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A C++ Embedded Web Server

By , 1 Jun 2010
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webem.gif

Introduction

Do you have a web page or two? Nothing fancy, perhaps, but a neat demonstration of what can be achieved with a handful of HTML tags? Do you have a sophisticated C++ Windows desktop application which now needs to be controlled and monitored remotely? So, without learning a whole new technology, let's give your application its own web page!

Webem is a web server that you can embed in your C++ application. It makes it easy to implement a browser GUI accessible from anywhere.

Webem is based on a minimally modified version of the boost::asio web server, and permits HTML code to execute C++ methods. Although you do not need to look at the server code to use Webem, you will need to download and use the BOOST libraries in your projects. I suggest that if you have never used BOOST before, then Webem is probably not for you.

Background

The available embedded C++ web servers are a challenge to use, and tend not to be Windows friendly. They are not the kind of thing you want to get into just to add the ability to monitor your lab application from your cell phone.

I have tried Wt (http://www.webtoolkit.eu/wt) but was defeated by the installation and learning curve.

I recently began using Webio by John Bartas. I liked the concept and it worked well.

However, I still found it overly complicated to use and the server code hard to understand. I wanted something easier to use, based on a well known web server that had only been slightly modified.

A lot of the complexity of Webio is caused by using an HML compiler to hide the HTML pages that control the appearance of the GUI inside a file system embedded inside the application code. I prefer to have the HTML pages outside in plain view where I can adjust the GUI without recompiling the application.

I learned a lot trying to adjust Webio to my taste, and eventually was ready to build my own exactly to my requirements.

Using the Code

You build your application's GUI exactly like you build a web site - create pages using HTML all starting from index.html.

Now you need to make the HTML invoke your C++ methods. There are two things you can do:

  • Create include methods which generate HTML to be included in the web pages
  • Create action methods called by webem when the user clicks on buttons in the web page
  • Create "web controls", a combination of the previous two where an include method generates a form which invokes an action method when the user clicks on a button - the "Calendar" example application shows how to create a control to display and update a database table.

"Hello, World"

Step 1: Create the web page. This can be as elaborate as you like, but let's keep it simple for our first "hello, world" application:

The Webem Embedded Web server says:  <!--#webem hello -->

The text in angle brackets tells webem where you want to include text from the application, and "hello" is the code for the particular application method that must be invoked to provide the included text.

Step 2: Create the class which says hello:

/// An application class which says hello
class cHello
{
public:
	char * DisplayHTML()
	{
		return "Hello World";
	}
};

Step 3: Initialize Webem, telling it the address and port to listen for browser requests and where to find the index.html that begins the web page.

// Initialize web server.
http::server::cWebem theServer(
		"0.0.0.0",				// address
               "1570",					// port
	         ".\\");					// document root 

Step 4: Register the application method with webem:

cHello hello;

// register application method
// Whenever server sees <!--#webem hello -->
// call cHello::DisplayHTML() and include the HTML returned

theServer.RegisterIncludeCode( "hello",
	boost::bind(
	&cHello::DisplayHTML,	// member function
	&hello ) );		// instance of class

Step 4: Finally, you are ready to start the server running.

// run the server
theServer.Run();

A Formal Hello

Let's create a more polite program which addresses the world by name (CodeProject is, after all, Canadian.)

Step 1: Create the website:

What is your name, please?
<form action=name.webem>
<input name=yourname /><input value="Enter" type=submit />
</form>

The Webem Embedded Web server says: <!--#webem hello -->

The form provides a field to enter the user's name, and a button to submit the entered name to the server. The form attribute "action=name.webem" ensures that the webem server will call the application method registered with "name" to process the input.

Step 2: Create the application class:

/// An application class which says hello to the identified user

class cHelloForm
{
string UserName;
http::server::cWebem& myWebem;

public:
	cHelloForm( http::server::cWebem& webem ) :
	  myWebem( webem )
	{
		myWebem.RegisterIncludeCode( "hello",
		boost::bind(
		&cHelloForm::DisplayHTML,	// member function
		this ) );			// instance of class
		myWebem.RegisterActionCode( "name",
		boost::bind(
		&cHelloForm::Action,	// member function
		this ) );			// instance of class
	}
	char * DisplayHTML()
	{
		static char buf[1000];
		if( UserName.length() )
		sprintf_s( buf, 999,
			"Hello, %s", UserName.c_str() );
		else
			buf[0] = '\0';
		return buf;
	}
	char * Action()
	{
		UserName = myWebem.FindValue("yourname");
		return "/index.html";
	}
};

The application class stores a reference to the webem server. This allows it to look after registering its own methods with the server when it is constructed, and to call the cWebem class FindValue() to extract the value of the field entered into the form.

The application class must register two methods, one to save the entered user name when the submit button is clicked, one to display the stored user name when the web page is assembled and sent to the browser.

The action methods must return the webpage which should be displayed in response to the click on the submit button.

Note that all action methods are invoked by Webem before the include methods, so that the web page always displays updated data.

Step 3: Construct webem, construct the application class and run the server:

// Initialize web server
http::server::cWebem theServer(
	"0.0.0.0",				// address
	"1570",					// port
	".\\");					// document root

// Initialize application code
cHelloForm hello( theServer );

// run the server
theServer.Run();

You may need to run the server in another thread, perhaps so your application can continue logging data from a lab device. To do this, modify the call to server::run:

boost::thread* pThread = new boost::thread(
boost::bind(
&http::server::server::run,		// member function
&theServer ) );			// instance of class

Webem Controls

Webem controls are classes which look after the details of displaying and manipulating application data in standard ways, so that the application programmer does not need to be concerned with all the details of generating HTML text.

The demo application uses a webem control to list the contents of a SQLITE database table with the ability to add or delete records. There is a screenshot at the top of this article.

Unicode

Webem supports Unicode application include functions, which means that your code can generate and have displayed Chinese, Cyrillic, even Klingon characters. Write an include funcion that returns a wide character string UTF-16 encoded, register it using the RegisterIncludeCodeW() function ( instead of RegisterIncludeCode() ) and Webem will convert it to UTF-8 encoding before sending it back to the browser. Like this:

class cHello
{
public:
	/**
	Hello to the wide world, returning a wide character UTF-32 encoded string 
         with chinese characters

	*/
	wchar_t * DisplayWWHello()
	{
		return L"Hello Wide World.  
                  Here are some chinese characters: \x751f\x4ea7\x8bbe\x7f6e";
	}
};

...

	theServer.RegisterIncludeCodeW( "wwwhello",
		boost::bind(
		&cHello::DisplayWWHello,	// member function
		&hello ) );			// instance of class

If you wonder why UTF-8 and UTF-16 are necessary, check out my blog article, World Wide Characters.

Points of Interest

This section describes how webem is integrated with the server. It is not necessary to read this in order to use webem.

The boost::asio HTTP server invokes the method:

request_handler::handle_request( const request& req, reply& rep)

This is where the browser requests are parsed and the new page assembled to be sent back to the browser. We need to override this method in a specialization of the request handler so that, in turn, the registered application methods can be invoked.

void cWebemRequestHandler::handle_request( const request& req, reply& rep)
{
	// check for webem action request
	request req_modified = req;
	myWebem.CheckForAction( req_modified.uri );

	// call base method to do normal handling
	request_handler::handle_request( req_modified, rep);

	// Find and include any special cWebem strings
	myWebem.Include( rep.content );
}

Unfortunately, the boost::asio server, although otherwise very elegantly designed and implemented, has not been designed with inheritance in mind. In order to allow the server to invoke the webem request handler, I have made minimal changes to the boost code:

  • Made request_handler::handle_request method virtual so specialized override will be called
  • Changed server constructor to accept a reference to the request_handler it will use.
  • Changed order of server attributes so that the connection handler will not be initialized before the request handler.

Handling Post Requests

The boost:asio server did not handle post requests, often used for entering passwords. Adding this feature and getting it to work for different browsers (FireFox, Internet Explorer and Chrome) required detailed modifications to the asio request handler, which I will not go into here.

History

  • 2008 Sep 12
    • First release
  • 2008 Sep 15
    • Moved server construction into cWebem constructor, which simplifies application code
    • Provided two simpler examples, "Hello World" and "Formal Hello"
  • 2008 Sep 29
    • Fixed quotes in code fragments (I hope!)
  • 2009 Mar 9
    • Fixed include of modified server code in cWebem.h; fixed build errors in release configuration
  • 2009 May 5
  • 2010 May 30
    • Bug Fix: missing HTML input field value would use previous field value
    • Feature: handle post requests from browser, useful for entering passwords
    • Feature: Support for Unicode application include functions, useful for Chinese characters
    • Documentation: Examples in folder under source code, doxygen generated source documentation

License

This article, along with any associated source code and files, is licensed under The BSD License

About the Author

ravenspoint
Founder Raven's Point Consulting
Canada Canada
No Biography provided

Comments and Discussions

 
NewsSimple button actions Pinmemberravenspoint11-Apr-13 6:20 
QuestionVC6 project ? PinmemberFlaviu28-Nov-11 20:34 
AnswerRe: VC6 project ? Pinmemberravenspoint9-Nov-11 1:49 
GeneralRe: VC6 project ? PinmemberKochise24-May-13 4:45 
QuestionCompiling Webem on Linux PinmemberLiquidL28-Oct-11 19:21 
AnswerRe: Compiling Webem on Linux Pinmemberravenspoint29-Oct-11 2:07 
GeneralRe: Compiling Webem on Linux PinmemberLiquidL31-Oct-11 8:15 
GeneralRe: Compiling Webem on Linux Pinmemberravenspoint31-Oct-11 10:04 
GeneralRe: Compiling Webem on Linux PinmemberLiquidL1-Nov-11 13:34 
GeneralRe: Compiling Webem on Linux Pinmemberravenspoint2-Nov-11 3:48 
GeneralRe: Compiling Webem on Linux PinmemberLiquidL8-Nov-11 7:09 
GeneralRe: Compiling Webem on Linux Pinmemberravenspoint8-Nov-11 8:56 
GeneralRe: Compiling Webem on Linux [modified] PinmemberLiquidL11-Nov-11 7:37 
GeneralRe: Compiling Webem on Linux Pinmemberkarciarz15-Jul-12 8:51 
GeneralRe: Compiling Webem on Linux Pinmemberravenspoint18-Jul-12 8:06 
LiguidL said that he had changes to allow webem to compile on Unix. I provided him with access to the repository so he could submit the changes - but he never did so.
BugCSS Support [modified] PinmemberJustin Russell Howard27-Oct-11 5:21 
GeneralRe: CSS Support Pinmemberravenspoint27-Oct-11 6:37 
GeneralRe: CSS Support Pinmemberravenspoint27-Oct-11 8:39 
GeneralRe: CSS Support Pinmemberravenspoint27-Oct-11 9:34 
GeneralRe: CSS Support PinmemberJeroen Walter26-Nov-11 1:45 
GeneralRe: CSS Support Pinmemberravenspoint26-Nov-11 4:54 
GeneralRe: CSS Support PinmemberJeroen Walter28-Nov-11 1:19 
GeneralRe: CSS Support Pinmemberravenspoint28-Nov-11 8:27 
GeneralRe: CSS Support [modified] PinmemberJeroen Walter28-Nov-11 21:28 
GeneralRe: CSS Support Pinmemberravenspoint29-Nov-11 1:41 

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