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Building Beans

Now that you have a feel for how beans look from the user’s perspective, let’s build some. In this section, we will become the Magic Beans Company. We will create some beans, package them for distribution, and use them in NetBeans to build a very simple application. (The complete JAR file, along with all the example code for this chapter, is online at

The first thing we’ll remind you of is that absolutely anything can be a bean. Even the following class is a bean, albeit an invisible one:

    public class Trivial implements {}

Of course, this bean isn’t very useful: it doesn’t have any properties, and it doesn’t do anything. But it’s a bean nonetheless, and we can drag it into NetBeans as long as we package it correctly. If we modify this class to extend JComponent, we suddenly have a graphical bean that be seen in the layout, with lots of standard Swing properties, such as size and color information:

    public class TrivialComponent extends JComponent {}

Next, let’s look at a bean that’s a bit more useful.

The Dial Bean

We created a nifty Dial component in Chapter 18. What would it take to turn it into a bean? Surprise: it is already a bean! The Dial has a number of properties that it exposes in the way prescribed by JavaBeans. A get method retrieves the value of a property; for example, getValue() retrieves the dial’s current value. Likewise, a set method, setValue(), modifies the dial’s value. The dial has two other properties, which also have get and set methods: minimum and maximum. This is all the Dial needs to inform a tool such as NetBeans what properties it has and how to work with them. Because Dial is a JComponent, it also has all the standard Swing properties, such as color and size. The JComponent provides the set and get methods for all its properties.

To use our Dial, we’ll put it in a Java package named magicbeans and store it in a JAR file that can be loaded by NetBeans. The source code, which can be found online, includes an Ant build file (see Chapter 15) that compiles the code and creates the final JAR file.

If you were starting from scratch, it would go like this: first, create a directory called magicbeans to hold our beans, add a package statement to the source files,, and (from Chapter 18), put the source files into the magicbeans directory, and compile them (using the command javac magicBeans/ to create class files.

Next, we need to create a manifest file that tells NetBeans which of the classes in the JAR file are beans and which are support files or unrelated. At this point, we have only one bean, Dial.class, so create the following file, called magicBeans.manifest:

    Name: magicbeans/Dial.class
    Java-Bean: True

The Name: label identifies the class file as it will appear in the JAR: magicbeans/Dial.class. Specifications appearing after an item’s Name: line and before an empty line apply to that item. (See Chapter 3 for more details.) We have added the attribute Java-Bean: True, which flags this class as a bean to tools that read the manifest. We will add an entry like this for each bean in our package. We don’t need to flag support classes (such as DialEvent and DialListener) as beans because we won’t want to manipulate them directly with NetBeans; in fact, we don’t need to mention them in the manifest at all.

To create the JAR file, including our manifest information, enter this command:

    % jar -cvmf magicbeans.manifest magicbeans.jar magicbeans/*.class

If you loaded the precompiled examples as instructed earlier, then you already have the Dial bean loaded into NetBeans. The version supplied in the precompiled magicbeans.jar file has additional packaging that allows it to appear with a spiffy icon in the palette, as we’ll discuss a bit later. (If you haven’t loaded the example JAR, you can import the one we just created by selecting Palette → Swing/AWT Components dialog from the Tools menu, as described earlier in this chapter.) If you want to replace the Dial bean on your palette, you can remove it by right-clicking on the icon and selecting Delete before importing the new JAR. (Actually, NetBeans 7.2 should reload the JAR automatically if you overwrite it.)

You should now have an entry for Dial in the bean palette. Drop an instance of the Dial bean into a new JFrame Form file in NetBeans.

As Figure 22-7 shows, the Dial’s properties—maximum, minimum, and value—appear in the Properties pane and can be modified by NetBeans. If you just created the Dial JAR following our minimal instructions, you’ll see these properties along with all the Swing properties inherited from the JComponent class. The figure shows the Dial bean as it appears later in this chapter (with the supplied packaging), after we’ve learned about the BeanInfo class. We’re almost there.

Now we’re ready to put the Dial to use. Reopen the Juggler file that we created in the first section of this chapter. Add an instance of our new magic Dial bean to the scenario, as shown in Figure 22-8.

Bind the value property of the Dial to the animationRate of the Juggler. Use the Connection Wizard, as before, selecting the Dial and then the Juggler. Select the DialEvent source and bind the animationRate property, selecting the Dial’s value as the property source. When you complete the hookup, you should be able to vary the speed of the juggler by turning the dial. Try changing the maximum and minimum values of the dial to change the range.

The Dial component as a bean

Figure 22-7. The Dial component as a bean

The Juggler with a dialable animation rate

Figure 22-8. The Juggler with a dialable animation rate

Design Patterns for Properties

We said earlier that tools such as NetBeans found out about a bean’s properties by looking at its get and set methods. The easiest way to make properties visible is to follow these simple design patterns:

  • Method for getting the current value of a property:

        public PropertyType getPropertyName()
  • Method for setting the value of a property:

        public void setPropertyName( PropertyType arg )
  • Method for determining whether a Boolean-valued property is currently true:

        public boolean isPropertyName()

The last method is optional and is used only for properties with Boolean values. (You could use the get method for Boolean values as well.)

The appropriate set and get methods for these features of our bean are already in the Dial class, either methods that we added or methods inherited from the java.awt.Component and javax.swing.JComponent classes:

    // inherited from Component
    public Color getForeground()
    public void setForeground(Color c)
    public Color getBackground()
    public void setBackground(Color c)
    public Font getFont()
    public void setFont(Font f)
    // many others from Component and JComponent

    // part of the Dial itself
    public int getValue()
    public void setValue(int v)
    public int getMinimum()
    public void setMinimum(int m)
    public int getMaximum()
    public void setMaximum(int m)

JavaBeans allows read and write-only properties, which are implemented simply by leaving out the get or set method.

NetBeans uses the Reflection API to find out about the Dial bean’s methods; it then uses these naming conventions to learn what properties are available. When we use the properties editor to change a value, NetBeans dynamically invokes the correct set method to change the value.

If you look further at the JComponent class, you’ll notice that other methods match the design pattern. For example, what about the setCursor() and getCursor() pair? NetBeans doesn’t know how to display or edit a cursor, and we didn’t supply an editor, so it ignores those properties in the properties sheet.

NetBeans automatically pulls the property’s name from the name of its accessor methods; it then lowercases the name for display on the properties sheet. For example, the font property is derived from getFont. Later, we’ll show how to provide a BeanInfo class that overrides the way these properties are displayed, which allows you to provide your own friendly property names. Again, if you used the Dial bean from our precompiled example JAR, you’ll see only our three Dial properties. The JComponent properties are hidden by our packaging a BeanInfo class that determines the properties we wish to show.

Generating bean patterns in NetBeans

NetBeans automatically recognizes JavaBeans getter and setter method patterns in classes. In the source code view, select the Source menu Insert Code option and choose Getter and Setter to automatically generate getter and setter methods for fields in your class. This can save you a bit of typing if you need to add a lot of properties.

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