Scripting provides a means for programatically controlling some other application by sending it special scripting commands. These commands are defined by the "scripted" application itself. For example, if you want some other application to be able to tell your application to perform the "FlipOver" operation, you have to publish the format of the "FlipOver" command. The set of operations that you want to expose is called a "suite".

The BeOS defines some number of suites that correspond to particular classes. For example, all BApplication objects respond to the commands defined in the "vnd.Be-application" suite. One of the commands in the suite gives you access to the application's windows. When you've located the window that you want, you can move it, close it, resize it, and so on, according to the commands in the "vnd.Be-window" suite.


The scripting framework defines the following notions: commands, properties, and specifiers. If you are familiar with AppleScript, these are equivalent to verbs, nouns, and adjectives. Commands act on a specific instance of a property, as determined by the specifiers.


The command conveys the action of a scripting command and is stored in the what field of the scripting BMessage. There are six standard commands (defined in app/Message.h):



Counts the number of instances of a property.


Creates a new instance of a property.


Destroys an instance of a property.


Executes an instance of a property.


Gets the value of an instance of a property.


Sets of the value of an instance of a property. The data field contains the new value of the property.

Each of these commands acts on a "property", which is nothing more than a scriptable feature of an object. As a real world example, the windows owned by an application are properties, as is the title of each window. The particular interpretation of the command depends upon the property it is acting on. For example, B_DELETE_PROPERTY, acting on the "Entry" property of a Tracker window, causes a file to be moved to the trash. However, the same command acting on the "Selection" property of the same window removes files from the list of selected items.

Scriptable objects should limit themselves to this set of commands. If an object uses a nonstandard command, it runs the risk of being unusable by general scripting tools.

Properties and Specifiers

A property represents a scriptable feature of an object. Properties are named; these names are strings unique within a class. For example, a BWindow defines properties such as "Frame", "Title", and "View". The data type of the property and its allowable values are determined by the property. For example, the window's "Frame" accepts B_RECT_TYPE values while the "Title" is a B_STRING_TYPE.

Sometimes a property is represented by another object. For example, BWindow's "View" designates a BView, an object which has a set of properties distinct from those of BWindow.

An object may have more than one instance of a given property. For example, the "Window" property of BApplication , has as many instances as there are windows in the application. As a result, there is some ambiguity when you ask for the Window of an application. Instead, it's more correct to ask for the first Window, or the Window named "Snyder." In other words, a property is not enough to identify a feature; a specific instance must be picked out as well.

Specifiers are used to target ("specify") particular instances of properties. A specifier is a BMessage containing the following elements:

  • The name of the property in the "property" field, stored as a B_STRING_TYPE.

  • The specifier constant, indicating a method of identifying a specific instance of the property, in the what field along with any necessary supporting fields.

There are seven standard specifier constants (defined in app/Message.h):



The property name is sufficient specification by itself, usually because there's only one instance of the property. If there's more than one value for the property, a B_DIRECT_SPECIFIER would specify them all.


The specifier message has a name field of type B_STRING_TYPE with the name of a particular instance of the property.


The specifier message has an id field with a unique identifying value of type int32 for a particular instance of the property.


The specifier message has an int32 field named index with the index to a particular instance of the property.


The index counts backwards from the end of the list.


In addition to an index field, the specifier message has an additional int32 field named range, identifying range items beginning at "index."


The "index" counts from the end of the list backwards. Depending on the kind of data and the message protocol, the range may extend toward the front of the list from the index or toward the end of the list. In other words, the index works in reverse, the range may or may not.

As with messages, the precise meaning of a given specifier depends upon the context. Additionally, there may be user-defined (or perhaps more properly object-defined) specifiers. User-defined specifier constants should be greater than B_SPECIFIERS_END to prevent conflicts with Be-defined specifiers.

Specifiers are added to the "specifier" field of a scripting message using BMessage::AddSpecifier(). There are several variants of this method, including shortcuts for adding B_DIRECT_SPECIFIER, B_INDEX_SPECIFIER, B_RANGE_SPECIFIER, and B_NAME_SPECIFIER specifiers. For all other specifiers, you must manually construct the specifier and add it to the scripting message with AddSpecifier(). For example, to add a B_ID_SPECIFIER:

BMessage specifier(B_ID_SPECIFIER); // create a new specifier
specifier.AddInt32("id", 2827);     // add the id number to the specifier
message.AddSpecifier(&specifier);   // add the specifier to the message

You must use BMessage::AddSpecifier() to add specifiers to a BMessage; it performs additional scripting support work that AddMessage() doesn't.

The Specifier Stack

In general, an application will not be able to obtain a BMessenger for the target object; instead, it'll have to settle for a BMessenger targeting the BApplication of the program containing the desired object. In these cases, a single specifier may be insufficient to target a scripting message. The true power of specifiers lies in their ability to be chained together in the specifier stack.

An example best illustrates the operation of the specifier stack. The following code snippet creates a message that will target the frame of the second view of the window named "egg" in the target application:

message.AddSpecifier("Window", 1);

Repeated calls to AddSpecifier() build the specifier stack. The order of the calls is very important; the specifiers are evaluated in the opposite order from which they were added. When this message is received by the target application, it will first peel off the third specifier and direct the message to the second window of the application. The BWindow will then peel off the second specifier and direct the message to the window's key menu bar. The first specifier ("Label") is then processed by the BMenuBar. This process is covered in more detail below under ResolveSpecifier().


A reply is generated for every scripting request. The reply message contains the following fields:

  • The what data member defaults to B_REPLY unless some other constant is appropriate. For example, if the message was not understood, the object responds with a B_MESSAGE_NOT_UNDERSTOOD BMessage.

  • The B_INT32_TYPE field error contains the error code for the operation. This field is always present.

  • Responses to a successful B_GET_PROPERTY request will additionally contain the value or values of the requested property in the result array. The data will be of a type appropriate for the property.

Any scriptable objects that you create should also obey the above protocol. Of course, individual objects are free to define their own protocols for relaying additional information in the reply; in these cases, consult the documentation for the class in question.

Creating and Sending Scripting Messages

The scripting facilities of an application can be invoked in three easy steps:

  1. Set the command constant for the scripting message.

  2. Construct the specifier stack for the scripting message.

  3. Send the scripting message to the target application.


Suppose we want to fetch the frame rectangle of the second view of the window titled "egg" in an application with the signature "application/x-fish". The code:

BMessage message, reply;
BRect result;

// set the command constant
message.what = B_GET_PROPERTY;

// construct the specifier stack
message.AddSpecifier("Frame"); // B_DIRECT_SPECIFIER
message.AddSpecifier("View", 1); // B_INDEX_SPECIFIER
message.AddSpecifier("Window", "egg"); // B_NAME_SPECIFIER

// send the message and fetch the result
BMessenger("application/x-fish").SendMessage(&message, &reply);
reply.FindRect("result", &result)

Short and sweet.


There is one missing element in the scripting system, namely the ability to query an object for its scripting abilities. This is useful when the controlling application doesn't know the precise type of the object it is scripting. Having a method of discovering the scripting abilities of an object enables more dynamic uses of scripting.

An object's scripting abilities are organized into one or more scripting "suites," a set of supported messages and associated specifiers. A suite is identified by a MIME-like string with the "suite" supertype. For example, BControl implements the "suite/vnd.Be-control" scripting suite. Nothing prevents two objects from implementing the same suite; two sound editors, for example, could have different implementations of a common scripting suite for filtering audio data.

To ask an object for its supported scripting suites, send it a standard scripting message with a B_GET_PROPERTY request for the "Suites" property:

message.what = B_GET_PROPERTY;

// ... add remaining specifiers here ...

messenger.SendMessage(&message, &reply);

The target object responds with a B_REPLY BMessage with the following fields:

Less usefully, you can send a B_GET_SUPPORTED_SUITES BMessage directly to an object and obtain its supported suites in an identically-formed reply.

Every scriptable object supports the "suite/vnd.Be-handler" suite by dint of its BHandler heritage. This suite is sometimes referred to as the "universal suite." It performs the following functions:

Making Objects Scriptable

Since scripting messages are passed via BMessengers, objects accepting scripting messages must be derived from BHandler. Typically, adding scripting support entails little more than overriding the following methods:

See the documentation of these functions in the BHandler class for details.

Creative Commons License
Legal Notice
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Non commercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.