Introduction to SWT programming

Back in this previous post I mentioned the possibility of putting up a sort of how-to guide on SWT programming. Well I’ve finally found some time to do so. I will try to make this as step-by-step as possible so that anyone reading this will completely understand what I’m doing.

What you’ll need

I’m making the following assumptions before starting:

  1. That you’ve already installed the Java Development Kit (not just the Java Runtime)
  2. That you’ve installed Eclipse. You can use an alternative but all of my examples will be based on Eclipse. I’m also going to assume that you are at least familiar enough with Eclipse to compile a Java program.
  3. That you have some understanding of Java or at least some programming experience.
  4. That you have the SWT library for your platform downloaded. You can find this on the download page here.
  5. That you’ve created a project in Eclipse (or your IDE) for this walk through.

Import SWT

The first thing you want to do is import the SWT libraries that you have downloaded as an Eclipse project. Start by creating a new project specifically for SWT. For instance I named mine org.eclipse.swt (following the Java standard namespace naming conventions). Next import the SWT files into that project. To do this simply click File > Import and then choose Archive File under the General folder.

Then browse to the zip file you downloaded and choose the project to import this to (again in my example this project is org.eclipse.swt). When all is said and done you should have a project in your workspace for SWT similar to the one I’ve got here:

SWTify your project

To finish adding the SWT libraries into your project we need to add them to your project’s class path. Right-click on your project and click properties. On the left hand side of the window you will see an item called Java Build Path. On that page there will be a number of tabs: Source, Projects, Libraries, etc. Click Projects and then click the Add button. Select the org.eclipse.swt project and click OK. You should see something like this indicating that the SWT libraries will be included in your project’s build path.

We are now ready to begin programming!

The default SWT program

import org.eclipse.swt.widgets.Display;
import org.eclipse.swt.widgets.Shell;

public class MySWTProject {

    public static void main(String[] args) {

          Display display = new Display();
          Shell shell = new Shell(display);


          while(!shell.isDisposed()) {
               if(!display.readAndDispatch()) {


OK so what does it mean. In SWT all of the graphical things that you can do are tied to a Display object. A Display is essentially a link to the OS’ underlying graphics output. What we are talking about is not a monitor – in fact a Display can contain multiple monitors – but rather a more abstracted concept of graphics. If this sounds confusing don’t worry, for the most part that’s all you’ll really need to know about the Display object.

A Shell should be a little easier to understand. It represents a window, the base application container. In fact if you run the above program you should see something like this:

A Shell can be manipulated in all of the ways that you think it would be. For instance you can give it a title by using the setText() method.

shell.setText("Here is my window title");

The open() method tells the Shell to start displaying itself. You can also do some interesting things like using the pack() method to size the Shell in order to make it just large enough to hold whatever you put into it.

The little while loop part first checks to make sure that our shell still exists and then executes any input that we may want our application to respond to (via the readAndDispatch() method). Finally we dispose of all resources we have requested from the OS by calling dispose() on the Display object. This is important because unlike regular Java programming we do not get automatic garbage collection in SWT. There is a silver lining however – calling dispose() on an object like Display will automatically call dispose() on any children that are registered with it. That is why we didn’t need to call dispose() on our Shell.

OK I get it, now show me a button

Interaction is very easy to add. For instance we can add a button to our Shell above by simply adding the following code after the line where we create our Shell.

Button button = new Button(shell, SWT.PUSH);
button.setText("Push Me");

Of course you will also need to import the Button library for this to work. In the constructor we pass in the shell (where we want to attach this button, similar to how we attached our shell to the Display object) and a flag called SWT.PUSH. SWT.PUSH tells the button to act as a push button. Next using setText() again we set the button label. Finally using the pack() method, as described above, we can resize the button to be just large enough. If you re-run the program now you will should see something like the following:

Pretty simple stuff. We can even add an action listener that will respond when the button is pressed by using code like this:

button.addSelectionListener(new SelectionListener() {
    public void widgetDefaultSelected(SelectionEvent e) {

     public void widgetSelected(SelectionEvent e) {
          System.out.println("The button was pressed!");

Again very simple. I hope that this very brief introduction will help people realize that SWT programming is very similar to regular AWT/Swing GUI creation (although each has their own unique weirdness). If you would like to download the sample code file that I used to create this you can do so here. Please let me know if you have any questions about what I have said above, I’d be happy to help. On the other hand if you want a more in-depth look feel, free to hop over to my Hash Verifier post and grab a copy of the source there. The Eclipse Foundation also has an excellent code snippet section here that will show you how to use each GUI widget.

Happy programming.