How to Write a Custom Swing Component Blog


    When you hear comparisons between AWT and Swing components, one of the first points mentioned is that Swing is lightweight. What this essentially means is that there are no real native controls "behind" Swing buttons, internal frames, and menus. Everything is controlled in pure Java, including rendering and event handling. While this provides a much more flexible way to create truly platform-independent components, the task of creating a custom Swing component that has a consistent look across all platforms and look-and-feels is not an easy one. This article walks through the process of creating a new Swing component of medium complexity and highlights the important points, steps, and pitfalls along the way.

    Basic Building Blocks

    The Swing architecture overview provides an excellent high-level overview of the architectural decisions that were made during the development of Swing. Although it will take slightly more work to create a new component following the rules outlined in this article, the resulting code will be much easier to maintain, since it will adhere to the core Swing principles without reinventing the wheel. At the first look you might be tempted to throw everything together in one single class that will provide the external API, the model handling (state and notifications), event handling, layout, and painting. All these, however, belong in separate classes that follow the modified MVC (model-view-controller) architecture that will make your component codebase much easier to maintain and extend in the long run.

    The main building blocks of all core Swing components are:

    • The component class itself, which provides an API for creating, changing, and querying the component basic state.
    • The model interface and the model default implementation(s) that handle the component business logic and change notifications.
    • The UI delegate that handles component layout, event handling (mouse and keyboard), and painting.

    This article will illustrate the process of creating a custom component that is based on the new view slider from Microsoft Windows Vista OS Explorer (see Figure 1). While this component looks very much like a slider embedded in a pop-up menu, it has new features that are not available on a regular JSlider. First, it has control points that have associated icons and labels. In addition, while some ranges are contiguous (like Small Icons-Medium Icons) and allow continuous resizing of the file icons, other ranges are discrete (like Tiles-Details). When the value is in one of these ranges, the slider thumb can be only at control points, and not inside the range.

    View slider in Microsoft Windows Vista OS
    Figure 1. View slider in Microsoft Windows Vista OS

    The Component Class: UI Delegate Plumbing

    The first class for a custom component is the component API itself. The API should be as simple as possible and delegate most of the business logic to the model (see the next section). In addition to the API, you should add the boilerplate code for setting the proper UI delegate (described in detail in the " Enhancing Swing Applications" article). At the barest level, this code should look like this:

     private static final String uiClassID = "FlexiSliderUI"; public void setUI(FlexiSliderUI ui) { super.setUI(ui); } public void updateUI() { if (UIManager.get(getUIClassID()) != null) { setUI((FlexiSliderUI) UIManager.getUI(this)); } else { setUI(new BasicFlexiSliderUI()); } } public FlexiSliderUI getUI() { return (FlexiSliderUI) ui; } public String getUIClassID() { return uiClassID; }

    It is very important to provide a fallback UI delegate that will handle the component painting, layout, and event handling when the currently installed look and feel doesn't provide a special UI delegate.

    The Model Interface

    This is, perhaps, the most important class for a custom component. It represents the business side of your component. The model interface should not contain any painting-related methods (such as setFont orgetPreferredSize). For our specific component, we follow the LinearGradientPaintAPI and define the model as a sequence of ranges:

     public static class Range { private boolean isDiscrete; private double weight; public Range(boolean isDiscrete, double weight) { this.isDiscrete = isDiscrete; this.weight = weight; } ... }

    The model API to set and query the model ranges:

     public void setRanges(Range... range); public int getRangeCount(); public Range getRange(int rangeIndex);

    In addition, the model should provide the API to set and get the current value. The Value class points inside aRange:

     public static class Value { public Range range; public double rangeFraction; public Value(Range range, double rangeFraction) { this.range = range; this.rangeFraction = rangeFraction; } ... }

    And the model API provides the getter and setter for the current value:

     public Value getValue(); public void setValue(Value value);

    The last piece of model interface contains methods for adding and removing ChangeListeners. This follows the model interfaces from core Swing components (see BoundedRangeModel):

     void addChangeListener(ChangeListener x); void removeChangeListener(ChangeListener x);

    The Model Implementation

    The model implementation is pretty straightforward and follows the DefaultBoundedRangeModel. The change listeners are stored as an EventListenerList. The change to the model value results in a ChangeEventbeing fired:

     protected void fireStateChanged() { ChangeEvent event = new ChangeEvent(this); Object[] listeners = listenerList.getListenerList(); for (int i = listeners.length - 2; i >= 0; i -= 2) { if (listeners[i] == ChangeListener.class) { ((ChangeListener) listeners[i + 1]).stateChanged(event); } } }

    Note that as with all core Swing components, we iterate over the listener list from the end. This way, if a listener decides to remove itself inside the stateChangedimplementation, we'll still iterate over all registered listeners exactly once. The implementation of the value-related methods is very straightforward with checking of the validity of the passed value and defensive copying of the slider ranges array (so that changes in malicious application code won't affect the model).

    The Model Unit Tests

    While unit testing the UI components can be difficult, the model should be thoroughly tested--remember that the loss of a pixel is nothing compared to the loss of a trailing zero in the model, especially if that zero multiplies an automatic payment by 10. Be sure to test your default model implementation with such simple tests as:

     public void testSetValue2() { FlexiRangeModel model = new DefaultFlexiRangeModel(); FlexiRangeModel.Range range0 = new FlexiRangeModel.Range(true, 0.0); model.setRanges(range0); try { // should fail since range0 is discrete FlexiRangeModel.Value value = new FlexiRangeModel.Value(range0, 0.5); model.setValue(value); } catch (IllegalArgumentException iae) { return; } assertTrue(false); }

    The Component Class: API

    Going back to the component class, we can add the missing APIs for creation of the control itself and getting its model. In addition, some of the UI-related configuration (such as icons and label text) is stored in the component class itself (this does not belong in the model). The component constructor follows that of LinearGradientPaint, throwing exceptions on null or non-matching parameters:

     public JFlexiSlider(Range[] ranges, Icon[] controlPointIcons, String[] controlPointTexts) throws NullPointerException, IllegalArgumentException

    The implementation is quite straightforward. First, it checks that the arrays are not null and are of matching lengths. Then, it creates a DefaultFlexiRangeModel and sets its ranges. Then, it defensively copies the icons and text arrays, and finally calls the updateUI method that installs and initializes the look-and-feel delegate. The additional APIs that are implemented in this class are:

     public int getControlPointCount(); public Icon getControlPointIcon(int controlPointIndex); public String getControlPointText(int controlPointIndex); public FlexiRangeModel getModel(); public FlexiRangeModel.Value getValue(); public void setValue(FlexiRangeModel.Value value);

    Note that the last two are simply syntactic sugar and pass the calls to the underlying model. These are provided as convenience methods only. The first three methods are mainly for the UI delegate, but can be used by the application code as well.

    UI Delegate

    If the model interface is the most important part of writing a custom control, the UI delegate is in most cases the most difficult. The main question is: how do you write painting logic that will produce consistent results under all (existing and future) target look and feels? Sometimes, this will be impossible to do without writing custom UI delegates for each one of the target look and feels (as is done for many components in the SwingX project). However, in some cases you'll find that you can emulate the visual part of your custom component by combining smaller building blocks that reuse existing core components. In the latter case, the UI delegates of the core components will take care of platform/LAF-specific settings such as colors, fonts, and anti-aliasing.

    The " Enhancing Swing Applications" article describes the boilerplate code that you should put in the basic implementation of the UI delegate so that it can be easily extended by custom look and feels. Start off by creating the install* and uninstall*methods, even if you're not planning to use them; a third-party look and feel may decide to add some extra functionality on top of your basic functionality (for example, adding mouse-wheel scrolling of the slider).

    Now, in our specific example, we can see that the target custom component contains a slider and a collection of labels (with icons and text). Since every JComponent is also aContainer, we can easily emulate the visual appearance of the target component by adding a JSlider andJLabels (one for each control point) in ourinstallComponents (don't forget to remove them in theuninstallComponents). By reusing core Swing components, we ensure that the visual appearance of our custom component under both core and third-party LAFs will be consistent with the rest of the application.

    Since we are adding sub-components, we'll need to implement a custom LayoutManager that will position them on creation and resizing. This is a fairly straightforward (and a little tedious) task: the discrete ranges result in labels being placed right next to each other, while contiguous ranges take the extra vertical space according to their relative weight. The slider itself takes the entire vertical space and thus is aligned with the first and the last control points.

    Note that the alternative implementation (when there is no possible way to reuse existing components) would be much more difficult and perhaps next to impossible to do with a single UI delegate. For example, some core LAFs use native APIs to draw the respective controls (such as slider track and slider thumb), while some third-party LAFs may not respect the UIManagersettings and provide hard-coded colors and custom theming APIs.

    Going back to our implementation (which usesJSlider), we are facing an interesting problem: a core slider can be either discrete (snapToTicksor not). The snapping behavior is controlled inside a mouse motion listener installed in the BasicSliderUI delegate. What can we do? One option would be to remove this listener and install our own, while another would be to provide a custom implementation of BoundedRangeModel that changes the value when it's set in the discrete range. The first approach is not the best one--you can't rely on what is done in the SliderUIdelegate of the specific (core or third-party) LAF, as the specific implementation may not call the super code at all. The second approach is much better, but we have decided to implement yet another approach for the reason described below.

    Our implementation treats the sub-component slider as a cell renderer, just as with lists, trees, and tables. The slider is used only for rendering and does not get any events at all (see CellRendererPanefor more details). This allows us to benefit from LAF-consistent painting and providing custom handling of mouse events. In our specific case, if the user clicks the mouse outside the slider thumb, instead of block scrolling towards the mouse click, the matching range value is set directly. This is why we did not use the second approach outlined above: our custom mouse listener translates the mouse click correctly for both contiguous and discrete ranges and sets the value. Since this is the only listener installed on the component (the slider is "rubber stamp" only), we can be sure that no other listener (unless explicitly set in a third-party UI delegate) will interfere with our code.

    The resulting layout is shown in Figure 2. The blue outlines represent the bounds of the control point labels, while the red outline represents the bounds of the cell renderer pane:

    Component layout
    Figure 2. Component layout

    Since we are using the cell renderer pane, we need to override the paint method and paint the actual slider. Note that we don't paint the control point labels explicitly since they are "real" children of our component. In addition, note that the slider painting is done in a separate protectedmethod. This allows third-party LAFs to replace the slider painting without changing the entire painting logic.

     @Override public void paint(Graphics g, JComponent c) { super.paint(g, c); this.paintSlider(g); } protected void paintSlider(Graphics g) { Rectangle sliderBounds = sliderRendererPane.getBounds(); this.sliderRendererPane.paintComponent(g, this.slider, this.flexiSlider, sliderBounds.x, sliderBounds.y, sliderBounds.width, sliderBounds.height, true); }

    Test Application

    Now that we have a fully functioning custom slider, it's time to test it. The test application creates a slider with few discrete and contiguous ranges and registers a change listener on this slider. On a change event, we compute the scale size for painting an icon (the icon is converted from the Tango Desktop Project icons using the SVG-to-Java2D converter described in the " Transcoding SVG to Pure Java2D code" entry). Figure 3 shows the application under different icon sizes:

    Custom slider with different values selected
    Figure 3. Custom slider with different values selected

    Figure 4 shows the same slider under different look and feels. From left to right, the LAFs are: Windows (core), Metal (core), Motif (core), Liquid (third party), and Napkin (third party). As you can see, the new component provides an appearance consistent with the set LAF:

    Custom slider under different look and feels
    Figure 4. Custom slider under different look and feels


    Where to go now? Read the code for core Swing components, download and study the code for open source components such as SwingX or Flamingo, and start hacking away on that dream component of yours.