GUI Development with Java

Mr. Darwin takes a look at Java and describes the steps for writing a user interface in Java.
We've Got Swing!

The Swing Set portion of JFC is named after the musical style which revolutionized popular music in the 1940's with such greats as Duke Ellington (Hint: a penguin-like creature named Duke is Java's mascot and logo). Swing has many features, including:

  • Customizable look and feel

  • More choice items, ComboBoxes, etc.

  • More layout managers, panels with borders, etc.

  • Tabbed folders

  • Table View widget

  • Tree View widget

  • Tooltips

  • Easy to make all standard types of Dialogs with one call

  • Color, Font, and other chooser dialogs

Figures 1 and 2 are UNIX screen shots of the color chooser (with tool tips) and the TreeView program; the source for these and all other examples shown here is on the FTP site.

Figure 1. Color Chooser

Figure 2. TreeView Program

Java 1.1's look and feel was that of the underlying operating system. On Motif, its menus and buttons look like Motif widgets; on MS Windows, they look like Microsoft widgets; on the Macintosh, like Macintosh widgets. They truly are the native platform's widgets. Using a Java interface called “Peers”, a 1.1 program constructs and uses native toolkit components, but the developer never has to think about it. You simply write in terms of AWT components.

After 1.1 had been in use for a while, somebody at JavaSoft decided to poll the developers. Apparently 50% were happy with the status quo, another 30% favored a platform-independent look and feel, while the remaining 20% wanted to be able to provide their own corporate look and feel, to be the same across all platforms. The Swing set UIFactory was the result. All Swing components have a settable look and feel. The look and feel is provided by a combined View-Controller object generated by a class called UIFactory. UIFactory is powerful—it can make up and apply new UI objects on the fly, resulting in programs that can change their look and feel on demand. Our demo program (see below) has a button that lets you choose between several “look-and-feel” styles. The Motif emulation is included in the JDK. The “Metal” style is a crisper look developed by JavaSoft. Implementations of the proprietary look-and-feel of MS Windows 95 and the Macintosh UI are available, but only on those platforms (for licensing, not technical, reasons).

When you switch, the entire UI is repainted in the new look without losing any of the choices you have made so far. It is quite an impressive operation. Other look-and-feel classes such as an OPEN LOOK or NextStep are also possible, even probable. The only downside I have seen to Swing is its performance. Don't expect Swing applications to be quite as snappy as native C/C++ Motif/MS-Windows/Macintosh applications, particularly in startup time. Once the application is up, though, Swing applications run acceptably fast on modern computers with adequate memory.

Simple Applications

Java can be used to create many kinds of programs. One of the first to garner widespread attention was Web Applets, which dynamically extend the behaviour of the web browser by being embedded in a web page. Java can also be used to make Web Servlets, background TCP or UDP servers, or ordinary GUI-based desktop applications. The latter are easiest to demonstrate, so we'll use them for our example. Most of what we say here applies to the GUI part of an Applet as well.

The simplest application is probably a window with a quit button that exits when you run it. The simplest form of the program is shown in Listing 1.

In this listing, the class ButtonDemo1 is both the “model” (data handling code) and the “action listener”, the code that responds to user events such as pushed buttons. The class “extends JFrame” so that it can be a top-level window. Also, it “implements ActionListener” so that it can provide the actionPerformed method called by the button when it is pressed.

Figure 3. Button

Figure 4. Demo Button

Having a GUI layout be its own action listener works adequately for toy applications. The actionPerformed method has to figure out somehow which button was pressed. It's not hard here, but doesn't scale well: as the code gets larger and larger, it becomes difficult to manage all the interactions among the GUI components. Thus, it is preferable for each component to have its own action listener. One way of doing this is to use Java's “inner classes”: write one class inside another. The inner class is syntactically analogous to nested procedures in languages like Pascal. In Listing 2, I have simply added a second button and recast the code so that each button has its own listener.

Listing 2. Demo Button with Inner Class ActionListener

Now we can write a third version (not shown, but available in the archive file on the FTP site) that uses CheckButtons instead of JButtons. This version will not quit, but will change the GUI among those listed.

The action listener for each button just calls the UIManager class' setLookAndFeel method with the correct full class name and a utility class' updateComponentTreeUI passing in the top-level window (the JFrame subclass). This changes all components in the tree to display in the newly selected look and feel. Since some components may need a different size, we again call the JFrame pack routine, which computes the sizes of all components and makes the main window large enough to hold them all.

This, along with a working knowledge of the other “action” components, is enough to begin writing portable Java-based GUI applications. However, before we can approach large-scale applications, we must consider the organization and partitioning of the code, and the ideal way to handle this is with a paradigm known as MVC, or Model-View-Controller.



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GUI application

vasishta's picture


I am planning to develop a GUI Java application which can generate a console application window which shows the list of files created by the press
of a button component on the GUI window application.
Further more, another button which can open up the created files in a notepad window and its help files be displayed in
using a pdf viewer.

Could you please help me on how to get going on this ...

I already have the GUI window developed with necessary components/buttons but they are not fully functional yet in Netbeans IDE Swing environment.

Any help is greatly appreciated