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Apple's Auto Layout and Visual Format language for famo.us

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famous-autolayout implements Apple's Auto-layout Visual Format Language (VFL) for famo.us. Auto layout is a system which lets you perform lay out using mathematical relationships (cassowary constraints). It is based on autolayout.js and allows you to create complex responsive layouts in no time:



Important resources

Before you get started with famous-autolayout and VFL, it is important to know about these resources:

This article describes the basics of autolayouts visual format language and should be your starting point in getting acquainted with famous-autolayout. The basic concepts are simple but it does require a certain way of thinking. I suggest taking the time to learn and understand the concepts properly and you will be rewarded generously afterwards.

The Extended Visual Format Language is a superset of VFL that has been created to solve limitations in standard VFL as well as give you greater control of layouts with less code. Amongst other things, it adds 'z-ordering' which is essential when using VFL with famo.us. Famous-autolayout uses EVFL.

In the comments of your VFL you can specify meta information which is used by the renderer of the layout. You can use this to for instance set the default spacing or aspect-ratio of the view.

The Visual format editor is an essential resource when working with VFL layouts. It allows you to edit and preview layouts and contains syntax checking and highlighting. In development, this will be your friend that immediately shows results and allows you to test the responsiveness of your layouts (just resize the browser!).

Getting started

To use AutoLayout in your famo.us project, install famous-autolayout using npm or bower:

npm install famous-autolayout

bower install famous-autolayout

Famo.us Mixed Mode

To create a layout from a visual format, use:

var AutoLayoutController = require('famous-autolayout/src/AutoLayoutController');

// Using the very useful ES6 template-strings feature (the backtick),
// VFL can be easily copy/pasted between code and the editor.
// If you can't use the backtick symbol, use an array with strings instead:
// var vfl = ['H:|-[row:[red(green,blue)]-[green]-[blue]]-|','V:|[row]|'];
var vfl = `
//viewport aspect-ratio:3/1 max-height:300

// Create autolayout controller with some colored divs
var alc = new AutoLayoutController({
    visualFormat: vfl
new DOMElement(alc.addChild(undefined, 'red')).setProperty('background', 'red');
new DOMElement(alc.addChild(undefined, 'green')).setProperty('background', 'green');
new DOMElement(alc.addChild(undefined, 'blue')).setProperty('background', 'blue');
scene.addChild(alc); // add controller to the scene

AutoLayoutController extends Node and implements the following functions:

autoLayoutController.setVisualFormat(visualFormat, parseOptions);
autoLayoutController.addChild(node, id);
autoLayoutController.removeChild(node, id);

Any settings that can be configured in the VFL comments, can also be configured through the layout-options:

var alc = new AutoLayoutController({
    visualFormat: [
    layoutOptions: {
        spacing: 10,
        heights: {
            footer: 100

Famo.us v0.3.x

To use auto-layout with famo.us v0.3.x, install famous-flex:

npm install famous-flex

bower install famous-flex

To create a layout from a visual format, use:

var LayoutController = require('famous-flex/LayoutController');
var vflToLayout = require('famous-autolayout/src/vflToLayoutv3');

var layoutController = new LayoutController({
    layout: vflToLayout([
        '//heights footer:100',
    dataSource: {
        header: new Surface({..}),
        content: new Surface({..}),
        footer: new Surface({..})
this.add(layoutController); // add layout-controller to render-tree

Any settings that can be configured in the VFL comments, can also be configured through the layout-options:

var layoutController = new LayoutController({
    layout: vflToLayout([
    layoutOptions: {
        spacing: 10,
        heights: {
            footer: 100
    dataSource: {...}

Viewport settings

By default the layout is sized to the full width and height of its parent. Using the viewport directive, additional rules such as aspect-ratio or max-height can be defined:

//viewport aspect-ratio:16/9 max-height:500 width:100

Check out this example online

It is also possible to use the size as calculated by the layout itself:

//viewport width:intrinsic height:intrinsic


Spacers are defined in VFL using the dash-symbol, like this:


Spacers can either have a fixed (-10-), proportional (-5%-) or a default size (-). The default spacing is set to 8. To change the default spacing, use the spacing directive in the comments of the VFL:

//spacing: 50


In famo.us, the z-ordering is important to indicate which node overlaps other nodes. This becomes apparent when you create a layout that has a background and foreground nodes:

Z:|[background][row] // put row in front of the background


The last line of VFL instructs the layout that [row] is in front of [background].

Using the size of the render-node (true-size)

Sometimes you want the render-node to calculate the size (e.g. a text that has a variable width based its content), rather than defining it in VFL. To do this, set the width or height to intrinsic in the VFL comments. This instructs famous-autolayout to grab the size from the node and pass it along to the autolayout solver.

Mixed mode example:

var alc = new AutoLayoutController({
    visualFormat: [
        '//widths text1:intrinsic text2:intrinsic',

var text1 = alc.addChild(undefined, 'text1');
var text2 = alc.addChild(undefined, 'text2');
var elmProps = {background: 'lightgray', 'white-space': 'nowrap', 'border-radius': '3px'};
new DOMElement(text1, {properties: elmProps, content: 'text 1'});
new DOMElement(text2, {properties: elmProps, content: 'a much longer text'});



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© 2015 Hein Rutjes

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