You may be forgiven for thinking the hypermedia architecture is synonymous with the web, web browsers, and HTML. No doubt, the web is the largest hypermedia system, and web browsers are the most popular hypermedia client. The dominance of the web in discussions about hypermedia make it easy to forget that hypermedia is a general concept, and can be applied to all types of platforms and applications. In this chapter, we will see the hypermedia architecture applied to a non-web platform: native mobile applications.
Mobile as a platform has different constraints than the web. It requires different trade-offs and design decisions. Nonetheless, the concepts of hypermedia, HATEOAS, and REST can be directly applied to build delightful mobile applications.
In this chapter we will cover shortcomings with the current state of mobile app development, and how a hypermedia architecture can address these problems. We will then look at a path toward hypermedia on mobile: Hyperview, a mobile app framework that uses the hypermedia architecture. We’ll conclude with an overview of HXML, the hypermedia format used by Hyperview.
The State of Mobile App Development
Before we can discuss how to apply hypermedia to mobile platforms, we need to understand how native mobile apps are commonly built. I’m using the word “native” to refer to code written against an SDK provided by the phone’s operating system (typically Android or iOS). This code is packaged into an executable binary, and uploaded & approved through app stores controlled by Google and Apple. When users install or update an app, they’re downloading this executable and running the code directly on their device’s OS. In this way, mobile apps have a lot in common with old-school desktop apps for Mac, Windows, or Linux. There is one important difference between PC desktop apps of yesteryear and today’s mobile apps. These days, almost all mobile apps are “networked”. By networked, we mean the app needs to read and write data over the Internet to deliver its core functionality. In other words, a networked mobile app needs to implement the client-server architecture.
When implementing the client-server architecture, the developer needs to make a decision: Should the app be designed as a thin client or thick client? The current mobile ecosystems strongly push developers towards a thick-client approach. Why? Remember, Android and iOS require that a native mobile app be packaged and distributed as an executable binary. There’s no way around it. Since the developer needs to write code to package into an executable, it seems logical to implement some of the app’s logic in that code. The code may as well initiate HTTP calls to the server to retrieve data, and then render that data using the platform’s UI libraries. Thus, developers are naturally led into a thick-client pattern that looks something like this:
- The client contains code to make API requests to the server, and code to translate those responses to UI updates
- The server implements an HTTP API that speaks JSON, and knows little about the state of the client
Just like with SPAs on the web, this architecture has a big downside: the app’s logic gets spread across the client and server. Sometimes, this means that logic gets duplicated (like to validate form data). Other times, the client and server each implement disjoint parts of the app’s overall logic. To understand what the app does, a developer needs to trace interactions between two very different codebases.
There’s another downside that affects mobile apps more than SPAs: API churn. Remember, the app stores control how your app gets distributed and updated. Users can even control if and when they get updated versions of your app. As a mobile developer, you can’t assume that every user will be on the latest version of your app. Your frontend code gets fragmented across many versions, and now your backend needs to support all of them.
Hypermedia for Mobile Apps
We’ve seen that the hypermedia architecture can address the shortcomings of SPAs on the web. But can hypermedia work for mobile apps as well? The answer is yes!
Just like on the web, we can use hypermedia formats on mobile and let it serve as the engine of application state. All of the logic is controlled from the backend, rather than being spread between two codebases. Hypermedia architecture also solves the annoying problem of API churn on mobile apps. Since the backend serves a hypermedia response containing both data and actions, there’s no way for the data and UI to get out of sync. No more worries about backwards compatibility or maintaining multiple API versions.
So how can you use hypermedia for your mobile app? There are two approaches employing hypermedia to build & ship native mobile apps today:
- Web views, which wraps the trusty web platform in a mobile app shell
- Hyperview, a new hypermedia system we designed specifically for mobile apps
The simplest way to use hypermedia architecture on mobile is by leveraging web technologies. Both Android and iOS SDKs provide “web views”: chromeless web browsers that can be embedded in native apps. Tools like Apache Cordova make it easy to take the URL of a website, and spit out native iOS and Android apps based on web views. If you already have a responsive web app, you can get a “native” mobile HDA for free. Sounds too good to be true, right?
Of course, there is a fundamental limitation with this approach. The web platform and mobile platforms have different capabilities and UX conventions. HTML doesn’t natively support common UI patterns of mobile apps. One of the biggest differences is around how each platform handles navigation. On the web, navigation is page-based, with one page replacing another and the browser providing back/forward buttons to navigate the page history. On mobile, navigation is more complex, and tuned for the physicality of gesture-based interactions.
- To drill down, screens slide on top of each other, forming stacks of screens.
- Tab bars at the top or bottom of the app allow switching between various stacks of screens.
- Modals slide up from the bottom of the app, covering the other stacks and tab bar.
- Unlike with web pages, all of these screens are still present in memory, rendered and updating based on app state.
The navigation architecture is a major difference between how mobile and web apps function. But it’s not the only one. Many other UX patterns are present in mobile apps, but are not natively supported on the web:
- pull-to-refresh to refresh content in a screen
- horizontal swipe on UI elements to reveal actions
- sectioned lists with sticky headers
While these interactions are not natively supported by web browsers, they can be simulated with JS libraries. Of course, these libraries will never have the same feel and performance as native gestures. And using them usually requires embracing a JS-heavy SPA architecture like React. This puts us back at square 1! To avoid using the typical thick-client architecture of native mobile apps, we turned to a web view. The web view allows us to use good-old hypermedia-based HTML. But to get the desired look & feel of a mobile app, we end up building a SPA in JS, losing the benefits of Hypermedia in the process.
To build a mobile HDA that acts and feels like a native app, HTML isn’t going to cut it. We need a format designed to represent the interactions and patterns of native mobile apps. That’s exactly what Hyperview does.
Hyperview is an open-source hypermedia system that provides:
- A hypermedia format for defining mobile apps called HXML
- A hypermedia client for HXML that works on iOS and Android
- Extension points in HXML and the client to customize the framework for a given app
HXML was designed to feel familiar to web developers, used to working with HTML. Thus the choice of XML for the base format. In addition to familiar ergonomics, XML is compatible with server-side rendering libraries. For example, Jinja2 is perfectly suited as a templating library to render HXML. The familiarity of XML and the ease of integration on the backend make it simple to adopt in both new and existing codebases. Take a look at a “Hello World” app written in HXML. The syntax should be familiar to anyone who’s worked with HTML:
But HXML is not just a straight port of HTML with differently named tags. In previous chapters, we’ve seen how htmx enhances HTML with a handful of new attributes. These additions maintain the declarative nature of HTML, while giving developers the power to create rich web apps. In HXML, the concepts of htmx are built into the spec. Specifically, HXML is not limited to “click a link” and “submit a form” interactions like basic HTML. It supports a range of triggers and actions for modifying the content on a screen. These interactions are bundled together in a powerful concept of “behaviors.” Developers can even define new behavior actions to add new capabilities to their app, without the need for scripting. We will learn more about behaviors later in this chapter.
Hyperview provides an open-source HXML client library written in React Native. With a little bit of configuration and a few steps on the command line, this library compiles into native app binaries for iOS or Android. Users install the app on their device via an app store. On launch, the app makes an HTTP request to the configured URL, and renders the HXML response as the first screen.
It may seem a little strange that developing a HDA using Hyperview requires a single-purpose client binary. After all, we don’t ask users to first download and install a binary to view a web app. No, users just enter a URL in the address bar of a general-purpose web browser. A single HTML client renders apps from any HTML server.
It is theoretically possible to build an equivalent general-purpose “Hyperview browser.” This HXML client would render apps from any HXML server, and users would enter a URL to specify the app they want to use. But iOS and Android are built around the concept of single-purpose apps. Users expect to find and install apps from an app store, and launch them from the home screen of their device. Hyperview embraces this app-centric paradigm of today’s popular mobile platforms. That means that the HXML client (app binary) renders its UI from a single pre-configured HXML server:
Luckily, developers do not need to write a HXML client from scratch; the open-source client library does 99% of the work. And as we will see in the next section, there are major benefits to controlling both the client and server in a HDA.
To understand the benefits of Hyperview’s architecture, we need to first discuss the drawbacks of the web architecture. On the web, any web browser can render HTML from any web server. This level of compatibility can only happen with well-defined standards such as HTML5. But defining and evolving standards is a laborious process. For example, the W3C took over 7 years to go from first draft to recommendation on the HTML5 spec. It’s not surprising, given the level of thoughtfulness that needs to go into a change that impacts so many people. But it means that progress happens slowly. As a web developer, you may need to wait years for browsers to gain widespread support for the feature you need.
So what are the benefits of Hyperview’s architecture?
In a Hyperview app, your mobile app only renders HXML from your server.
You don’t need to worry about compatibility between your server and other mobile apps, or between your mobile app and other servers.
There is no standards body to consult.
If you want to add a blink feature to your mobile app, go ahead and implement a
<blink> element in the client, and start returning
<blink> elements in the HXML responses from your server.
In fact, the Hyperview client library was built with this type of extensibility in mind.
There are extension points for custom UI elements and custom behavior actions.
We expect and encourage developers to use these extensions to make HXML more expressive and customized to their app’s functionality.
And by extending the HXML format and client itself, there’s no need for Hyperview to include a scripting layer in HXML. Features that require client-side logic get “built-in” to the client binary. HXML responses remain pure, with UI and interactions represented in declarative XML.
Which Hypermedia Architecture Should You Use?
We’ve discussed two approaches for creating mobile apps using hypermedia systems:
- create a backend that returns HTML, and serve it in a mobile app through a web view
- create a backend that returns HXML, and serve it in a mobile app with the Hyperview client
I purposefully described the two approaches in a way to highlight their similarities. After all, they are both based on hypermedia systems, just with different formats and clients. Both approaches solve the fundamental issues with traditional, SPA-like mobile app development:
- The backend controls the full state of the app.
- Our app’s logic is all in one place.
- The app always runs the latest version, there’s no API churn to worry about.
So which approach should you use for a mobile HDA? Based on our experience building both types of apps, we believe the Hyperview approach results in a better user experience. The web-view will always feel out-of-place on iOS and Android; there’s just no good way to replicate the patterns of navigation and interaction that mobile users expect. Hyperview was created specifically to address the limitations of thick-client and web view approaches. After the initial investment to learn Hyperview, you’ll get all of the benefits of the Hypermedia architecture, without the downsides of a degraded user experience.
Of course, if you already have a simple, mobile-friendly web app, then using a web-view approach is sensible. You will certainly save time from not having to serve your app as HXML in addition to HTML. But as we will show at the end of this chapter, it doesn’t take a lot of work to convert an existing Hypermedia-driven web app into a Hyperview mobile app. But before we get there, we need to introduce the concepts of elements and behaviors in Hyperview. Then, we’ll re-build our contacts app in Hyperview.
Introduction to HXML
HXML was designed to feel natural to web developers coming from HTML. Let’s take a closer look at the “Hello World” app defined in HXML:
Nothing too strange here, right?
Just like HTML, the syntax defines a tree of elements using start tags (
<screen>) and end tags (
Elements can contain other elements (
<view>) or text (
Elements can also be empty, represented with an empty tag (
However, you’ll notice that the names of the HXML element are different from those in HTML.
Let’s take a closer look at each of those elements to understand what they do.
<doc> is the root of the HXML app.
Think of it as equivalent to the
<html> element in HTML.
Note that the
<doc> element contains an attribute
This defines the default namespace for the doc.
Namespaces are a feature of XML that allow one doc to contain elements defined by different developers.
To prevent conflicts when two developers use the same name for their element, each developer defines a unique namespace.
We will talk more about namespaces when we discuss custom elements & behaviors later in this chapter.
For now, it’s enough to know that elements in a HXML doc without an explicit namespace are considered to be part of the
<screen> represents the UI that gets rendered on a single screen of a mobile app.
It’s possible for one
<doc> to contain multiple
<screen> elements, but we won’t get into that now.
<screen> element will contain elements that define the content and styling of the screen.
<styles> defines the styles of the UI on the screen.
We won’t get too much into styling in Hyperview in this chapter.
Suffice it to say, unlike HTML, Hyperview does not use a separate language (CSS) to define styles.
Instead, styling rules such as colors, spacing, layout, and fonts are defined in HXML.
These rules are then explicitly referenced by UI elements, much like using classes in CSS.
<body> defines the actual UI of the screen.
The body includes all text, images, buttons, forms, etc that will be shown to the user.
This is equivalent to the
<body> element in HTML.
<header> defines the header of the screen.
Typically in mobile apps, the header includes some navigation (like a back button), and the title of the screen.
It’s useful to define the header separately from the rest of the body.
Some mobile OSes will use a different transition for the header than the rest of the screen content.
<view> is the basic building block for layouts and structure within the screen’s body.
Think of it like a
<div> in HTML.
Note that unlike in HTML, a
<div> cannot directly contain text.
<text> elements are the only way to render text in the UI.
In this example, “Hello World” is contained within a
That’s all there is to define a basic “Hello World” app in HXML. Of course, this isn’t very exciting. Let’s cover some other built-in display elements.
A very common pattern in mobile apps is to scroll through a list of items. The physical properties of a phone screen (long & vertical) and the intuitive gesture of swiping a thumb up & down makes this a good choice for many screens.
HXML has dedicated elements for representing lists and items.
Lists are represented with two new elements.
<list> wraps all of the items in the list.
It can be styled like a generic
<view> (width, height, etc).
<list> element only contains
Of course, these represent each unique item in the list.
<item> is required to have a
key attribute, which is unique among all items in the list.
You might be asking, “Why do we need a custom syntax for lists of items?
Can’t we just use a bunch of
Yes, for lists with a small number of items, using nested
<views> will work quite well.
However, often the number of items in a list can be long enough to require optimizations to support smooth scrolling interactions.
Consider browsing a feed of posts in a social media app.
As you keep scrolling through the feed, it’s not unusual for the app to show hundreds if not thousands of posts.
At any time, you can flick your finger to scroll to almost any part of the feed.
Mobile devices tend to be memory-constrained.
Keeping the fully-rendered list of items in memory could consume more resources than available.
That’s why both iOS and Android provide APIs for optimized list UIs.
These APIs know which part of the list is currently on-screen. To save memory, they clear out the non-visible list items, and recycle the item UI objects to conserve memory.
By using explicit
<item> elements in HXML, the Hyperview client knows to use these optimized list APIs to make your app more performant.
It’s also worth mentioning that HXML supports section lists. Section lists are useful for building list-based UIs, where the items in the list can be grouped for the user’s convenience. For example, a UI showing a restaurant menu could group the offerings by dish type:
You’ll notice a couple of differences between
The section list element only contains
<section> elements, representing a group of items.
A section can contain a
<section-title> element. This is used to render some UI that acts as the header of the section.
This header is “sticky”, meaning it stays on screen while scrolling through items that belong to the corresponding section.
<item> elements act the same as in the regular list, but can only appear within a
Showing images in Hyperview is pretty similar to HTML, but there are a few differences.
source attribute specifies how to load the image.
Like in HTML, the source can be an absolute or relative URL.
Additionally, the source can be an encoded data URI, for example
However, the source can also be a “local” URL, referring to an image that is bundled as an asset in the mobile app.
The local URL is prefixed with
Using Local URLs is an optimization. Since the images are on the mobile device, they don’t require a network request and will appear quickly. However, bundling the image with the mobile app binary increases the binary size. Using local images is a good trade-off for images that are frequently accessed but rarely change. Good examples include the app logo, or common button icons.
The other thing to note is the presence of the
style attribute on the
In HXML, images are required to have a style that has rules for the image’s
This is different from HTML, where
<img> elements do not need to explicitly set a width and height.
web browsers will re-flow the content of a web page once the image is fetched and the dimensions are known.
While re-flowing content is a reasonable behavior for web-based documents, users do not expect mobile apps to re-flow as content loads.
To maintain a static layout, HXML requires the dimensions to be known before the image loads.
There’s a lot to cover about inputs in Hyperview. Since this is meant to be an introduction and not an exhaustive resource, I’ll highlight just a few types of inputs. Let’s start with an example of the simplest type of input, a text field.
This element should feel familiar to anyone who’s created a text field in HTML.
One difference is that most inputs in HTML use the
<input> element with a
type attribute, eg
In Hyperview, each input has a unique name, in this case
By using different names, we can use more expressive XML to represent the input.
For example, let’s consider a case where we want to render a UI that lets the user select one among several options.
In HTML, we would use a radio button input, something like
<input type="radio" name="choice" value="option1" />.
Each choice is represented as a unique input element.
This never struck me as ideal.
Most of the time, radio buttons are grouped together to affect the same name.
The HTML approach leads to a lot of boilerplate (duplication of
name="choice" for each choice).
Also, unlike radio buttons on desktop, mobile OSes don’t provide a strong standard UI for selecting one option.
Most mobile apps use richer, custom UIs for these interactions.
So in HXML, we implement this UI using an element called
<select-single> element is the parent of the input for selecting one choice out of many.
This element contains the
name attribute used when serializing the selected choice.
<option> elements within
<select-single> represent the available choices.
Note that each
<option> element has a
When pressed, this will be the selected value of the input.
<option> element can contain any other UI elements within it.
This means that we’re not hampered by rendering the input as a list of radio buttons with labels.
We can render the options as radios, tags, images, or anything else that would be intuitive for our interface.
HXML styling supports modifiers for pressed and selected states, letting us customize the UI to highlight the selected option.
Describing all features of inputs in HXML would take an entire chapter. Instead, I’ll summarize a few other input elements and their features.
<select-multiple> works like
<select-single>, but it supports toggling multiple options on & off. This replaces checkbox inputs in HTML.
<switch> element renders an on/off switch that is common in mobile UIs
<date-field> element supports entering in specific dates, and comes with a wide range of customizations for formatting, settings ranges, etc.
Two more things to mention about inputs.
First is the
<form> element is used to group together inputs for serialization.
When a user takes an action that triggers a backend request, the Hyperview client will serialize all inputs in the surrounding
<form> and include them in the request.
This is true for both
We will cover this in more detail when talking about behaviors later in this chapter.
Also later in this chapter, I’ll talk about support for custom elements in HXML.
With custom elements, you can also create your own input elements.
Custom input elements allow you to build incredible powerful interactions with simple XML syntax that integrates well with the rest of HXML.
So far, we haven’t mentioned how to apply styling to all of the HXML elements.
We’ve seen from the Hello World app that each
<screen> can contain a
Let’s re-visit the Hello World app and fill out the
You’ll note that in HXML, styling is part of the XML format, rather than using a separate language like CSS.
However, we can draw some parallels between CSS rules and the
A CSS rule consists of a selector and declarations.
In the current version of HXML, the only available selector is a class name, indicated by the
The rest of the attributes on the
<style> element are declarations, consisting of properties and property values.
UI elements within the
<screen> can reference the
<style> rules by adding the class names to their
<text> element around “Hello World!” references two style classes:
info. The styles from the corresponding classes are merged together in the order they appear on the element.
It’s worth noting that styling properties are similar to those in CSS (color, margins/padding, borders, etc).
Currently, the only available layout engine is based on flexbox.
Style rules can get quite verbose.
For the sake of brevity, we won’t include the
<styles> element in the rest of the examples in this chapter unless necessary.
The core UI elements that ship with Hyperview are quite basic. Most mobile apps require richer elements to deliver a great user experience. Luckily, HXML can easily accommodate custom elements in its syntax. This is because HXML is really just XML, aka “Extensible Markup Language”. Extensibility is already built into the format! Developers are free to define new elements and attributes to represent custom elements.
Let’s see this in action with a concrete example. Assume that we want to add a map element to our Hello World app. We want the map to display a defined area, and one or more markers at specific coordinates in that area. Let’s translate these requirements into XML:
<area>element will represent the area displayed by the map. To specify the area, the element will include attributes for
longitudefor the center of the area, and a
longitude-deltaindicating the +/- display area around the center.
<marker>element will represent a marker in the area. The coordinates of the marker will be defined by
longitudeattributes on the marker.
Using these custom XML elements, an instance of the map in our app might look like this:
The syntax feels right at home among the core HXML elements.
However, there’s a potential problem.
“area” and “marker” are pretty generic names.
I could see
<marker> elements being used by a customization to render charts & graphs.
If our app renders both maps and charts, the HXML markup would be ambiguous.
What should the client render when it sees
This is where XML namespaces come in. XML namespaces eliminate ambiguity and collisions between elements and attributes used to represent different things.
Remember that the
<doc> element declares that
https://hyperview.org/hyperview is the default namespace for the entire document.
Since no other elements define namespaces, every element in the example above is part of the
Let’s define a new namespace for our map elements. Since this namespace will not be the default for the document, we also need to assign the namespace to a prefix we will add to our elements:
<doc xmlns="https://hyperview.org/hyperview" xmlns:map="https://mycompany.com/hyperview-map">
This new attribute declares that the
map: prefix is associated with the namespace "https://mycompany.com/hyperview-map".
This namespace could be anything, but remember the goal is to use something unique that won’t have collisions.
Using your company/app domain is a good way to guarantee uniqueness.
Now that we have a namespace and prefix, we need to use it for our elements:
That’s it! If we introduced a custom charting library with “area” and “marker” elements, we would create a unique namespace for those elements as well. Within the HXML doc, we could easily disambiguate
At this point you might be wondering, “how does the Hyperview client know to render a map when my doc includes <map:area>?” It’s true, so far we only defined the custom element format, but we haven’t implemented the element as a feature in our app. We will get into the details of implementing custom elements in the next chapter.
As discussed in earlier chapters, HTML supports two basic types of interactions:
- Clicking a hyperlink: the client will make a GET request and render the response as a new web page.
- Submitting a form: the client will (typically) make a POST request with the serialized content of the form, and render the response as a new web page.
Clicking hyperlinks and submitting forms is enough to build simple web applications. But relying on just these two interactions limits our ability to build richer UIs. What if we want something to happen when the user mouses over a certain element, or perhaps when they scroll some content into the viewport? We can’t do that with basic HTML. Additionally, both clicks and form submits result in loading a full new web page. What if we only want to update a small part of the current page? This is a very common scenario in rich web applications, where users expect to fetch and update content without navigating to a new page.
- Interactions can be added to any element, not just links and forms.
- The actions resulting from the trigger can modify the current page, not just request a new page.
By decoupling elements, triggers, and actions, htmx allows us to build rich Hypermedia-driven applications in a way that feels very compatible with HTML syntax and server-side web development.
HXML takes the idea of defining interactions via triggers & actions and builds them into the spec.
We call these interactions “behaviors.”
We use a special
<behavior> element to define them.
Here’s an example of a simple behavior that pushes a new mobile screen onto the navigation stack:
Let’s break down what’s happening in this example.
First, we have a
<text> element with the content "Press me!".
<text> elements before in examples of HXML, so this is nothing new.
But now, the
<text> element contains a new child element,
<behavior> element defines an interaction on the parent
It contains two attributes that are required for any behavior:
trigger: defines the user action that triggers the behavior
action: defines what happens when triggered
In this example, the
trigger is set to
press, meaning this interaction will happen when the user presses the
action attribute is set to
push is an action that will push a new screen onto the navigation stack.
Finally, Hyperview needs to know what content to load on the newly pushed screen.
This is where the
href attribute comes in.
Notice we don’t need to define the full URL.
Much like in HTML, the
href can be an absolute or relative URL.
So that’s a first example of behaviors in HXML.
You may be thinking this syntax seems quite verbose.
Indeed, pressing elements to navigate to a new screen is one of the most common interactions in a mobile app.
It would be nice to have a simpler syntax for the common case.
action attributes have default values of
Therefore, they can be omitted to clean up the syntax:
This markup for the
<behavior> will produce the same interaction as the earlier example.
With the default attributes, the
<behavior> element looks similar to an anchor
<a> in HTML.
But the full syntax achieves our goals of decoupling elements, triggers, and actions:
- Behaviors can be added to any element, they are not limited to links and forms.
Behaviors can specify an explicit
trigger, not just clicks or form submits.
Behaviors can specify an explicit
action, not just a request for a new page.
Extra attributes like
hrefprovide more context for the action.
Additionally, using a dedicated
<behavior> element means a single element can define multiple behaviors.
This lets us execute several actions from the same trigger.
Or, we can execute different actions for different triggers on the same element.
We will show examples of the power of multiple behaviors at the end of this chapter.
First we need to show the variety of supported actions and triggers.
Behavior actions in Hyperview fall into four general categories:
- Navigation actions, which load new screens and move between them
- Update actions, which modify the HXML of the current screen
- System actions, which interact with OS-level capabilities.
- Custom actions, which can execute any code you add to the client.
We’ve already seen the simplest type of action,
push as a “navigation action”, since it’s related to navigating screens in the mobile app.
Pushing a screen onto the navigation stack is just one of several navigation actions supported in Hyperview.
Users also need to be able to go back to previous screens, open and close modals, switch between tabs, or jump to arbitrary screens.
Each of these types of navigation is supported through a different value for the
push: Push a new screen into the current navigation stack. This looks like a screen sliding in from the right, on top of the current screen.
new: Open a new navigation stack as a modal. This looks like a screen sliding in from the bottom, on top of the current screen.
back: This is a complement to the
pushaction. It pops the current screen off of the navigation stack (sliding it to the right).
close: This is a complement to the
newaction. It closes the current navigation stack (sliding it down).
reload: Similar to a browser’s “refresh” button, this will re-request the content of the current screen.
navigate: This action will attempt to find a screen with the given
hrefalready loaded in the app. If the screen exists, the app will jump to that screen. If it doesn’t exist, it will act the same as
navigate all load a new screen.
Thus, they require an
href attribute so that Hyperview knows what content to request for the new screen.
close do not load new screens, and thus do not require the
reload is an interesting case.
By default, it will use the URL of the screen when re-requesting the content for the screen.
However, if you want to replace the screen with a different one, you can provide an
href attribute with
reload on the behavior element.
Let’s look at an example “widgets” app that uses several navigation actions on one screen:
Most screens in your app will need a way for the user to backtrack to the previous screen.
This is usually done with a button in the header that uses either a “back” or “close” action, depending on how the screen was opened.
In this example, we’re assuming the widgets screen was pushed onto the navigation stack, so the “back” action is appropriate.
The header contains a second button that allows the user to enter data for a new widget.
Pressing this button will open a modal with a “New Widget” screen.
Since this “New Widget” screen will open as a modal, it will need a corresponding “close” action to dismiss itself and show our “widgets” screen again.
Finally, to see more details about a specific widget, each
<item> element contains a behavior with a “push” action.
This action will push a “Widget Detail” screen onto the current navigation stack.
Like in the “Widgets” screen, “Widget Detail” will need a button in the header that uses the “back” action to let the user backtrack.
On the web, the browser handles basic navigation needs such as going back/forward, reloading the current page, or jumping to a bookmark. iOS and Android don’t provide this sort of universal navigation for native mobile apps. It’s on the app developers to handle this themselves. Navigation actions in HXML provide an easy but powerful way for developers to build an architecture that makes sense for their app.
Behavior actions are not just limited to navigating between screens.
They can also be used to change the content on the current screen.
We call these “update actions”.
Much like navigation actions, update actions make a request to the backend.
However, the response is not an entire HXML document, but a fragment of HXML.
This fragment is added to the HXML of the current screen, resulting in an update to the UI.
action attribute of the
<behavior> determines how the fragment gets incorporated into the HXML.
We also need to introduce a new
target attribute on
<behavior> to define where the fragment gets incorporated in the existing doc.
target attribute is an ID reference to an existing element on the screen.
Hyperview currently supports these update actions, representing different ways to incorporate the fragment into the screen:
replace: replaces the entire target element with the fragment
replace-inner: replaces the children of the target element with the fragment
append: adds the fragment after the last child of the target element
prepend: adds the fragment before the first child of the target element.
Let’s look at some examples to make this more concrete.
For these examples, let’s assume our backend accepts
GET requests to
/fragment, and the response is a fragment of HXML that looks like
In this example, we have a screen with four buttons corresponding to the four update actions:
Below each button, there’s a corresponding
<view> containing some text.
Note that the
id of each view matches the
target on the behaviors of the corresponding button.
When the user presses the first button, the Hyperview client makes a request for
Next, it looks for the target, ie the element with id “area1”.
Finally, it replaces the
<view id="area1"> element with the fetched fragment,
The existing view and text contained in that view will be replaced.
To the user, it will look like “Existing content” was changed to “My fragment”.
In the HXML, the element
<view id="area1"> will also be gone.
The second button behaves in a similar way to the first one.
replace-inner action does not remove the target element from the screen, it only replaces the children.
This means the resulting markup will look like
<view id="area2"><text>My fragment</text></view>.
The third and fourth buttons do not remove any content from the screen.
Instead, the fragment will be added either after (in the case of
append) or before (
prepend) the children of the target element.
For completeness, let’s look at the state of the screen after a user presses all four buttons:
The examples above show actions making
GET requests to the backend.
But these actions can also make
POST requests by setting
verb="post" on the
POST requests, the data from the parent
<form> element will be serialized and included in the request.
GET requests, the content will be URL-encoded and added as query params.
POST requests, the content will be form-URL encoded and set on the request body.
Since they support
POST and form data, update actions are often used to send data to the backend.
So far, our example of update actions require getting new content from the backend and adding it to the screen.
But sometimes we just want to change the state of existing elements.
The most common state to change for an element is its visibility.
toggle actions that do just that.
Like the other update actions,
toggle use the
target attribute to apply the action to an element on the current screen.
In this example, the three buttons labeled “Hide”, “Show”, and “Toggle” will modify the display state of the
<view> with ID “area”.
Pressing “Hide” multiple times will have no affect once the view is hidden.
Likewise, pressing “Show” multiple times will have no affect once the view is showing.
Pressing “Toggle” will keep flipping the visibility status of the element between showing and hidden.
Hyperview comes with other actions that modify the existing HXML. We won’t cover them in detail, but I’ll mention them briefly here:
set-value: this action can set the value of an input element such as
unselect-allwork with the
<select-multiple>element to select/deselect all options.
Some standard Hyperview actions don’t interact with the HXML at all.
Instead, they expose functionality provided by the mobile OS.
For example, both Android and iOS support a system-level “Share” UI.
This UI allows sharing URLs and messages from one app to another app.
Hyperview has a
share action to support this interaction.
It involves a custom namespace, and share-specific attributes.
We’ve seen XML namespaces when talking about custom elements.
Here, we are using a namespace for the
message attributes on the
These attribute names are generic and likely used by other components and behaviors, so the namespace ensures there will be no ambiguity.
When pressed, the “share” action will trigger.
The values of the
message attributes will be passed to the system Share UI.
From there, the user will be able to share the URL & message via SMS, email, or other communication apps.
share action shows how a behavior action can use custom attributes to pass along extra data needed for the interactions.
But some actions require even more structured data.
This can be provided via child elements on the
Hyperview uses this to implement the
alert action shows a customized system-level dialog box.
This dialog needs configuration for a title and message, but also for customized buttons.
Each button needs to then trigger another behavior when pressed.
This level of configuration cannot be done with just attributes, so we use custom child elements to represent the behavior of each button.
alert uses a namespace to define some attributes and elements.
<behavior> element itself contains the
message attributes for the dialog box.
The button options for the dialog are defined using a new
<option> element nested in the
Notice that each
<option> element has a label, and then optionally contains a
This structure of the HXML allows the system dialog to trigger any interaction that can be defined as a
In the example above, pressing the “Continue” button will open a new screen.
But we could just as easily trigger an update action to change the current screen.
We could even open a share sheet, or a second dialog box.
But please don’t do that in a real app!
With great power comes great responsibility.
You can build a lot of mobile UIs with Hyperview’s standard navigation, update, and system actions.
But the standard set may not cover all interactions you will need for your mobile app.
Luckily, the action system is extensible.
In the same way you can add custom elements to Hyperview, you can also add custom behavior actions.
Custom actions have a similar syntax to the
alert actions, using namespaces for attributes that pass along extra data.
Custom actions also have full access to the HXML of the current screen, so they can modify the state or add/remove elements from the current screen.
In the next chapter, we will create a custom behavior action to enhance our mobile contacts app.
We’ve already seen the simplest type of trigger, a
press on an element. Hyperview supports many other common triggers used in mobile apps.
Closely related to a press is a long-press.
A behavior with
trigger="longPress" will trigger when the user presses and holds on the element.
“Long-press” interactions are often used for shortcuts and power features.
Sometimes, elements will support different actions for both a
This is done using multiple
<behavior> elements on the same UI element.
In this example, a normal press will open a new screen and request content from
However, a long press will open a new screen with content from
This is a contrived example for the sake of brevity.
A better UX would be for the long-press to bring up a contextual menu of shortcuts and advanced options.
This could be achieved by using
action="alert" and opening a system dialog box with the shortcuts.
Sometimes we want an action to trigger as soon as the screen loads.
trigger="load" does exactly this.
One use case is to quickly load a shell of the screen, and then fill in the main content on the screen with a second update action.
In this example, We load a screen with a heading (“My app”) but no content.
Instead, we show a
<view> with ID “container” and some “Loading…” text.
As soon as this screen loads, the behavior with
trigger=“load” fires off the
It requests content from the
/content path and replaces the container view with the response.
visible trigger will only execute the behavior when the element with the behavior is scrolled into the viewport on the mobile device.
visible action is commonly used to implement an infinite-scroll interaction on a
The last item in the list includes a behavior with
append action will fetch the next page of items and append them to the list.
This trigger captures a “pull to refresh” action on
This interaction is associated with fetching up-to-date content from the backend.
Thus, it’s typically paired with an update or reload action to show the latest data on the screen.
Note that adding a behavior with
trigger="refresh" to a
<list> will add the pull-to-refresh interaction to the element, including showing a spinner as the element is pulled down.
Focus, blur, and change
These triggers are related to interactions with input elements.
Thus, they will only trigger behaviors attached to elements like
blur will trigger when the user focuses and blurs the input element, respectively.
change will trigger when the value of the input element changes, like when the user types a letter in a text field.
These triggers are often used with behaviors that need to perform some server-side validation on the form fields.
For example, when the user types in a username and then blurs the field, a behavior could trigger on
blur to make a request to the backend and check for uniqueness of the username.
If the entered username is not unique, the response could include an error message letting the user know they need to pick a different username.
Using multiple behaviors
Most of the examples shown above attach a single
<behavior> to an element.
But there’s no such limitation in Hyperview; elements can define multiple behaviors.
We already saw an example where a single element had different actions triggered on
But we can also trigger multiple actions on the same trigger.
In this admittedly contrived example, we want to hide two elements on the screen when pressing the “Hide” button. The two elements are far apart in the HXML, and cannot be hidden by hiding a common parent element. But, we can trigger two behaviors at the same time, each one executing a “hide” action but targeting different elements.
Hyperview processes behaviors in the order they appear in the markup. In this case, the element with ID “area1” will be hidden first, followed by the element with ID “area2”. Since “hide” is an instantaneous action (ie, it doesn’t make an HTTP request), both elements will appear to hide simultaneously. But what if we triggered two actions that depend on responses from HTTP requests (like “replace-inner”)? In that case, each individual action is processed as soon as Hyperview receives the HTTP response. Depending on network latency, the two actions could take effect in any order, and they are not guaranteed to be applied simultaneously.
We’ve seen elements with multiple behaviors and different triggers. And we’ve seen elements with multiple behaviors with the same trigger. These concepts can be mixed together too. It’s not unusual for a production Hyperview app to contain several behaviors, some triggering together and others triggering on different interactions. Using multiple behaviors with custom actions keeps HXML declarative, without sacrificing functionality.
We’re covering a lot of new concepts here, and this introduction to HXML just scratches the surface. To learn more about HXML, we recommend consulting the official reference documentation. For now, we hope you come away with a few key takeaways.
First, HXML looks and feels similar to HTML.
Web developers comfortable with server-side rendering frameworks can use the same techniques to write HXML.
In addition to basic UI elements (
<image>), HXML specifies elements to implement mobile-specific UIs.
This includes layout patterns (
<section-list>) and input elements (
Second, interactions in HXML are defined using behaviors.
Inspired by htmx,
<behavior> elements decouple user interactions (triggers) from the resulting actions.
There are three broad categories of behavior actions:
Navigation actions (
back) enable navigating between the screens of a mobile app
Update actions (
append) enable updating a screen with new fragments of HXML requested from the server.
System actions (
share) enable interacting with system-level functionality on iOS and Android.
Finally, HXML itself was designed for customization. Developers can define custom elements and custom behavior actions to expand the possible user interactions with their apps.
Hypermedia, for Mobile
There is a strong case for Hypermedia-Driven Applications on mobile. Mobile app platforms push developers towards a thick-client architecture. But apps that use a thick client suffer from the same problems as SPAs on the web. Using the hypermedia architecture for mobile apps can solve these problems.
Hyperview, based on a new format called HXML, offers a path here. It provides an open-source mobile thin client to render HXML. And HXML opens a toolkit of elements and patterns that correspond to mobile UIs. Developers can evolve Hyperview to suit their apps' requirements, while fully embracing the hypermedia architecture. That’s a win.
Yes, hypermedia can work for mobile apps, too. In the next two chapters we’ll show how by turning the Contact.app web application into a native mobile app using Hyperview.