XUL Introduction, Tutorials, and Resources

XUL or XML User Interface Language consists of tags that can be used to create rich GUIs for web or stand-alone applications. It is primarily used to develop extensions for the Mozilla web browser and does not require an internet connection to run.

XUL allows the user to specify and display multiple GUI elements including text boxes and images as well as handle various browser events. Initially, the library was developed by the Mozilla foundation to fill in "the gaps of the HTML language to build large web applications." However, it will soon be replaced as the makers of Firefox have decided to focus their efforts in other areas.

Even still, XUL provides a great introduction on creating GUI elements using and XML type language. Check out the resources outlined for more information.

XUL Tutorials

The following tutorials are a great way to learn XUL. Use the examples presented and customize them for your own projects.

  • XUL Tutorial from the Mozilla Developer Network presents a comprehensive set of links that outline several language features. Developers visiting the site will see several topics covered including how to add buttons, create menus, and handle events.
  • XUL Tutorial with Examples covers various elements of the library with easy to understand examples. It is also possible to download a comprehensive set of source code files that can be readily used for your own web applications.
  • XUL: The Future of User-interfaces on the Web features an abstract and link to a presentation slides for an XUL tutorial given at the O'Reilly OpenSource Convention in 2005.
  • Introducing XUL features an overview of XUL and how it ties in with other web languages including CSS, JavaScript, and XML. The author also features a PHP script that incorporates XUL.
  • XULRunner Tutorial shows how to setup the XULRunner program which is used to run XUL applications. The page walks through XULRunner configuration followed by instructions on creating and running XUL code.
  • XUL Manager has a download link to the firefox extension which allows developers to "white-list" local and remote addresses in order for XUL applications to display and run properly.

Video Tutorials

Developers should have the opportunity to visualize what they are learning. Here are some video tutorials on XUL that go through basic setup and some examples.

  • Firefox Extension Development is the first part of a series of videos that shows developers how to setup their system for XUL development. The video series also shows the overall structure of an XUL application and walks through some code examples.
  • How to Develop a Basic Firefox Extension Toolbar is a step-by-step tutorial that demonstrates the files and code needed to develop a simple toolbar including RDF, XUL, and manifest files.
  • Ian McKeller - Developing XUL Applications presents an overview of XUL and contrasts it with Gtk+ for application development on GNOME, a graphical manager for Linux.

Books on XUL

Besides reading and watching online tutorials, developers can read books written about XUL.

  • Programming Firefox: Building Rich Internet Applications with XUL (2007), by Kenneth Feldt, provides an introduction to XUL and includes many different code examples. Developers can use this book to learn how to create UI elements, handle events, and build graphical applications. The book also covers running XUL on additional platforms including Chrome.
  • ZK Developer's Guide (2008), by Staeuble and Schumacher, demonstrates the ZK framework library and how it can be used in combination with XUL and AJAX to build web applications.
  • Essential XUL Programming (2001), by Bullard, Smith, and Daconta, presents an in depth resource on XUL. Developers reading this book will not only learn the basics, they will also learn how to use other languages such as JavaScript, CSS, and RDF in conjunction with XUL. The authors give step-by-step instructions on creating XUL applications and real world examples of XUL.
  • Introductory XUL (2015), by John Richardson, is another, more recent eBook that provides a resource for developers to quickly get started developing XUL applications. The book covers building stand-alone applications in conjunction with XULRunner, XPCOM, JavaScript, HTML, and CSS.

Alternative Resources

Besides XUL, other libaries including XAML for WPF (Windows Presentation Foundation) and FXML for JavaFX offer similar functionality. It may be worthwhile to take a look at the following resources for a quick introduction to these libraries.

  • XAML Tutorial from TutorialsPoint presents the basic structure of XAML as well as various components that can be used to build responsive application GUIs including controls, layouts, and event handling. The tutorial also goes through environment setup and walks through the Visual Studio setup process complete with screenshots.
  • WPF Tutorial presents a series of tutorials on how to use the WPF library in conjunction with XAML to create custom controls and specify behavior. WPF is part of the .NET framework and allows developers to write applications using C# or VB.NET while specifying GUI elements through XAML.
  • FXML Tutorial from Oracle teaches developers how to use FXML to specify GUI elements including text boxes, buttons, and layouts. Developers will use the lessons learned in this tutorial to create a simple login screen.
  • JavaFX Tutorial covers many aspects of the JavaFX library that can help developers get an overview of features including specifying GUI elements and handling events.

Should I Learn XUL?

XUL provides developers the ability to specify GUI elements of web applications and browser extensions for the Firefox browser. It is often combined with JavaScript, CSS, and HTML code to create custom layouts and event driven applications.

Though Mozilla has decided to focus on other areas, learning XUL is worth the effort. Many applications including for Windows and mobile phone apps use XML to specify GUI elements. Familiarizing yourself with XUL will make learning other libraries such as XAML much easier and faster.

Learning XUL will also help developers get used to the MVC (model view controller) method of building applications which separates the logic of application from the layout or view. Instead of including GUI and logic elements in single file, learning XUL will instill the discipline needed to help develop more robust applications.

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