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3.22. Pluggable Look-and-Feel

One of the unique features of Swing is its pluggable look-and-feel (PLAF) architecture, which allows a Swing application to change its entire appearance with one or two lines of code. The most common use of this feature is to give applications a choice between the native platform look-and-feel and a new platform-independent Java look-and-feel (also known as the Metal look-and-feel). Swing is distributed with three look-and-feels: Metal and two look-and-feels that mimic the appearance and behavior of the Windows and Motif (Unix/X) component toolkits. A look-and-feel that mimics the Macintosh platform is available as a separate download. While the Metal and Motif look-and-feels can be freely used, the Windows look-and-feel is restricted for use only on Windows platform--for copyright reasons, it does not run on any other operating system.

When a Swing application starts up, it reads the system property swing.defaultlaf to determine the classname of the default look-and-feel. In most Java installations, this property is set to the default Java look-and-feel, implemented by the class javax.swing.plaf.metal.MetalLookAndFeel. The end user can override this default by using the -D switch on the command line when invoking the Java interpreter. For example, to run a Swing application using the Motif look-and-feel, a user can type:

% java -Dswing.defaultlaf=com.sun.java.swing.plaf.motif.MotifLookAndFeel app

If the user is using a Windows operating system, he can start the application using the Windows look-and-feel like this:

% java -Dswing.defaultlaf=com.sun.java.swing.plaf.windows.WindowsLookAndFeel app

When you write a Swing application, you can explicitly set the look-and-feel that the application uses. To do this, simply call the static setLookAndFeel() method of the UIManager class and specify the classname of the desired look-and-feel implementation. To make this even easier, UIManager defines a static method that returns the classname of the default cross-platform look-and-feel (i.e., Metal) and another that returns the classname of the look-and-feel that mimics the native look-and-feel of the current platform. So, if you want your application to always look like a native application, you can simply include this line of code in your application, before it begins to create any GUI components:


Or, if you want to force the application to use the cross-platform look-and-feel, regardless of installation defaults and user preferences, you can use this line of code:


Note that calling setLookAndFeel() like this overrides the value of the swing.defaultlaf property, if the end user has set one. Of course, the command-line syntax for setting that property is quite awkward and may be beyond the capabilities of many end users. An alternative is to implement command-line options in your own application that give the user a choice of look-and-feels. You might set a native look-and-feel if the user specifies a -nativelook flag on the command line, for example.

The easiest time to call the setLookAndFeel() method is at application start-up, before any Swing components have been created. It is also possible to change the look-and-feel of a running application, however. This means that you can allow the user to change the current look-and-feel through a preferences dialog box, if you are so inclined. When the user selects a new look-and-feel, you first call setLookAndFeel() to install the new look-and-feel, and then you have to notify all of the Swing components that a new look-and-feel is in effect and ask them to use it. Fortunately, there is a convenience method to do this. Your code might look like this:

// Set the new look-and-feel
// Tell all components from main JFrame on down that LAF has changed

A dialog that allows the user to change the currently installed look-and-feel of a running application should probably let the user choose among all the look-and-feels that are installed on the system. An application can find out the classnames and human-readable names of all the installed look-and-feels on a given system by calling the static getInstalledLookAndFeels() method of UIManager. In the implementation from Sun, this method returns either a default list of installed look-and-feels or a list obtained from the swing.properties file of the installation.

3.22.1. Using Themes with the Metal Look-and-Feel

You can customize the colors and fonts of the default Java look-and-feel by subclassing the DefaultMetalTheme class that appears in the javax.swing.plaf.metal package. When you create a custom subclass, you can specify the six different fonts and six different colors used by the Metal look-and-feel. For example, you might implement a large font theme for users who have difficulty reading the default fonts used by Metal.

If you are feeling brave and want to second-guess the skilled designers who put the Metal look-and-feel together, you can subclass the abstract MetalTheme class directly. This class defines many methods that return colors and fonts. All of these methods, however, are implemented in terms of the six basic font methods and six basic color methods of the DefaultMetalTheme class.

If you look at the DefaultMetalTheme API, you'll notice that the font and color methods do not return java.awt.Font and java.awt.Color objects as you would expect. Instead, they return FontUIResource and ColorUIResource objects. Both of these classes are part of the javax.swing.plaf package and are trivial subclasses of the more familiar Font and Color classes. The only thing these subclasses do is implement the UIResource interface. But UIResource is a marker interface, with no methods of its own. Thus, a FontUIResource is a Font object that also happens to implement UIResource. Similarly, a ColorUIResource is both a Color object and a UIResource object.

The currently installed look-and-feel assigns default values for many properties of Swing components. A look-and-feel implementation needs to be able to distinguish between default values it has specified and programmer-supplied property values. For this reason, all look-and-feel defaults, such as colors and fonts, must implement the UIResource marker interface. For our purposes here, you can subclass DefaultMetalTheme and use the FontUIResource and ColorUIResource classes exactly as you would use normal Font and Color resources.

Once you have created your own theme by subclassing MetalTheme or DefaultMetalTheme, you can install it with code like this:

MetalLookAndFeel.setCurrentTheme(new MyCustomTheme());

If you are changing the current theme after having already created Swing components, you also have to reinstall the MetalLookAndFeel and notify all the components of the change:

UIManager.setLookAndFeel(new MetalLookAndFeel());

3.22.2. Auxiliary Look-and-Feels

If you've browsed the list of Swing packages, you've probably noticed javax.swing.plaf.multi. This is the multiplexing look-and-feel. It allows one or more auxiliary look-and-feels to be used in conjunction with a single primary look-and-feel. The multiplexing look-and-feel is automatically used by a Swing application if an auxiliary look-and-feel has been requested. An application can request an auxiliary look-and-feel by calling the static UIManager method addAuxiliaryLookAndFeel(), while an end user can do this by setting the swing.auxiliarylaf property on a Java command line.

The primary purpose of auxiliary look-and-feels is for accessibility. For example, a person with impaired vision might start up a Java application using the -Dswing.auxiliarylaf= option to specify that the application should load a screen-reader look-and-feel. Auxiliary look-and-feels can be used for other purposes as well, of course. You might use an auxiliary look-and-feel to add audio feedback to a user interface. Such a look-and-feel might produce an audible click when the user clicks on a JButton, for example.

Swing is not shipped with any predefined auxiliary look-and-feels. You can implement your own, of course, although explaining how to do so is beyond the scope of this book.

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