Converting Plugins from PHP to JS

This page is about a switch in the technology used for our plugins, a few years ago.

Why the switch from PHP to JS?

Reasons for switching

Reasons against switching


Of course the choice between Kross with QtScript/KJsEmbed and using QtScript directly is more of an implementation detail, and could easily be revised at a later point of time. The more important choice to make at this point is: Javascript or some other language.

Three uses for scripting

To clarify what we’re talking about: There are three main uses for scripting:

Code generation

Take settings in a plugin GUI, and convert them into R syntax. This is what the current PHP backend does. It’s also the only thing implemented for QtScript at this time.

GUI logic

Simple changes within in the GUI that happen in reponse to user input. This will be an alternative (not replacement!) for the current <logic>-section, which quickly becomes hard to manage for anything beyond very simple cases.

Technical note: In contrast to code generation, GUI logic needs to happen inside the same thread, i.e. in real-time. That’s the main reason why the code generation backend does not yet allow this.

Fully customized GUI elements

The elements provided in the xml files cover a whole lot of functionality, but in some cases it would be nice to be able to script specialized widgets for some tasks. Perhaps an advanced color picker. Or a small table to enter values for a chisq-test.

In theory a whole plugin could be entirely scripted instead of using an .xml-file. However - also in the interest of providing a consistent user interface - probably the real use case is for some small additions inside a plugin.


What is there already?

Only the first scripting scenario is implemented so far, i.e. the code generation for which we used PHP so far. All PHP files have been converted to JS files by means of an evil little script. However, each single .js-file will have to be checked for correctness, manually, and small changes will be needed in the majority of files. See #Migration Plan.

What needs to be done short term?

Ideally, every plugin developer should pick one or two or their plugins, take a look at the generated .js file, Make the required corrections, and test the plugin. Then we’ll have the last chance to talk about fundamental changes, before we actually start the migration.

What needs to be done in the longer term?

Migration plan

Overall plan

The PHP and JS script engine can, and do coexist. This means we need not do everything at once, but rather proceed one plugin at a time. However, the intent to finish this migration rather quickly, ideally before the next release. So let’s get started!

Steps to migrating a single plugin

svn remove PHPFILE.php

Noteable differences between QtScript and PHP


Syntax is fairly similar for PHP and JS. However, variables are not marked with a ‘$’ at the beginning. If you have associative arrays ( Array (“x” => “value”, “y” => “valueb”) ) you can’t use the ‘=>’ in constructing them. Rather use myvar = new Object (); myvar.x = “value”; myvar.y = “valueb”;

Variable scopes and declaration

In PHP, if you wanted to use global variables (variables shared across functions), you had to declare them global, at the start of each function. In JS, the rules are different: If a variable was first declared in the global scope, it is global to all functions. If in PHP you had

function preprocess () {
    global $a;

    $a = 2; // global
    $b = 1; // local

In JS you write

let a;

function preprocess() {
    let b;

    a = 2; // global
    b = 1; // local

Note that often times it is not strictly necessary to declare the variables with the “var” keyword before using. However, it is good style, and highly recommended to declare each and every global and local variable, explicitly.

The conversion script should have done all this for you, so you can see what it is supposed to look like. In some cases you may want to edit a bit, e.g.:

let a; let b; a = 1; b = 2;

can be simplified to:

let a = 1; let b = 2;

Also, in many plugins you’ll find

let undefined;

somewhere. Delete those lines (bug in the conversion script).


There are no “\&lt?” and “?>” tags for sections that should are output. Rather, everything is generated using “echo”-statements. The conversion script generally does a good job at converting this for you, but it may be thrown of in some circumstances (but that shows as syntax errors). This can significantly change the look of the plugin file, but I feel in most cases it’s actually to the better.

In PHP you could write

echo ("x is $variable");

in JS this does not work. Use

echo ("x is " + variable");

instead. The conversion script should have given you a warning about this.

Note that in JS, strings are concatenated by “+”, instead of “.”.

RKWard specific

getRK_val ("x");

is no longer. Use

getValue ("x");

instead. Instead of

getRK ("x");


echo (getValue ("x"));

The conversion script should have taken care of that, automatically.

Hints and specific instructions

if (a) echo ("something special"); echo ("something common");

That’s hard to read. Change that to

if (a) { echo ("something special"); } echo ("something common");

or better yet, insert a line break.