Monday, November 12, 2007

Find & Replace with MS Word

While browsing through some DZone Ruby Snippets, I came across this nice little example of using Ruby to automate Find & Replace in Microsoft Word, compliments of Tim Morgan.

You could use such a snippet as part of a mail-merge type solution. To use it, create a form letter in a Word document, with bracketed placeholders where the actual values are to be inserted. Example:

Dear [name],

On [date] account [account_number] was charged a [amount] fee.

Let's take a walk through the code...

Load the win32ole library:

require 'win32ole'

Launch Microsoft Word:

word ='Word.Application')

Open the template document:

doc = word.Documents.Open('c:\file_to_open.doc')

Iterate over a hash containing keys and values. Each key is the placeholder code and the corresponding value is the text to insert:

'name' => 'Tim Morgan',
'date' =>'%B %d, %Y'),
'account_number' => '123456',
'amount' => '$45.76'
}.each do |key, value|

Start the search at the beginning of the document:


Grab a reference to the Find object:

find = word.Selection.Find

Set the Find object's text string (the hash key) to locate, surrounded by brackets:

find.Text = "[#{key}]"

For each occurrence of the string found (via the Find object's Execute method), insert the replacement text (the hash value):

while word.Selection.Find.Execute

Save the document with a new name:


Close the document:


The example above shows the hash hard-coded in the script, but you could build on this to load an array of hashes from a text or YAML file, Excel worksheet, or database table.

My thanks to Tim Morgan, who posted the original snippet on Dzone, and to you, for stopping by to read it!

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Getting Started with the wxRuby GUI Toolkit

Many readers have asked "What is the best GUI toolkit?". There is no single answer to this question, and I won't try to lobby for my GUI of choice. Use whatever works best for you and your users.

I use the wxRuby library. It's cross-platform, provides a native look-and-feel, and is easy to install (via a gem) and distribute with your application (via RubyScript2Exe). Further features can be found in the wxRuby wiki here. wxRuby is the Ruby interface to wxWidgets, a very stable and widely-used widget toolkit.

Installing wxRuby is simple using RubyGems:

gem install wxruby

Though you can use a GUI designer, creating most forms "by hand" is probably simpler than you suspect. A useful wxRuby user interface can be created in less than 50 lines of code, as we shall see...

Let's create a simple form with a label, text box, combo box, and button. We start by requiring the wx library and including the Wx namespace:

require 'wx'
include Wx

We create a new class which inherits from the Wx::Frame class and includes an initialize method:

class MyFrame < Frame
def initialize()
super(nil, -1, 'My Frame Title')

The Frame class' super constructor method takes the following arguments (all but Parent are optional):

Parent: The window parent. This may be NULL. If it is non-NULL, the frame will always be displayed on top of the parent window on Windows.

ID: The window identifier. It may take a value of -1 to indicate a default value.

Title: The caption to be displayed on the frame’s title bar.

Position: The window position. A value of (-1, -1) indicates a default position, chosen by either the windowing system or Widgets, depending on platform.

Size: The window size. A value of (-1, -1) indicates a default size, chosen by either the windowing system or Widgets, depending on platform.

Style: The window style (ie, if the minimize, maximize, and close boxes appear on the Frame).

Further details on the Frame class can be found in the wxRuby wiki here.

Next, let's add the code to the initialize method to create a panel, which will contain the other controls:

@my_panel =

The self passed to the new constructor is a reference to the Frame object, which we are passing as the parent of the Panel object.

Next, we'll create a variety of controls, passing the newly created @my_panel as the parent of each control:

@my_label =, -1, 'My Label Text',
@my_textbox =, -1, 'Default Textbox Value')
@my_combo =, -1, 'Default Combo Text',
DEFAULT_POSITION, DEFAULT_SIZE, ['Item 1', 'Item 2', 'Item 3'])
@my_button =, -1, 'My Button Text')

I recommend assigning all your form controls to instance variables. This is the reason for the '@' preceding each control variable name.

We want to bind the button click to a "my_button_click" method which we will add to this class later. We do with the evt_button method:

evt_button(@my_button.get_id()) { |event| my_button_click(event)}

Now we'll proceed to the layout: arranging the controls in the Panel. We'll do this using a BoxSizer, which we'll have arrange the controls vertically:

@my_panel_sizer =

Next we add each control to the panel's sizer by calling the sizer's add method:

@my_panel_sizer.add(@my_label, 0, GROW|ALL, 2)
@my_panel_sizer.add(@my_textbox, 0, GROW|ALL, 2)
@my_panel_sizer.add(@my_combo, 0, GROW|ALL, 2)
@my_panel_sizer.add(@my_button, 0, GROW|ALL, 2)

See the Sizer.Add documentation for an explanation of the various parameters.

Our last line of code in the initialize method makes the frame visible:


Don't forget to add the my_button_click method that is called by the button click:

def my_button_click(event)
# Your code here

That concludes our MyFrame class. Now we want to create a MyApp class that will call our MyFrame class:

class MyApp < App
def on_init

Finally, we create a new instance of our MyApp class and call its main_loop method:

View the complete code here.

There you have it. A complete, but simple, wxRuby form. It's not much to look at...

...but it demonstrates the basics and we'll enhance it shortly.

Soon, we'll cover related topics: dressing up our GUI a little, using the wxSugar extensions, using a Forms designer such as wxFormBuilder.

Questions? Comments? Suggestions? Post a comment here or send me an email message.

Thanks for stopping by!

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Thursday, November 1, 2007

RubyConf 2007

I'll be attending my first RubyConf here in Charlotte this weekend and there's a lot of great stuff on the agenda. In addition, I learned from Bill Plummer that Microsoft is hosting an event Thursday night with John Lam talking about IronRuby. Unfortunately, I will have to miss it but I hope that John will duplicate the best parts of it in his RubyConf talk Saturday morning. Charlie Nutter follows that with his JRuby presentation. Of course, "Writing Client and Desktop Applications in Ruby" by Bruce Williams also caught my eye, as I am a desktop apps developer.

There's been a bit of a lull in my blog postings (and replies to readers) of late, as I've been swamped with work, but I plan to post more frequently going forward. I have a few topics suggested by readers, but welcome any comments, questions, or suggestions you may have. I still feel that Windows is Ruby's red-headed stepchild, with far more potential than the attention given to it. That may change (somewhat) in the future as projects such as IronRuby and the Ruby.Net compiler mature.

And if you're at RubyConf, stop by and say 'Hey!'