Monday, February 21, 2011

Easily Support the Sound Menu in Python

An important part of integrating with the Ubuntu desktop is ensuring that your application is using all of the appropriate indicators. In this entry, I explain how I added support for the Ubuntu Sound Menu to the sample application "Simple Player."

Ubuntu's Sound Menu allows users to access some of a media players functions without the user having to find the application window and use the applications controls. To add support for the Sound Menu controls, which allow the user to Play, Pause, and use Next, and Previous functions, takes 4 basic steps:
  1. Create a Desktop File so the Sound Menu knows that it should display your application.
  2. Add to your application, instantiate a SoundMenuControls object, and start a dbus main loop.
  3. Implement functions from the SoundMenuControls so that the Sound Menu can control your application.
  4. Call functions on the SoundMenuControls objet so that the Sound Menu knows about changes that your applications makes.
Creating the Desktop File
If you are developing an application, and have not installed it, most likely you do not have a desktop file installed. Desktop files are used in Linux desktops to describe your application to the system. Many parts of the desktop refer to desktop files for things like creating application launchers and menus, file handling support, etc... The Ubuntu Sound Menu uses desktopfiles to determine which applications it should launch and handle. In a default Natty install, only Banshee will have a desktop file that the Sound Menu will detect and want to handle.

Desktop files all live in /usr/share/applications/. A quickly project has a file called This file will be turned into a real desktop file by the packaging and installation system. But it won't work for development, so you'll want to create a new one and copy it into /usr/share/applications/.

For simple-player, I created a desktop file with the following contents:
[Desktop Entry]
Name=Simple Player
Comment=SimplePlayer application
When I named it, I made sure to name "simple-player.desktop". Then I used:
$sudo cp simple-player.desktop /usr/share/applications/
to copy it into the applications directory where the Sound Menu could find it. Then I logged out and logged in again so that the Sound Menu could discover it.

Now Simple Player shows up as an option in the Sound Menu!

There is no icon, because I have not installed the icon for Sound Menu. Also, clicking the Simple Player menu item won't launch Simple Player because the application is not actually installed. Both of those problems will be fixed when the application is properly packaged and installed.

The Sound Menu communicates with applications via the MPRIS2 DBUS API. This was a good choice by the Sound Menu developers because many applications already support MPRIS2. However, doing DBUS programming, especially with Python, can be a tad complex. Since I didn't want application programmers to have to rewrite all the DBUS code every time someone wants to integrate a Python application with the Sound Menu, I create a module called to encapsulate all the DBUS goo. Note that does not implement all of the MPRIS2 specification, only the parts that the Sound Menu needs.

To get, it's probably easiest to check it out from launchpad account:
$bzr branch lp:~rick-rickspencer3/+junk/sound_menu

This will create a directory called sound_menu, with a single file If you want to, you can look at and copy and paste the code into your program to make it work. However, is designed so that you can easily mix it into your application without having to modify it, or work with the DBUS calls directly. We'll go that route for Simple Player.

So the first step is to copy the file into the library for Simple Player. For example:
$cp sound_menu/ simple-player/simple_player/

Setting Up sound_menu in Your Code
Now that the sound_menu module is copied into the applications library, there are a few steps to take before you can really start programming it.

First, you need to import the SoundMenuControls class from the sound_menu module. I did this in the simple-player file with the other simple_player imports, right above the class deceleration section. So I added the bottom line:
from simple_player import (BaseSimplePlayerWindow)
import simple_player.helpers as helpers
from simple_player.preferences import preferences
from simple_player.sound_menu import SoundMenuControls
The is one other really important piece of book keeping required before you can create a SoundMenuControls object. It is necessary to start up a DBUS main loop. For simple-player, the easiest place for this is in the __main__ function, so I added the following lines:

#turn on the dbus mainloop
from dbus.mainloop.glib import DBusGMainLoop
Making the whole main function look like this:

if __name__ == "__main__":
# Support for command line options. See to add more.

#turn on the dbus mainloop
from dbus.mainloop.glib import DBusGMainLoop

# Run the application.
window = SimplePlayerWindow()

Create an Instance of SoundMenuControls
Now that we've done the booking keeping to import the SoundMenuControls class, and also to start a DBUS loop, it's possible to intantiate a SoundMenuControls object. To create a SoundMenuControls object, you need to tell it the name of the desktop file to look for. So, I added this line to the bottom of the finish_initializing function in simple-player:
self.sound_menu_controls = SoundMenuControls('simple-player')

Using "$quickly run" to start simple-player, notice that the Sound Menu now knows that it is running, and presents the Controls for it.

Implement the _sound_menu_* Functions
If you click on the different buttons and such, though, you'll notice that sadly they don't work. Well, why would they? The Sound Menu doesn't know how to make Simple Player do what it wants. In order to do that, we need to implement a few functions, and tell the SoundMenuControls object to use those functions. Then we'll need to add a little bit of code to inform the Sound Menu when changes occur in Simple Player too.

All of the functions that you need to implement start with "_sound_menu_*". I named them this way so that it was obvious what the functions were for, and also so that they weren't likely to conflict with any code that you already wrote.

There are 2 different approaches that you can take to implement SoundMenuControls's functionality in your application. You can inherit from it, typically by using multiple inheritance, or you can assign functions to the _sound_menu_* functions. This later method, though while not quite as clean, is a bit easier, so I went with that.

The first thing I did was create local implementations of the necessary functions. Note that I could have named them whatever I wanted, but I decided to just stick with the names from SoundMenuControls. There are 6 functions that must be implemented. I added te following functions directly below the finish_initializing function. I think between the names and the comments, they are pretty self-explanatory, so I won't cover each one.

def _sound_menu_is_playing(self):
"""return True if the player is currently playing, otherwise, False"""
return self.player.playbin.get_state()[1] == gst.STATE_PLAYING

def _sound_menu_play(self):
"""start playing if ready"""
if len(self.ui.scrolledwindow1.get_children()[0].selected_rows) > 0:

def _sound_menu_pause(self):
"""pause if playing"""
if self.player.playbin.get_state()[1] == gst.STATE_PLAYING:

def _sound_menu_next(self):
"""go to the next song in the list"""
self.play_next_file(self, None)

def _sound_menu_previous(self):
"""go to the previous song in the list"""

def _sound_menu_raise(self):
"""raise the window to the top of the z-order"""
Note that the _sound_menu_is_playing function and the _sound_menu_pause functions both work by checking the state of the player's playbin. This requires a comparison to an enum in gstreamer. This won't work unless you import gstreamers, so remember to add "import gst" to your import statements.

Note that the functions are actually quite simple. They provide a mapping from the actions that a user takes in a sound menu, to the functions in the simple-player file. Now I just need to tell my SoundMenuControls object to use those functions instead of the ones that it comes with. I do this by simply assignment, directly after the line where I created the object:

self.sound_menu = SoundMenuControls("simple-player")
self.sound_menu._sound_menu_next = self._sound_menu_next
self.sound_menu._sound_menu_previous = self._sound_menu_previous
self.sound_menu._sound_menu_is_playing = self._sound_menu_is_playing
self.sound_menu._sound_menu_play = self._sound_menu_play
self.sound_menu._sound_menu_pause = self._sound_menu_pause
self.sound_menu._sound_menu_raise = self._sound_menu_raise
There is one problem though, while I implemented play_next_file() to make it so that when a song finishes, it can go on to the next song, I didn't need to implemented play_previous_file(). A little copy/paste and some tweeking, I added play_previous_file right below play_next_file. It looks like this:

def play_previous_file(self):
#get a reference to the current grid
grid = self.ui.scrolledwindow1.get_children()[0]

#get a gtk selection object from that grid
selection = grid.get_selection()

#get the selected row, and just return if none are selected
model, rows = selection.get_selected_rows()
if len(rows) == 0:

#calculate the next row to be selected by finding
#the last selected row in the list of selected rows
#and decrementing by 1
prev_to_select = rows[-1][0] -1

#if this is not the last row in the last
#unselect all rows, select the next row, and call the
#play_file handle, passing in the now selected row
if prev_to_select != 0:

At this point, the Previous and Next buttons work in the Sound Menu, but the Play button doesn't, and no song information is displayed. This is because we've only implemented the part where the Sound Menu tells Simple Player what to do. We have to add a few lines of code so that Simple Player can tell the sound menu things like when it is starting a song, has been paused, etc...

We'll start by telling the Sound Menu about new songs. The logical place to do this is at the end of a the play_file function, as this typically means that Simple Player has started a new song, we use the SoundMenuControls object's song_changed() function to let the Sound Menu know there is a new song playing. You can tell the Sound Menu about the song's artist, album, and title. These are all named arguments of song_changed. Simple Player isn't too smart, so only knows the file name of the current song playing, so we'll use that for the title. You'll also need to alert the Sound Menu that the song is playing, using the signal_playing function. Adding the following lines to end of play_file takes take of keeping the Sound Menu up to date:
            self.sound_menu.song_changed(title = selected_rows[-1]["File"])

Now the Play/Pause button works, and the song title stays in sync as we make changes. But it's still possible for Simple Player and the Sound Menu to get out of sync. If I pause the song in Simple Player, and then use the Sound Menu, notice that the Sound Menu still thinks the song is playing because Simple Player never told the Sound Menu that the user paused it.

You may recall when building Simple Player that it was easy to get access the controls for the MediaPlayerBox. So, to finish off the integration, we'll connect to the signal handler for that button, and then tell the Sound Menu when it's been used.

First, connect to the "toggled" signal for the play button. I added this line to the end of the finish_initializing function:


Then, directly under that, I implemented the play_button_toggled function. This function tests if the widget is active, and informs the Sound Menu of the changed state, as appropriate:

def play_button_toggled(self, widget, data=None):
if widget.get_active():

Now the Sound Menu and Simple Player stay in perfect sync!

New in Natty, the Sound Menu also includes support for playlists. I'm planning to add SoundMenuPlaylists as another class i the sound_menu module. In this way, applicatins such as Simple Player that don't have playlists can just implement the controls part. But other applications could implement the Playlist functionality.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Python Sound Menu Integration or GDBUS Can't Come Soon Enough

So I'm still digging Pithos. Having native access to my Pandora channel on my desktop is a blast. I thought a great enhancement would be Sound Menu integration. So I figured I would spend an hour or two implementing an the mpris2 dbus interface to make this work for Pithos.

Well, the platform had this to say to me: "Ha ha ha ha ha"

It seems simple enough, if you implement the Impres2 interface, you get Sound Menu integration, along with other benefits. Well, it turns out that implementing such an interface in Python is an exercise in frustration.
  1. There is little documentation on how to implement a dbus interface in Python.
  2. So far as I can tell, there is no way to decorate a property to make it a dbus property, and there is not documentation on how to work around this.
  3. After working around how to make properties, one is exposed to all kinds of weird dbus internals. For example, you can't just return a dictionary, you have to send a dbus.Dictionary object.
Fortunately, I know people who could help and get me unstuck. So, as of today, I have some stub code that makes something useful show up in the Sound Menu.

So what's next? Well, I intend to turn this code into a Python API for the Sound Menu. I'm not going to try to handle the whole mpris2 integration at this point, just implement what is needed for the sound menu to work. The API should not expose any DBUS or MPRIS concepts.

Then I'll see if I can use my API to add Sound Menu integration to Pithos. Also, I should be able to use simple-player as a demo for it.

So, if you are a Python hacker, and you want to get something into the Sound Menu, stay tuned, I should be able to help you out soonish. The code is still all stub code, but if you absolutely must look, I pushed a branch.