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COM

WHAT IS COM
COM stands for Component Object Model. It is a Microsoft specification that describes how to create reusable objects for programmers working in a Win32 programming environment. This makes it easy to develop objects that can be distributed independently of an application program file. In earlier versions of VB or other windows programming environment, the COM under other names such as OLE Server or Activex Server.

COMPONENT AND OBJECT

It is an independent piece of code that may be shared with several different programs. Object is a set of code that is designed to be reusable with a well defined interface. COM is based on Client-Server Model ,each COM object operates s a Server that receives and processes requests from a client program and generates responses

Requests
CLIENT PROGRAM CONTAINER COM Object (Control)

Response

COM OBJECT CAN INTERACT WITH CLIENT PROGRAM IN THREE WAYS:

PROPERTY:

A Property represents variable in your objects, although its often implemented as a pair of routines: One to retrieve the value form the property and another to assign a value to the property.

METHOD AND EVENT

Method is merely a function or subroutine that can be called from a client program. An event is a subroutine whose parameters are defined in the control and that exists in the client program. It is called by the control to inform programs of various situations.

NECESSICITY OF COM
Components and Objects are used to develop an application. Since many languages have the ability to include objects in source code, why should you use COM? COM is the foundation of most things that Microsoft does. Without COM ,Visual Basic wouldnt work, nor would Windows, SQL Server, or any number of Microsoft products. The true test of Microsofts confidence in COM is that its applications are based on COM technology. Word 2000 and Excel 2000 are based heavily on COM, as are many other Microsoft applications.

When you build multiple program using objects, the objects are compiled into the object code. This has a couple of disadvantages: If you have multiple programs, each executable program has its own copy of the objects. This means that any time you change the objects, you must recompile all of the programs that use them. You must use the same programming language that the objects were written in to create your application programs. This restricts your choice of programming languages

Since COM Objects are stored in their own independent object file, you can change the object without recompiling the applications that use it. You can also add new interface to the COM objects to offer new features and capabilities.

FROM DDE TO COM

Many of the features we see in todays COM technology go back many years. COM draws its roots from a number of different technology including DDE (Dynamic Data Exchange), Object Linking Embedding.(OLE).

DDE:
In early days of Windows , people used a clipboard much like they do today. Users could copy parts of a document in program on to the clipboard and paste them into a document in another program. However, when dealing with complex graphical documents, users found that a simple clipboard didnt work very well. In late 1980s Microsoft developed a technology called DDE to allow programmers to simplify the process of sharing the data using a clipboard. This technology was available for only Microsoft applications, so it was not universal solution.

OLE:

In 1991 Microsoft created a more general solution to this problem called OLE . This technology allowed users to combine documents from multiple applications into a single compound document developers could build the best possible word processor without worrying about adding a limited function spread sheet. For example, we can embed excel worksheet into word document. The word document is acting as a container for excel worksheet. This is really the foundation of OLE.

While working on OLE the Microsoft engineers recognized that the issue of creating compound documents was really a special case of determining how two or more system or application components communicate with each other. In the past a number of different techniques were employed. Some times simple subroutine calls were used. Other times more complex messaging systems was used. Programmers were often required to use several different techniques for communication among components. While implementing OLE Microsoft employed a number of new technologies; for most among them was COM.

COM:
COM creates a layer of abstraction between software components . Each COM object is designed to operate as a server to a client application or another software module. The COM object is an instance of a specific class that defines one or more interfaces to the functions it provides. Each interface contains one or more methods to perform specific functions. With COM, doesnt matter if the component is implemented as a simple set of subroutines as an independent process that communicates with the application using complex synchronization techniques.

Although COM determines how two components communicate with one another, OLE requires a number of other standard methods in addition to those required by COM. These includes the capability for the object to present its own user interface, send events to the controllers containers and lets a container sets the properties of the control.

SERVICES PROVIDED BY COM

The Services provided by COM are summarized below: OBJECT MANAGEMENT:

COM provides object management a service by using reference counting. With reference counting, COM enables developers to control when object references and their objects are released from memory.

OBJECT PERSISTANCE: COM provides object persistence services that allow objects to be stored in a file. This is particularly important when you wish to extract an application specific object from a document file.

STRUCTURED STORAGE: When objects are stored in files, they are stored using the structured storage services provided in COM. With structured storage we can store data in a hierarchical format within a file very much as files are stored in directories and sub directories. Structured storage allows applications to read and save items to files with out restricting the lay out of the file .

DATA TRANSFER: COM provides DATA TRANSFER, a service that enable you to transfer and share data between applications.
NAMING AND BINDING SERVICES: With Naming and Binding services, application create, store and manage objects that provide complex operations such as downloading of files. These services are usually not directly accessed by the programmers however you will use these services via objects and functions that a class provides

WHATS INSIDE A COM OBJECT

COM objects communicate to the world through a series of interfaces. Standard interfaces are generally used to access information about the COM objects. These interfaces include or perform various COM related tasks. Custom interfaces are those interfaces designed by the user as COM objects.

The interfaces implemented in one of two basic ways: IN-PROCESS OBJECT SERVERS: It run in the same address space as the client process. Using them dose not add much more overhead to your application than calling a function or subroutine.It is loaded from a regular DLL file, which contain a set of standardized function and tables that you load and use COM object dynamically.

FINDING AND LOADING IN-PROCESS COM OBJECTS:

When an object in the COM library is accessed for the first time, the COM library is loaded into your address space, just like any other DLL. However, unlike DLL files, which require Windows to search in a number of places to find the files, COM objects are quickly located by using a GUID.

A GUID(Globally Unique Identifier) is a 128 bit number i.e. unique, not just in a specific computer, but in the entire world. The same people that developed the Distributed Computing Environment derive this value from complex algorithm desined. The GUID generator uses your system clock and the MAC address from your network interface card to create a value that is guaranteed to be unique on your system. If your computer does not have a network interface card, the GUID will be created from a value based on your hard disk space and the total time since the computer was booted.

OUT OF PROCESS OBJECT SERVERS: It run in a different address space. They come in two different flavors: Local and remote. Using these objects is more expensive in terms of overhead; however, in long run, they may actually help your application to run faster. While your program calls them like a function or a subroutine, a lot of work needs to be done to marshal your request to another process, wait for results, and then marshals the results in the same fashion as an IN-PROCESS COM object.

FINDING AND LOADING OUT OF- PROCESS COM OBJECTS: Finding out-of-process objects is similar to locating inprocess objects. The calling program supplies the objects CLSID, which is used to find information about the object in the windows registry.

RUNNING OUT OF PROCESS COM OBJECTS REMOTELY: If your computer is attached to a network, windows includes the capability to run your object on another machine. The same interface that your program sees with a local out-of-process COM object still exist , but now they direct your request to another computer where the objects exist. To direct your COM calls to another computer, COM uses a proxy component that intercepts your calls to methods and properties and passes them on to the remote computer using Remote Procedure Calls (RPC).

INTERFACES
An interface is a contact between a COM server and a COM client. It specifies the methods, properties, and events that are used to communicate between the client and the server. This is perhaps the most important part of the COM object, because the interface isolates the internal working of the COM object from how it is used by the client. Every COM object presents at least two interfaces to the outside world. In most cases, more than two will be present because a number of interfaces are dedicated by the COM architecture.

ACCESSING INFORMATION THROUGH AN INTERFACE:


An interface is a binary specification that allows you to locate a particular variable or function in the code module. This information stored in data structure called a virtual method table. A VMT is an array of function pointers, where each pointer points to a particular method or property contained in the object. Each function pointed to by the VTM contains not only the address of the function, but additional information, such as the name of the function, the data type it will return, and the name and data type for each of its parameters.

BINDING TO AN INTERFACE:
In order to use a COM object, you must find and load the library containing the object. Then you must create a link between the object variable you plan to use and the desired interface. This process is known as binding. There are two basic types of binding: early and late. In late binding, visual basic is unable to determine the type of the object your are using. With early binding, you must declare your object variable with a specific object type with this information visual basic is able to bind your variable to the object at designed time.

Application program

COM Object

COM Proxy

COM Proxy

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