Your first app

For our first app, let's create something original: a counter app.

App screenshot dark

In this app, we will have a counter which can be incremented and decremented by pressing the corresponding buttons.

The app we will write in this chapter is also available here. Run cargo run --example simple_manual from the example directory if you want to see the code in action.

Application architecture

Often, programming concepts are easier to understand when explained with examples or metaphors from the real world. To understand how Relm4 apps work, you can think about a computer as a person.

Our job as a programmer is to ensure that the users of our app will be able to communicate with the computer through the UI. Since the computer can't understand our human language, it needs some help from us to get the communication going.

Let's have a look at what we need to get this done!

Messages

To help the computer understand what we want to tell it, we first translate user interactions into messages.

In Relm4, a message can be any data type, but most often, an enum is used. In our case, we just want to tell the computer to either increment or decrement a counter.

enum AppMsg {
    Increment,
    Decrement,
}

The model

Like a person, a computer needs a brain to be functional. It needs to process our messages and remember the results.

Relm4 uses the term Model as a data type that represents the application state, the memory of your application. For our counter app, the computer only needs to remember the counter value, so an u8 is all we need.

struct AppModel {
    counter: u8,
}

The AppUpdate trait

Of course, the brain needs to do more than just remembering things, it also needs to process information.

Here, both the model and message types come into play. The update function of the AppUpdate trait tells the computer how to process messages and how to update its memory.

impl AppUpdate for AppModel {
    fn update(&mut self, msg: AppMsg, _components: &(), _sender: Sender<AppMsg>) -> bool {
        match msg {
            AppMsg::Increment => {
                self.counter = self.counter.wrapping_add(1);
            }
            AppMsg::Decrement => {
                self.counter = self.counter.wrapping_sub(1);
            }
        }
        true
    }
}

wrapping_add(1) and wrapping_sub(1) are like +1 and -1, but don't panic on overflows.

Also, we return true to tell the computer to keep our application alive. If our app should close, we can simply return false.

The widgets

The computer is now able to process and remember information, but we still need an interface to communicate with the user.

GTK4 offers the computer widgets that allow it to take input and to respond. Widgets are simply parts of an UI like buttons, input fields or text areas. To be able to update the widgets in our program, we can put them all into a struct.

For our app, we use a window with two buttons to increment and decrement the counter and a label to display the counter value. Besides that, we need a box as a container to place our buttons and the label inside because a window can only have one child.

struct AppWidgets {
    window: gtk::ApplicationWindow,
    vbox: gtk::Box,
    inc_button: gtk::Button,
    dec_button: gtk::Button,
    label: gtk::Label,
}

The Widgets trait

The last step is to tell the computer how to initialize widgets and how to update them.

In Relm4, the UI represents the memory of the application. All that's left to do is to implement the Widgets trait that tells the computer exactly how its memory should be visualized.

Let's do this step by step. First, we'll have a look at the beginning of the trait impl.

impl Widgets<AppModel, ()> for AppWidgets {
    type Root = gtk::ApplicationWindow;

The two generic parameters are our model and the parent model. We're at the root of our app so we don't have a parent model and can use () as placeholder.

The Root type is the outermost widget of the app. Components can choose this type freely, but the main application must use an ApplicationWindow.

Next up, we want to initialize our UI.

Don't worry about the amount of manual code you need for handling widgets. In the next chapter, we'll see how this can be done easier.

    /// Initialize the UI.
    fn init_view(model: &AppModel, _parent_widgets: &(), sender: Sender<AppMsg>) -> Self {
        let window = gtk::ApplicationWindow::builder()
            .title("Simple app")
            .default_width(300)
            .default_height(100)
            .build();
        let vbox = gtk::Box::builder()
            .orientation(gtk::Orientation::Vertical)
            .spacing(5)
            .build();
        vbox.set_margin_all(5);

        let inc_button = gtk::Button::with_label("Increment");
        let dec_button = gtk::Button::with_label("Decrement");

        let label = gtk::Label::new(Some(&format!("Counter: {}", model.counter)));
        label.set_margin_all(5);

        // Connect the widgets
        window.set_child(Some(&vbox));
        vbox.append(&inc_button);
        vbox.append(&dec_button);
        vbox.append(&label);

        // Connect events
        let btn_sender = sender.clone();
        inc_button.connect_clicked(move |_| {
            send!(btn_sender, AppMsg::Increment);
        });

        dec_button.connect_clicked(move |_| {
            send!(sender, AppMsg::Decrement);
        });

        Self {
            window,
            vbox,
            inc_button,
            dec_button,
            label,
        }
    }

First, we initialize each of our widgets, mostly by using builder patterns.

Then we connect the widgets so that GTK4 knows how they are related to each other. The buttons and the label are added as children of the box, and the box is added as the child of the window.

Next, we connect the "clicked" event for both buttons and send a message from the closures to the computer. To do this, we only need to move a cloned sender into the closures and send the message. Now every time we click our buttons, a message will be sent to update our counter!

Still our UI will not update when the counter is changed. To do this, we need to implement the view function that modifies the UI according to the changes in the model.

    /// Update the view to represent the updated model.
    fn view(&mut self, model: &AppModel, _sender: Sender<AppMsg>) {
        self.label.set_label(&format!("Counter: {}", model.counter));
    }

We're almost done. To complete the Widgets trait, we just need to implement the root_widget method that simply returns the Root.

    /// Return the root widget.
    fn root_widget(&self) -> Self::Root {
        self.window.clone()
    }

The Model trait

In the Model trait, everything comes together. This trait just describes how the types we defined work together.

impl Model for AppModel {
    type Msg = AppMsg;
    type Widgets = AppWidgets;
    type Components = ();
}

Running the App

The last step is to run the app we just wrote. To do so, we just need to initialize our model and pass it into RelmApp::new().

fn main() {
    let model = AppModel { counter: 0 };
    let app = RelmApp::new(model);
    app.run();
}

🎉 Congratulations! You just wrote your first app with Relm4! 🎉

Summary

Let's summarize what we learned in this chapter.

A Relm4 application has three important types:

  1. The model type that stores the application state, the memory of our app.
  2. The message type that describes which information can be sent to update the model.
  3. The widgets type that stores our widgets.

Also, there are two important functions:

  1. update receives a message and updates the model accordingly.
  2. view receives the updated model and updates the widgets accordingly.

The app does all those things in a loop. It waits for messages and once a message is received, it runs update and then view.

relm update loop

Relm4 separates the data and the UI. The UI never knows which message was sent, but can only read the model. This might seem like a limitation, but it helps you to create maintainable, stable and consistent applications.

Conclusion

I hope this chapter made everything clear for you :)

If you found a mistake or there was something unclear, please open an issue here.

As you have seen, initializing the UI was by far the largest part of our app, with roughly one half of the total code. In the next chapter, we will have a look at the relm4-macros crate that offers a macro that helps us to reduce the amount of code we need to implement the Widgets trait.

As you might have noticed, storing inc_button, dec_button and vbox in our widgets struct is not necessary because GTK will keep them alive automatically. Therefore, we can remove them from AppWidgets to avoid compiler warnings.

The complete code

Let's review our code in one piece to see how all these parts work together:

use gtk::prelude::{BoxExt, ButtonExt, GtkWindowExt};
use relm4::{send, AppUpdate, Model, RelmApp, Sender, WidgetPlus, Widgets};

struct AppModel {
    counter: u8,
}

enum AppMsg {
    Increment,
    Decrement,
}

impl Model for AppModel {
    type Msg = AppMsg;
    type Widgets = AppWidgets;
    type Components = ();
}

impl AppUpdate for AppModel {
    fn update(&mut self, msg: AppMsg, _components: &(), _sender: Sender<AppMsg>) -> bool {
        match msg {
            AppMsg::Increment => {
                self.counter = self.counter.wrapping_add(1);
            }
            AppMsg::Decrement => {
                self.counter = self.counter.wrapping_sub(1);
            }
        }
        true
    }
}

struct AppWidgets {
    window: gtk::ApplicationWindow,
    vbox: gtk::Box,
    inc_button: gtk::Button,
    dec_button: gtk::Button,
    label: gtk::Label,
}

impl Widgets<AppModel, ()> for AppWidgets {
    type Root = gtk::ApplicationWindow;

    /// Initialize the UI.
    fn init_view(model: &AppModel, _parent_widgets: &(), sender: Sender<AppMsg>) -> Self {
        let window = gtk::ApplicationWindow::builder()
            .title("Simple app")
            .default_width(300)
            .default_height(100)
            .build();
        let vbox = gtk::Box::builder()
            .orientation(gtk::Orientation::Vertical)
            .spacing(5)
            .build();
        vbox.set_margin_all(5);

        let inc_button = gtk::Button::with_label("Increment");
        let dec_button = gtk::Button::with_label("Decrement");

        let label = gtk::Label::new(Some(&format!("Counter: {}", model.counter)));
        label.set_margin_all(5);

        // Connect the widgets
        window.set_child(Some(&vbox));
        vbox.append(&inc_button);
        vbox.append(&dec_button);
        vbox.append(&label);

        // Connect events
        let btn_sender = sender.clone();
        inc_button.connect_clicked(move |_| {
            send!(btn_sender, AppMsg::Increment);
        });

        dec_button.connect_clicked(move |_| {
            send!(sender, AppMsg::Decrement);
        });

        Self {
            window,
            vbox,
            inc_button,
            dec_button,
            label,
        }
    }

    /// Return the root widget.
    fn root_widget(&self) -> Self::Root {
        self.window.clone()
    }

    /// Update the view to represent the updated model.
    fn view(&mut self, model: &AppModel, _sender: Sender<AppMsg>) {
        self.label.set_label(&format!("Counter: {}", model.counter));
    }
}

fn main() {
    let model = AppModel { counter: 0 };
    let app = RelmApp::new(model);
    app.run();
}