Flex and Python and PHP : a first comparison

After two weeks of so of looking into Flex, MXML and ActionScript, the key differences between the two languages are for me that Flex is first most oriented to the ‘front’ as opposed to python, that is more oriented to the ‘backend’.

With front I mean that everything so far that I discovered in Flex is oriented to presentation to the web client. There’s heaps of stuff in Flex that you can use to easily develop and present quality stuff to the web visitor (or even to the desktop, if you develop in Flex for AIR, Adobe’s desktop runtime solution that uses the same code as your web application).

But to get to the data from the backend, you cannot simply write an SQL query in your code; since flex code is compiled to flash, anybody with a flash decompiler could read the credentials you are using (as opposed to php or python code on a webserver, which is executed and where only the results are shown to the client; code is never shown).

So that means that to connect to a database, you need an intermediary solution; a php script to talk to or a coldfusion server, or a java scriptlet thingey; anything else really that can talk to a data server without giving away the keys to the kingdom aka the credentials to the db server.

Python on the other hand is very good at connecting to just about anything : from csv files to xml to SQL in Oracle, Access or Mysql database servers : it all works. However, presentation wise, there is a lack of an easy presentation framework that works as in Flex. There are several ways to present your results in Python, but they are not baked in; you have to go and search them. QT, PythonCard, Tkinter and others are all there, but all have differences. All require an extended time to learn.

PHP is a mixture of both : it can connect to just about everything, but my personal opinion is that development is slightly more convoluted than Flex, plus you really need to take care not to mix code and presentation.

Using the various MVC frameworks around (Symphony is nice, but biiiiig to learn as it involves writing parts in YAML, yet another (markup) language) you can do this, but my personal opinion is that it’s a lot to learn if you just develop a few web pages. There’s Django for the pythonistas, which I’m partial to and keep returning to, but haven’t actually made anything usefull with.

It’s all good and well to have ‘flash and bang’ for your web customer, but you need to show them your data as well – unless it’s an arty type, he’s there  on your site for a reason : to get informed about something.

My hope is that the next flash version or flex version will have data binding implemented via another easier way; Adobe wants to make this big, it’s the reason why they open sourced flex in the first place…

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