Encoding BitmapData using AS3 Worker

Though AS3 Worker class is available since a while, its introduction on iOS is recent: less than 6 months. With AS3 workers being available everywhere, it’s about time to create small libraries multi-threaded with just a few lines of code!

If you never played with Worker, you should give a look to this great series of blog post.

There are several ways to create Worker, but if you don’t want to fall in a pitfall while using ANEs in your project, I recommend to use them via a loaded SWF.

So here is a small example making a simple library for encoding bitmap data and save images on disk via a Worker:

The idea is our Main application is getting several Bitmaps from URLs and you want to save them on applicationStorageDirectory without an UI lag. Workers enable an efficient way to communicate between them via ByteArray. So once we have our Bitmap, we turned it into a shareable (across Workers) ByteArray we sent to our ImageWriterWorker. This ByteArray is then turned into BitmapData for encoding into PNG or JPG depending file extension. And finally we received an other ByteArray than we saved on disk!

Let’s start with our main class, loading a future SWF & creating the worker.

package {

	import flash.display.Bitmap;
	import flash.display.Loader;
	import flash.display.Sprite;
	import flash.events.Event;
	import flash.net.URLRequest;
	import flash.system.ApplicationDomain;
	import flash.system.LoaderContext;
	import flash.system.MessageChannel;
	import flash.system.Worker;
	import flash.system.WorkerDomain;
	import flash.utils.ByteArray;

	[SWF(frameRate = "60", width = "1024", height = "468", backgroundColor = "0xFFFFFF")]
	public class Main extends Sprite {
		public var worker:Worker;
		public var msgChannelMainToImageWriterWorker:MessageChannel;
		public var workerByteArrayShared:ByteArray;
		public function Main() {
			var workerLoader:Loader = new Loader();

			//we specify a loader context for managing SWF loading on iOS.
			var loaderContext:LoaderContext = new LoaderContext(false, ApplicationDomain.currentDomain);

			workerLoader.contentLoaderInfo.addEventListener(Event.COMPLETE, _onImageWriterWorkerLoaded);
			workerLoader.load(new URLRequest("workers/ImageWriterWorker.swf"), loaderContext);

		private function _onImageWriterWorkerLoaded(evt:Event):void {
			evt.target.removeEventListener(Event.COMPLETE, _onImageWriterWorkerLoaded);
			var workerBytes:ByteArray = evt.target.bytes;
			worker = WorkerDomain.current.createWorker(workerBytes, true);
			// we set the latest arguments to true, because we want to be able to save on disk via the Worker.
			msgChannelMainToImageWriterWorker = Worker.current.createMessageChannel(worker);
			worker.setSharedProperty("mainToImageWriterWorker", msgChannelMainToImageWriterWorker);

			workerByteArrayShared = new ByteArray();
			workerByteArrayShared.shareable = true; // we share the byte array through the worker
			worker.setSharedProperty("imageBytes", workerByteArrayShared);

Now the worker from our library:

package {

	import flash.display.BitmapData;
	import flash.display.JPEGEncoderOptions;
	import flash.display.PNGEncoderOptions;
	import flash.display.Sprite;
	import flash.events.Event;
	import flash.filesystem.File;
	import flash.filesystem.FileMode;
	import flash.filesystem.FileStream;
	import flash.system.MessageChannel;
	import flash.system.Worker;
	import flash.utils.ByteArray;

	public class ImageWriterWorker extends Sprite {

		public var msgChannelMainToImageWriterWorker:MessageChannel;
		public var bytes:ByteArray;

		public function ImageWriterWorker() {

			msgChannelMainToImageWriterWorker = Worker.current.getSharedProperty("mainToImageWriterWorker");
			// simple check to remove errors on execution without the main worker
			if (msgChannelMainToImageWriterWorker) {
				msgChannelMainToImageWriterWorker.addEventListener(Event.CHANNEL_MESSAGE, messageFromMainWorker);
				bytes = worker.getSharedProperty("imageBytes");
		private function messageFromMainWorker(evt:Event):void {
			if (msgChannelMainToImageWriterWorker.messageAvailable) {
				// we receive an object composed with an image width, height, and a url path.
				var obj:Object = msgChannelMainToImageWriterWorker.receive();
				bytes.position = 0; // read informations from start.

				var bmpd:BitmapData = new BitmapData(obj.width, obj.height, true, 0xFFFFFF);
				bmpd.setPixels(bmpd.rect, bytes);
				var localFile:File = new File(obj.path);
				var extension = obj.path.substring(obj.path.lastIndexOf(".") + 1, obj.path.length);
				var bytesEncoded:ByteArray;
				if (extension == "jpg")
					bytesEncoded = bmpd.encode(bmpd.rect, new JPEGEncoderOptions(70));
				else if (extension == "png")
					bytesEncoded = bmpd.encode(bmpd.rect, new PNGEncoderOptions(true));
					throw "Unknow extension: " + extension;
				var stream:FileStream = new FileStream();
				stream.open(localFile, FileMode.WRITE);


Now let’s communicate from our Main worker to our ImageWriterWorker library:

private function loader_completeHandler(evt:Event):void {

	var bmp:Bitmap = evt.target.content as Bitmap;

	Main.workerByteArrayShared.clear(); // we don't want the system to get out of memory!

	bmp.bitmapData.copyPixelsToByteArray(bmp.bitmapData.rect, Main.workerByteArrayShared);

	Main.workerMessageChannelMainToBack.send({width:bmp.width, bmp:bmpd.height, path:File.applicationStorageDirectory.resolvePath("images/1.jpg").nativePath});

The ByteArray doesn’t need to go through the MessageChannel since it is shareable! And finally it’s our main worker which is giving the full path, because if we’re trying to access the applicationStorageDirectory from our main thread, we got an unworking path: /Users/Aymeric/Library/Application Support/[Worker].null/Local Store/images/1.jpg.

So everything is done? Yeah, it could works fine if we’re downloading pictures etc. but in fact we missed something important: concurrency! If our ImageWriterWorker takes more time to encode than the copyPixelsToByteArray, we’re changing the ByteArray before (or even during) the encoding via setPixels! We could, in fact, send the ByteArray too in the message, but it’s heavy. So we keep the shareable property and we implement a queue. The ImageWriterWorker will send a message once it has encoded & saved an image so we can proceed the next element in the queue. So let’s implement a message channel from the other side:

// Main.as
msgChannelImageWriterToMainWorker = worker.createMessageChannel(Worker.current);

msgChannelImageWriterToMainWorker.addEventListener(Event.CHANNEL_MESSAGE, messagesFromImageWriterWorker);

worker.setSharedProperty("imageWriterWorkerToMain", msgChannelImageWriterToMainWorker);

public function messagesFromImageWriterWorker(evt:Event):void {
	if (msgChannelImageWriterToMainWorker.messageAvailable) {
		if (msgChannelImageWriterToMainWorker.receive() == "IMAGE_SAVED") {

// ImageWriterWorker.as

msgChannelImageWriterToMainWorker = Worker.current.getSharedProperty("imageWriterWorkerToMain");

// then once the stream for saving the image is done:

// let's define our queue in an array:
bitmapsToEncode.push([new Image0(), File.applicationStorageDirectory.resolvePath("images/0.jpg").nativePath]);

public function processBitmapQueueToImageWriterWorker():void {
	if (bitmapsToEncode.length < 1) {
		trace("queue finished");
	var tab:Array = bitmapsToEncode.shift();
	var bitmap:Bitmap = tab[0];
	bitmap.bitmapData.copyPixelsToByteArray(bitmap.bitmapData.rect, workerByteArrayShared);
	msgChannelMainToImageWriterWorker.send({width:bitmap.width, height:bitmap.height, path:tab[1]});

That’s it! You can download the code.

A cross platform Worker class was one of the latest cog needed for the AS3 platform! Yeah, but since the UI is on the main thread, we can’t upload our texture on the GPU without freezing…? Correct. But Adobe is working on the ultimate cog, an asynchronous upload for textures! Keep the faith 😉

8 thoughts on “Encoding BitmapData using AS3 Worker”

  1. Could you please explain how to compile all these code. First I tried to compile worker in FlashCC with target AIR 20 for iOS. Then place the worker swf in worker folder. Then I created document with Main class and targeted it to air 20 as well. Then publish main document…

    I see that “worker loaded”. And everything freezes. And no images in Local Store

    1. Hey, you should target AIR. Don’t forget to include the workers/ImageWriterWorker.swf to your build path used by the Main.as!

      1. This trace gives null =(
        trace(“msgChannelMainToImageWriterWorker = ” + msgChannelMainToImageWriterWorker);

  2. Can it be that we trying getSharedProperty before setting it in Main class?

    [SWF] Main.swf – 1335158 bytes after decompression
    Main constructor init
    [SWF] workers/ImageWriterWorker.swf – 2127 bytes after decompression
    ImageWriterWorker constructor init
    msgChannelMainToImageWriterWorker = null
    Worker loaded
    Trying to set shared proerty imageBytes in Main

  3. I was having issues with queuing multiple messages at once, sometimes one of the messages weren’t being sent at all. It was just on this tutorial I discovered I can send objects through message channels, solving the ‘multiple messages having to be sent at once’ problem.

  4. Great Article. Thank you for this. I’ve been trying to set this up but for some reason I can’t get the worker to send or receive anything via the shared channels. I’ve tried setting a time out, waiting, everything. I can see the worker state as new and I added a channel that sends a message to the main class when its started but I’m getting nothing. Any ideas? I’ve spent hours on this and any help would be appreciated.

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