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Exploring Java

Previous Chapter 11
Using and Creating GUI Components

11.3 Lists

A List is a step up on the evolutionary chain. Lists let the user choose from a group of alternatives. They can be configured to force the user to choose a single selection or to allow multiple choices. Usually, only a small group of choices are displayed at a time; a built-in scrollbar lets you move to the choices that aren't visible.

A List generates two kinds of events. If the user single clicks on a selection, the List generates an ItemEvent. If the user double-clicks, a List generates an ActionEvent. Therefore, a List can register both ItemListeners and ActionListeners. In either case, the listener can use the event to figure out what the user selected.

The applet below, SearchableListApplet, contains a List and a text field. Several of the items in the list aren't visible, because the list is too long for the space we've allotted for it (enough to display three items). When you type the name of an item into the text field, the applet displays the item you want and selects it. Of course, you could do this with a scrollbar, but then we wouldn't have the opportunity to demonstrate how to work with lists.

import java.awt.*;
import java.awt.event.*;
public class SearchableListApplet extends java.applet.Applet {
    public void init() {
        String [] items = { "One", "Two", "Three", "Four", "Five", "Six" };
        add( new SearchableList( items ) );
class SearchableList extends Container implements ActionListener {
    List list;
    TextField field;
    SearchableList( String [] items ) {
        list = new List( 3 );  // Let some scroll for this example
        for(int i=0; i< items.length; i++)
            list.addItem( items[i] );
        field = new TextField();
        field.addActionListener( this );
        setLayout( new BorderLayout() );
        add("Center", list);
        add("South", field);
    public void actionPerformed( ActionEvent e ) {
        String search = field.getText();
        for (int i=0; i< list.getItemCount(); i++)
            if ( list.getItem( i ).equals( search ) ) {
                list.select( i );
                list.makeVisible( i );  // Scroll it into view
        field.setText(""); // clear the text field

We create the List and the TextField in a new class, SearchableList; the applet itself only displays the SearchableList. SearchableList itself is a new kind of animal; it is a lightweight component that subclasses Container directly. We'll talk a little more about lightweight components later in the chapter.

In the constructor for SearchableList, we create our List by calling its constructor, setting it to display at most three components. We then call the addItem() method to add the possible selections to the list; these are the numbers "One" through "Six," passed to us in an array.

We then create our TextField, and register ourselves (i.e., the SearchableList) as an ActionListener for the field's events. Finally, we set the layout for SearchableList to a border layout, put the List in the center of the layout, and the TextField at the bottom.

The actionPerformed() method is called whenever the user presses RETURN in our TextField. In this method, we call getText() to extract the text the user typed. Then we loop through all the items in the list to see if there's a match. getItemCount() tells us the number of items in the list; getItem() gives us the text associated with any particular item. When we find a match, we call select() to make the matching item the selected item, and we call makeVisible() to make sure that this item is displayed.

By default, a List only allows a single selection. We've done nothing in this example to allow multiple selections, so whenever a user chooses an item, the previous selection is automatically dropped. If you want a list that supports multiple selections, call setMultipleMode(true). In this case, you must use the deselect() method to clear the user's selections.

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