Using the ExternalInterface class

Flash Player 9 and later, Adobe AIR 1.0 and later

Communication between ActionScript and the container application can take one of two forms: either ActionScript can call code (such as a JavaScript function) defined in the container, or code in the container can call an ActionScript function that has been designated as being callable. In either case, information can be sent to the code being called, and results can be returned to the code making the call.

To facilitate this communication, the ExternalInterface class includes two static properties and two static methods. These properties and methods are used to obtain information about the external interface connection, to execute code in the container from ActionScript, and to make ActionScript functions available to be called by the container.

Getting information about the external container

The ExternalInterface.available property indicates whether the current Flash Player is in a container that offers an external interface. If the external interface is available, this property is true ; otherwise, it is false . Before using any of the other functionality in the ExternalInterface class, you should always check to make sure that the current container supports external interface communication, as follows:

if (ExternalInterface.available) 
    // Perform ExternalInterface method calls here. 
Note: The ExternalInterface.available property reports whether the current container is a type that supports ExternalInterface connectivity. It doesn’t tell you if JavaScript is enabled in the current browser.

The ExternalInterface.objectID property allows you to determine the unique identifier of the Flash Player instance (specifically, the id attribute of the object tag in Internet Explorer or the name attribute of the embed tag in browsers using the NPRuntime interface). This unique ID represents the current SWF document in the browser, and can be used to make reference to the SWF document—for example, when calling a JavaScript function in a container HTML page. When the Flash Player container is not a web browser, this property is null .

Calling external code from ActionScript

The method executes code in the container application. It requires at least one parameter, a string containing the name of the function to be called in the container application. Any additional parameters passed to the method are passed along to the container as parameters of the function call.

// calls the external function "addNumbers" 
// passing two parameters, and assigning that function's result 
// to the variable "result" 
var param1:uint = 3; 
var param2:uint = 7; 
var result:uint ="addNumbers", param1, param2);

If the container is an HTML page, this method invokes the JavaScript function with the specified name, which must be defined in a script element in the containing HTML page. The return value of the JavaScript function is passed back to ActionScript.

<script language="JavaScript"> 
    // adds two numbers, and sends the result back to ActionScript 
    function addNumbers(num1, num2) 
        return (num1 + num2); 

If the container is some other ActiveX container, this method causes the Flash Player ActiveX control to dispatch its FlashCall event. The specified function name and any parameters are serialized into an XML string by Flash Player. The container can access that information in the request property of the event object and use it to determine how to execute its own code. To return a value to ActionScript, the container code calls the ActiveX object’s SetReturnValue() method, passing the result (serialized into an XML string) as a parameter of that method. For more information about the XML format used for this communication, see The external API’s XML format .

Whether the container is a web browser or another ActiveX container, if the call fails or the container method does not specify a return value, null is returned. The method throws a SecurityError exception if the containing environment belongs to a security sandbox to which the calling code does not have access. You can work around this by setting an appropriate value for allowScriptAccess in the containing environment. For example, to change the value of allowScriptAccess in an HTML page, you would edit the appropriate attribute in the object and embed tags.

Calling ActionScript code from the container

A container can only call ActionScript code that’s in a function—no other ActionScript code can be called by a container. To call an ActionScript function from the container application, you must do two things: register the function with the ExternalInterface class, and then call it from the container’s code.

First, you must register your ActionScript function to indicate that it should be made available to the container. Use the ExternalInterface.addCallback() method, as follows:

function callMe(name:String):String 
    return "busy signal"; 
ExternalInterface.addCallback("myFunction", callMe);

The addCallback() method takes two parameters. The first, a function name as a String, is the name by which the function will be known to the container. The second parameter is the actual ActionScript function that will be executed when the container calls the defined function name. Because these names are distinct, you can specify a function name that will be used by the container, even if the actual ActionScript function has a different name. This is especially useful if the function name is not known—for example, if an anonymous function is specified, or if the function to be called is determined at run time.

Once an ActionScript function has been registered with the ExternalInterface class, the container can actually call the function. How this is done varies according to the type of container. For example, in JavaScript code in a web browser, the ActionScript function is called using the registered function name as though it’s a method of the Flash Player browser object (that is, a method of the JavaScript object representing the object or embed tag). In other words, parameters are passed and a result is returned as though a local function is being called.

<script language="JavaScript"> 
    // callResult gets the value "busy signal" 
    var callResult = flashObject.myFunction("my name"); 
<object id="flashObject"...> 
    <embed name="flashObject".../> 

Alternatively, when calling an ActionScript function in a SWF file running in a desktop application, the registered function name and any parameters must be serialized into an XML-formatted string. Then the call is actually performed by calling the CallFunction() method of the ActiveX control with the XML string as a parameter. For more information about the XML format used for this communication, see The external API’s XML format .

In either case, the return value of the ActionScript function is passed back to the container code, either directly as a value when the caller is JavaScript code in a browser, or serialized as an XML-formatted string when the caller is an ActiveX container.

The external API’s XML format

Communication between ActionScript and an application hosting the Shockwave Flash ActiveX control uses a specific XML format to encode function calls and values. There are two parts to the XML format used by the external API. One format is used to represent function calls. Another format is used to represent individual values; this format is used for parameters in functions as well as function return values. The XML format for function calls is used for calls to and from ActionScript. For a function call from ActionScript, Flash Player passes the XML to the container; for a call from the container, Flash Player expects the container application to pass it an XML string in this format. The following XML fragment shows an example XML-formatted function call:

<invoke name="functionName" returntype="xml"> 
        ... (individual argument values) 

The root node is the invoke node. It has two attributes: name indicates the name of the function to call, and returntype is always xml . If the function call includes parameters, the invoke node has a child arguments node, whose child nodes will be the parameter values formatted using the individual value format explained next.

Individual values, including function parameters and function return values, use a formatting scheme that includes data type information in addition to the actual values. The following table lists ActionScript classes and the XML format used to encode values of that data type:

ActionScript class/value

C# class/value






Boolean true

bool true


Boolean false

bool false




<string>string value</string>

Number, int, uint

single, double, int, uint


Array (elements can be mixed types)

A collection that allows mixed-type elements, such as ArrayList or object[]

    <property id="0"> 
    <property id="1"> 
        <string>Hello there!</string> 

The property node defines individual elements, and the id attribute is the numeric, zero-based index.


A dictionary with string keys and object values, such as a HashTable with string keys

    <property id="name"> 
        <string>John Doe</string> 
    <property id="age"> 

The property node defines individual properties, and the id attribute is the property name (a string).

Other built-in or custom classes

<null/> or  

ActionScript encodes other objects as null or as an empty object. In either case any property values are lost.

Note: By way of example, this table shows equivalent C# classes in addition to ActionScript classes; however, the external API can be used to communicate with any programming language or run time that supports ActiveX controls, and is not limited to C# applications.

When you are building your own applications using the external API with an ActiveX container application, you’ll probably find it convenient to write a proxy that will perform the task of converting native function calls to the serialized XML format. For an example of a proxy class written in C#, see Inside the ExternalInterfaceProxy class.

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