A Brief Introduction to the Swing Package

A Brief Introduction to the Swing Package

This section gives you a brief introduction to the capabilities of the Java SE platform that pertain to developing programs with graphical user interfaces (GUIs). Next, it shows you a demo (sample code provided) that showcases many of these features.

The next section, Swing Features (page 470), discusses these capabilities in more detail.

What Is Swing?

To create a Java program with a graphical user interface (GUI), you'll want to learn about Swing.

The Swing toolkit includes a rich set of components for building GUIs and adding interactivity to Java applications. Swing includes all the components you would expect from a modern toolkit: table controls, list controls, tree controls, buttons, and labels.

Swing is far from a simple component toolkit, however. It includes rich undo support, a highly customizable text package, integrated internationalization and accessibility support. To truly leverage the cross-platform capabilities of the Java platform, Swing supports numerous look and feels, including the ability to create your own look and feel. The ability to create a custom look and feel is made easier with Synth, a look and feel specifically designed to be customized. Swing wouldn't be a component toolkit without the basic user interface primitives such as drag and drop, event handling, customizable painting, and window management.

Swing is part of the Java Foundation Classes (JFC). The JFC also include other features important to a GUI program, such as the ability to add rich graphics functionality and the ability to create a program that can work in different languages and by users with different input devices.

Swing GUI Components

The Swing toolkit includes a rich array of components: from basic components, such as buttons and checkboxes, to rich and complex components, such as tables and text. Even deceptively simple components, such as text fields, offer sophisticated functionality, such as formatted text input or password field behavior. There are file browsers and dialogs to suit most needs, and if not, customization is possible. If none of Swing's provided components are exactly what you need, you can leverage the basic Swing component functionality to create your own.

Java 2D API

To make your application stand out; convey information visually; or add figures, images, or animation to your GUI, you'll want to use the Java 2D API. Because Swing is built on the 2D package, it's trivial to make use of 2D within Swing components. Adding images, drop shadows, compositingit's easy with Java 2D.

Pluggable Look-and-Feel Support

Any program that uses Swing components has a choice of look and feel. The JFC classes shipped by Sun and Apple provide a look and feel that matches that of the platform. The Synth package allows you to create your own look and feel. The GTK+ look and feel makes hundreds of existing look and feels available to Swing programs.

A program can specify the look and feel of the platform it is running on, or it can specify to always use the Java look and feel, and without recompiling, it will just work. Or, you can ignore the issue and let the UI manager sort it out.

Data Transfer

Data transfer, via cut, copy, paste, and drag and drop, is essential to almost any application. Support for data transfer is built into Swing and works between Swing components within an application, between Java applications, and between Java and native applications.


This feature allows developers to build applications that can interact with users worldwide in their own languages and cultural conventions. Applications can be created that accept input in languages that use thousands of different characters, such as Japanese, Chinese, or Korean.

Swing's layout managers make it easy to honor a particular orientation required by the UI. For example, the UI will appear right to left in a locale where the text flows right to left. This support is automatic: You need only code the UI once and then it will work for left to right and right to left, as well as honor the appropriate size of components that change as you localize the text.

Accessibility API

People with disabilities use special softwareassistive technologiesthat mediates the user experience for them. Such software needs to obtain a wealth of information about the running application in order to represent it in alternate media: for a screen reader to read the screen with synthetic speech or render it via a Braille display, for a screen magnifier to track the caret and keyboard focus, for on-screen keyboards to present dynamic keyboards of the menu choices and toolbar items and dialog controls, and for voice control systems to know what the user can control with his or her voice. The accessibility API enables these assistive technologies to get the information they need and to programmatically manipulate the elements that make up the graphical user interface.

Undo Framework API

Swing's undo framework allows developers to provide support for undo and redo. Undo support is built in to Swing's text component. For other components, Swing supports an unlimited number of actions to undo and redo, and is easily adapted to an application. For example, you could easily enable undo to add and remove elements from a table.

Flexible Deployment Support

If you want your program to run within a browser window, you can create it as an applet and run it using Java Plug-in, which supports a variety of browsers, such as Internet Explorer, Firefox, and Safari. If you want to create a program that can be launched from a browser, you can do this with Java Web Start. Of course, your application can also run outside of browser as a standard desktop application.

For more information on deploying an application, see Chapters 17 and 18.

This chapter provides an overview of Swing capabilities, beginning with a demo that showcases many of these features. When you are ready to begin coding, the "Creating a GUI with JFC/Swing" online tutorial provides the programming techniques to take advantage of these features.

Let's examine a demo that shows many of these features.

A Swing Demo

Run the PasswordStore demo[2] for an illustration of some of Swing's rich feature set. PasswordStore allows the user to manage login information for various hosts. It also generates passwords, evaluates the effectiveness of a password, and allows you to store notes about a particular host or assign an icon to represent the host.

[2] Click the launch button found on tutorial/ui/overview/demo.html.

The following highlights some of the specific features of the PasswordStore application.[3]

[3] The dice, flower, pill, and pocketwatch images used in the demo are courtesy of http://www.freeimages.co.uk. The polar bear and cubs image by Steve Amstrup and the mountain image are courtesy of http://www.fws.gov. The spiral galaxy image is courtesy of http://grin.hq.nasa.gov.

Host Info

At program launch, the list of hosts is displayed in a Swing list component. Using the View menu, the view can be toggled between the table and the list.

In both views, the Host/Account Filter text field can be used to dynamically restrict the entries to those where the host or account name contains the typed string.

List View

The Swing list component can be customized to include visual data. As shown in Figure, an optional miniature icon to the left of the host name represents the host. The graphic to the right uses color and proportional fill to reflect the strength of the password (red = poor, yellow = fair, green = good). The bar changes dynamically as the user enters/modifies the password in the text field below. The user has typed the text "oo" in the filter text field, which matches two entries: Heirloom Seeds and Pacific Zoo Shop.

Figure. Host Info (List View) and Filter text field.

Table View

The Swing table component (Figure) allows the user to rearrange the columns by dragging the column header. Also, a column can be sorted by clicking the column header. If the column you click on isn't highlighted as the primary sorted column, it will become the primary sorted column in ascending order. Clicking on the primary sorted column toggles the sort order. For example, if column 1 isn't selected, clicking on it will make it the selected column and the data is sorted in ascending order. Clicking column 1 again will sort the data in descending order. Clicking on column 2 will make column 2 the primary column in ascending order.

2. Host Info (Table View).

Details/Notes Tabbed Pane

The tabbed pane below the host info allows the user to choose between the Details panel and the Notes text pane, keeping the overall footprint of the window smaller and less overwhelming.

Details Panel

The icon area on the left can be assigned an image by either dragging an image (jpg, png, gif, or tif) to the area or by clicking the image well and bringing up a file browser.

The text fieldsused to enter or modify the host name, login, and passwordsupport cut/copy, paste, drag, drop, undo, and redo.

As the user enters or modifies the password, the 2D bar chart dynamically displays the distribution of the password. If the list view is currently displayed, the corresponding colored bar in the list also changes dynamically.

Notes Text Pane

This is the text component where the user can save notes about the selected host. If the text pane contains a URI, Swing's text component provides the ability to click on the URI and a browser window automatically opens to that location.

Wizzy 2D Graphics

PasswordStore uses customized graphics in several ways to enhance the UI: In the list view, images are used to represent each host; a colored bar, the Strength Visualizer, represents the effectiveness of a password; and a dynamic bar chart, the Password Visualizer, displays the distribution of a password. When you add an image, whether by dragging and dropping it into the image well (in the Details panel) or by clicking the well and bringing up the file browser, a mini-icon is automatically generated for the list view (Figure).

3. 2D graphics used.


This demo is meant to be illustrative only and not meant to be used for real analysis of passwords.

Multiple Look and Feels

This provides the ability to switch between three look and feels using the View menu: Java (called Metal), Motif/CDE, and the native look and feel: Windows on Microsoft Windows, Aqua on Mac OS X, and so on.

Undo and Redo

Undo and redo works on text, as you would expect, but it also works on actions. For example, you can generate a password using the Account > Generate Password menu, and if you don't like the new password you can undo it using Edit > Undo or the control-Z shortcut. Similarly, you can redo the undo using Edit > Redo or the control-Y shortcut.

The PasswordStore demo has a reasonable level of complexity for a small Swing application and shows a sampling of Swing's capabilities. The source code[4] is available for download, but it is outside the scope of this chapter to discuss the implementation in detail. For more information on the architecture and implementation of this application, see Scott Violet's Excellent Blog[5] on java.net.

[4] tutorial/ui/overview/PasswordStore-1.0-src.zip

[5] http://weblogs.java.net/blog/zixle


If PasswordStore were a production application, it would most likely encrypt the password database; however, due to legal restrictions on distributing information of that nature, it is not included here.

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