Thursday, January 26, 2017

Adding search to your Moodle plugin - part two

Part Two - Indexing Custom Information

In the last post, I created the basic code required to allow Moodle's global search feature search my plugin's "name" and "intro" information fields. Now I want to extend that functionality to include the "subtitle" and "additional info" fields.

Reading the documentation, this looks like it should be an extension of the functionality I wrote for the basic case. The information fields I want to return, both belong to an activity instance. And the case I already created is for that activity instance. So I want to look at extending the class I already created.

If I decide to provide index data from other sources, then I would be creating new classes as described in the documentation following sections.

One of the concerns I have with my approach of continuing extending the base_activity class, rather than the base_mod class, is that the documentation says that I should use base_activity "to index Moodle activities basic data like the activity name and description". And that base_mod should be used for "other specific activity data". The two extra fields I want to include, aren't part of the main activity table of my plugin, but rather are stored in a second table called "questionnaire_survey". There is a one-to-one relationship though, and the information is considered part of the activity information, so I still think this the correct approach. But, to get that extra data, I will have to override the database function that gets all of that data.

Looking at the /search/classes/base_activity.php file, I see that the main function to retrieve and return the activity data is the get_recordset_by_timestamp function:

    public function get_recordset_by_timestamp($modifiedfrom = 0) {
        global $DB;
        return $DB->get_recordset_select($this->get_module_name(),
                   static::MODIFIED_FIELD_NAME . ' >= ?',
                   static::MODIFIED_FIELD_NAME . ' ASC');

This is the one I will override in my class. In its current form, it returns all of the fields from the main activity table according to the "timemodified" field. Since I want to JOIN the "questionnaire_survey" with this table, I am going to have to be selective about the fields that are returned, as there is overlap.

I open my questionnaire/classes/search/activity.php file and add the following function (full file here):

    public function get_recordset_by_timestamp($modifiedfrom = 0) {
        global $DB;

        $sql = 'SELECT q.*, s.subtitle, ' .
            'FROM {questionnaire} q ' .
            'INNER JOIN {questionnaire_survey} s ON q.sid = ' .
            'WHERE q.timemodified >= ? ' .
            'ORDER BY q.timemodified ASC';

        return $DB->get_recordset_sql($sql, [$modifiedfrom]);

Since I haven't told the search engine anywhere that I want to include the two new fields I've added, there must still be some changes to make. I install the new code, reindex the global search and test that things work. While there are no failures, I also cannot get any matches from the "subtitle" or "additional info" fields, confirming that there is more to do.

Looking at the documentation again, the next function that is presented is get_document. From the description, this function takes a record from the query results of get_recordset_by_timestamp function, and constructs a \core_search\document object with all of the data needed for indexing. My guess, is that I need to add my two new fields here. I'm going to override this function in my class.

The main function returns a constructed object with the data added to it as variables. I believe I can override this and take the returned function from the parent, add my new data to it, and return it. When I'm done, the function looks like this:

    public function get_document($record, $options = []) {
        // Get the default implementation.
        $doc = parent::get_document($record, $options);

        // Add the subtitle and additional info fields.
        $doc->set('subtitle', content_to_text($record->subtitle, false));
        $doc->set('additionalinfo', content_to_text($record->info, $record->introformat));

        return $doc;

I add the code to my site, purge all the caches and reindex the search engine. But, searching for these fields is not returning my data. On the search areas admin page, I have been using "Update indexed contents". But, since none of my questionnaire activities have actually changed, nothing is being re-indexed. Instead, I need to use the "Reindex all site contents" button. When I do this, I get an error indicating:

    Coding error detected, it must be fixed by a programmer: "subtitle" field does not exist.

It would appear that using "subtitle" is not correct.

The documentation shows an example of using get_document(), and it uses "description1" and "description2" as the fields being set. Its likely that I can't use "subtitle" and "additionalinfo" as  field names in the $doc->set() function.

The \core_search\document class is defined in the /search/classes/document.php file. The set() function uses a static array to look for specific field names it is allowed to set. The names I used, "subtitle" and "additionalinfo" are not part of those. However "description1" and "description2" are. This confirms that I need to change those functions. The set() function throws an exception when an unknown field is used, and that explains the error I saw.

My new function now looks like this (full file here):

    public function get_document($record, $options = []) {
        // Get the default implementation.
        $doc = parent::get_document($record, $options);

        // Add the subtitle and additional info fields.
        $doc->set('description1', content_to_text($record->subtitle, false));
        $doc->set('description2', content_to_text($record->info, $record->introformat));

        return $doc;

When I load it, and reindex all of the site contents, my search works. I now see content found from a subtitle.

So it seems that I can add indexed fields to the a activity level search, but only two. And they need to be referred to as "description1" and "description2". I'm guessing to add more than that, I would need to create more classes using base_mod instead of base_activity.

I'll explore that more in the next post, as well as how to search for more parts of my plugin.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Adding search to your Moodle plugin

Part One - The Basics

In Moodle 3.1, the "Global Search" feature was introduced. This feature provides the ability for a user to search for text within the entire site for entered terms. The results obey all role and capability rules, so only parts that can be legitimately accessed by the requesting user are returned.

As delivered, core activities are included in the global search. But plugins need to provide code to the search API in order to be included in the search results. In this series of blog posts, I am going to add the search feature to my questionnaire plugin.

Some resources that will help with this task are:

The global search feature uses search engine plugins to provide the search functions. Currently, there is only one plugin, that uses an external technology called Solr. In order to use search, and enable me to test my work, I will install it in my development environment. Moodle provides documentation to do this. Since I am using OSX with Macports, I follow those instructions. After that, I use the administration functions in my Moodle site to enable global search and verify that it is working. I'm not going to go into the details of that here, but the documentation links were enough for me to successfully do this.

Before I start, I'm going to use the search function to see how it works with the existing activities, and verify that it is not working for mine. I'm using Moodle 3.2 with the Boost theme. The search function is located in the upper right part of the navigation bar, with a text box entry next to a magnifying glass icon as below:

Once I enter my search text, for example "test", the screen displays everything it found and some further options. Under the "filter" section, there is a "Search area" drop down that lists all of the areas available to search within (see image below). My plugin does not appear there, so I presume this will be one of the places that I will see a change once I have enabled search in my plugin.

I also notice that in those filter choices, some of the activities show only "activity information" while others show this and other levels of the activity. These correspond to what content an activity returns to the search function. Looking at the documentation, I see that returning the "activity information" is the easiest case, and does not require much work at all. I am going to start there.

I have created a working branch off of my latest Moodle 3.2 branch called GLOBALSEARCH_32 as my starting point. You can follow along on Github here.

The documentation makes this look pretty straight forward. I create a subdirectory called search in my plugin's classes subdirectory. In that new directory, I add a file named activity.php. The contents, are basically this (you can see the entire file here):

    namespace mod_questionnaire\search;

    class activity extends \core_search\base_activity {

I'm going to update my development site with this new code, and see what happens. After copying, I check the filter dropdown as above, but I don't see the questionnaire in the list. In all likelihood, I need to purge all of the caches. After doing that, the page reloads, but gives me the following error:

Invalid get_string() identifier: 'search:activity' or component 'mod_questionnaire'. Perhaps you are missing $string['search:activity'] = ''; in mod/questionnaire/lang/en/questionnaire.php?
  • line 349 of /lib/classes/string_manager_standard.php: call to debugging()
  • line 7076 of /lib/moodlelib.php: call to core_string_manager_standard->get_string()
  • line 146 of /search/classes/base.php: call to get_string()
  • line 62 of /search/classes/output/form/search.php: call to core_search\base->get_visible_name()
  • line 204 of /lib/formslib.php: call to core_search\output\form\search->definition()
  • line 59 of /search/index.php: call to moodleform->__construct()
It looks like I need to define a specific language string as well. The error nicely tells me exactly what I need. I add the line:
    $string['search:activity'] = 'Questionnaire - activity information';
to the lang/en/questionnaire.php file and try again. This time, I have no error, and the drop down shows my activity in the list:

However, when I perform a search that should include a questionnaire, it does not show up. The most likely reason is that the search engine has not indexed the plugin into its database yet. The global search can be scheduled to reindex its database, and it can also be manually reindexed. At the main global search administration page, admin/settings.php?section=manageglobalsearch, there is an "Index data" link. Reviewing that page, I can see that there is a section for "Questionnaire - activity information", that is showing as never having been indexed. When I click the "Update indexed contents" button, also on that page, my questionnaire now shows as having been indexed. I perform my search again, and I can now see results from my questionnaire.

Adding the basic search functionality turned out to be extremely easy. I simple had to add one file that extended a class, and one language string. In the next post, I'll add extra levels of searching to include questionnaire "subtitle" and "additional info" sections.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Part 5 - Further discussion

After I completed my first attempt at adding renderers and templates to my questionnaire plugin, I went on to use them much more thoroughly in the actual release. The Moodle 3.2 release of questionnaire uses templates for all of the major pages. This is a work in progress, and I have taken some shortcuts to make the transition easier while allowing me to release the code as it is worked on.

Most noticeably, since the output of questionnaire is generated by specific functions that return HTML pieces, I have created the templates to accept that HTML. This means that only the top level formatting of a page is templatable. But, I am working on extracting more and more of the output into the templates as the work continues.

In the RENDERER_32 work in progress branch, I have refactored and extracted almost all of the question specific output into individual question type templates. These templates are used with renderer functions to return the HTML to the main renderer. I have coded the renderer function so that it will use question templates as I define them, or fallback to the old method if they are not present. If you have questions about this work, contact me or post a question here.

If you wander through those templates, you'll see some other aspects of templates used that I didn't discuss in this series. For example, in the navbaralpha.mustache file you can see the use of the language string {{# str}} helper function. This is a way to put a language string directly into the template. You can find more information on that here.

In the question_check.mustache template, you can see the use of dotted notation for tag names. For example, While not strictly necessary, I find that this notation helps to document the structure of the context data being used in the template. In this example, the fact that id is a subelement of the choice structure.

Regarding data structures, if you recall in "Part three", I mentioned that the template data could be formatted as arrays or objects and that both would work. The code I provided used strictly arrays. But it could have used objects as well as the one array needed for the rows element. Below is an alternate coding using objects instead of arrays where possible:

     * Prepare data for use in a template
     * @param \renderer_base $output
     * @return stdClass
    public function export_for_template(\renderer_base $output) {
        $data = new \stdClass();
        $data->headings = new \stdClass();
        foreach ($this->headings as $key => $heading) {
            $data->headings->{$key} = $heading;
        $data->rows = [];
        foreach ($this->rows as $row) {
            list($topic, $name, $responses, $type) = $row;
            $item = new \stdClass();
            $item->topic = $topic;
            $item->name = $name;
            $item->responses = $responses;
            $item->type = $type;
            $data->rows[] = $item;
        return $data;

Lastly, I never got into using javascript with templates. I have personally not spent enough time with this to do that topic justice. If you wish to explore that though, start with the documentation. Additionally Damyon Wiese from Moodle HQ gives a great demonstration that covers how to include javascript and Ajax with templates, as well as a great introduction to templates in general. If you want to skip ahead to where javascript comes into play, fast-forward to around 14:10 in the video.

If you want to discuss any of this series, or recommend alternate approaches, please feel free to leave comments or contact me directly.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Part 4 - Using the Template

In the previous posts, I created and used a renderer, and created a simple mustache template for my plugin. In part four of the "Adding renderers and templates to your Moodle plugin" series, I will present how to code the template classes and then use them in the renderer.

To use a template, I need a few different constructs.

Firstly, I need a new class that implements the core renderable and templatable classes. The file and class name should be the same as the template file name to make things easier. And the file must be located in the classes/output/ directory.

Since my template file is called indexpage.mustache, I create a new file called indexpage.php in the classes/output directory, and add a class called indexpage that implements \renderable and \templatable.  The class declaration must look like this (the entire file is available here):

    class indexpage implements \renderable, \templatable {

The purpose of this script is to collect the output data for the template and make it available to the renderer. The only real required function is the export_for_template function, as renderers require that function to retrieve the data structure that is passed into the template. Other functions can be provided as necessary including those that process the data for the template. The code for the export function looks like this:

    public function export_for_template(\renderer_base $output) {
        $data = ['headings' => [], 'rows' => []];
        foreach ($this->headings as $key => $heading) {
            $data['headings'][$key] = $heading;
        foreach ($this->rows as $row) {
            list($topic, $name, $responses, $type) = $row;
            $data['rows'][] =['topic' => $topic, 'name' => $name,
                'responses' => $responses, 'type' => $type];
        return $data;

For my version, I pass all the necessary data for the template to the constructor, and then process it for output in the export function. The class contains two property variables, $headings and $rows, which will hold the table headings and each row of content for the index page based on what is passed into the constructor. My export_for_template function processes these variables and creates the expected data construct for the template.

If you recall from the last post, my template expects a data structure with two top level elements: #headings and #rows. In the export_for_template function, I create a PHP array called $data, and add the keys 'headings' and 'rows' to it, each of which is initialized to an array. Then, I load up the headings array with a value for each 'title[n]' index and the rows array with an array for each content row containing the topic, name, responses and type elements. So after processing, the function returns a structure that looks something like this (for example):

    $data['headings' =>
             ['title1' => 'Topic',
              'title2' => 'Name',
              'title3' => 'Responses',
              'title4' => 'Questionnaire Type'
          'rows' =>
             [0 =>
                 ['topic' => 'Topic1',
                  'name' => 'Questionnaire1',
                  'responses' => 42,
                  'type' => 'Private'
             [1 =>
                 ['topic' => 'Topic2',
                  'name' => 'Questionnaire2',
                  'responses' => 11,
                  'type' => 'Private'

This structure is what gets sent to the template to meet its requirements for data.

Now that I have the necessary implementation of the core \templatable class, and a template, I need to code the renderer to use them. Currently, the renderer's render_index function, creates the HTML output from Moodle core helper functions, specifically the \html_table class. I need to change that so it uses the template and template class.

To do that, I change the declaration of the function to take one argument, a \templatable object. And I get rid of the current code, and replace it with the object's export_for_template function and a call to the renderer class function render_from_template. The new function looks like this (you can see the entire file here):

    public function render_indexpage(\templatable $indexpage) {
        $data = $indexpage->export_for_template($this);
        return $this->render_from_template('mod_questionnaire/indexpage', $data);

The new render_index function expects an object created from the classes/output/indexpage.php::indexpage class. With that object, it will call the export_for_template function to get the data necessary to pass into the template. Then it will pass that data to the template to get the HTML output from the core render_from_template function. The render_from_template function takes two arguments: the template to use and the data to pass the template. In my case, the template to use is defined by the argument 'mod_questionnaire/indexpage'. The 'mod_questionnaire' portion tells the function that this is for an activity module plugin, and therefore the template should be found in the directory '/mod/questionnaire/templates/'. The 'indexpage' portion indicates that there should be file named 'indexpage.mustache' in that directory. After that, the function executes the necessary magic to pass the data into the template and return the final formatted HTML.

The final step I need to do in order to use all of this new template code is change the way I am using the renderer in the index.php file. In this case, I only need to change the code where I am actually using the renderer to output to the screen. I need to do two things: change the arguments being passed to the render_index function and create an indexpage templatable object for that function to use.

The old code looks like this:
    echo $output->render_index($headings, $align, $content);

The new code looks like this:
    $indexpage = new \mod_questionnaire\output\indexpage($headings, $content);
    echo $output->render_indexpage($indexpage);

Note, although I changed the function name from render_index to render_indexpage, it was not necessary. I changed the name only because I felt it better reflected the functionality.

I now have everything I need to output my plugin's index page using renderers and templates. And, other developers can now easily change the way that page display looks using alternate templates or renderers in their themes without having to change any of the plugin's code. The entire plugin's code using this template can be viewed here.

In my next post I will look at alternate coding strategies and how I used renderers and templates for the rest of the plugin's output code.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Part 3 - Setting up Templates

In part three of the "Adding renderers and templates to your Moodle plugin" series, I will present how to set up and begin using templates with your plugin renderer.

At this point, in parts one and two, I have created a renderer for my plugin's index page, and modified the output code for the index page to use the renderer.

There are a number of parts to implementing templates. I need a renderer. I did this in the earlier parts of the series. I need output classes based on Moodle's \renderable and \templatable classes. And I need Mustache templates to define the actual HTML output.

The first thing I am going to do is construct the mustache template. A mustache template is a file that looks very much like an HTML file. This makes it easy for designer/developers, familiar with HTML to create a layout display. They do not need knowledge of PHP or Moodle internals.

In my plugin, I need to create a new subdirectory called "templates" to hold the mustache templates I create.  Any template file I create requires the ".mustache" extension. Moodle's output system is set up to use the component name and the templates subdirectory name to locate any templates I specify in the specific functions. Since I am creating one for the index page, I create a file called templates/indexpage.mustache.

If you recall from the renderer posts, my index page was essentially an HTML table, listing the questionnaire instances in the course it was being accessed for. I used the html_writer::table function to generate the HTML of this table with the data I loaded. My new template needs to do something similar, except I will have to write the HTML for the table listing using HTML code in the mustache file.

The file I create contains the following HTML/Mustache code (you can see the whole file here):

<table class="generaltable">
      <th class="header" style="text-align:left;" scope="col">{{title1}}</th>
      <th class="header" style="text-align:left;" scope="col">{{title2}}</th>
      <th class="header" style="text-align:center;" scope="col">{{title3}}</th>
      <th class="header" style="text-align:left;" scope="col">{{title4}}</th>
      <td class="cell" style="text-align:left;" scope="col">{{topic}}</td>
      <td class="cell" style="text-align:left;" scope="col">{{{name}}}</td>
      <td class="cell" style="text-align:center;" scope="col">{{responses}}</td>
      <td class="cell" style="text-align:left;" scope="col">{{type}}</td>

You can see from this that the mustache template file looks very much like part of an HTML file, except for the portions contained within multiple brace brackets ("{{ }}"). Anything contained within the brace bracket structures, are mustache constructs that will be replaced by real data when the template is executed.

When a template is executed, it is passed a data structure. The data structure is where the template gets the real data to substitute in place of its brace tagged variables. Deconstructing this template, I have two main data structures: headings and rows. These structures are contained within opening and closing tag pairs, specifically:
    {{#headings}} {{/headings}}
    {{#rows}} {{/rows}}

Each of these structures contains other data defined by tags. The headings structure contains
{{title1}}, {{title2}}, {{title3}} and {{title4}}. The rows structure contains {{topic}}, {{name}}, {{responses}} and {{type}}. This level of the structure is the actual data. When the template is executed, it will expect a data structure that contains these structures passed into it.

Putting the data into section tags allows for some logic to occur within the template. If the section tag exists as a variable in the passed in data, then the output contained within the tag will be displayed. If the section tag does not exist, then the output contained within the tag will not be displayed. Additionally, if the section tag variable is an array, then the output within it will be repeated for each item of the section tag array. For my template, this is important for the rows variable, since there may be multiple rows of data.

In the case of the headings section, if the data contains no headings variable, a table row with no columns will be displayed in the <thead> section. In the case of the rows section, one row containing four columns each (one each of topic, name, responses and type) will be displayed for each element of the rows array. If rows is not present in the data, then no content rows will be displayed.

For this template, since I know I am always going to be passing in the table headings, I really don't need the #header section and structure at all. I could simply pass in the title variables as standalone variables in the template data structure. In that case, I would rewrite the table header section without the opening and closing header tags.

While I haven't discussed the code that constructs the data to be sent to the template yet, I just want to point out some details about how that data can look. For this, assume $data is the data variable I am constructing to pass to the template.

The template will expect the data that is passed in to be either an object with each template tag defined as a property (object variable), or as an array with each template tag defined as an array index. In the case of this template, the data structure expected will consist of either:
or a combination of both.

The headings variable, likewise can be either an object or an array. So for example, either
headings['title1'] or headings->title1 will work successfully with the template data.

For this template, if there are multiple rows of data to be displayed, then the rows variable must be an array structure. Each array item can be either another array or an object however. So, for this template for example, we expect either rows[0]['topic'] or rows[0]->topic. If rows is not an array, there will only ever be one row displayed.

The data structure required is documented as a JSON structure in the template file as comments before the code.

One other thing to point out before I move on. You may have noticed that all of the template variable tags are enclosed in two brace brackets, except for one. The name variable is enclosed in three brace brackets - {{{name}}}.  When a variable enclosed in two brace brackets is substituted for the real data, it is HTML escaped. That means only text will be displayed, and any HTML constructs contained in that variable will be converted to escaped text and displayed verbatim rather than interpreted. When a variable is enclosed in three brace brackets is substituted for the real data, the data is included raw. That means the HTML will be interpreted and displayed accordingly. This is useful when you want to display a block of HTML formatted content.

In the case of my template, the name variable also contains a link to the actual questionnaire instance, so I want the HTML to be displayed as I passed it. In actuality, I should probably rewrite the template so that the pieces of the link are passed instead of the entire HTML structure. Generally speaking, it is safer and better practice to pass only unformatted text.

In the next post, I will begin modifying the renderer code to use the template.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Part 2 - Using the Renderer

In part two of the "Adding renderers and templates to your Moodle plugin" series, I will present how to use the renderer I created in part one in my plugin.

To summarize what I completed in part one, I created a renderer for my questionnaire module plugin using the classes/output/ structure and namespaces. This construction allows my classes to take advantage of Moodle's autoloading.

Damyon Wiese, one of the Moodle HQ leads, pointed out an error I made in part one. I showed a version of the renderer that used the class name "mod_questionnaire_renderer" without namespaces, in the file "renderer.php" located in the classes/output/ directory. Apparently, this will not work in a final solution. If I don't use namespaces, then that file must be located in either the plugin root or in classes/. In any case, it is always best to use the namespace solution that I finished with. I have updated Part 1 to reflect the correct structures.

Now I am going to edit the index.php file to use the renderer I created.

In the pre-renderer index file, I used PHP's echo statement with Moodle's global $OUTPUT object and html_writer helper class to display the screen output. The global $OUTPUT object is the global renderer object available to any script in Moodle. If a script is not using renderers, it will likely use this object to perform its necessary output operations. When a plugin uses its own renderer, it instantiates its own renderer object and uses it in place of $OUTPUT.

To instantiate my plugin's renderer, I use the get_renderer helper function. This function is part of the core moodle_page class, and can be accessed through the global $PAGE object, available to any Moodle script. Like the global $OUTPUT object, the global $PAGE object is instantiated at the start of every Moodle script through the normal setup functions. If a script specifically includes the main config.php file, it will already have direct access to these global objects. If not, it will need to specifically include them with a PHP global statement.

To get a renderer object for my plugin, I need to add the line:
    $output = $PAGE->get_renderer('mod_questionnaire');

This function is responsible for locating my renderer and returning an instantiated object of my renderer's class. This is the function that looks for a class named mod_questionnaire_renderer in the plugin root directory, or the classes/ subdirectory, or one that can be autoloaded from the namespace mod_questionnaire\output namespace named renderer.

Once I have this, anywhere I would have used $OUTPUT, I will now use the plugin's $output instead.

So, I change:
    echo $OUTPUT->header();
    echo $output->header();
    echo $OUTPUT->footer();
    echo $output->footer();

Note that the renderer I created does not specifically contain the header() or footer() functions. These are inherited from the parent class, plugin_renderer_base, and are used as defined there. If I want to change what the output of these functions are, I can extend or replace them in my renderer. But, these are important functions that do much of the heavy lifting for page setup and completion, so it's best to just use the core methods.

The other output my index script currently does is create an html_table object, set it up, and output it using the html_writer helper class. Since my renderer now takes care of that, I'm going to remove all of those bits and pass the necessary data to the renderer instead. That actual content of the page will be output with the statement:
    echo $output->render_index($headings, $align, $content);

The function render_index is the one new function I did create, and it is responsible for returning the complete page's HTML to the caller.

So, using my renderer, my index page code to perform the page output, is really handled by four statements:
    $output = $PAGE->get_renderer('mod_questionnaire');    
    echo $output->header();
    echo $output->render_index($headings, $align, $content);
    echo $output->footer();

The rest of the script is really there to define the three variables passed to the render_index function.

To see the changes made, the original index.php file (before renderers) can be found here. The modified version using renderers can be found here. The diff comparison can be viewed here.

In the next post, I will add template usage to the renderer solution.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Part 1 - Setting up the Renderer

In part one of the "Adding renderers and templates to your Moodle plugin" series, I will present how to setup and add a renderer file to your plugin.

So let's begin adding renderers to a plugin. To make things easier, I have set up a fork of questionnaire in my github account and created a branch to work in. If you wish to work along, it is located at I have added tags to the various work points to see the progression, and I will highlight them at appropriate points.

The code I will begin with is found at

As I mentioned in the previous post, I am going to start by modifying the index.php file to use renderers rather than inline display code. To do this, I will need to create a renderer file.

To create a renderer, I need to create a file called renderer.php for my plugin, that contains a class that extends the core plugin_renderer_base class. My class will contain functions with names that define the output I wish to render and/or overrides to existing core render output functions. For this example, since I am rendering the index page, I will create a function called render_index.

The location of the file can be in one of two places in my plugin's file structure. The most common place currently is in the root of the plugin directory. At the time of this writing, most of the core module plugins use the root of their directory to hold this file (mod/lti is the only one that doesn't). The other location is within the subdirectory classes/output/.

My index page at the start is essentially a table, created and output using the core Moodle html_table class from the /lib/outputcomponents.php file. For now, I am just going to move the usage of the html_table class to my renderer. So I will create the file renderer.php with the class definition mod_questionnaire_renderer and the function render_index()in the root of my plugin.

Note the class name I have used: mod_questionnaire_renderer . This is so Moodle's rendering system can find it. When I use the rendering functions I define, Moodle will look for a class definition named "plugintype]_[pluginname]_renderer" using Moodle's standard frankenstyle plugin naming convention.

The render_index function will take three arguments to create the output table. The heading for the heading row, the alignment for all columns and the actual row/column data. The important code for this file looks like this (you can see the whole file here):

class mod_questionnaire_renderer extends plugin_renderer_base {
 * Renders the HTML for the index page.
 * @param array $headings Headings for the display columns.
 * @param array $align Alignment for each column.
 * @param array $data All of the table data.
 * @return string
    public function render_index($headings, $align, $data) {
        $table = new html_table();
        $table->head = $headings;
        $table->align = $align;
        $table->data = $data;
        return html_writer::table($table);

Since the purpose of the renderer functions are to return the display code (HTML) to be output, all I have done for now is moved the output from the html_table class to here. Not terribly interesting, but it still provides the advantages of a renderer, such as overriding it with themes.

As I mentioned previously, the class naming convention allows Moodle's rendering system to locate my plugin's renderer. The mechanism for this is:
    $myrenderer = $PAGE->get_renderer('mod_questionnaire');

When I modify the index.php file, a line like that will be what I will use to define the renderer object I will use to generate my output.

Before I move on, I want to change my renderer to use namespaces and class autoloading. Namespaces allow for my classes to be more specifically identified, allowing Moodle's autoloading system to find them much quicker. They also allow me to have class names identical to other class names in Moodle without causing a coding error. This is because the full class name also contains the namespace to identify it.

The classes/ subdirectory is a new structure released in 2.6. It provides a standard mechanism to provide the class definitions your plugin requires, and can contain any subdirectory structure you require. It also allows Moodle to use automatic class loading, meaning that files containing class definitions can be discovered by other scripts rather than having to be specifically included in the script. When autoloading is combined with namespace usage (more on that in a bit), the code may perform better and will be easier to maintain with fewer backward compatibility problems.

Moodle's renderer autoloading system automatically looks in both the classes/output/ space and the plugin root for plugin renderers. But, other class definitions will only be looked for in the classes/ structure.

To use autoloading and namespaces, I will move my renderer.php file from the plugin root to the classes/output/ directory.

In the newly moved file, before the first line of code, I need to put in my namespace definition. Like the frankenstyle name of my class, a namespace consists of the [plugintype]_[pluginname], followed by an optional functional name for your space. When I use a namespace, the file must be located in my classes/ subdirectory in order for the autoloading system to find it. Since I want to use namespaces, this is another reason why I located my renderer in classes/output rather than my plugin root. Moodle expects to find the renderer classes in the "output" namespace for a plugin, so my namespace declaration will look like this:
    namespace mod_questionnaire\output;

Notice that the "output" portion corresponds with the "output" subdirectory of "classes". This is how namespaces work. Every part of a namespace declaration in Moodle separated by "\" is expected to be a subdirectory in the "classes/" structure.

Defining this namespace further allows me to change the name of my class. Currently, the class is named mod_questionnaire_renderer. Because I have now declared to be a part of the mod_questionnaire namespace, I no longer need the "mod_questionnaire" portion. My class must now be named just renderer.

With these changes, the code in my renderer now looks like this (full file can be found here):

namespace mod_questionnaire\output;

class renderer extends \plugin_renderer_base {
     * Renders the HTML for the index page.
     * @param array $headings Headings for the display columns.
     * @param array $align Alignment for each column.
     * @param array $data All of the table data.
     * @return string
    public function render_index($headings, $align, $data) {
        $table = new \html_table();
        $table->head = $headings;
        $table->align = $align;
        $table->data = $data;

        return \html_writer::table($table);

Note one other important, but subtle change. There is a backslash ("\") in front of the plugin_renderer_base, the html_table and the html_writer statements. This defines the namespace for those constructs as the root (core) namespace. This is necessary, since I have specified that the code in this file is in the mod_questionnaire\output namespace. Unless otherwise specified, all definitions will be expected to be in that same namespace. Since those items are contained in other namespaces (namely Moodle core or "\"), I need to specifically identify where they can be found for my code to work.

In my next post, I will modify the index.php file to use the newly defined renderer.