Lists and Combo Boxes

JLists and JComboBoxes are a step up on the evolutionary chain from JButtons and JLabels. Lists let the user choose from a group of alternatives. They can be configured to force a single selection or allow multiple choices. Usually, only a small group of choices is displayed at a time; a scrollbar lets the user move to the choices that aren’t visible. The user can select an item by clicking on it. She can expand the selection to a range of items by holding down Shift and clicking on another item. To make discontinuous selections, the user can hold down the Control key instead of the Shift key (on a Mac, this is the Command key).

A combo box is a crossbreed between a text field and a list. It displays a single line of text (possibly with an image) and a downward-pointing arrow on one side. If you click on the arrow, the combo box opens up and displays a list of choices. You can select a single choice by clicking on it. After a selection is made, the combo box closes up; the list disappears, and the new selection is shown in the text field.

Like other components in Swing, lists and combo boxes have data models that are distinct from visual components. The list also has a selection model that controls how selections can be made on the list data.

Lists and combo boxes are similar because they have similar data models. Each is simply an array of acceptable choices. This similarity is reflected in Swing, of course: the type of a JComboBox’s data model is a subclass of the type used for a JList’s data model. The next example demonstrates this relationship.

The following example creates a window with a combo box, a list, and a button. The combo box and the list use the same data model. When you press the button, the program writes out the current set of selected items in the list (see Figure 17-4).

A combo box and a list using the same data model

Figure 17-4. A combo box and a list using the same data model

Here’s the code for the example:

    import java.awt.*;
    import java.awt.event.*;
    import javax.swing.*;

    public class Lister {
      public static void main(String[] args) {
        JFrame frame = new JFrame("Lister v1.0");

        // create a combo box
        String [] items = { "uno", "due", "tre", "quattro", "cinque",
                            "sei", "sette", "otto", "nove", "deici",
                            "undici", "dodici" };
        JComboBox comboBox = new JComboBox(items);

        // create a list with the same data model
        final JList list = new JList(comboBox.getModel());

        // create a button; when it's pressed, print out
        // the selection in the list
        JButton button = new JButton("Per favore");
        button.addActionListener(new ActionListener() {
          public void actionPerformed(ActionEvent ae) {
            Object[] selection = list.getSelectedValues();
            for ( Object o : selection )
              System.out.println( o );

        // put the controls the content pane
        Container c = frame.getContentPane();  // unnecessary  in 5.0+
        JPanel comboPanel = new JPanel();
        c.add(comboPanel, BorderLayout.NORTH);
        c.add(new JScrollPane(list), BorderLayout.CENTER);
        c.add(button, BorderLayout.SOUTH);

        frame.setSize(200, 200);
        frame.setDefaultCloseOperation( JFrame.EXIT_ON_CLOSE );

The combo box is created from an array of strings. This is a convenience—behind the scenes, the JComboBox constructor creates a data model from the strings you supply and sets the JComboBox to use that data model. Our list is then created using the data model of the combo box. This works because JList expects to use a ListModel for its data model, and the ComboBoxModel used by the JComboBox is a subclass of ListModel.

The button’s action event handler simply prints out the selected items in the list, which are retrieved with a call to getSelectedValues(). This method actually returns an object array, not a string array. List and combo box items, like many other things in Swing, are not limited to text. You can use images, drawings, or some combination of text and images. We simply print the result as a string.

You might expect that selecting one item in the combo box would select the same item in the list. In Swing components, selection is controlled by a selection model. The combo box and the list have distinct selection models; after all, you can select only one item from the combo box, while it’s possible to select multiple items from the list. Thus, while the two components share a data model, they have separate selection models.

We’ve made the combo box editable. By default, it would not be editable: the user could choose only one item in the drop-down list. With an editable combo box, the user can type in a selection, as if it were a text field. Noneditable combo boxes are useful if you just want to offer a limited set of choices; editable combo boxes are handy when you want to accept any input but offer some common choices.

There’s a great class tucked away in the last example that deserves some recognition. It’s JScrollPane. In Lister, you’ll notice that we created one when we added the List to the main window. JScrollPane simply wraps itself around another Component and provides scrollbars as necessary. The scrollbars show up if the contained Component’s preferred size (as returned by getPreferredSize()) is greater than the size of the JScrollPane itself. In the previous example, the scrollbars show up whenever the size of the List exceeds the available space.

You can use JScrollPane to wrap any Component, including components with drawings, images, or complex user interface panels. We’ll discuss JScrollPane in more detail later in this chapter, and we’ll use it frequently with the text components in Chapter 18.

Get Learning Java, 4th Edition now with O’Reilly online learning.

O’Reilly members experience live online training, plus books, videos, and digital content from 200+ publishers.