NetBeans IDE incorporates many features for visual web application design, a
number of which have been available as part of the NetBeans IDE Visual Web Pack
5.5 module. NetBeans 6.0 integrates these visual design features directly into
the IDE and adds more features to the mix.
This article gives you a quick overview of
the feature highlights of the NetBeans visual web design environment, including
the Visual Designer, Page Navigator, Query Editor, and Style Editor. We also
show some of the things you can do easily and quickly with these tools when
developing a web application.
One of the best aspects of the NetBeans
visual development environment is its flexibility. You can develop an
application by first designing its individual pages, for which the IDE provides
a Visual Designer with a palette of visual and non-visual components. You can
add other elements to the palette, such as AJAX-enabled components you develop
yourself or obtain from third parties, using the Component Library Manager. The
Style Editor provides a graphical interface for perfecting the look of the
You might prefer to first map out the
application’s logic flow instead of beginning with page design. If that’s the
case, you can start application design with the Page Navigator. Using the Page
Navigator functions, you can create empty pages as stubs or placeholders and
link them together in the Navigator window to define the application
processing, and add the individual page layout and functionality later. You can
even go back and forth between the Navigator and Visual Designer modes as you
develop your application.
NetBeans also makes it simple for a web
application to access a database. You can use the Query Editor functions to
form complex SQL queries for applications that need to retrieve data from
database tables or update a database. Other visual functions make it an easy
matter to handle the display of data retrieved from database tables.
Although much is generated for you, there
are still times you have to write your own custom code. When you are ready to
write code, you can draw on the palette of generic code clips to help. You also
have available all the shortcuts and other helpful features, such as code
completion, that the Java source editor provides.
NetBeans 6.0 will introduce more visual
design features, including the ability to develop portlets, add Enterprise
JavaBeans components to applications, and incorporate web services. These
features will rely on and extend the preexisting visual capabilities, so the
learning curve for them should be minimal.
to Develop Web Application Pages
Page design is of course an important part
of developing a web application. NetBeans provides a palette of visual design
components that you drag and drop onto a page in the Design window, to set up
your page quickly with the desired look and feel. In addition to these visual components,
the IDE supports themes, which let you apply a predefined set of styles to
visual components throughout a project, thus enabling you to change an
application’s entire appearance with a single mouse click.
As you design the underlying business logic,
you can use the non-visual components – such as the converter, validator, and
data provider components – to generate code. When you’re ready to write the
business logic, you can incorporate generic code snippets into your page bean
by simply dropping code clips from the palette onto your bean code in the Java
source code editor. All you need to do is add the correct variable names to
these code clips.
Note: You can easily create your own code clips
too, just by selecting a snippet of code in the source editor and dragging it
to the palette.
NetBeans displays the palette of components
in a logical and intuitive manner. The palette appears only when you’re working
on a web page for a project. When designing a web page – that is, when you have
the page open in the Design window – the palette displays the components used
to build the page, like the visual design components (buttons, drop-down lists,
checkboxes, tables, etc.), as well as layout components, converters,
validators, and data providers. If you used the Component Library Manager to
add a set of components, you may have designated that they appear in their own
To illustrate, we use a sample media
management project called PhotoAlbum, which is a web application through which
users can manage different types of media (photos and audio data) stored in a
local or remote database. You can use this application to organize media data
into albums, such as photo albums. For example, if you want to organize a set
of images, you can create multiple photo albums, upload these images into the
different albums, and view the images as thumbnails or singly in a preview
mode. (See the article “Developing a Media Management Application” at netbeans.org/kb/55/photoalbum.html for instructions on downloading this project zip file and installing and
running the application.)
We opened the AlbumList page in the Design
window and the palette displays the components we can use to build this page
(see Figure 1). You add components to a page merely by dragging and
dropping them on the page – or onto other components, such as in the case of
validators and converters. The IDE ensures that no rules are broken, such as
dropping a validator on the wrong type of component. Notice, too, that themes
are not in the palette but are specific to individual projects and thus appear
in the Projects pane.
Figure 1. Palette of design components for a Web page
At any time, you can go to the Outline pane
to see the components added to a page. If you are unsure of a component’s type,
hover the mouse over it in the Outline pane to get more information. Or match
its icon with the Palette icons (see Figure 2).
Figure 2. Viewing components in the Outline Pane
While you work on the page design and
layout, you also can switch to editing the page’s underlying Java code. To see
the code in the Java editor, double click on the page background or select the
Java view. When you change to the Java view, the Palette displays the available
code clips (see Figure 3).
Figure 3. Palette code clips
Note: To work on a particular method, such as
an action handler for a button, double click the button component in the Design
window, and NetBeans displays the source code in the Java editor positioned at
the button’s action handler.
Let’s examine how you might design a web
application page using the visual components. The components in the Basic
section of the Palette are typical GUI components: buttons, drop-down lists,
checkboxes, hyperlinks, text areas, hyperlinks to images, and so forth. You use
these components to add basic behaviors to your web pages.
These components provide properties to
determine their appearance and behavior, and you can customize them using the
component’s Properties sheet or through dialogs. Although hand-editing a page’s
JSP code is possible (click the JSP view to see and potentially modify the
code), it is far easier and less error-prone to modify component properties in
the Properties sheet.
The Layout components help you organize the
appearance or layout of your page. Use them to add tab displays, alert boxes,
grids, and forms – essentially to control the placement and alignment of other
components on the page.
To give you an idea how all this works,
let’s take a closer look at some page-design issues frequently encountered by
web application developers: setting up a consistent look across multiple pages
of an application and aligning text and components on a page. Three of the
layout components – Grid Panel, Layout Panel, and Page Fragment – handle this
Establishing a consistent
look across pages
Use page fragments when you want to set up a
consistent look to multiple
pages of a web application. Page fragments are particularly useful for
establishing uniform web page headers, footers, and sidebars. You design the
page fragment once, then place it where appropriate on different web pages.
For example, you might want a consistent
banner across all application pages. You define this look in a single page
fragment, then include that fragment on the application pages. For a banner or
masthead, you place the page fragment at the top of each web page. If you later
make changes to it, these changes automatically appear on all the pages that
include the page fragment.
Suppose you want to create a masthead banner
for an application. Create a new page fragment: in the Projects pane, right
click the project’s Web Pages node and select New>Page Fragment. Then
design your masthead by placing components in the fragment. Designing and
building the page fragment is much the same as building a web page.
To add the masthead to other pages, drop a
Page Fragment Box on a page, select the specific page fragment from the dialog,
and position it where you want it to appear – at the top of the page in this
case (see Figure 4). Fragments can also be copied and pasted among
Figure 4. Adding a page fragment to a Web page
Controlling page layout
Grid Panel and Layout Panel components are
useful for arranging text and other components. When you drop a Grid Panel on a
page, it creates a table to which you then add other components. The added
components display starting from left to right and from top to bottom. By
default, a Grid Panel has one column and as many rows as needed to accommodate
components dropped on it. You can change the number of columns and the display
direction in the Grid Panel’s Properties sheet.
Grid Panel components can also be nested
within other Grid Panel components, giving you even finer control to position
components on a page. To nest Grid Panels, drop a Grid Panel on top of a Grid
Panel already placed on a page.
Note: When dropping one component on top of
another, be sure that the component already on the page is highlighted with a
can resize a Grid Panel directly on the page. For greater control, use the
Style Editor, which you open by clicking the Grid Panel component’s style property. You can use this property to set background color,
margins, size, position, and so forth (see Figure 5). The Style
Editor allows you to fine-tune the appearance of all the visual components.
Figure 5. Style Editor with Grid Panel
The example MastheadFragment shown in Figure 6 uses several Grid Panel components to control the display of its two hyperlinks
(Home and Help) in the bottom panel. We used Grid Panels to place these links
on the right, bottom side of the page. First, we dropped a Grid Panel (which we
called “bottomPanel”) on the page. Then we resized its width to match the top
banner and its height to a size that would accommodate the images and text.
Also, we set its columns property to two
columns and set a background color.
Figure 6. Controlling layout with multiple Grid Panels
Next, we dropped two Grid Panels on top of bottomPanel. Since bottomPanel displays
two columns and the display direction is left-to-right, these two Grid Panel
components display within bottomPanel from left
to right. Also, the bottomPanel background
color carries through as the background color for the components
dropped onto it.
Of the two additional Grid Panels, the one in
the left column (highlighted in yellow here) is a placeholder, and its width is
set to cover the left half of the page. The Grid Panel on the right side holds
the two links (see Figure 6). Since we want the links to display
side-by-side, we changed the columns property to two for this Grid Panel.
After getting everything in position, we
dropped two Image Hyperlink components onto the right panel. For each, we went
to its Properties sheet and set its text property to the label – “Home” or “Help” – that we wanted to appear on the
page. We also set each component’s imageURL property to suitable image files for the display icons. In our application,
these files are in the project’s /resources folder, but the imageURL property can point to wherever the files are located, of course.
We use the textPosition property to ensure that text is positioned to the right of the
image associated with the hyperlink. (The text, textPosition, and imageURL properties are
in the Properties sheet Appearance section.) We set the hyperlink’s url property (found in the Behavior section) to the appropriate web
page, so that a user is taken to that page when the link is clicked.
A Layout Panel component is much like a Grid
Panel – you place a Layout Panel on a page and then drop components onto the
Layout Panel. But a Layout Panel gives you more flexibility in arranging
components. Whereas a Group Panel can be placed on the same line as other
components, a Layout Panel always appears on its own line, separated from
components above and below it, when the page is rendered at runtime.
A Layout Panel lets you arrange added
components in a flow or grid layout. When flow layout is used, the IDE places
components dropped on a Layout Panel starting in the top left corner, adding
components to the panel from left to right, across the top row of the panel
until that row is filled. Subsequent components are added from left to right in
the next row down, and so forth. You can drop a new component to the left of
another component by hovering over the previously added component until a
vertical mark appears to the left of that component.
A Layout Panel works in grid layout mode
only if the Snap to Grid option is set. You set this option from the Tools>Options>Visual
Designer settings; at the same time, you can also customize the grid
pattern size. When set to grid layout, added components appear in the panel
aligned to the grid location at which they were added. Click the Align pop-up
menu option for a Layout Panel (or for a component within a Layout Panel) to
position components in the panel relative to the nearest grid corner.
Controlling user input
The Visual Designer includes a feature,
called virtual forms, which lets you limit the portions of user input
that are processed when a page is submitted. This is useful because you may
have linked a number of input fields to validators (which means that the
user-entered data in these fields is validated against some criteria when the
page is submitted); but, given the application logic, you don’t want all fields
validated every time the page is submitted.
Let’s look at how you might use virtual
forms for a page. Our example page (see Figure 7) defines two
virtual forms – deleteSelected and selectAll. Several components are included in these forms. Notice that the
buttons, drop-down lists, and checkboxes for selecting, moving, and deleting
files from an album are outlined in green or blue. Components outlined in green
are part of the selectAll virtual form,
while those outlined in blue are part of the deleteSelected virtual form.
Figure 7. Virtual forms displayed on a page
A solid outline indicates an input component
that participates in the virtual form, and a broken or dotted outline indicates
a submission component, which is a component that, when clicked, submits the
virtual form for processing. (To see the virtual forms legend for a page,
toggle the virtual forms display icon at the top of the Design window, as shown
in Figure 7)
You add components to a virtual form via the
dialog that opens when you click a component’s pop-up menu Configure Virtual
Forms option. The Configure Virtual Forms dialog shows that the Drop Down
List component albumList participates
in the deleteSelected virtual form. You can
change whether a component participates or submits for any virtual form on the
page by double clicking in the appropriate row and column. The Participate and
Submit column entries display a Yes/No pull-down list if the selected component
is of the right type, since only certain types of components can submit a page
for processing. The New button in the dialog lets you create a new virtual form
for the page (see Figure 8).
When the web page user interacts with a
virtual form’s submission component, such as by clicking the Move Selected to button, processing affects only the virtual form’s input or participant
components and ignores other input components on the page. In this manner, you
can confine certain application operations to selected files or database table
rows. For example, a user might check the boxes of several media files from the
displayed list, then click the Move Selected to button with a target
album designated from the drop-down list. The virtual forms feature ensures
that subsequent processing moves only the selected files from the current album
to the designated album.
Retrieving and displaying database data
The Visual Designer simplifies displaying
tabular data on a page, and especially makes it easy to retrieve and display
database data. To display tabular data, first drop a Table component from the
Palette onto your page. The Visual Designer creates a generic three-column,
multi-row table display (see Figure 9).
Figure 8. Configuring virtual forms
To have this component display data from a
database table, you only need to drop the database table onto the generic table
component on the page. (Database tables appear in the Runtime pane, beneath the
Databases node. You must connect to the particular database or subschema before
you can see its individual tables.)
After you drop a database table on top of a
generic table component, the Visual Designer binds the database table to the
component and creates a default SQL query to retrieve the table data. The table
display on the page changes to reflect the columns in the database table, while
the rows indicate the type of data (again, see Figure 9).
When you bind a database table to a Table
component, the IDE adds a RowSet to the project’s
Session Bean. (Every project has, in addition to its individual pages, a
Session Bean and an Application Bean. The Session Bean maintains session scope
variables, while the Application Bean is used for project-wide variables.) The RowSet includes a default SQL statement selecting all the columns in the database
table. NetBeans also places the query’s SQL statement in the Session Bean’s
constructor using the method rowset.setCommand (String sqlCommand). Here, rowset is the RowSet for the table dropped on the page and sqlCommand is the query SELECT statement. Thus, you can edit the query in the
Session Bean Java source code in the Java editor as well as through the Query
Figure 9. Generic Table component and displaying a database table
Customizing table data display
When you drop a database table on a Table
component, the component display changes to show all columns from the database
table in the same order they are returned from the database, and the database
column names appear for the column headings. You can change the display using
the Table Layout dialog, which you open from the Table’s pop-up menu.
The Table Layout dialog consists of two
tabs. These together give you options to remove columns, modify column
headings, change column order, and even add new columns beyond what’s in the
database. From the Columns tab, use the Up/Down buttons to change the column
display order, and use the left arrow to remove a selected column from the
display (the double left arrow removes all columns). Use the right arrow to add
available columns and New to create a new column. You can also modify column
header text, column width, alignment, and sort capabilities (see Figure 10).
Figure 10. Table Layout dialog
Note: Setting the sortable option for a column enables users to sort the table data in real
time by clicking the arrows in the column heading.
From the Table Layout Options tab, you can
do such things as enable pagination, establish the page size (number of rows
per page), and configure navigation buttons (select all rows, deselect all
rows, clear sort, and so forth). These are automatically provided for you; no
manual coding is required for the paging buttons.
Customizing SQL queries
The Query Editor provides a graphical
interface through which you can edit and customize the SQL SELECT statement
contained in a table’s RowSet component. The
Query Editor has four panes in which you can right click to bring up
appropriate pop-up menus (see Figure 11). These are, from top to
Figure 11. Query Editor with sample SQL query
§ The Diagram Pane graphically represents the query. Each table dropped on the page appears
as a box that indicates all the columns within the table, along with the
table’s primary and foreign keys. Checked columns are retrieved when you run
§ The Grid Pane displays
a multicolumn table for setting various query conditions, such as sort order
and selection criteria, for each table dropped on the page.
§ The SQL Pane displays
the actual SQL query syntax. Changes made in either of the top two panes are
automatically reflected in all three panes. You can change the SQL query directly.
The pane has a pop-up menu Parse Query option to update the other two
panes. Use the Run Query option to test the query.
§ The Results Pane at the bottom displays the results of a query you tested via Run
What are some of the query customizations
you can do using the Query Editor? The Output column (in the grid pane) lets
you select the columns to retrieve from the database and display. The Alias
column lets you insert an AS clause into the SELECT clause. You can also
control the sort order of the retrieved data.
The Diagram Pane’s Add Table pop-up
menu option lets you include additional tables in the query, essentially adding
a JOIN clause to the SQL. The Group By option lets you group results by data
type, which adds a GROUP BY clause to the query.
You can also limit a query to return only
selected rows that meet some specified criteria. Use the Add Query Criteria pop-up menu option to open a dialog through which you add conditions for the
query selection. You can select rows using comparison operators (such as equal
to, greater than, less than, not equal to, and so forth), in addition to LIKE
and IN. You can apply selection criteria to multiple table columns and specify
the order to evaluate these criteria. Also, when you test a query for which you
have specified selection criteria, a dialog prompts you to enter data for the
Defining application flow
Use Page Navigation to define the process
flow of an application. Page Navigation, accessed from the Projects pane, lets you visually design
the application flow by drawing links between the application pages and thus
model the interactions of the application.
You can use the Page Navigation feature at
any point in the application development process, and you can revisit Page Navigation
to fine-tune interactions among pages, particularly when you want a specific
action component on one page to link to another page.
Typically, you start to define the
application flow by working at the page level, linking one page to another. Then,
as you implement application details on the various pages – that is, place
buttons, links, and so forth – you can return to the Navigation window and
create navigational links at the component level within individual pages. You
can even add buttons and other links to pages directly in the Navigation
The Navigator indicates the linkage between
the pages of an application. (We illustrate the linkage between pages using the
PhotoAlbum application, which includes several pages: AlbumView.jsp, AlbumList.jsp, UploadFile.jsp, among others. As with any
application that has multiple pages, there needs to be a defined navigation
between the pages.)
Click an individual page, such as we did for AlbumList.jsp, and the Navigator expands the page icon to show the
individual linkable components on the page and where they link to, if anywhere
(see Figure 12). Click and drag from one page to another to create
a link between the two pages. Similarly, drag from a page’s individual
components, such as buttons, to another page to create links from the specific
component on the first page to the second page. The Navigator adds the backing
code to the pages and component action handler methods.
Figure 12. Page Navigation
Many web application developers want to work
embedded within the JavaServer Pages code, where it is identified by its own
set of tags.
the code to a component event so that the code is invoked when the event
“...” button to open an editor window.
To illustrate, suppose you want the user to
confirm an action connected to a button click. First select the button
return confirm (“Are you sure?”)
When you’re finished, the component’s Properties
would look like Figure 13.
confirmation from a user for an operation. For example, an application might
for actions that change component state, for validation checks, and for setting
such as code for a button’s validation checks (see Figure 14). Such
complex code is best added using the Properties editor window.
window is inserted into the JSP code for the component. For example, the
in Figure 14 appears as follows in the JSP:
alert("No items selected");
text=”Move Selected to”/>
When you use the Properties editor window to
into the JSP page with the proper tags and formatting. Of course, you can
application. You can put the code in a separate file and then use the Script
component to bind to that file. First, enter the code to a file, giving it a .js extension, and then add the file to the project. (Place the file in a
subdirectory of the project directory.) Next, drop a Script component, found in
the Advanced section of the Palette, onto a page, and bind the Script
property to the .js file.
You can also drop the Script component onto
a page, a Script component does not display but you should see the following
line added to the JSP page:
within that tag, being sure to include the ending </ui:script> tag. For the simple confirmation shown before, for example, you
return confirm(“Are you sure?”)
Although it is
more complicated to use the Script component, it allows you to add generic
introductory article should have given you a good idea of how easy it is to
develop visual web applications with NetBeans and its Visual Designer tools.
The Visual Designer provides a palette of customizable components that you use
to design web pages, along with a Style Editor to help you fine-tune their
appearance. In addition, non-visual components provide user-input validation
and conversion code automatically, plus a virtual forms feature that simplifies
user input processing. There is also a palette of sample code clips that you
can use when you have to write backing code. And if you are comfortable with
You also have
available to you a set of components for specifically working with database
tables and tabular data, and these components make it a straightforward matter
to retrieve and display database data. The Query Editor provides a graphical
interface to help you develop more elaborate SQL queries.
Navigation is another feature that helps you design the flow your application.
You use this interface to link pages together, either at the page level or at
All in all,
these tools take care of many of the page layout and coding chores required to
develop a web application. You can concentrate on getting the right look for
your application’s web pages and its business logic, and leave the
rest to NetBeans.
(firstname.lastname@example.org) has been writing developer articles and books concerning the Java language since 1995. She has written extensively on Java Enterprise, JavaBeans, and Java Native Interface technologies as well as the Java Studio Creator and NetBeans development tools. Beth has co-authored numerous books in the Java Series, most recently, Designing Web Services with the J2EE 1.4 Platform and Applying Enterprise JavaBeans, Second Edition.