How to get started with plugin development

I get a lot of questions (via e-mail and IM) on how to get started with plugin development for the Lotus Notes platform. Instead of answering them all individually I thought I would (finally) write a general purpose blog post to try and answer these questions in general terms.

First of I’m sorry to say that the current state of affairs for someone who want to get started doing plugin development for the Lotus Notes platform is grim. There is as you might have experienced very little material available for programmers new to the Eclipse world to build stuff for Lotus Notes 8+ clients. To make things worse the material that is available often cut corners or simply start out too advanced. That being said I am hearing muffled voices mention some material being developed and that IBM Lotus is focusing on this matter but it will be yet some time before it’s out. Until that time and until we can upload information directly into the brain like martial arts skills are given to Nemo in The Matrix I suggest the following.

My suggestions for someone getting started would be to start by realizing that programming for Eclipse and hence in SWT for the Lotus Notes 8 client has nothing, what so ever, to do with traditional Notes programming. It sounds obvious but once you have accepted this it gets easier. Maybe not easier technically but easier to accept that this is a completely new field you’re venturing into. If nothing else you stop looking to IBM Lotus for help and instead turn to the Eclipse side of the internet.

Before you start to whine I think this is just fine and how it should be. Really. Initially most of the stuff you need to know to get started has nothing to do with IBM Lotus but is general purpose Eclipse development information. It’s like blaming Toyota for not telling you how to repair their cars. Toyota can be expected to tell you and document what’s so special about their cars. They can’t be expected to teach you the basics – you go to a car repair classes for that.

It’s the same with Eclipse development. Learn the basics and specialize from there. You could say that we could expect information about the various ways to extend the client to readily available and better documented. I’ll give you that… 🙂

Once you’re past that and before you embark on your journey first realize this. In Eclipse and SWT we build everything our selves and we’re left to the mercy of the client and the differences that exist across the different platforms (Notes 8.0.x vs. Notes 8.5 across Mac / Linux / Windows XP / Windows Vista / Windows 7). We’re close to the metal with all the benefits, worries and problems that entail.

So if I had to come up with an action plan for learning about Eclipse / Expeditor / Notes 8+ development it would be something like the following:

  • Learn Java! Become proficient in Java! It sounds obvious but it’s one of the pillars for being successful in this area. Pay special attention to the following areas as they are used heavily when developing for Eclipse:
    • Event publishing/subscription using listeners
    • Anonymous inner classes
    • Interfaces
    • Multithreading
  • Learn about GUI development in general. Resources for developing in Java SWING are just as good as those for SWT as many, if not all, of the concepts apply to both. UI development includes:
    • Widgets
    • Layout managers
    • Threading and the concept on an UI thread. What should and shouldn’t you do on the UI thread!?
  • Learn about Eclipse and the Eclipse platform for building RCP (Rich Client Platform) programs.
  • Buy a book about it such as “Java Developer’s Guide to Eclipse, The (2nd Edition)“. It has been a good help to me.
  • Stop by and take a look at the articles there.
  • Follow this blog 🙂

As you can see it’s no small adventure you’re starting into. The learning curve may be steep but it’s also rewarding to be able to extend the client beyond belief. If only you’d started learning Java earlier…

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