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Astronomical Data Analysis Software and Systems IV
ASP Conference Series, Vol. 77, 1995
Book Editors: R. A. Shaw, H. E. Payne, and J. J. E. Hayes
Electronic Editor: H. E. Payne

Applying Public Access Programming Techniques To SAOimage

E. Mandel
Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory, 60 Garden St., Cambridge, MA 02138

D. Tody
National Optical Astronomy Observatories, P.O. Box 26732, Tucson, AZ 85719



This paper describes our application of the X Public Access ( XPA) interface to the new version of SAOimage. XPA allows an Xt program to define named public access points through which data and commands can be exchanged with external programs. It makes possible the external control of the program's main functions, including image display, image zoom and pan, color map manipulation, cursor/region definition, and frame selection. It also supports ``externalization'' of internal algorithms such as file access and scaling. Finally, we describe how XPA is used to support user-configurable ``quick-look'' analysis of image data and bi-directional communication with other processes.



Astronomical software development needs to adopt more ``open systems'' concepts and designs. Users increasingly want to extend existing software and to combine tasks from different systems in order to create their own heterogeneous research environments. Our software designs must reflect this increasing need for flexibility and extensibility without sacrificing functionality and without violating budget constraints.

The SAOimage display program has been very popular with astronomers over the past decade. In the age of ``open systems'', it needs updating to support extensible features. These features include providing an easy way to display arbitrary data file formats, control image display from an external process, and integrate analysis routines into the image display.

In order to update SAOimage efficiently and cost-effectively, SAO and NOAO will collaborate to develop a high-quality image display program, basing our work on the ximtool program developed by D. Tody for IRAF. Ximtool uses the NOAO widget server and ``gterm'' image widget to support customized graphical user interfaces (GUIs), image and line graphics, multiple frame buffers, user-defined color maps, region markers, etc. It provides a high-level image display programming interface as well as low-level access to gterm-image widget functions. Our aim is to layer open-ended functionality on top of ximtool in order to develop SAOtng (SAOimage: The Next Generation). In this way, SAO and NOAO can share development of image display, while satisfying our individual needs.

The X Public Access Mechanism

To add open systems features to SAOtng, we will utilize the X Public Access mechanism ( XPA), described in Mandel & Swick (1994). XPA allows an Xt program to define named points of public access, through which data and commands can be communicated to/from external programs:

Figure: We have used XPA to extend the ximtool image server into an open-ended SAOtng display service that can cooperate with other processes and programs. Original PostScript figure (3 kB)

Controlling SAOtng

The standard SAOtng graphical user interface is a simple menu-based GUI that parallels the original SAOimage menu/command paradigm. It provides menus for image and frame selection, scaling, color maps, zoom/pan, regions, etc. All of these menu functions also are defined to be XPA public access points. Thus, SAOtng can be controlled directly through its menu-based GUI or externally through the XPA mechanism (see Figure 2).

For example, the xpaset program can be used to change the SAOtng scaling algorithm, and the xpaget program can be used to retrieve the current scale:

  csh> echo "scale log" | xpaset SAOtng
  csh> xpaget SAOtng scale

In fact, the SAOtng GUI uses XPA to send commands to itself. This implementation ensures that support for external control of SAOtng does not lag behind the internally-supported user interface: the GUI initiates commands as if it were just another external process!

External Support For File Access

A FITS file can be sent directly to SAOtng for display using XPA:

	    cat foo.fits | xpaset SAOtng

Other file formats are supported by writing two file access programs: a header access program to generate a FITS header of the full image, and a data access program to generate a FITS image of a specified data section (given the center, dimensions, and block factor). These access programs are defined at start-up time in a user-configurable ASCII file. To load an image, the programs are run externally (using the system() subroutine) to create FITS-format data for a specified data section, which are passed back to SAOtng for display using XPA. When a new file name is sent to SAOtng, the appropriate header access program is run to gather the overall image dimensions. Next, the data access program is run to extract the desired image section, which then is scaled to 8 bits and displayed. Finally, the data access program again extracts the data section and stores it as raw data for later use (e.g., re-scaling the image). Note that adding new formats does not require re-compilation of SAOtng.

Integration of Analysis Routines

Each file type can have user-defined analysis commands associated with it. These analysis commands are defined at start-up time by means of ASCII descriptions. The analysis commands associated with the currently displayed image are available for execution via an analysis menu. When selected from this menu, an analysis command is macro-expanded and then executed externally. Results can be displayed in a separate window or even can be sent back to SAOtng, i.e., a command can create an image and then send it to SAOtng for display:

  $data | smooth ... | xpaset SAOtng "frame new"

In the example above, the `` $data'' macro is expanded into an XPA command that retrieves the FITS representation of the displayed image. The FITS image generated by the smooth program is piped into a new frame buffer of SAOtng.

Cooperation With Other Processes

XPA allows the re-use of GUI programs so that new systems can be built from existing high-level components. For example, the SAOtng ``Load Image'' menu option pops up the XDir program, a directory and file browser that also offers XPA services (see Figure 2). The XDir program then can be used to browse through directory trees using template filters. Double clicking on an image file causes XDir to send an XPA command to SAOtng to load the new image. Thus, SAOtng can make use of sophisticated XDir capabilities without linking them explicitly: GUI programs can be re-used in the same manner as subroutines!

Figure: SAOtng has a simple menu-based GUI. It can be commanded externally ( lower right) and can communicate with programs such as XDir ( upper right). Original PostScript figure (751 kB)


SAOtng exemplifies a new type of astronomical analysis program that is extensible and that cooperates with other processes. It takes us closer to an era in which our heterogeneous analysis systems can work as an integrated whole.


This work was supported under NASA contracts to the IRAF Technical Working Group (NAGW--1921), the AXAF High Resolution Camera (NAS8--38248), and the AXAF Science Center (NAS8--39073).


Mandel, E., & Swick, R. 1994, PASP, 96, 198

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