NetBeans Selection Management Tutorial II—Using Nodes

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The previous tutorial covered the basics of component-wide selection handling in NetBeans—how to provide objects from a ` TopComponent's ` Lookup, and how to write other components that are sensitive to the Lookup of whatever component has focus.

This tutorial focuses on the Nodes API, which makes it possible to do more granular views and selection than just component-level selection. Of course, you could write a component that reads and writes into its own Lookup whatever it wants, and provides more granular selection logic that way. But the Nodes API makes it very easy to do this, and offers a number of advantages over doing it yourself.

Optionally, for troubleshooting purposes, you can download the completed sample.

Introduction to the Nodes API

The first advantage is that the Nodes API provides a presentation layer—a layer between the data model being edited in some way, and the UI components that expose the data model to the user. This is quite useful and powerful, as the same model may be presented in multiple ways, or with multiple UIs.

The second advantage is the Explorer API—the module org.openide.explorer provides a vast array of components—trees, lists, tree tables and more—which can render a Node and its children.

A Node is a generic hierarchical object—a Node has:

  • Children—Nodes in a hierarchy underneath it, that can be displayed in a tree

  • Actions—An array of actions that can be displayed in a popup menu

  • Display Name—A human-readable, localized display name that can be shown in a UI component

  • Icon—An icon that can be shown in a UI component

and `Node`s can fire changes in any of the above, and the explorer UI components will automatically update themselves.

This is not to say that the content of the previous tutorial was useless—on the contrary, it is the reason the Nodes API can work. The reason: org.openide.nodes.Node has a method, you guessed it, getLookup(). In fact what is happening when you change selection in the Projects tab in the IDE, for example, is…​the Projects tab is a TopComponent. It proxies the Lookup of whatever object(s) are currently selected in the tree—just as the Utilities.actionsGlobalContext() Lookup proxies whichever component is focused and fires changes when focus changes.

Thanks to the components in the Explorer API, it is very easy to create your own views of a tree of Node`s, and have this type of proxying in your own components with very little code. Viewer type components such as the `MyViewer component in the previous tutorial do not have to do anything special to be able to respond to selection changes in Explorer components—they will automatically be notified as selection changes.

Creating an Explorer View

The first thing you will do is some substantial modifications to your MyEditor editor component. This starts with opening it in the editor.

  1. First, bring up the properties dialog for the My Editor project. On the Libraries tab, click the add button, and type "BeanTreeView" in the dialog. Click OK once you see the Explorer & Property Sheet API listed, as shown below. This will add a dependency on the Explorer API module, so you can use classes from it.

selection 2 add deps beantreeview 60
  1. Next, delete the body of the action handler method:

private void jButton1ActionPerformed(java.awt.event.ActionEvent evt) {

and delete the call to it from the constructor. This way, when you delete the button it is associated with, the handler method will be deleted too.

  1. Switch to the form designer, select all of the components, and delete them.

  1. In the Component Inspector, right click the TopComponent node, and choose Set Layout > BorderLayout, as shown below:

selection 2 border layout 60
  1. Click the JScrollPane button in the Component Palette window and drop the scroll pane on the form—it will take up the entire form. The secret here is that all of the Explorer UI components are subclasses of JScrollPane—so you can simply change the instantiation code to create an explorer view instead.

  1. Select your JScrollPane, right-click it, and choose Customize Code. Customize the initial line in the Code Customizer, by adding new BeanTreeView() as shown below:

selection 2 custom creation 60

BeanTreeView is a component from the Explorer API—a basic JTree-based view over a Node and its children, with built-in handling of popup menus, searching and more.

  1. Switch to the code editor and press Ctrl-Shift-I to import BeanTreeView, because the import statement needs to be added, as indicated below:

selection 2 beantreeview 60
  1. The next step is to give your tree something to show. Explorer UI components work like this: When added to a container, they search that container and their ancestors until they find one that implements ExplorerManager.Provider. So you don’t set the node to be viewed directly on the component—you set it on the component’s manager. This makes it possible to have multiple views, master/detail views and such, all managed by a single manager. Add to the signature of MyEditor as follows:

public class MyEditor extends TopComponent implements ExplorerManager.Provider {

Then press Ctrl-Shift-I to fix imports. Keeping the caret in the signature line, a lightbulb glyph should appear in the margin. Press Alt-Enter, and accept the hint "Implement all abstract methods". This will add one method, getExplorerManager(). Implement it as follows:

private final ExplorerManager mgr = new ExplorerManager();
public ExplorerManager getExplorerManager() {
    return mgr;
  1. Now, since the goal is one component that can display multiple APIObject`s, you need a `Node or two to display in your component. Each one will own its own instance of APIObject. So, right now you’ll just add the code that will create a root node for your tree view. Add the following line to the constructor:

mgr.setRootContext(new AbstractNode(new MyChildren()));

This is the code that sets the root node for all of the explorer views that are child components of MyEditor.

  1. If you tried Fix Imports, you may have seen the error dialog telling you that neither AbstractNode, nor MyChildren could be resolved. To resolve AbstractNode, you need to add one dependency, on the Nodes API module. Right click the My Editor project, go to the Libraries page and click Add Dependency. Type "AbstractNode" in the Add dialog, and when the item "Nodes API" in the list is selected, click OK or press Enter.

  1. Now, back in the source editor, press Ctrl-Shift-I to Fix Imports. You will be notified that MyChildren could not be resolved. That’s okay—you’re about to write it.

Implementing Nodes and Node Children

You’ll notice you’re using a class called AbstractNode above. Despite its name, it is not an abstract class! It is a utility implementation of org.openide.nodes.Node which can save you some time and trouble—rather than implement Node yourself, you can just create an AbstractNode and pass it a Children object which will provide child nodes for it, and then set its icon and display name as needed. So it is a simple way to get a Node object to represent something, without needing to do any subclassing of Node itself.

The next step is to implement MyChildren, so that there are subnodes underneath the initial node.

  1. Right click the org.myorg.myeditor package in the My Editor project, and choose New > Java Class from the popup menu

  1. In the New Java Class wizard, name the class "MyChildren", and click Finish or press Enter to create the class.

  1. Modify the signature of the class so it extends Children.Keys:

class MyChildren extends Children.Keys {
  1. Press Ctrl-Shift-I to Fix Imports

  1. Position the caret in the class signature line. When the lightbulb glyph appears in the margin, press Alt-Enter and then Enter again to accept the hint "Implement all Abstract Methods". This will add a createNodes (Object key) method—this is where you will create the nodes that will be children of your root node.

  1. But first, you want to override one method—addNotify. As with the addNotify() pattern in Swing components, Children.Keys.addNotify() is called the first time something pays attention to this Children object—the first time it is asked for its child nodes. So you can delay creation of child Nodes until the user has really expanded the parent node in a view and needs to see them. Position the caret somewhere in the source file and press Alt-Insert. Then choose 'Override Method…​'. In the dialog that appears, expand 'Children', select the addNotify() method, and click OK or press Enter.

  1. Implement the addNotify() method as follows:

protected void addNotify() {
    APIObject[] objs = new APIObject[5];
    for (int i = 0; i < objs.length; i++) {
        objs[i] = new APIObject();
    setKeys (objs);

As you may have guessed from the name Children.Keys, what your parent class does is take an array or Collection of key objects, and act as a factory for Node`s for them. So, you call `setKeys() in addNotify(), since addNotify() is telling you that something is about to ask for the child nodes. For each element in the array or collection you pass to setKeys(), createNodes() will be called once (note this means that if you want, you can have more than one node to represent one object).

  1. Now you need to implement the code that actually creates Node objects for all of these. Implement createNodes() as follows:

protected Node[] createNodes(Object o) {
    APIObject obj = (APIObject) o;
    AbstractNode result = new AbstractNode (new MyChildren(), Lookups.singleton(obj));
    result.setDisplayName (obj.toString());
    return new Node[] { result };
  1. Press Ctrl-Shift-I to Fix Imports.

  1. The last step is to install a bit of plumbing code that will wire up your explorer manager to your TopComponent’s lookup. First, delete the line

private final InstanceContent content = new InstanceContent();

from the head of the class definition—you will be using a utility to wire up the selected Node’s `Lookup to your component’s Lookup.

  1. Modify the constructor of MyEditor so it looks like this:

public MyEditor() {
    associateLookup (ExplorerUtils.createLookup(mgr, getActionMap()));
    mgr.setRootContext(new AbstractNode(new MyChildren()));
    setDisplayName ("My Editor");

Running the Tutorial

You may have noticed that because you pass a new instance of MyChildren to each AbstractNode you create, that you will end up with an infinitely deep tree of APIObjects—each Node will have five child Node`s, each with its own `APIObject.

You are now ready to run, so right-click SelectionSuite and choose Clean and Build, and then right-click again and choose Run from the popup menu. When NetBeans starts, use your Open Editor action on the File menu to open an instance of MyEditor.

selection 2 result 2 60

Notice that as you click and/or expand different nodes, the viewer and the property sheet update themselves to show the APIObject belonging to each node, as shown below:

selection 2 result 1 60

Exploring Explorer

Now that you have the above code, it can be interesting to explore some of the other components available in NetBeans, which can also render a Node and it’s children. You can do this simply by opening MyEditor in the form editor and changing the Custom Creation Code property to use a different component. For some of these you will need to replace the JScrollPane with a different type of component (if it seems easier, just delete the JScrollPane in the form editor, and add the code add (new BeanTreeView(), BorderLayout.CENTER) to the constructor. Some of the options are:

  • ListView—display nodes in a JList (you can set how deep into the Node hierarchy it should go)

  • TreeTableView—a tree-table—a table whose leftmost column is a tree

  • ChoiceView—a combo-box view of a Node and its children

  • MenuView—a JButton that pops up a menu of a Node and its children

  • IconView—a component that shows Node children in equally spaced icons, rather like Windows Explorer

Handling Multi-Selection

You may have noticed that BeanTreeView, the basic tree view for Nodes, lets you select more than one Node at a time. Therefore, it might be desirable to modify your viewer component to display information about all of the selected nodes:

  1. Open org.myorg.myviewer.MyViewerTopComponent from the My Viewer project, in the editor.

  1. Replace the resultChanged() listener method with the following code:

public void resultChanged(LookupEvent lookupEvent) {
    Lookup.Result r = (Lookup.Result) lookupEvent.getSource();
    Collection c = r.allInstances();
    if (!c.isEmpty()) {
        StringBuffer text1 = new StringBuffer();
        StringBuffer text2 = new StringBuffer();
        for (Iterator i = c.iterator(); i.hasNext();) {
            APIObject o = (APIObject);
            text1.append (o.getIndex());
            text2.append (o.getDate().toString());
            if (i.hasNext()) {
                text1.append (',');
                text2.append (',');
        jLabel1.setText (text1.toString());
        jLabel2.setText (text2.toString());
    } else {
        jLabel1.setText("[no selection]");
        jLabel2.setText ("");

So you can see that, not only does the Lookup created by ExplorerUtils handle proxying the Lookup of whatever Node is selected; it also correctly proxies the `Lookup`s of multiple `Node`s.

selection 2 multi selection 60

Review of Concepts

To review a few of the concepts you’ve covered here:

  • A Lookup is like a Map where the keys are classes and the values are instances of those classes. It’s also useful to think of a Lookup as a place that objects swim into and out of, and you can subscribe to be notified of the arrival and departure of specific types of object.

  • Utilities.actionsGlobalContext() is a Lookup which proxies the Lookup of whichever TopComponent currently has keyboard focus, and fires changes when focus moves to a different component.

  • Node`s are presentation objects that can be displayed in a tree, list or other component from the Explorer API. Each `Node has its own Lookup.

  • Just as Utilities.actionsGlobalContext proxies the Lookup of TopComponents (so you can just ask that lookup for a result and listen for changes in it, rather than having to track focus changes yourself), so also the Lookup created by ExplorerUtils.createLookup(ExplorerManager, ActionMap) will create a Lookup which automatically proxies the Lookup of whatever Node(s) are selected in an Explorer component.

Next Steps

So you now have a view that can display Node`s that expose some underlying model object (`APIObject in your case). In the next tutorial, you will cover how to enhance the Nodes you have already created with actions, properties and more colorful display names.