Hint: Topincs is a sophisticated and powerful application building plattform. To master it, you need time.
Topincs is an online 4GL-plattform. It can be used through any modern web browser on desktops, laptops, tablets, and smartphones. An online database is similar to a wiki but stores information as data rather than text. In a wiki, users edit pages about topics using markup. In Topincs they complete forms. What they produce is immediately available for other users. It can be navigated through links and appears in select boxes in forms. It can also be consumed by computer programs because it follows a certain structure, the schema.
The schema lies at the center of any web database. It is composed by defining types and constraints in the web browser. It is used for generation of highly configurable web forms. The schema also powers the virtual object-oriented programming interface for developing online applications with Topincs.
Topincs calls its online databases stores. A Topincs installation can host multiple stores. A store is a collection of web pages that allow any number of users to commonly view and edit a data set on any device with a modern web browser.
A store is located at an URL, e.g. https://www.topincs.com/trial/movies/. Accessing this URL brings the user to the start page of a store. By default this is an index page which lists all topics grouped by type. Think of a topic as a record or simply something the online database has information about. In a little bit you will learn a lot more about this term and the technology around it. A topic is usually connected to other topics. These connections are rendered as hypertext links. At any time you can stop and edit the current topic through a form.
Hint: Check out the different layouts of Topincs by resizing your desktop browser window!
Every page in the online database has a constant header. It holds the main menu to the left which expands on click or tap and can hold sub menus. To the right users can search and sign in. A primary design goal of the Topincs user interface is to work well on any screen size, while maintaining a coherent and small set of usage principles. We will now take a closer look at the three base components: index, fact sheet and form.
The index has two main functions: accessing existing topics and creating new ones. For each type in the web database a rectangular bar is displayed. This bar displays the name of the type, how many topics (or instances) of that type exist and a link to create a new instance. When the bar is clicked or tapped, it expands and lists all instances. They can be searched and their display order can be changed. A topic is displayed by clicking or tapping its name or the area around it.
The factsheet displays all information that is recorded in the database about the topic. The headline holds type, name and meta data of the topic. All information (also called statements) are listed below. By default textual information is displayed to the left and data is displayed to the right.
In the right margin a context menu for the current topic is displayed. It holds a few standard entries of which Edit is the most important. Delete is hidden under More, since it is used only in rare circumstances. A Topincs web database is very much like an archive which never forgets. The context menu can be extended. You will learn later how.
In smaller layouts the separation of text and data is automatically omitted and the context menu is collapsed into the headline.
The fact sheet can be configured in many ways. Some of the advanced features are:
The form for a topic type is generated from the schema. It is used to create new topics or change existing ones. An empty form can be accessed from the index by clicking Record. An existing topic can be edited by using the context menu entry Edit. With Ok the changes are sent to the server and the factsheet is displayed.
Special value editors exist for
date and many other
datatypes. Select boxes are used to create associations to
other topics. By default they display only the most likely
options and allow access to all options through the entry
More. New entries can be created on the fly. In
this case a sub form opens and the current form is
suspended. It will be reactivated once the sub form is
committed or cancelled. Of course sub forms can open sub
forms and so on.
An online database is the foundation of one or more online applications, but it is also a finished product which can be put to good use. With two generic work flows any organization can be supported with information retrieval and recording services which can be accessed from any device by any number of people with an Internet connection.
Besides the above mentioned main components, a web database offers an Ongoing page page which simply list the topics which have recently been create or modified. It is the short-term memory of the web database. Tables hold a selection of statements and display them for reading and writing for all instances of a type.
A Topincs online application offers a tailored view on the web database which is optimized for the demands of a specific user group. Think of it as a restriction and streamlining of the multiple ways tasks can be achieved in a web database. It leads users on predefined and familiar paths which originate in a customized main menu or start page.
Every component in Topincs is fully defined by an URL. In the case of forms the state of the component can be influenced by query parameters as well: form fields can be prefilled. They can be made immutable too. URl construction is one big part of development in Topincs. It reduces the work load for the user since the application draws conculsions or simply looks something up and prefills a form.
The other big part of a Topincs application is special components which aggregate information in the web database. This can have many purposes. Two reocurring ones are:
The components of the application access and manipulate the online database through a virtual object-oriented programming interface. This is very quickly setup in the web browser and is intuitive to anyone familiar with object-oriented programming.
Since data is not everything you can just wrap a domain class around your topic and have methods that perform some computation. Here are the most common programming artifacts:
Whenever a user completes a form in Topincs, he makes statements about a topic. Some of the statements belong to one topic only, and some connect two topics. In the technology that Topincs is based on, Topic Maps, the latter are called associations and are composed of roles. The prior are called names and occurrences. Don't let yourself be confused by those terms. Think of names and occurrences as properties.
When you put a collection of topics and statements together, you have a topic map. Every Topincs Store is a topic map and assigns every single topic and statement, also called item, an URL which is called item identifier. Topics, names, occurrences, associations and roles all have a type which are nothing more or less than a topic.
The idea of Topic Maps has been around since the early ninties and has meanwhile matured into two ISO standards, the Topic Maps Data Model and the Topic Maps Constraint Language. These two standards are the theoretical foundation on which Topincs is built. Together with the traditional corner stones of the World Wide Web HTTP, URL and HTML.
There are many resources on Topic Maps on the web. We have selected a few. Reading them will deepen your understanding of Topic Maps and information in general. If you have never heard of Topic Maps before, now would be a good time to read an introduction. But chances are good that you can continue and pick it up along the way by simply by doing it in Topincs. This manual is very hands on.
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