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Thinking in Java
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Each component capable of holding a menu, including JApplet, JFrame, JDialog, and their descendants, has a setJMenuBar( ) method that accepts a JMenuBar (you can have only one JMenuBar on a particular component). You add JMenus to the JMenuBar, and JMenuItems to the JMenus. Each JMenuItem can have an ActionListener attached to it, to be fired when that menu item is selected.

Unlike a system that uses resources, with Java and Swing you must hand assemble all the menus in source code. Here is a very simple menu example:

// <applet code=SimpleMenus width=200 height=75></applet>
import javax.swing.*;
import java.awt.event.*;
import java.awt.*;
import com.bruceeckel.swing.*;

public class SimpleMenus extends JApplet {
  private JTextField t = new JTextField(15);
  private ActionListener al = new ActionListener() {
    public void actionPerformed(ActionEvent e) {
  private JMenu[] menus = {
    new JMenu("Winken"), new JMenu("Blinken"),
    new JMenu("Nod")
  private JMenuItem[] items = {
    new JMenuItem("Fee"), new JMenuItem("Fi"),
    new JMenuItem("Fo"),  new JMenuItem("Zip"),
    new JMenuItem("Zap"), new JMenuItem("Zot"),
    new JMenuItem("Olly"), new JMenuItem("Oxen"),
    new JMenuItem("Free")
  public void init() {
    for(int i = 0; i < items.length; i++) {
      menus[i % 3].add(items[i]);
    JMenuBar mb = new JMenuBar();
    for(int i = 0; i < menus.length; i++)
    Container cp = getContentPane();
    cp.setLayout(new FlowLayout());
  public static void main(String[] args) { SimpleMenus(), 200, 75);
} ///:~

The use of the modulus operator in “i%3” distributes the menu items among the three JMenus. Each JMenuItem must have an ActionListener attached to it; here, the same ActionListener is used everywhere, but you’ll usually need an individual one for each JMenuItem.

JMenuItem inherits AbstractButton, so it has some button-like behaviors. By itself, it provides an item that can be placed on a drop-down menu. There are also three types inherited from JMenuItem: JMenu to hold other JMenuItems (so you can have cascading menus); JCheckBoxMenuItem, which produces a checkmark to indicate whether that menu item is selected; and JRadioButtonMenuItem, which contains a radio button.

As a more sophisticated example, here are the ice cream flavors again, used to create menus. This example also shows cascading menus, keyboard mnemonics, JCheckBoxMenuItems, and the way you can dynamically change menus:

// Submenus, checkbox menu items, swapping menus,
// mnemonics (shortcuts) and action commands.
// <applet code=Menus width=300 height=100></applet>
import javax.swing.*;
import java.awt.*;
import java.awt.event.*;
import com.bruceeckel.swing.*;

public class Menus extends JApplet {
  private String[] flavors = {
    "Chocolate", "Strawberry", "Vanilla Fudge Swirl",
    "Mint Chip", "Mocha Almond Fudge", "Rum Raisin",
    "Praline Cream", "Mud Pie"
  private JTextField t = new JTextField("No flavor", 30);
  private JMenuBar mb1 = new JMenuBar();
  private JMenu
    f = new JMenu("File"),
    m = new JMenu("Flavors"),
    s = new JMenu("Safety");
  // Alternative approach:
  private JCheckBoxMenuItem[] safety = {
    new JCheckBoxMenuItem("Guard"),
    new JCheckBoxMenuItem("Hide")
  private JMenuItem[] file = { new JMenuItem("Open") };
  // A second menu bar to swap to:
  private JMenuBar mb2 = new JMenuBar();
  private JMenu fooBar = new JMenu("fooBar");
  private JMenuItem[] other = {
    // Adding a menu shortcut (mnemonic) is very
    // simple, but only JMenuItems can have them
    // in their constructors:
    new JMenuItem("Foo", KeyEvent.VK_F),
    new JMenuItem("Bar", KeyEvent.VK_A),
    // No shortcut:
    new JMenuItem("Baz"),
  private JButton b = new JButton("Swap Menus");
  class BL implements ActionListener {
    public void actionPerformed(ActionEvent e) {
      JMenuBar m = getJMenuBar();
      setJMenuBar(m == mb1 ? mb2 : mb1);
      validate(); // Refresh the frame
  class ML implements ActionListener {
    public void actionPerformed(ActionEvent e) {
      JMenuItem target = (JMenuItem)e.getSource();
      String actionCommand = target.getActionCommand();
      if(actionCommand.equals("Open")) {
        String s = t.getText();
        boolean chosen = false;
        for(int i = 0; i < flavors.length; i++)
          if(s.equals(flavors[i])) chosen = true;
          t.setText("Choose a flavor first!");
          t.setText("Opening " + s + ". Mmm, mm!");
  class FL implements ActionListener {
    public void actionPerformed(ActionEvent e) {
      JMenuItem target = (JMenuItem)e.getSource();
  // Alternatively, you can create a different
  // class for each different MenuItem. Then you
  // Don't have to figure out which one it is:
  class FooL implements ActionListener {
    public void actionPerformed(ActionEvent e) {
      t.setText("Foo selected");
  class BarL implements ActionListener {
    public void actionPerformed(ActionEvent e) {
      t.setText("Bar selected");
  class BazL implements ActionListener {
    public void actionPerformed(ActionEvent e) {
      t.setText("Baz selected");
  class CMIL implements ItemListener {
    public void itemStateChanged(ItemEvent e) {
      JCheckBoxMenuItem target =
      String actionCommand = target.getActionCommand();
        t.setText("Guard the Ice Cream! " +
          "Guarding is " + target.getState());
      else if(actionCommand.equals("Hide"))
        t.setText("Hide the Ice Cream! " +
          "Is it hidden? " + target.getState());
  public void init() {
    ML ml = new ML();
    CMIL cmil = new CMIL();
    other[0].addActionListener(new FooL());
    other[1].addActionListener(new BarL());
    other[2].addActionListener(new BazL());
    FL fl = new FL();
    for(int i = 0; i < flavors.length; i++) {
      JMenuItem mi = new JMenuItem(flavors[i]);
      // Add separators at intervals:
      if((i + 1) % 3 == 0)
    for(int i = 0; i < safety.length; i++)
    for(int i = 0; i < file.length; i++) {
    Container cp = getContentPane();
    cp.add(t, BorderLayout.CENTER);
    // Set up the system for swapping menus:
    b.addActionListener(new BL());
    cp.add(b, BorderLayout.NORTH);
    for(int i = 0; i < other.length; i++)
  public static void main(String[] args) { Menus(), 300, 100);
} ///:~

In this program I placed the menu items into arrays and then stepped through each array calling add( ) for each JMenuItem. This makes adding or subtracting a menu item somewhat less tedious.

This program creates not one but two JMenuBars to demonstrate that menu bars can be actively swapped while the program is running. You can see how a JMenuBar is made up of JMenus, and each JMenu is made up of JMenuItems, JCheckBoxMenuItems, or even other JMenus (which produce submenus). When a JMenuBar is assembled, it can be installed into the current program with the setJMenuBar( ) method. Note that when the button is pressed, it checks to see which menu is currently installed by calling getJMenuBar( ), then it puts the other menu bar in its place.

When testing for “Open,” notice that spelling and capitalization are critical, but Java signals no error if there is no match with “Open.” This kind of string comparison is a source of programming errors.

The checking and unchecking of the menu items is taken care of automatically. The code handling the JCheckBoxMenuItems shows two different ways to determine what was checked: string matching (which, as mentioned above, isn’t a very safe approach although you’ll see it used) and matching on the event target object. As shown, the getState( ) method can be used to reveal the state. You can also change the state of a JCheckBoxMenuItem with setState( ).

The events for menus are a bit inconsistent and can lead to confusion: JMenuItems use ActionListeners, but JCheckBoxMenuItems use ItemListeners. The JMenu objects can also support ActionListeners, but that’s not usually helpful. In general, you’ll attach listeners to each JMenuItem, JCheckBoxMenuItem, or JRadioButtonMenuItem, but the example shows ItemListeners and ActionListeners attached to the various menu components.

Swing supports mnemonics, or “keyboard shortcuts,” so you can select anything derived from AbstractButton (button, menu item, etc.) by using the keyboard instead of the mouse. These are quite simple; for JmenuItem,you can use the overloaded constructor that takes as a second argument the identifier for the key. However, most AbstractButtons do not have constructors like this, so the more general way to solve the problem is to use the setMnemonic( ) method. The preceding example adds mnemonics to the button and some of the menu items; shortcut indicators automatically appear on the components.

You can also see the use of setActionCommand( ). This seems a bit strange because in each case, the “action command” is exactly the same as the label on the menu component. Why not just use the label instead of this alternative string? The problem is internationalization. If you retarget this program to another language, you want to change only the label in the menu, and not change the code (which would no doubt introduce new errors). So to make this easy for code that checks the text string associated with a menu component, the “action command” can be immutable, but the menu label can change. All the code works with the “action command,” so it’s unaffected by changes to the menu labels. Note that in this program, not all the menu components are examined for their action commands, so those that aren’t do not have their action command set.

The bulk of the work happens in the listeners. BL performs the JMenuBar swapping. In ML, the “figure out who rang” approach is taken by getting the source of the ActionEvent and casting it to a JMenuItem, then getting the action command string to pass it through a cascaded if statement.

The FL listener is simple even though it’s handling all the different flavors in the flavor menu. This approach is useful if you have enough simplicity in your logic, but in general, you’ll want to take the approach used with FooL, BarL, and BazL, in which each is attached to only a single menu component, so no extra detection logic is necessary, and you know exactly who called the listener. Even with the profusion of classes generated this way, the code inside tends to be smaller, and the process is more foolproof.

You can see that menu code quickly gets long-winded and messy. This is another case where the use of a GUI builder is the appropriate solution. A good tool will also handle the maintenance of the menus.
Thinking in Java
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   Reproduced courtesy of Bruce Eckel, MindView, Inc. Design by Interspire