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Exploring Java

Previous Chapter 11
Using and Creating GUI Components

11.4 Menus and Choices

A Menu is a standard, pull-down menu with a fixed name. Menus can hold other menus as submenu items, letting you implement complex menu structures. Menus come with several restrictions; they must be attached to a menu bar, and the menu bar can be attached only to a Frame (or another menu). You can't stick a Menu at an arbitrary position within a container. A top-level Menu has a name that is always visible in the menu bar. (An important exception to these rules is the PopupMenu, which we'll describe in the next section.)

A Choice is an item that lets you choose from a selection of alternatives. If this sounds like a menu, you're right. Choices are free-spirited relatives of menus. A Choice item can be positioned anywhere, in any kind of container. It looks something like a button, with the current selection as its label. When you press the mouse button on a choice, it unfurls to show possible selections.

Both menus and choices send action events when an item is selected. We'll create a little example that illustrates choices and menus and demonstrates how to work with the events they generate. Since a Menu has to be placed in the menu bar of a Frame, we'll take this opportunity to show off a Frame object as well. DinnerMenu pops up a window containing a Food choice and a menu of Utensils, as shown in Figure 11.5. DinnerMenu prints a message for each selection; choosing Quit from the menu removes the window. Give it a try.

import java.awt.*;
import java.awt.event.*;
import java.util.EventListener;
public class DinnerMenu extends java.applet.Applet { 
    public void init() {
        new DinnerFrame().show();
class DinnerFrame extends Frame implements ActionListener, ItemListener {
    DinnerFrame() {
        setTitle("Dinner Helper");
        setLayout( new FlowLayout() );
        add( new Label("Food") );
        Choice c = new Choice ();
        c.addItemListener( this );
        add( c );
        Menu menu = new Menu("Utensils");
        menu.add( makeMenuItem("Fork") );
        menu.add( makeMenuItem("Knife") );
        menu.add( makeMenuItem("Spoon") );
        Menu subMenu = new Menu("Hybrid");
        subMenu.add( makeMenuItem("Spork") );
        subMenu.add( makeMenuItem("Spife") );
        subMenu.add( makeMenuItem("Knork") );
        menu.add( subMenu);
        menu.add( makeMenuItem("Quit") );
        MenuBar menuBar = new MenuBar();
    public void itemStateChanged(ItemEvent e) {
        System.out.println( "Choice set to: " + e.getItem() );
    public void actionPerformed(ActionEvent e) {
        String command = e.getActionCommand();
        if ( command.equals( "Quit" ) )
            System.out.println( "Menu selected: " + e.getActionCommand() );
    private MenuItem makeMenuItem( String name ) {
        MenuItem m = new MenuItem( name );
        m.addActionListener( this );
        return m;

Yes, I know. Quit doesn't belong in the Utensils menu. If it's driving you crazy, you can go back and add a File menu as an exercise when we're through.

So what do we have? Well, we've created a new kind of component called DinnerFrame that implements our palette of dinner options. We do our set-up work in the DinnerFrame constructor. DinnerFrame sets the name on its titlebar with setTitle(). The constructor also handles a few other miscellaneous details, such as setting the layout manager that places things side by side in the display area and later, resizing itself by calling pack().

We make an instance of Choice and add three options to it with its addItem() method. Choice options are simple String objects. When one is picked, we get an action event with an argument that specifies the selected option name. We can also examine the currently selected item at any time with the Choice's getSelectedItem() method. A Choice generates an ItemEvent when a user makes a selection, so we register the DinnerFrame as an ItemEvent listener by calling addItemListener(). (This means we must also implement the ItemListener interface and provide an itemStateChanged() method.) As with any component, we display the Choice by adding it to our applet's layout with add().

The Menu has a few more moving parts. A Menu holds MenuItem objects. A simple MenuItem just has a String as a label. It sends this as an argument in an action event when it's selected. We can set its font with setFont(). We can also turn it on or off with setEnabled(); this method controls whether the MenuItem is available or not. A Menu object is itself a kind of MenuItem, and this allows us to use a menu as a submenu in another menu.

We construct the Menu with its name and call its add() method to give it three new MenuItem objects. To create the menu items, we call our own makeMenuItem() helper method. Next, we repeat this process to make a new Menu object, subMenu, and add it as the fourth option. Its name appears as the menu item along with a little arrow, indicating it's a submenu. When it's selected, the subMenu menu pops up to the side and we can select from it. Finally, we add one last simple menu item, to serve as a Quit option.

We use a private method, makeMenuItem(), to create our menu items for us. This method is convenient because, with menus, every item generates its own events. Therefore, we must register an ActionListener for every selection on the menu. Rather than write lots of code, we use a helper method to register our DinnerFrame (this) as the listener for every item. It should be no surprise then, that DinnerFrame must implement ActionListener and provide an actionPerformed() method.

Now we have the menu; to use it, we have to insert it in a menu bar. A MenuBar holds Menu objects. We create a MenuBar and set it as the menu bar for DinnerFrame with the Frame.setMenuBar() method. We can then add our menu to it with menuBar.add():

MenuBar menuBar = new MenuBar();

Suppose our applet didn't have its own frame? Where could we put our menu? Ideally, you'd like the applet to be able to add a menu to the top-level menu bar of the Web browser or applet viewer. Unfortunately, as of Java 1.1, there is no standard for doing so. (There are obvious security considerations in allowing an applet to modify its viewer.) There has been talk of adding this ability as part of Java Beans, but so far, it's not possible.

One final note about the DinnerMenu example. As we said in the previous chapter, any time you use a Frame, and thus create a new top-level window, you should add code to destroy your frame whenever the user closes the window with his native window manager. To do so, you register your frame as a WindowListener, implement the WindowListener interface, and provide a windowClosing() method that calls dispose(). By calling dispose(), we indicate the window is no longer needed, so that it can release its window-system resources.

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