your Nasal code
inside of the <code>&lt;script&gt;</code> tag:

  print("Binding Invoked!");

<p>The code above invokes the <code>print()</code> function.  This is
a simple extension function that simply prints out its arguments, in
order, to the FlightGear console as a single-line log entry.  It is
useful for debugging, but little else.

<p>Some command have SGPropertyNode arguments.  This argument is
available as a <code>props.Node</code> object and is returned from the
built-in <code>cmdarg()</code> function.  See below for full
documentation, but as an example the following "joystick axis" binding
will print the current axis value to the console:


<p>Note that the current implementation parses the Nasal code inside
the <code>&lt;script&gt;</code> tag each time it is run.  This means
that you should avoid placing large code blocks inside a
<code>&lt;script&gt;</code> tag for performance reasons.  It also
means that any local variables you set inside the script will be lost
the next time it is run.  See the discussion about namespaces and
Nasal source files below for more information.

<h3>Setting and Inspecting FlightGear Properties</h3>

<h4>getprop() and setprop()</h4>

<p>You can use <code>getprop()</code> and <code>setprop()</code>
functions to interact with the global property tree.  They work as you
would expect.  For example, the following Nasal code copies the value
of the "/sim/foo" property to the "/sim/bar" property:

<pre>setprop("/sim/bar", getprop("/sim/foo"));</pre>

<p>Note that Nasal's notion of "type" is coarser than that of the
SGPropertyNode class.  Numers and strings come out of
<code>getprop()</code> as Nasal scalars, of course, and boolean
properties are converted to a numeric 1 or 0 by
<code>getprop()</code>.  But <b>all</b> non-string values passed to
<code>setprop()</code> become doubles in the property tree.  The
props.Node interface (see below) provides the ability to set explicit
types in the property tree.

<p>A useful feature of getprop and setprop that you should be aware of
is that they both accept variable numbers of arguments.  These are
concatenated together to form a property tree path internally within
the function.  This avoids the need for extensive string concatenation
in the script for the common case where you are acting on a variable
property root.  That is, you can do:

ThisAircraft = "/sim/my/aircraft/properties";
setprop(ThisAircraft, "crashed", 0);

to set the property "/sim/my/aircraft/properties/crashed" to false.
This feature is useful for writing Nasal functions that will work on
parameterized property trees.

<h4>The props module</h4>

<p>Think of the <code>getprop()</code> and <code>setprop()</code>
functions as equivalents of the <code>fgGet*()</code> and
<code>fgSet*()</code> C++ functions.  They provide simple and easy
access to the global property tree.

<p>For some situations, however, you need finer control over the
property nodes.  For these situations you can use the props module,
which provides a <code>Node</code> class similar to the SimGear
<code>SGPropertyNode</code> class.  The global tree is available as a
<code>Node</code> object named <code>props.globals</code>.  You can
use the <code>getNode()</code> method on it to retrieve an arbitrary
sub-node.  The children of any given node can be inspected with
<code>getChild()</code> and <code>getChildren()</code> methods.  And
of course its name, index, and value can be accessed with appropriate
methods.  See the reference below for complete documentation.

<p>As seen above in the discussion on <code>fgcommand()</code>, you
can also create new, "rootless" <code>Node</code> objects using

<p>The most powerful method on a Node object is
<code>setValues()</code>.  This takes a Nasal hash table as its only
argument, and initializes properties under the node using the
key/value pairs in the hash.  This works with vectors (i.e. indexed
properties) and recursively, essentially making a deep copy of a Nasal
object in the property tree.

<p>For debugging (and amusement) purposes, the <code>props</code>
modules also defines a <code>dump()</code> function which recursively
prints the state of a property node to the console.  Try
<code>props.dump(props.globals)</code> to see it walk the entire tree.

<h3>Invoking FlightGear Commands from Nasal</h3>

<p>Just as Nasal code can be run as a command binding from the
property tree, existing FlightGear commands can be invoked by Nasal
code using the <code>fgcommand()</code> function.  The first argument
to this function is a string, equivalent to what you would place
inside the <code>&lt;command&gt;</code> tag in a property binding.

The second argument specifies the property tree that will be passed as
the "arguments" to the command.  It can be a either a string
specifying a path in the global property tree or a props.Node object.

# Use a temporary property in the global tree
ShowDialog = func {
    setprop("/nasal/tmp/dialog-args/dialog-name", arg[0];
    fgcommand("dialog-show", "/nasal/tmp/dialog-args");

# Does the same thing, but with a rootless Node object
ShowDialog = func {
    fgcommand("dialog-show",{dialog-name : arg[0]});

These both define a <code>ShowDialog()</code> function, which pops up
a named dialog from the <fgroot>/gui/dialogs directory.  Calling
<code>ShowDialog("autopilot")</code> will therefore pop up the
autopilot dialog just as if it had been bound to a key.

<p>The first variant uses a "temporary" property tree in the global
property space to hold the arguments.  The second creates a new
<code>props.Node</code> object instead.  Note that
<code></code> accepts a hash table as its argument and
uses that to initialize the returned property tree.

<h3>Writing extended Nasal code in source files</h3>

<p>Nasal is a "real" language, with real namespaces and modules.  What
"really" happens when you run a script binding is that the script is
treated as a function body and bound (lexically, in the functional
programming sense) to a single global namespace.  It is as if it were
enclosed in a <code>func { ... }</code> expression and executed inside
a "file" containing all the global symbols.

<p>Some symbols in the global namespace are built-in extension
functions, like the print/getprop/setprop we have already seen.
Others are objects (or hash tables -- they are the same thing in
Nasal).  These objects act as namespaces and can contain code of their
own.  One such example is the math library.  The built-in math
functions live in their own namespace and are accessible as
<code>math.sin()</code>, <code>math.cos()</code>, etc...

<p>The global namespace itself is available as a module named
"globals".  This allows you to create new symbols in the global
namespace if you desire (be careful!) and to otherwise inspect its
contents.  It's just a hash table, after all.  The following code will
print all the symbols found in the global namespace:

print("These are the symbols found in the global namespace:");
foreach(i; keys(globals)) { print("  ", i); }

<p>You can write your own modules, too.  The mechanism is very simple:
merely create a file with a ".nas" extension in the Nasal directory of
your FlightGear base package.  FlightGear will read, parse and execute
these files during initialization, and create a module of the same
name for use by your scripts.  So you can write, say, a "mouse.nas"
script.  Functions defined therein are available to your script
bindings (and any other nasal code on the system) as members of the
global "mouse" object.  So you can define bindings that do things like
<code>mouse.handleXAxis(offset)</code> to call functions defined in
the mouse.nas file (remember that "offset" is an automatically
initialized variable containing the binding's offset argument).

<h3>Including Nasal Code from Configuration Files</h3>

<p>Nasal modules can also be imported from the property tree at
initialization.  This is useful for applications like
aircraft-specific scripts that need to be loaded only when that
aircraft is active.  The usage is simple: the Nasal interpreter
creates a module for every property node child of "/nasal" that it
finds at initialization time.  Example:


This creates a module named "c172" and loads the contents of the
Aircraft/c172/c172.nas file into it.  The module name is, by default,
the same as the property node.  But this can be overridden with the
<code>&lt;module&gt;</code> tag.  This trick can be useful if you need
to load extra script source into a previously-initialized module.

<p>You can also write literal Nasal scripts inside the property files
by including it in a <code>&lt;script&gt;</code> tag.  This sample
uses the <code>&lt;module&gt;</code> tag to add an extra function to
the math library.

 &lt;c172-tmp1&gt; &lt;!-- Use a unique, dummy name --&gt;

   # The math library doesn't include this, because Andy is a pedant
   # and thinks it's dangerous.  But the c172 code just *has* to have
   # it.
   atan = func { return atan2(arg[0], 1) }


Note the use of a CDATA declaration.  This is required to properly
escape XML special characters like "<code>&lt;</code>".  As it
happens, this code doesn't use them.  But the CDATA is good practice

<h3>Function Reference</h3>

<p>These are the built-in extension functions available to all Nasal
code in FlightGear.  Be sure to examine the <a
href="">core Nasal
documentation</a> at the <a
href="">Nasal site</a> as well.  Only
FlightGear-specific library code is documented here:

<h4>Global Functions</h4>


<dd>Returns a random number in the range [0:1) (that is, 0.0 is a
    possible return value, but 1.0 is not).

<dd>The arguments are concatenated to form a path to a global
    property node.  Returns the value of that node, or nil if it does
    not exist.

<dd>The final argument specifies a value to set.  The remaining
    arguments are concatenated to form a property path as in

<dd>The arguments are printed, in order, to the FlightGear console.
    A newline is appended by the logging code, none is

<dd>The first argument is a string specifying a FlightGear command to
    execute (e.g. "show-dialog").  The second is a property sub-tree
    (either a global path string or a props.Node object) which will be
    passed to the command as arguments.

<dd>The first argument is a Nasal expression which evaluates to a
    Nasal function object (it can be either a symbol name for a
    function or a literal <code>func&nbsp;{&nbsp;...&nbsp;}</code>
    expression.  The second argument is a (floating point) number
    specifying a delta time in seconds.  Some time after that delta
    time has elapsed, the specified function will be invoked.  Exact
    timing will depend on the frame rate of the simulator.

<dd>The first argument specifies a property.  It can be either a
    string representing a global property name or a
    <code>props.Node</code> object.  The remaining arguments specify
    pairs of value/delta-time numbers.  The property is interpolated
    smoothly from its current value to the new value over the
    specified time delta, in seconds.  Multiple value pairs can be
    used to indicate successive values or to acheive a piecewise
    linear approximation to a non-linear function.  This function
    cancels any preexisting interpolation for that property, so
    <code>interpolate("/sim/countdown",&nbsp;0,&nbsp;0)</code> has the
    effect of cancelling interpolation of "/sim/countdown" and setting
    its value to zero.

<h4>Property Module</h4>

<dd>The <code>props.Node</code> class wraps a SGPropertyNode object,
    either in or outside of the global property tree.  It supports the
    following methods:
<dd>Returns the "type" of the SGPropertyNode object.  The return value
is a string; one of: NONE, ALIAS, BOOL, INT, LONG, FLOAT, DOUBLE,
<dd>Returns the name of the property node.
<dd>Returns the child index of the property node.
<dd>Returns the current value of the node, or nil if it has none.
<dd>Sets the current value as either a string or a double, depending
on the internal type of the argument.
<dd>Sets the current value, forcing the type to INT
<dd>Sets the current value, forcing the type to BOOL
<dd>Sets the current value, forcing the type to DOUBLE
<dd>Returns a Node object representing this node's parent, or nil if
it has none.
<dd>Returns a named child, or nil if it does not exist.  If multiple
children with that name exist, returns the one with an index of zero.
<dd>Returns a vector containing all the node's children.
<dd>Removes a child by name (first argument) and index (second argument).
<dd>Returns a Node specified by its "relative path" to this node, or
nil if none exists.  The optional second argument, if true, causes the
node to be created if it does not exist.
<dd>Takes a hash as argument, and sets all the key/value pairs in the
hash as property subnodes of the object.  This works recursively, with
sub-hashes and vectors; thus making a deep copy of the Nasal hash in
the property tree.

<dd>Static "constructor" function returning a new, rootless
    <code>Node</code> object.  Takes a hash argument to initialize the
    new node via setValues().

<dd>This is a <code>Node</code> object representing the root of the
    global property tree; the Nasal equivalent of

<dd>This method prints out a "dump" of the state of a single
    <code>Node</code> object and all of its children to the console.
    Very useful for debugging and exploration.


<h2>Integrating C++ code and Nasal</h2>

<h3>Calling Nasal from C++</h3>

<p>The FGNasalSys object has a <code>parseAndRun()</code> method to
which you can pass arbitrary Nasal source code for immediate

FGNasalSys n = (FGNasalSys*)globals->get_subsystem("nasal");
if(! n->parseAndRun("print('This script was called from C++!')")) 
  SG_LOG(SG_GENERAL, SG_ALERT, "My Nasal code failed :(");

<p>You can also use <code>parseScript()</code> to get a pointer to a
<code>FGNasalScript</code> object.  This object supports a
<code>call()</code> method which you can use to invoke the script
later on, at a time of your choosing.  If you will be invoking the
script multiple times, this mechanism can be more efficient because it
avoids the parsing and code generation overhead for the successive

FGNasalSys n = (FGNasalSys*)globals->get_subsystem("nasal");
FGNasalScript* script = n->parseScript("print('Spam!')")) 
if(!script) SG_LOG(SG_GENERAL, SG_ALERT, "My Nasal code failed :(");


for(int i=0; i<1000; i++)
    script->call();       // Spam the console

<p>Note that there is no way to inspect the return value of the
function that you called.  It simply returns a boolean indicating
successful execution.  Handling of "native" Nasal data structures has
to be done via the Nasal extension API.  See below.

<h3>Calling C++ from Nasal</h3>

<p>You have three options for invoking C++ code from Nasal.  The first
two take advantage of pre-existing FlightGear mechanisms for
registering "callback" handlers for specific events.

<p>If your task is sufficiently general, you should consider defining
it as a new FGCommand using the existing interface.  This can be
invoked efficiently from both Nasal code (using the fgcommand()
function) and existing property bindings, and is very easy to do.
Simply define a handler function which takes a property tree as an
argument and returns a bool (to indicate successful execution), and
register it during initialization with the global command manager:

// Define your handler function:
bool my_new_command(SGPropertyNode* arg) { ... }

    // And register it in your initialization code:
    globals->get_commands()->addCommand("my-new-command", my_new_command);

<p>This mechanism works well when your C++ code is a "global" function
that you will want to call from many locations with potentially
differing data.  For some applications, however, you want to register
a handler that will be called only by code involved with computations
on a single data set.

<p>For this, there is the property listener interface.  You can create
a subclass of SGPropertyChangeListener which implements the
valueChange, childAdded and/or childRemoved methods and associate it
with a specific property node in the global tree.  You can then
"invoke" this handler from Nasal code (or from anywhere else) by
simply setting the property value.

<p>I haven't tested the property listener interface, and it requires
somewhat more typing to implement; so I will include no example here.
It is also rather rarely used by existing FlightGear code (the
property picker GUI is the only significant application I could find).

<h3>Extending Nasal</h3>

<p>This is the third mechanism for invoking C++ (strictly C, in this
case) code from Nasal.  This is the API you must use if you want to
inspect and/or modify Nasal data structures, or create a function
object that will be visible to Nasal scripts as a callable function.
Unfortunately, there really isn't space here to document this API
fully.  For now, examin the <code>nasal.h</code> header which defines
it, and the <code>lib.c</code> and <code>mathlib.c</code> source files
which implement the existing built-in library functions.  The
FlightGear-specific extension functions in <code>NasalSys.cxx</code>
and <code>nasal-props.cxx</code> are also good examples.

<p>But for most purposes, consider the first two mechanisms instead.
FlightGear's general inter-module communication mechanism is the
property tree, which is exposed from both Nasal and C++ code already.
A Nasal extension function, by definition, is useful only to Nasal
code.  Even worse, data structures definied by a Nasal interface are
completely invisible to the C++ world.