Usage Guide


The objectbase library contains the most basic objects users need to design their agents and swarms. It also serves, at present, as a repository for the probe machinery, which is provided for every SwarmObject. The way the classes in this library are to be used is varied. But, basically, it is provided so that the user will have something to subclass from for her own objects and Swarms.

Example Usage of SwarmObject

The best way to explain how the library should be used is to walk through an example. So, using Heatbugs, we'll walk through the ways objectbase is used and discuss them. Since more documentation is usually better than less, I'm going to explain things at a low level so that those not familiar with Objective C will understand the discussion. If you already are familiar with Objective C, then you should skip this part.

First off, the basic elements of the Heatbugs simulation are the heatbugs, the model swarm (which bundles the heatbugs), and the observer swarm (which bundles the displays of the probes poking into the model swarm and the heatbugs). The interface files for each show what must be imported and the declaration syntax needed to subclass from SwarmObject.

We'll use Heatbug.h for our discussion here. The first part of the file shows the C-preprocessor imports needed:

#import objectbase/SwarmObject.h
#import space.h			 
#import "HeatSpace.h"			 
#import tkobjc/Raster.h		 

The #import objectbase/SwarmObject.h; is included in order to subclass from SwarmObject. However, to provide backwards compatibility, we've placed this import in the library interface file objectbase.h as well, which means one could subclass from SwarmObject by simply importing the objectbase.h file. This is discouraged in order to make the library interfaces as standard as possible.

The next objectbase relevant piece of code in this file is:

@interface Heatbug: SwarmObject
  double unhappiness;		
  int x, y;			
  HeatValue idealTemperature;	
  HeatValue outputHeat;		
  float randomMoveProbability;	
  Grid2d * world;		
  int worldXSize, worldYSize;	
  HeatSpace * heat;		
  Color bugColor;		

The @interface keyword indicates that you are beginning the definition of the part of an object (a Heatbug in this case) that will be visible to other objects. The Heatbug: SwarmObject indicates that you are calling this object Heatbug and it is a subclass of SwarmObject. What follows between the curly braces ({}) are the instance variables defined for the Heatbug class above and beyond those inherited from the SwarmObject class.

Inside this "agent," we have defined several parameters associated with either the agent, itself, or the space in which it sits. Any data that will need to be present throughout all the behavior and lifetime of the agent should be declared here. Also, anything declared here will be accessible to the probe machinery, and so will be capable of being manipulated and viewed from outside the agent.

Next come the message prototypes to which this agent will respond. And it is worth noting again that these are in addition to those declared in the SwarmObject superclass. So, not only will other objects be able to send messages to this agent that are declared here, but other objects will be able to send all the messages declared in the objectbase/SwarmObject.h imported previously. The messages prototyped here will dictate what the compiler thinks this object can respond to. Hence, if any part of any of these prototypes differs from the corresponding function definition in the Heatbug.m file, then the compiler will say something like Object: aHeatbug does not respond to xyz, where "xyz" is the name of the message that is being sent to the Heatbug. A script is provided with the Swarm distribution that fixes header file prototypes to match the message declarations in the corresponding ".m" file. This script should be in the $SWARMHOME/bin directory and is called m2h.

One more thing to notice about these prototypes is that some of them are duplicates of what appears in the objectbase/SwarmObject.h file. This means that when the message is called on a Heatbug object, it will execute the method defined here and not the one in the SwarmObject class. In the objectbase library, the following messages are intended to be overridden, as necessry: create:, createBegin:, createEnd, customizeBegin:, customizeEnd, customizeCopy:, describe:, and getInstanceName. Each of these messages do specific things that may change from subclass to subclass of SwarmObject. In this case, however, we're only overriding createEnd. The differences between we implement it in Heatbugs and the default is not that significant. But, it should be pointed out that when overriding certain messages, like createBegin: and createEnd, the new method should call the superclass' version of the message, as well. This is done using the default pointer to the superclass, designated super. The syntax in the Heatbugs case is:

[super createEnd];

The reasons for doing this are related to the object phase protocols used by defobj. If you would like more info on that, see the .

Finally, the @end keyword signifies the end of the interface definition. GNU Objective C allows one to leave this off; but, it is not good practice.

And that's it. Of course, there're a few tricky aspects to using the objectbase library that weren't mentioned here. Some of them will be mentioned in the Advanced Usage Notes and the Implementation Notes; but, the best way to learn is to examine the way the demo applications do it and try to make some changes yourself.

Subclassing from Swarm

Subclassing from the Swarm class works very similar to subclassing from SwarmObject.


The ActivityControl object provides much more finely grained control over the execution of an interactive simulation. It addresses both the problems of not being able to stop the simulation at any given point in any given activity and provides an initial step towards a Swarm debugger.

An activity controller can be attached to any activity that is created in a Swarm simulation, including those that are created for use only by the Swarm kernel. The controller then provides the basic activity manipulation messages on that activity, which are: run, stop, next, step, stepUntil, and terminate.

The presence of the ActivityControl object might cause some confusion about what role the ControlPanel should play in the controlled execution of the various schedules. The ControlPanel should still be used for the top-level control of any simulation that is running in a context where random interference is expected (like under a GUISwarm where the user may click a button at any time). The reason this is true is because the ControlPanel sends pseudo-interrupts to the infinite loop we use to perpetuate execution of the top level Swarm (which can only be seen in the form of the go message on a GUISwarm at present). This type of control may change in the future! But, for now, it is how we monitor the control state of the simulation.

Now, having said that, the ControlPanel should no longer be used to run the simulation. It should only be used to instantiate the control context and quit the entire simulation. That means that sometime in the future, the Go and the Stop buttons will be removed from the ControlPanel display. They have been left in for backwards compatibility so that applications that do not use the new ActivityControl will retain their (albeit handicapped) controllability. Also, the current Time Step button will be renamed to Start to be consistent with it's new purpose.

In order to use the new control mechanism, you must place code like the following in the top-level Swarm. (This code was taken from a modified mousetrap demo app.)

observerActCont = [ActivityControl createBegin: [self getZone]];
observerActCont = [observerActCont createEnd];
[observerActCont attachToActivity: [self getSwarmActivity]];
[probeDisplayManager createProbeDisplayFor: observerActCont];

This creates an ActivityControl and attaches it to the top-level activity (in this case an observerSwarm). It also creates a display for the controller. (The probe map for the ActivityControl class is designed within the ActivityControl, itself. This is done because all of these objects are expected to look the same to any outside object.) With this activity controller, you will then be able to run, stop, next, step, stepUntil, and terminate that activity.

There are some tricky aspects to successfully using an ActivityControl object that the Advanced Usage Notes will cover.