Spreadsheet Programming

Spreadsheet programming permits much of a graphical interface to be specified declaratively using equations and then automatically implemented via a constraint solver. For example, to specify that a rectangle should be positioned 10 pixels to the right of another rectangle, and flush with the top of this rectangle, the programmer might create the constraints:

rect2.left = rect1.right + 10
rect2.top = rect1.top

Whenever rect1 moves, rect2 will automatically move as well.

The equations that may be specified are much like the equations that may be specified in a spreadsheet. An equation defines the value of a variable (called a cell in a spreadsheet), and may depend on one or more variables (cells) for input. When the value of a variable (cell) is modified, a scheduling algorithm ensures that all equations which depend on this changed variable are reevaluated in the appropriate topological order.

Spreadsheet-style equations are rapidly gaining popularity in interactive applications because they:

The generality of spreadsheet-style constraints allows them to specify a rich variety of the graphical relationships and behaviors that are found in interactive applications. Programmers use them to 1) specify the graphical layout of objects, 2) maintain consistency between the application data and the graphical objects used to display this data, 3) maintain consistency among multiple views of data, 4) specify how graphical objects should respond to input events, and 5) hierarchically compose complex objects from simpler objects.

Because of their utility, spreadsheet-style constraints are now used in a wide variety of interactive applications, including graphical interface toolkits, graphical layout systems, simulation systems, animation systems, imperative programming languages, and programming environments.

Our research has been aimed at adding features to spreadsheet-style equations that make them capable of expressing a greater variety of graphical relationships. The features our research has explored includes

Graduate Students

Here are some recent papers on spreadsheet programming:

``An Active-Value-Spreadsheet Model for Interactive Languages'', In Languages for Developing User Interfaces, Brad Myers, ed., Jones and Bartlett Publishers, Boston, MA, 183-210, 1992.

``Optimizing Toolkit-Generated Graphical Interfaces'', 1994 ACM SIGGRAPH Symposium on User Interface Software and Technology, Marina del Rey, CA, November, 1994, pp. 157-166.

``Integrating Pointer Variables into One-Way Constraint Models'', ACM Transactions on Computer Human Interaction, 1, 2, (June 1994), 161-213.

``An Incremental Algorithm for Satisfying Hierarchies of Multi-way, Dataflow Constraints'', ACM Transactions on Programming Languages and Systems, 18(1), Jan. 1996, 30-72.

``Lessons Learned About One-Way, Dataflow Constraints in the Garnet and Amulet Graphical Toolkits'', in preparation.