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Section 3.8

Introduction to GUI Programming

For the past two chapters, you've been learning the sort of programming that is done inside a single subroutine. In the rest of the text, we'll be more concerned with the larger scale structure of programs, but the material that you've already learned will be an important foundation for everything to come.

In this section, before moving on to programming-in-the-large, we'll take a look at how programming-in-the-small can be used in other contexts besides text-based, command-line-style programs. We'll do this by taking a short, introductory look at applets and graphical programming.

An applet is a Java program that runs on a Web page. An applet is not a stand-alone application, and it does not have a main() routine. In fact, an applet is an object rather than a class. When Java first appeared on the scene, applets were one of its major appeals. Since then, they have become less important, although they can still be very useful. When we study GUI programming in Chapter 6, we will concentrate on stand-alone GUI programs rather than on applets, but applets are a good place to start for our first look at the subject.

When an applet is placed on a Web page, it is assigned a rectangular area on the page. It is the job of the applet to draw the contents of that rectangle. When the region needs to be drawn, the Web page calls a subroutine in the applet to do so. This is not so different from what happens with stand-alone programs. When such a program needs to be run, the system calls the main() routine of the program. Similarly, when an applet needs to be drawn, the Web page calls the paint() routine of the applet. The programmer specifies what happens when these routines are called by filling in the bodies of the routines. Programming in the small! Applets can do other things besides draw themselves, such as responding when the user clicks the mouse on the applet. Each of the applet's behaviors is defined by a subroutine. The programmer specifies how the applet behaves by filling in the bodies of the appropriate subroutines.

A very simple applet, which does nothing but draw itself, can be defined by a class that contains nothing but a paint() routine. The source code for the class would then have the form:

import java.awt.*;
import java.applet.*;
public class name-of-applet extends Applet {
    public void paint(Graphics g) {

where name-of-applet is an identifier that names the class, and the statements are the code that actually draws the applet. This looks similar to the definition of a stand-alone program, but there are a few things here that need to be explained, starting with the first two lines.

When you write a program, there are certain built-in classes that are available for you to use. These built-in classes include System and Math. If you want to use one of these classes, you don't have to do anything special. You just go ahead and use it. But Java also has a large number of standard classes that are there if you want them but that are not automatically available to your program. (There are just too many of them.) If you want to use these classes in your program, you have to ask for them first. The standard classes are grouped into so-called "packages." Two of these packages are called "java.awt" and "java.applet". The directive "import java.awt.*;" makes all the classes from the package java.awt available for use in your program. The java.awt package contains classes related to graphical user interface programming, including a class called Graphics. The Graphics class is referred to in the paint() routine above. The java.applet package contains classes specifically related to applets, including the class named Applet.

The first line of the class definition above says that the class "extends Applet." Applet is a standard class that is defined in the java.applet package. It defines all the basic properties and behaviors of applet objects. By extending the Applet class, the new class we are defining inherits all those properties and behaviors. We only have to define the ways in which our class differs from the basic Applet class. In our case, the only difference is that our applet will draw itself differently, so we only have to define the paint() routine that does the drawing. This is one of the main advantages of object-oriented programming.

(Actually, in the future, our applets will be defined to extend JApplet rather than Applet. The JApplet class is itself an extension of Applet. The Applet class has existed since the original version of Java, while JApplet is part of the newer "Swing" set of graphical user interface components. For the moment, the distinction is not important.)

One more thing needs to be mentioned -- and this is a point where Java's syntax gets unfortunately confusing. Applets are objects, not classes. Instead of being static members of a class, the subroutines that define the applet's behavior are part of the applet object. We say that they are "non-static" subroutines. Of course, objects are related to classes because every object is described by a class. Now here is the part that can get confusing: Even though a non-static subroutine is not actually part of a class (in the sense of being part of the behavior of the class), it is nevertheless defined in a class (in the sense that the Java code that defines the subroutine is part of the Java code that defines the class). Many objects can be described by the same class. Each object has its own non-static subroutine. But the common definition of those subroutines -- the actual Java source code -- is physically part of the class that describes all the objects. To put it briefly: static subroutines in a class definition say what the class does; non-static subroutines say what all the objects described by the class do. An applet's paint() routine is an example of a non-static subroutine. A stand-alone program's main() routine is an example of a static subroutine. The distinction doesn't really matter too much at this point: When working with stand-alone programs, mark everything with the reserved word, "static"; leave it out when working with applets. However, the distinction between static and non-static will become more important later in the course.

Let's write an applet that draws something. In order to write an applet that draws something, you need to know what subroutines are available for drawing, just as in writing text-oriented programs you need to know what subroutines are available for reading and writing text. In Java, the built-in drawing subroutines are found in objects of the class Graphics, one of the classes in the java.awt package. In an applet's paint() routine, you can use the Graphics object g for drawing. (This object is provided as a parameter to the paint() routine when that routine is called.) Graphics objects contain many subroutines. I'll mention just three of them here. You'll encounter more of them in Chapter 6.

This is enough information to write the applet shown here:

The applet first fills its entire rectangular area with red. Then it changes the drawing color to black and draws a sequence of rectangles, where each rectangle is nested inside the previous one. The rectangles can be drawn with a while loop. Each time through the loop, the rectangle gets smaller and it moves down and over a bit. We'll need variables to hold the width and height of the rectangle and a variable to record how far the top-left corner of the rectangle is inset from the edges of the applet. The while loop ends when the rectangle shrinks to nothing. In general outline, the algorithm for drawing the applet is

Set the drawing color to red  (using the g.setColor subroutine)
Fill in the entire applet (using the g.fillRect subroutine)
Set the drawing color to black
Set the top-left corner inset to be 0
Set the rectangle width and height to be as big as the applet
while the width and height are greater than zero:
    draw a rectangle (using the g.drawRect subroutine)
    increase the inset
    decrease the width and the height

In my applet, each rectangle is 15 pixels away from the rectangle that surrounds it, so the inset is increased by 15 each time through the while loop. The rectangle shrinks by 15 pixels on the left and by 15 pixels on the right, so the width of the rectangle shrinks by 30 each time through the loop. The height also shrinks by 30 pixels each time through the loop.

It is not hard to code this algorithm into Java and use it to define the paint() method of an applet. I've assumed that the applet has a height of 160 pixels and a width of 300 pixels. The size is actually set in the source code of the Web page where the applet appears. In order for an applet to appear on a page, the source code for the page must include a command that specifies which applet to run and how big it should be. (We'll see how to do that later.) It's not a great idea to assume that we know how big the applet is going to be. On the other hand, it's also not a great idea to write an applet that does nothing but draw a static picture. I'll address both these issues before the end of this section. But for now, here is the source code for the applet:

import java.awt.*;
import java.applet.Applet;

public class StaticRects extends Applet {
   public void paint(Graphics g) {

         // Draw a set of nested black rectangles on a red background.
         // Each nested rectangle is separated by 15 pixels on
         // all sides from the rectangle that encloses it.
      int inset;    // Gap between borders of applet 
                    //        and one of the rectangles.
      int rectWidth, rectHeight;   // The size of one of the rectangles.
      g.fillRect(0,0,300,160);  // Fill the entire applet with red.
      g.setColor(Color.black);  // Draw the rectangles in black.
      inset = 0;
      rectWidth = 299;    // Set size of first rect to size of applet.
      rectHeight = 159;
      while (rectWidth >= 0 && rectHeight >= 0) {
         g.drawRect(inset, inset, rectWidth, rectHeight);
         inset += 15;       // Rects are 15 pixels apart.
         rectWidth -= 30;   // Width decreases by 15 pixels 
                            //             on left and 15 on right.
         rectHeight -= 30;  // Height decreases by 15 pixels 
                            //             on top and 15 on bottom.
   }  // end paint()

}  // end class StaticRects

(You might wonder why the initial rectWidth is set to 299, instead of to 300, since the width of the applet is 300 pixels. It's because rectangles are drawn as if with a pen whose nib hangs below and to the right of the point where the pen is placed. If you run the pen exactly along the right edge of the applet, the line it draws is actually outside the applet and therefore is not seen. So instead, we run the pen along a line one pixel to the left of the edge of the applet. The same reasoning applies to rectHeight. Careful graphics programming demands attention to details like these.)

When you write an applet, you get to build on the work of the people who wrote the Applet class. The Applet class provides a framework on which you can hang your own work. Any programmer can create additional frameworks that can be used by other programmers as a basis for writing specific types of applets or stand-alone programs. I've written a small framework that makes it possible to write applets that display simple animations. An example is given by the applet at the bottom of this page, which is an animated version of the nested rectangles applet from earlier in this section.

A computer animation is really just a sequence of still images. The computer displays the images one after the other. Each image differs a bit from the preceding image in the sequence. If the differences are not too big and if the sequence is displayed quickly enough, the eye is tricked into perceiving continuous motion.

In the example, rectangles shrink continually towards the center of the applet, while new rectangles appear at the edge. The perpetual motion is, of course, an illusion. If you think about it, you'll see that the applet loops through the same set of images over and over. In each image, there is a gap between the borders of the applet and the outermost rectangle. This gap gets wider and wider until a new rectangle appears at the border. Only it's not a new rectangle. What has really happened is that the applet has started over again with the first image in the sequence.

The problem of creating an animation is really just the problem of drawing each of the still images that make up the animation. Each still image is called a frame. In my framework for animation, which is based on a non-standard class called SimpleAnimationApplet2, all you have to do is fill in the code that says how to draw one frame. The basic format is as follows:

import java.awt.*;

public class name-of-class extends SimpleAnimationApplet2 {
   public void drawFrame(Graphics g) {
       statements  // to draw one frame of the animation

The "import java.awt.*;" is required to get access to graphics-related classes such as Graphics and Color. You get to fill in any name you want for the class, and you get to fill in the statements inside the subroutine. The drawFrame() subroutine will be called by the system each time a frame needs to be drawn. All you have to do is say what happens when this subroutine is called. Of course, you have to draw a different picture for each frame, and to do that you need to know which frame you are drawing. The class SimpleAnimationApplet2 provides a function named getFrameNumber() that you can call to find out which frame to draw. This function returns an integer value that represents the frame number. If the value returned is 0, you are supposed to draw the first frame; if the value is 1, you are supposed to draw the second frame, and so on.

In the sample applet, the thing that differs from one frame to another is the distance between the edges of the applet and the outermost rectangle. Since the rectangles are 15 pixels apart, this distance increases from 0 to 14 and then jumps back to 0 when a "new" rectangle appears. The appropriate value can be computed very simply from the frame number, with the statement "inset = getFrameNumber() % 15;". The value of the expression getFrameNumber() % 15 is between 0 and 14. When the frame number reaches 15 or any multiple of 15, the value of getFrameNumber() % 15 jumps back to 0.

Drawing one frame in the sample animated applet is very similar to drawing the single image of the StaticRects applet, as given above. The paint() method in the StaticRects applet becomes, with only minor modification, the drawFrame() method of my MovingRects animation applet. I've chosen to make one improvement: The StaticRects applet assumes that the applet is 300 by 160 pixels. The MovingRects applet will work for any applet size. To implement this, the drawFrame() routine has to know how big the applet is. There are two functions that can be called to get this information. The function getWidth() returns an integer value representing the width of the applet, and the function getHeight() returns the height. The width and height, together with the frame number, are used to compute the size of the first rectangle that is drawn. Here is the complete source code:

import java.awt.*;

public class MovingRects extends SimpleAnimationApplet2 {

  public void drawFrame(Graphics g) {

         // Draw one frame in the animation by filling in the background
         // with a solid red and then drawing a set of nested black
         // rectangles.  The frame number tells how much the first 
         // rectangle is to be inset from the borders of the applet.
      int width;    // Width of the applet, in pixels.
      int height;   // Height of the applet, in pixels.
      int inset;    // Gap between borders of applet and a rectangle.
                    //    The inset for the outermost rectangle goes
                    //    from 0 to 14 then back to 0, and so on,
                    //    as the frameNumber varies.
      int rectWidth, rectHeight;   // The size of one of the rectangles.
      width = getWidth();      // Find out the size of the drawing area.
      height = getHeight();

      g.setColor(Color.red);         // Fill the frame with red.
      g.setColor(Color.black);         // Switch color to black.

      inset = getFrameNumber() % 15;   // Get the inset for the 
                                       //             outermost rect.
      rectWidth = width - 2*inset - 1;   // Set size of outermost rect.
      rectHeight = height - 2*inset - 1;
      while (rectWidth >= 0 && rectHeight >= 0) {
         inset += 15;       // Rects are 15 pixels apart.
         rectWidth -= 30;   // Width decreases by 15 pixels 
                            //                 on left and 15 on right.
         rectHeight -= 30;  // Height decreases by 15 pixels 
                            //                 on top and 15 on bottom.
   }  // end drawFrame()

}  // end class MovingRects

The main point here is that by building on an existing framework, you can do interesting things using the type of local, inside-a-subroutine programming that was covered in Chapter 2 and Chapter 3. As you learn more about programming and more about Java, you'll be able to do more on your own -- but no matter how much you learn, you'll always be dependent on other people's work to some extent.

End of Chapter 3

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