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Develop Apache Cordova Applications with HTML5 & JavaScript

In a prior discussion we looked at how to set up a project so that we could develop an Apache Cordova application using HTML5 and JavaScript. In that section we mostly covered how to set up, build, and run the project — which consisted of the same application in the www folder that Apache Crodova bootstraps when you create a new project. In what follows we will look at the approach for actually writing own code for our app and will look at how an app in Apache Cordova gets initialized. We will also look at how we can extend the Apache Cordova platform by using plugins to give ourselves additional features and functionality that will make for an all around better user-experience (UX) for the users of our app.

Now that we have our project set up and all our platforms added all that we have left to do now is create our application by creating what basically amounts to a website that runs HTML and JavaScript in the “www” folder. How should one develop for Apache Cordova? Personally, I would delete all of the boilerplate files and folders and start from scratch. That is what we will do here. Just take a quick note of how things are referenced in the index.html file and do the same for your own files.

In doing this, I have modified the index.html file in the “www” folder to the following…

<!DOCTYPE html>
        <meta http-equiv="Content-Security-Policy" content="default-src 'self' data: gap: 'unsafe-eval'; style-src 'self' 'unsafe-inline'; media-src *">
        <meta name="format-detection" content="telephone=no">
        <meta name="msapplication-tap-highlight" content="no">
        <meta name="viewport" content="user-scalable=no, initial-scale=1, maximum-scale=1, minimum-scale=1, width=device-width">
        <link rel="stylesheet" type="text/css" href="css/index.css">
        <title>Cordova Application</title>
        <div id="main">Initializing...</div>
        <script type="text/javascript" src="cordova.js"></script>
        <script type="text/javascript" src="js/index.js"></script>

Note: Do not worry about that “cordova.js” reference or the fact that this file is nowhere to be found in our “www” folder. Apache Cordova will utilize this in the proper context when the app runs (so leave it in there).

So as far as the index.html goes, there is nothing too fancy. I have a css file (index.css) and a js file (index.js). That is all you need to get started.

Next, let’s look at our JavaScript in the index.js file. There is really only one thing you need to make note of when you develop Apache Cordova applications in JavaScript. There is a special event that Apache Cordova uses to tell the platform that the everything is loaded and the device you are using is ready to start running JavaScript in your Cordova application. This is what is known as the “deviceready” event. It only fires when you are running an app within a Cordova context (i.e. on a device or an emulator of a device). In a lean version of JavaScript for a cordova application would look like the following (in index.js)…

var app = {
    init: function() {
        document.addEventListener('deviceready', this.main, false);
    main: function() {
        document.getElementById('main').innerText = 'App is ready...'


Here we are calling the “init” function which will add a listener for the “deviceready” event. When this event fires the “main” function will run, which in this case just changes the inner text of a div element So if we run this using

$ cordova emulate android


$ cordova emulate ios

from the root of our project we will see our device boot up, our app launch, and if all goes well we will see the text “App is ready…” so we know that our event is firing.

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Debugging Node.js Applications with Node Inspector

Debugging is an important part any sort of application development. If you have errors or unexpected results occurring in your code you need to be able to step through your code and find where things are going awry. Thus it is very important that you are able to see what is happening at specific times when your code is executing. There are some IDEs (integrated development environments like Visual Studio or Eclipse) where debugging for the native application language like C# or Java is all built right into the tools and you don’t have to do anything to set it up. At the time of this writing in the later part of the year 2015, there are a few IDEs such as WebStorm and Komodo IDE that natively support Node.js debugging but this is often the exception rather than the rule (at present). Node.js, being a younger and relatively more immature platform often does not have debugging for it natively implemented in most IDEs yet. Fortunately, there are often plugins available that will enable Node.js debugging within the IDE. Node.js tools for Visual Studio 2012 and 2013 is one example. Nodeclipse is a plugin that will enable Node.js debugging capabilities in Eclipse.

Because there are so many different development environments and workflows that different developers have different preferences for we won’t look at debugging Node.js applications in a specific IDE. But we will look at a specific debugger called Node Inspector. There are other Node.js debuggers out there and if you want to use another debugger that is fine. You would just have to look at the docs for that particular debugger. It should be noted that Node Inspector works in Chrome and Opera only. You have to re-open the inspector page in one of those browsers if another browser is your default web browser (e.g. Safari or Internet Explorer). This is another indicator that shows widespread support for many things in and within Node.js is not entirely quite there just yet. So much of the Node.js module ecosystem is community driven, which has very noticeable pros and cons. The upside to this it is that there are a lot of awesome components of functionality that you can leverage via installation with a simple $ npm install of a module. The downside of this environment is that support and/or consistency for bug fixes and releases can vary quite a bit depending on who’s module(s) you are using. Just as a personal opinion, I find that on the whole the positives outweigh the negatives when it comes to open source software. I would much rather take this scenario over, say, a behemoth corporation owning and managing all of the releases that might seem more “professional” in its support and maintenance (as opposed to hobby/side-project code). But developing in and for open source applications is definitely far from perfect.

But all that aside, let’s get back to fun with Node.js debugging. Node Inspector works almost exactly as the Google Chrome Developer Tools. If you are not entirely familiar with Google Chrome’s developer tools read the DevTools overview to get started. Dev Tools can be used to set breakpoints in your application that halt the execution of the code when a certain statement (or statements) are reached. From there you can examine the state of particular objects to see what values they contain at that point in time. You can then step through your code moving from one statement to the next to see how the values change. If this all seems a little bit confusing at this point, not to worry. We will revisit this a bit later when we actually take on the task of debugging our application. But first we need to install the stuff we need to get debugging up and going.

Installing Node Inspector

To install Node inspector we will use the npm utility to install Node Inspector from npm.

$ sudo npm install -g node-inspector

Note: Windows 8.1 Users: At the time of this writing in the later part of 2015 for Windows 8.1 I had to omit installing an optional dependency which apparently breaks the install using npm. The way that you do this is by setting the –no-optional flag…

$ npm install -g node-inspector --no-optional

That should get it working for you. To check that it installed correctly you can always run

$ node-debug --version

which should output the version number for you without any error messages.

Sample Application

For our application we will use a sample API that I often utilize for demonstrating Node.js applications that uses Express.js as an application framework. If you are not familiar with Express there is an introduction to Express here. If you need a quick refresher on Node.js by any chance you can read A Node.js Primer. For a more in-depth look at Express.js, there is also an ongoing series entitled Creating an MVC Express.js Application.

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