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SWT Programming with Eclipse

  • March 25, 2004
  • By Koray Guclu
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"The best way to predict the future is to invent it."—Alan Kay

1. Why SWT?

SWT is a cross platform GUI developed by IBM. Why has IBM created another GUI? Why have not they used existing Java GUI frameworks? To answer those questions, we need to go back to the early days of Java.

Sun has created a cross platform GUI framework AWT (Abstract Windowing Toolkit). The AWT framework uses native widgets but it was suffering from a LCD problem. The LCD problem causes loss of major platform features. In other words, if platform A has widgets 1–40 and platform B has widgets 20–25, the cross-platform AWT framework only offers the intersection of these two sets.

To solve this problem, Sun has created a new framework that uses emulated widgets instead of native widgets. This approach solved the LCD problem and provided a rich set of widgets but it has created other problems. For instance, Swing applications no longer look like native applications. Although they're the latest improvements in the JVM, Swing applications suffer performance problems that do not exist in their native counterparts. Moreover, Swing applications consume too much memory, which is not suitable for small devices such as PDAs and Mobile Phones.

IBM has decided that neither of the approaches fulfill their requirements. Consequently, IBM has created a new GUI library, called SWT,which solves the problems seen with the AWT and the Swing frameworks. The SWT framework accesses native widgets through JNI. If a widget is not available on the host platform, SWT emulates the unavailable widget.

2. Building Blocks of an SWT Application

Display, Shell, and Widgets are basic building blocks of an SWT application. Displays are responsible from managing event loops and controlling communication between the UI thread and other threads. Shell is the window in an application managed by the OS window manager. Every SWT application requires at least one Display and one or more Shell instances.

Figure 1. An SWT application from different perspectives.

Figure 1 shows an SWT application from different perspectives. The first diagram is the simplified inheritance diagram of the UI objects. The second diagram is the containment structure of the UI objects. The third diagram is the created UI.

If an application uses multiple threads, each thread uses its own instance of a Display object. You can get the current active instance of a Display object by using the static Display.getCurent() method.

A Shell represents a window in a particular operating system. A shell can be maximized, normal, or minimized. There are two types of shells. The first one is the top-level shell that is created as a child, main window of the Display. The second one is a dialog shell that depends on the other shells.

The type of a Shell depends on style bits passed to the Shell's constructor. The default value of a Shell is DialogShell. That is to say, if nothing is given to the parameter, it is by default a DialogShell. If a Display object is given to the parameter, it is a top-level shell.

Some widget properties must be set at creation time. Those widget properties are called style bits. Style bits are defined as constants in SWT class, for example, Button button = new Button( shell, <styleBits> ). It is possible to use more then one style bit by using the OR operation |. For instance, to use a bordered push button, you need to use SWT.PUSH | SWT.BORDER as style bit parameters.

3. Environment Set-Up

Developing an SWT application is different from developing a Swing application. To begin with an SWT application development, you need add SWT libraries to your classpath and set necessary environment variables accordingly.

The first library that you need is the swt.jar file that is under the ECLIPSE_HOME\eclipse\plugins\org.eclipse.swt.win32_2.1.0\ws\win32 directory. Depending on the version of the Eclipse that you are using, you might need to use a different directory. The swt.jar file must be added to your classpath to make this go to Project->Properies->JavaBuildPath->Libraries->Add Variable -> Eclipse Home ->Extend and select the swt.jar library under the director abovey and then click on OK.

Afterwards, you will be able to compile an SWT application but, because of a runtime exception shown below, it won't be able to run because the swt.jar library uses native libraries. You need to set the java.library.path environment variable to use native libraries in Java.

Console output
java.lang.UnsatisfiedLinkError: no swt-win32-2133 in java.library.path
at java.lang.ClassLoader.loadLibrary(ClassLoader.java:1403)
at java.lang.Runtime.loadLibrary0(Runtime.java:788)
at java.lang.System.loadLibrary(System.java:832)
at org.eclipse.swt.widgets.Display.<init>(Display.java:287)
at Main.main(Main.java:25)
Exception in thread "main"

To set the java.library.path variable, go to Run-> Run...-> Java Applicaton-> New ->Arguments -> VM Arguments. Thereafter, if neccesary, modify the path below and paste it to the VM Arguments field.

Loading native libraries
If you need to load any native library that your application uses, you can use the Runtime.getPlatform.loadLibrary("libraryname") method.

Finishing these steps will enable you to run an SWT application within your eclipse environment.

4. Your First SWT Application

Creating a typical SWT application requires the following steps:

  • Create a Display
  • Create one or more Shells
  • Set a Layout manager of the Shell
  • Create widgets inside the Shells
  • Open the Shell window
  • Write an event dispatching loop
  • Dispose display

You can use the following code template to quickly run the code snippets in this article. You can copy and paste the code to the area, as shown in Source 1.

Source 1. SWT application template
import org.eclipse.swt.layout.RowLayout;import org.eclipse.swt.widgets.Display;import org.eclipse.swt.widgets.Shell;public class SliderExample{  public static void main(String args[])  { Display display = new Display(); Shell shell = new Shell(display); shell.setLayout( new RowLayout());    // ------------------------    // Your code comes to here.    // ------------------------    shell.pack(); shell.open(); while( !shell.isDisposed())    {      if(!display.readAndDispatch())       display.sleep();    } display.dispose();  }}

This example displays an empty window. You can add your widgets to the template above. Every SWT application requires a Display and one or more Shells. The Shell is a composite object; it can contain other composite objects. If the layout of the shell is not set, added widgets to the Shell won't be visible. The Shell window must be opened to be displayed. The event handling loop reads and dispatches GUI events. If there is no event handling loop, the application window cannot be shown, even if the Shell window is opened by the open() method. Afterwards, you should dispose of the Display, when the Shell is discarded.

Importing required libraries
You can use the Source->Organize Imports menu or Ctrl+Shift+O to import the required libraries automatically.

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