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Seminar 4. Using Symbols in a Movie > Using the Macromedia Flash MX Library

Using the Macromedia Flash MX Library

The Flash MX library has many features and is very flexible. It stores all the symbols, sounds, video clips, and bitmapped images used in a movie. As stated earlier, you can compare this library to your local public library. The Flash library enables you to group and organize your files just as a public library groups and organizes books. A difference, though, in this analogy, is that the Flash MX library never runs out of copies (or instances) of its symbols.

Identifying Features of the Library

Every movie has one and only one library attached to it. You can open another movie library if you need to access symbols stored in that library, but any symbols you use from that library are copied to the current movie’s library. Every library has features, buttons, and menus for organizing and manipulating the library’s symbols (see Figure 4.19).

Figure 4.19. Features, buttons, and menu items of the library.


When a library from another movie is opened, this library docks with the Library panel of the current movie, creating a panel group. This is a new feature of Flash MX that helps to keep one panel group for displaying any opened libraries. Typical of panel groups, you can pull a Library panel to separate it from the panel group.

The following list gives more information on each of these library features:

  • Options menu— Contains many of the menu commands you need to organize symbols and use the library features.

  • Preview window— Previews the selected symbol.

  • Sort Order— Sorts the symbol list in descending or ascending order.

  • Wide state— Maximizes the library window.

  • Narrow state— Restores the library window to its previous size.

  • Delete— Deletes the selected symbol.

  • Properties— Opens the Properties dialog box for the selected symbol. There, you can change any of the properties of the selected symbol as well as the name of the symbol.

  • New Folder— Creates a new folder.

  • New Symbol— Creates a new symbol and launches the Symbol-Editing Mode.

Identifying Library Symbols

The library houses all the bitmapped graphics imported into the movie as well as all the graphics symbols, buttons, movie clips, video clips, and sounds created for the movie. Remember that a symbol can have the behavior of a Movie Clip, Button, or Graphic. Each of these symbol types, and even the imported bitmapped images, sounds, and video clips, are represented by a different symbol icon in the library. You can easily identify a symbol’s behavior or type by looking at the associated icon next to the object name (see Table 4.1).

Table 4.1. Symbol Icons
Symbol Icon Symbol Type Symbol Description

Bitmap graphic Anytime a graphic is imported into Flash MX, it automatically appears in the library as an object.

Graphic symbol You must create or convert a graphic or an item to a symbol and then assign it the Graphic behavior.

Button symbol You must create or convert a graphic or an item to a symbol and then assign it the Button behavior.

Movie Clip symbol You must create or convert a graphic or an item to a symbol and then assign it the Movie Clip behavior.

Component Components are special, intelligent movie clips that have parameters associated with them. They are a new feature of Flash MX and replace, as well as extend, the Flash 5 feature of Smart Clips. You can create your own components from an existing complex movie clip so that you can use this functionality in any movie. Each component displays with its own symbol icon in your library.

Sound symbol You can import any MP3, WAV, or AIFF sound file into Flash MX, and it will appear as a Sound symbol in your library.

Video Clip symbol New with Flash MX is the video symbol. Now you can add video to a movie. You learn more about this in Seminar 15, “Adding Digital Video to the Site.”


When you select a Movie Clip symbol in the library, the Preview window displays the movie clip with a control panel in the upper-right corner. You can click the Play button to preview the animation of the movie clip.

Using the Library to Organize Symbols

The procedure for organizing your library objects is similar to the way you organize your folders and files at the operating-system level of your computer. First, you need to create a folder in your library. Click the New Folder button in the lower-left corner of the library panel. A new folder displays (see Figure 4.20).

Figure 4.20. You can nest folders inside folders to help organize your symbols.

Type a name for the new folder; use a name that makes identifying the contents of the folder easy. You can create as many folders as necessary for organizing the movie’s library.

To put symbols or other folders inside a folder, click and drag them on top of the folder. The folder is highlighted, and they drop inside. To open a folder, double-click the folder icon next to the folder name (see Figure 4.21).

Figure 4.21. Double-click the folder icon again to close the folder.

Renaming Library Symbols

The most direct way to rename a symbol in the library is to double-click the text next to the Graphics icon. This opens a text edit box, enabling you to edit the symbol name (see Figure 4.22).

Figure 4.22. If you double-click the icon next to the symbol name, you launch the symbol-editing mode for the symbol.

You can also use the Properties button at the bottom of the library window. The Symbol Properties dialog box opens with the symbol name highlighted in the text edit box (see Figure 4.23).

Figure 4.23. You can also change the symbol’s behavior through the Symbol Properties dialog box.

Sorting Symbols in the Library Window

Sorting library content is another nice feature of the library. As you develop movies in Flash MX, you will use many symbols, and your library can have quite a few symbols and folders. Just as you need to be able to quickly locate files on your desktop, you also need to locate symbols in your library. Five sort options can be applied to the library for organizing your files. You can sort by Name, Kind, Use Count, Linkage, and Date Modified. As Figure 4.24 displays, if you display the library in Wide format, you can then view all the information about each symbol in the library.

Figure 4.24. Click the Sort Order button to change from descending to ascending order for any of the category headers.

Similar to your operating system, you can click the column names to sort the library contents by that feature.

Identifying Unused Library Symbols

As you develop a movie, at certain times you will want to see what symbols have not been used yet. This can be done through the Options menu in the upper-right corner of the library panel. You can select either Keep Use Counts Updated or Update Use Counts Now from this menu. Each of these commands causes the library to display the number of times a symbol has been used in your movie under the Count column name (see Figure 4.25).

Figure 4.25. Click the Count column name to sort the symbols by use count.

If you select Keep Use Counts Updated, the library automatically updates the symbol usage as you develop the movie. This menu choice is a toggle switch; notice that if you select it to turn on this feature, a check mark appears by the menu choice. Reselect the choice to turn it off. If you want to manually update the usage count, select Update Use Counts Now.

Opening Other Movies’ Libraries

You can open libraries from other movies and use any symbols in these libraries in your Flash MX movie. To open another movie’s library, select File, Open as Library and select the movie that contains the library you want to use. When the second library opens, it docks itself with the movie library creating a panel group (see Figure 4.26).

Figure 4.26. The imported library has a gray background, helping to visually distinguish which library is not attached to the movie.

You can drag any symbol from this new library onto your Stage or into your movie’s library. Any instance of a symbol you use from another movie’s library is automatically added as a symbol to your movie’s library.


Flash MX ships with other libraries that can be used in a movie. Select Window, Common Libraries to access the submenu listing the other libraries. These common libraries are Buttons, Learning Interactions, and Sounds.

What Is a Shared Library?

A shared library is a special library designed for teams of developers working on multiple projects. It enables multiple people working on a project to access the objects in a common library. Geographic boundaries are not an issue with a shared library because it is stored outside the Flash MX movie file, unlike a movie’s library, which is attached to the movie. Any changes made to a symbol in the shared library are reflected in all instances of this symbol in any movie that uses it. The update occurs when the movies are published to SWF format.

To create a shared library, follow these steps:

Open a new Flash MX movie and save it as shared.fla. You need to create a movie so you can use its library as the shared library.

Add any of the symbols you want to share to this library.

Now you must set the linkage for each of the symbols in your shared library. Click the first symbol to make it the active symbol in the library.

Click the Options menu from the shared library and select Linkage. This opens the Linkage Properties dialog box (see Figure 4.27).

Figure 4.27. The Identifier field enables you to name the symbol so you can later link back to it.

Select the Export for Runtime Sharing option, and type the name of the symbol in the Identifier box.


Do not use spaces in the Identifier name for a shared library symbol.


The Linkage Identifier can also be used to identify a button or movie clip that is called in ActionScript.

In the URL box, type the URL for the location of the SWF file of the shared library movie. Click OK to close the dialog box.

Before you can use this shared library symbol in another destination movie, you need to publish the shared library movie to SWF format by selecting File, Publish. When you publish a movie, it creates the SWF file in the same directory as the shared.fla. Close the shared.fla movie.

With the shared library created, you now can link to the symbols in this library from the destination movie. Open the destination movie.

Open the shared library by selecting File, Open as Library. Navigate to the shared.fla file.

Drag instances of a symbol from the shared library onto the Stage or into the library of the destination movie.

Select a symbol in the destination movie library that you’ve added to the movie and then click the Properties button in the lower-left corner of the library panel.

Click the Advanced button to expand the Symbol Properties dialog box (see Figure 4.28).

Figure 4.28. You can expand the Symbol Properties dialog box for any symbol, which also enables you to set the linkage.

In the Symbol Properties dialog box, select the Import for Runtime Sharing option and set the Identifier to the same name you named the symbol in the shared library (do not use spaces). Then type the URL of the location of the SWF filename in the URL box (see Figure 4.29). Click OK to close the Symbol Properties dialog box.

Figure 4.29. If you save the movie in the same directory as the shared.swf file, you just need to use the filename in the URL box.

Publish the movie by selecting File, Publish. This sets the link to the shared.swf file.

Now, any time you make changes to the shared library symbols, you can cause all movies that use the symbol to update. You must publish your shared.fla movie to publish the changes of the shared symbol to the SWF file; then publish the movies that have symbols linked to the shared library. All symbols will update with the changes used in the shared library.

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