GUI Development with Java

Mr. Darwin takes a look at Java and describes the steps for writing a user interface in Java.

If you looked at the earliest versions of Java and concluded that its GUI development toolkit wasn't quite ready for prime time, it's time to look again.

The Java Foundation Classes (JFC) introduced with Java Version 1.2 bring Java forward to the point where it can easily compete head-on with Motif and MFC for professional GUI development. If you already know the Java language, JFC can beat both Motif and MFC hands down for ease of programming. In this article, I will show code that was developed “by hand” using just vi and the Java Development Kit (JDK). Many higher-level development tools and GUI builders are available to make this job even easier.

What are Java and AWT?

Portability is one of the holy grails of system designers. The UCSD Pascal System of 1980 compiled into portable P-Code that could be interpreted on most of the microcomputer systems common in its day. The C language and the UNIX operating system Linux is based upon both became popular because they could run on a variety of platforms. The latest newcomer is Java. Java programs compile from source code into “byte code”, a portable and compact machine representation of the executable statements the programmer wrote.

Java Continues from C and C++

C and C++ are well-known languages in the developer community. To help developers come up to speed quickly and easily, Java borrows most of the syntax of C and quite a bit of the syntax of C++. All the basic syntax operators such as +, -, *=, (), {} and others work. For C programmers who wish to understand Java's OO syntax, think of objects as structs with functions associated with them. Note that all methods (functions) are part of objects, so the syntax


is normally used. One of the most notable differences from C is the lack of pointers, malloc and free.

Pointers were necessary in the days when we needed to access words in particular locations in memory, but have led to a lot of unreadable and hard-to-maintain code. The functions malloc and free provide C with a low-level paradigm for allocating and freeing memory. Java does away with both; since Java programs are compiled for the Java Virtual Machine, in which the addresses are unknown at compile time, there are no pointers. This has the beneficial side effect of ruling out viruses based on jumping into the BIOS or system disk-formatting routines; no syntax is present in the language or in the underlying virtual machine for referring to a particular location in real memory.

As in C++, allocation of memory is handled by the operator new, which is similar to malloc but can be used only to allocate objects and arrays. Freeing of memory, however, is automatic; no free or delete is available, and memory is reclaimed by a “garbage collector” routine at runtime. Sounds like it gives you less control, but if you write C, you probably don't bemoan the fact that local variables are allocated and freed when you enter and leave a function. Java simply extends this notion to arrays and objects, which makes for more reliable programs.

int foo() {
int i;   i is allocated "someplace" in
         memory (or register)
         do something with i
}        i is automatically reclaimed

Java is an object-oriented language in the traditions of C++ and Smalltalk. Java eliminates a few C++ operators, but experienced C++ programmers have little trouble upgrading their skills to the new language.

Instead of C++'s multiple inheritance, Java provides “interfaces” with multiple inheritance of specification but not implementation. This may be more powerful than C++, since it allows multiple views on an object; that is, a class can implement several interfaces and can be passed by any of those type names, exposing only the methods known to objects implementing that interface. This can provide greater type safety than traditional C++ multiple inheritance.

A Complete Environment

If it's a complete programming environment you want, Java has it. Instead of using the native C library, for example, Java programs use classes and methods in java.lang, the package of classes for Java language features. One example is String—normal quoted strings like “Hello, world” compile to String objects, and the String class has methods such as compareTo, equals, substring, startsWith/endsWith, etc. No more worry about bcmp versus memcmp; Java provides a single set of methods that works everywhere. AWT, which is the subject of most of this article, provides a portable Graphical User Interface layer. Java.util is a package of utility routines such as random numbers, collection classes and others.

In today's global village, it's important that software be able to function in any locale. Internationalization is basic to “Java, the programming language for the Internet”. Strings and characters are therefore 16-bit Unicode rather than 8-bit ASCII, which is not too surprising (see What may surprise you is that Java identifiers can be written in Unicode characters, so that programmers in any language can write identifiers which make sense to them (assuming they have a way of typing the characters).

If it is database access you want, Java provides the Java Database Connectivity (JDBC) to access relational databases. It's patterned loosely on Microsoft ODBC, but operates at a somewhat higher level. There is even a bridge to ODBC, so you can access an ODBC database even if a Java driver is not yet available for it. (See “Database Connectivity Using Java” by Manu Konchady, LJ November 1998.)

To meet the needs of rapid application development, JavaBeans supports composition of programs out of reusable components in GUI builders. Not just the GUI's arrangement but the entire application can, in many cases, be “written” by visually indicating the relationship between events such as a button press and software components such as spreadsheets, graphing Beans or HTML viewers. Since the ActiveX market didn't grow as expected, many ActiveX developers are converting their components into portable JavaBeans. And since Beans and applications based on them can run on any UNIX, Linux or *BSD system, this can be only good news for Linux developers.



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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