Blocks embed

MakeCode provides a lightweight blocks rendering engine that renders code snippets into SVG images.

The Curse of screenshots

Unlike text based programming languages, block based snippets aren’t be easily rendered in a documentation page. A quick solution is take screenshots of the snippets but that approach can quickly become unsustainable:

  • screenshots don’t compile - so it’s hard to maintain then
  • screenshots aren’t localizable - non-English speaking users won’t be able to read the blocks
  • screenshots can’t reload easily into the editor
  • screenshots don’t play well with source control system - you can’t diff changes efficiently.

Rendering blocks on the spot

The MakeCode approach to solving this issue is to render the JavaScript code snippets on the client using the same block rendering engine as the editor. Under the hood, an iframe from the MakeCode editor will render the blocks for you.

GitHub pages

You can use GitHub pages to render your README.md file as a web site.

  • enable GitHub pages on your repository
  • add the following entry in the _config.yml
  makecode:
    home_url: https://arcade.makecode.com/
  • copy the following text at the bottom of your README.md file
    <script src="https://makecode.com/gh-pages-embed.js"></script><script>makeCodeRender("{{ site.makecode.home_url }}", "{{ site.github.owner_name }}/{{ site.github.repository_name }}");</script>

Other Plugins

Here is an integration sample:

Custom rendering

To render blocks in your own HTML documents or to make plugins for a document platform (such as a CMS or blogging engine), a custom implementation is needed. You can use the MakeCode blocks rendering engine to render blocks for code snippets in your own documents.

Try this fiddle to see an embedded blocks rendering example.

An outer document contains the code snippets to render. This document hosts a hidden iframe which has the rendering engine attached to it. Messages are sent between the outer document and the renderer to sequence the code snippet rendering process.

Rendering message sequence

Render Ready Response message

A message handler is registered to communicate with the rendering iframe. The renderer sends a renderready message to this handler when it has loaded and is ready to receive messages. The message handler can now get the code snippets in the document and begin sending them to the iframe.

The renderready response has this message format:

export interface RenderReadyResponseMessage extends SimulatorMessage {
    source: "makecode",
    type: "renderready"
}

Render Blocks Request message

The outer document passes each snippet element it wants to render to the renderer in a renderblocks request message. This message is posted to the iframe content window.

The renderblocks request has this message format:

export interface RenderBlocksRequestMessage extends SimulatorMessage {
    type: "renderblocks",
    id: string;
    code: string;
    options?: {
        package?: string;
        packageId?: string;
        snippetMode?: boolean;
    }
}
  • id: The identifer of the snippet element. This is used to match the document element of the snippet with the rendered blocks returned later.
  • code: The text of the code snippet to send, compile, and render. The snippet may be JavaScript or the Blockly XML payload.
  • packageId: the identifier of a project shared in the editor (without the https://makecode.com/ prefix)

Render Blocks Response message

The renderer sends back a renderblocks response after it has transformed the code into a block image. The block image is returned in two forms: as a SVG element and as an image data source.

The renderblocks response has this message format:

export interface RenderBlocksResponseMessage extends SimulatorMessage {
    source: "makecode",
    type: "renderblocks",
    id: string;
    svg?: string;
    uri?: string;
    width?: number;
    height?: number;
    error?: string;
}
  • id: The identifer of the snippet element. This is used to replace the document element of the snippet with the rendered blocks or to associate the rendered blocks if the snippet is to be retained in the document.
  • svg: The SVG image element.
  • uri: The data source of the blocks image.
  • width: The width of the SVG blocks image.
  • height: The height of the SVG blocks image.

Message Handler

To receive messages from the renderer, the document registers a handler using the DOM addEventListener method. This is registered for the message event. The two responses it waits for are renderready and renderblocks. The message contents are in the format described above.

The handler must check that the source value in the message contains "makecode" to be certain that this message came from the blocks renderer.

Responding to renderready

When the renderready response is received, the document can begin collecting and sending its code snippets to the renderer. A method for gathering snippet code and sending it to the renderer is shown in the makeCodeRenderPre function.

Responding to renderblocks

The renderblocks message is received as a response to a previous renderblocks request sent by the document. The message contains an image of the rendered blocks if compilation of the code snippet sent was successful. The image can be inserted into the DOM by matching the id of the original snippet element with the id in the message. The image is provided as both SVG and img data. The implementation can decide which form it wants to use. Depending on how the blocks are to be displayed, the original snippet elements are replaced by the blocks image or the blocks are added to the DOM next to them.

Handler example

As an example, let’s say that a document has all of its code snippets contained in pre elements:

<pre>
basic.showString("Hello World")
</pre>

A message handler is registered for message events. For the renderready message, all the snippets are collected and given a ‘snippet-x’ identifier. Each snippet is passed to makeCodeRenderPre to get a block image for it. When the block image is returned in the renderblocks message, the message identifier is matched to a pre tag and the element is replaced by an img element containing the block image data.

This example uses standard DOM methods but feel free to write it using your favorite JS framework.

window.addEventListener("message", function (ev) {
    var msg = ev.data;
    if (msg.source != "makecode") return;

    switch (msg.type) {
        case "renderready":
            var snippets = document.getElementsByTagName("pre")
            for (var i = 0; i< snippets.length; i++) {
                snippets[i].id = "snippet-" + i;
                makeCodeRenderPre(snippets[i]);
            }
            break;
        case "renderblocks":
            var svg = msg.svg; // this is a string containing SVG
            var id = msg.id;   // this is the id you sent
            // replace text with svg
            var img = document.createElement("img");
            img.src = msg.uri;
            img.width = msg.width;
            img.height = msg.height;
            var snippet = document.getElementById(id)
            snippet.parentNode.insertBefore(img, snippet)
            snippet.parentNode.removeChild(snippet);
            break;
    }
}, false);

Sending snippets to the renderer

To request a code render, a renderblocks message is sent to the rendering iframe. First, the request message is prepared with the matching element identifier set in the message id. Then, the code snippet text is taken from the inner part of its containing element and set as the data value of the message. The message is posted to the iframe.

function makeCodeRenderPre(pre) {
    var f = document.getElementById("makecoderenderer");
    f.contentWindow.postMessage({
        type: "renderblocks",
        id: pre.id,
        code: pre.innerText
    }, "https://arcade.makecode.com/");
}

Create the iframe renderer

Finally, the rendering iframe is added to the HTML DOM and is hidden so that it does not interfere with the outer document page.

function makeCodeInjectRenderer() {
    var f = document.createElement("iframe");
    f.id = "makecoderenderer";
    f.style.position = "absolute";
    f.style.left = 0;
    f.style.bottom = 0;
    f.style.width = "1px";
    f.style.height = "1px";            
    f.src = "https://arcade.makecode.com/--docs?render=1"
    document.body.appendChild(f);
}

// load the renderer
makeCodeInjectRenderer();

Once this iframe loads, it sends the renderready message to the registered handler.

Putting it together

This HTML document example contains three pre elements with code snippets. Only two are sent to the renderer since they’re filtered on their class as blocks. Each element sent is given an identifier to match up with the rendered block that is returned. JQuery is used in this example but another framework or standard DOM methods could be used too.

<html lang="en">
<head>
    <title>Blocks Embedding Test Page</title>
    <script src="https://ajax.aspnetcdn.com/ajax/jQuery/jquery-3.3.1.min.js"></script>
    <style>
        html {font-family: Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif}
        .boxdiv {padding:5px; display:inline-block; border: solid; background-color: lightgray}
    </style>
</head>
<body>

<h1>Blocks Embedding Test Page</h1>

<h2>Try embedding some blocks...</h2>

<p>Render <b>basic.showString():</b></p>

<div class="boxdiv">
    <pre class="blocks"><code>
basic.showString("Hello World")
    </code></pre>
</div>

<p>Render the Fibonacci example:</b></p>

<div class="boxdiv">
    <pre class="blocks"><code>
let f1 = 0
let f2 = 0
let fibo = 0
fibo = 1
for (let i = 0; i < 10; i++) {
    basic.showNumber(fibo)
    basic.pause(1000)
    f2 = f1
    f1 = fibo
    fibo = f1 + f2
}
    </code></pre>
</div>

<p>The Fibonacci example not rendered:</p>

<div class="boxdiv">
    <pre><code>
let f1 = 0
let f2 = 0
let fibo = 0
fibo = 1
for (let i = 0; i < 10; i++) {
    basic.showNumber(fibo)
    basic.pause(1000)
    f2 = f1
    f1 = fibo
    fibo = f1 + f2
}
    </code></pre>
</div>

<script>
var makecodeUrl = "https://arcade.makecode.com/";
var blocksClass = "blocks";

var injectRenderer = function () {
    var f = $("<iframe>", {
        id: "makecoderenderer",
        src: makecodeUrl + "--docs?render=1&lang=" + ($('html').attr('lang') || "en")
    });
    f.css("position", "absolute");
    f.css("left", 0);
    f.css("bottom", 0);
    f.css("width", "1px");
    f.css("height", "1px");
    $('body').append(f);
}

function makeCodeRenderPre(pre) {
    var f = document.getElementById("makecoderenderer");
    f.contentWindow.postMessage({
        type: "renderblocks",
        id: pre.id,
        code: pre.innerText
    }, "https://arcade.makecode.com/");
}

var attachBlocksListener = function () {
    var blockId = 0;
    window.addEventListener("message", function (ev) {
        var msg = ev.data;
        if (msg.source != "makecode") return;

        switch (msg.type) {
            case "renderready":
                $("." + blocksClass).each(function () {
                    var snippet = $(this)[0];
                    snippet.id = "pxt-blocks-" + (blockId++);
                    makeCodeRenderPre(snippet);
                });
                break;
            case "renderblocks":
                var svg = msg.svg; // this is a string containing SVG
                var id = msg.id;   // this is the id you sent
                // replace text with svg
                var img = document.createElement("img");
                img.src = msg.uri;
                img.width = msg.width;
                img.height = msg.height;
                var pre = document.getElementById(id)
                pre.parentNode.insertBefore(img, pre)
                pre.parentNode.removeChild(pre);
                break;
        }
    }, false);
}

$(function () {
    injectRenderer();
    attachBlocksListener();
});
</script>
</body>
</html>

Rendering shared projects

Rendering a shared project is accomplished in almost the same manner as the embedded blocks method. In this case though, leave the code attribute empty and pass the shared project id in a options.packageId data field.

In the HTML, you can store the shared project id in a pre element as a data attribute.

<pre data-packageid="_HjWJo9eHjXwP"></pre>

Then, read the data-packageid attribute and pass it along as the packageId field in the options of the renderblocks message.

f.contentWindow.postMessage({
    type: "renderblocks",
    id: pre.id,
    code: "",
    options: {
        packageId: pre.getAttribute("data-packageid")
    }
}, "https://arcade.makecode.com/");

Lazy loading

You can detect whether you have any snippet on your page before loading the rendering iframe.