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Comparing Symbian GUI and Console applications

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This article explains the main differences between developing a full Symbian C++ GUI application and a basic console application.

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Created: vasant21 (01 May 2007)
Last edited: hamishwillee (24 Jan 2012)


Symbian C++ GUI applications are created using the Avkon framework classes, which are themselves based on the generic Uikon layer. It is possible to create much simpler applications using Symbian's console classes - these are suitable for writing test harnesses and basic test code.

This article explains the main differences between console and full GUI applications, highlighting the frameworks that are not included by default in console programs.

Note.pngNote: Prior to Symbian OS v9 (S60 3rd Edition) applications were actually DLLs, launched by an app launcher exe. From Symbian OS v9 they are exes too

GUI Applications

  • A Symbian OS GUI application, has at least four classes: 1) An application. 2) A document. 3) An app UI. 4) An app view. Except for the view, these classes are derived from base classes in Avkon which themselves are derived from Uikon classes.
  • Every control in a GUI application has a member called iEikonEnv, which is a pointer to the GUI environment, CEikonEnv.
  • GUI application has control environments, so it provides file sessions (RFs), Active Scheduler (CActiveScheduler), font, graphics context (CWindowGc) and screen device (CWsScreenDevice), so no need to create these thing in application.
  • In a GUI application, you don’t need to open a file server session, since the control environment already has an open RFs you can access with iCoeEnv->FsSession().
  • All processing in a GUI application takes place in an Active Object, but much of this, along with the creation of the Active Scheduler, is hidden by the Application Framework, hence the UI framework automatically create, install and start an Active Scheduler in GUI Applications.
  • On S60 1st and 2nd edition apps are DLLs
    • GUI application files have .app filename extension and reside in a subfolder of \system\apps\
    • The main entry point is E32Dll( )
    • GUI programs as are launched with apprun.exe and have a small fixed program stack, of the order of 20k.
  • On S60 3rd edition apps are exes
    • App binaries reside in \sys\bin\. App registration and data files reside in an app-specific sub folder \private\SID\
    • The main entry point is E32Main()
    • stack size can be controlled through the MMP file.

Console applications

  • Console application does not provide frameworks we take for granted in a GUI application: file sessions (RFs), Active Scheduler (CActiveScheduler), font, graphics context (CWindowGc) and screen device (CWsScreenDevice). If we need these, then we must create them directly.
  • In a console application, the cleanup stack must be explicitly provided, in a standard GUI application, it’s provided by the UI framework.
  • An Active Scheduler is not provided by default in console application, Without a valid Active Scheduler installed, any use of Active Objects will result in an E32USER-CBase 44 panic. Hence in a console application or DLL, you must create and install your own Active Scheduler.
    CActiveScheduler* scheduler = new (ELeave) CActiveScheduler();
  • In Console applications CONE environment (CCoeEnv) as a minimum is needed explicitly to add GUI controls.
  • Console applications are not suitable for deployment onto an end users device—Locating or launching them is usually difficult though it can be done by creating an (.rss) file.
  • Console applications also do not have application information (.aif) files or resource (.rsc) files.
  • The main entry point for console app (.exe) programs is E32Main()
  • You can control the stacksize in a console application (.exe), through the use of the epocstacksize keyword of the .mmp.
  • On S60 1st/2nd edition console applications have a .exe filename extension and reside in a \system\programs directory. From S60 3rd Edition the exe is in \sys\bin
This page was last modified on 24 January 2012, at 04:34.
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