Eclipse JFace Tutorial. This tutorial gives a overview about the Eclipse JFace API for developing user interfaces.

1. What is Eclipse JFace?

Eclipse JFace is a set of plug-ins based upon the user interface toolkit SWT. JFace provides classes and frameworks which simplify common SWT use cases. JFace does not hide the SWT API; therefore, SWT knowledge is still required.

JFace provides the viewers framework, which simplifies the mapping of a data model to a visual representation. For example, you find viewers for ComboBoxes, Tables and Trees.

JFace also provides helper classes to effectively manage your system resources, like colors, images and fonts.

In addition JFace provides support for handling preferences, preference pages, wizards and dialogs. It also contains functionality to support icon decorations and user-input help for SWT controls.

JFace Data Binding is a framework which connects properties of objects. It is typically used to synchronize fields of the user interface with properties of model objects and allows you to include validation and conversion in this synchronization process.

2. JFace resource manager for Colors, Fonts and Images

SWT is based on the native widgets of the OS. Whenever an SWT widget is allocated, a corresponding OS specific widget is created. The Java garbage collector cannot automatically clean-up these OS-specific widget references.

Fortunately all widgets which are created based on a parent widget are automatically disposed when the parent Composite is disposed. If you develop Eclipse plug-ins, the Composite of a part is automatically disposed once the part is closed. Therefore, these SWT widgets are handled automatically in Eclipse plug-in projects.

This rule does not apply for colors, fonts and images, as these may be reused in other places. For this reason, they need to be explicitly disposed. JFace provides the ResourceManager and its derived classes for managing such resources automatically.

An instance of the LocalResourceManager class is created with a reference to a Control. If this Control is disposed, the resources created by the LocalResourceManager are also disposed.

// create the manager and bind to a widget
ResourceManager resManager =
    new LocalResourceManager(JFaceResources.getResources(), composite);

// create resources
Color color = resManager.createColor(new RGB(200, 100, 0));
Font font = resManager.
    createFont(FontDescriptor.createFrom("Arial", 10, SWT.BOLD));
// get an imageDescriptor and create Image object
Image image = resManager.createImage(imageDescriptor);

The createImage() method expects an ImageDescriptor class.

To get one ImageDescriptor from an image file stored in your current plug-in use the following:

Bundle bundle = FrameworkUtil.getBundle(this.getClass());
// use the org.eclipse.core.runtime.Path as import
URL url = FileLocator.find(bundle,
    new Path("icons/alt_window_32.gif"), null);
ImageDescriptor imageDescriptor = ImageDescriptor.createFromURL(url);

In case you do not have an instance of Control, the`LocalResourceManager` also provides another constructor.

A popular example is a LabelProvider, where you wouldn’t want to pass a Control to it in order to properly dispose system resources afterwards:

public class ResourceUsingLabelProvider extends LabelProvider {

    private ResourceManager resourceManager = new LocalResourceManager(JFaceResources.getResources());

    public Image getImage(Object element) {
        if (element instanceof Task) {
            Bundle bundle = FrameworkUtil.getBundle(this.getClass());
            // use the org.eclipse.core.runtime.Path as import
            URL url = FileLocator.find(bundle, new Path("icons/task.png"), null);
            ImageDescriptor imageDescriptor = ImageDescriptor.createFromURL(url);

            // return the image being created by the resourceManager
            return resourceManager.createImage(imageDescriptor);

        return super.getImage(element);

    public void dispose() {

        // dispose the ResourceManager yourself

In case you do not pass a Control, to the LocalResourceManager. You have to dispose the ResourceManager yourself.

You should use always use a JFace ResouceManager if possible. This avoids problems with system resources or even a "No more handles" SWTException.

To create disabled images you can create an ImageDescriptor with the org.eclipse.jface.resource.ImageDescriptor.createWithFlags(ImageDescriptor, SWT.IMAGE_DISABLE). Afterwards use the LocalResourceManager to create the Image from this new descriptor.

3. ControlDecoration

The ControlDecoration class allows you to place image decorations on SWT controls. These decorations can also have a description text which is displayed once the user places the mouse over them.

During the layout of your screen you need to make sure that enough space is available to display these decorations.

The following code snippet demonstrate their usage.

// create here a text widget

Text text= ...

// create the decoration for the text UI component
ControlDecoration deco =  new ControlDecoration(text, SWT.TOP | SWT.RIGHT);

// re-use an existing image
Image image = FieldDecorationRegistry.
// set description and image
deco.setDescriptionText("This is a tooltip text");
// hide deco if not in focus

//hide the decoration if the text widget has content
text.addModifyListener(e -> {
    Text source = (Text) e.getSource();
    if (!source.getText().isEmpty()) {
    } else {;

You can hide and show the decoration via the corresponding methods as demonstrated in the following code snippet.


4. User input help with field assistance

Eclipse allows to define assistance for user input for widgets. The org.eclipse.jface.fieldassist package provides this functionality.

For example, you can define input help for a text field or a combo box so that the user gets possible input values presented.

The ContentProposalAdapter is responsible for providing the possible input values. Its constructor takes:

  • A widget for which it supplies the suggestions

  • IControlContentAdapter which maps the value from the IContentProposal to the widget and backs

  • IContentProposalProvider which provides an array of IContentProposal

  • KeyStroke You can also define keys which should activate this content proposal

  • char[] characters which should autoactivate this code completion

In the following example the content proposal should get activated via certain keys ("." and "#") as well as the Ctrl+Space key combination.

The following code demonstrates the usage of the field assistance functionality.

import static org.eclipse.jface.layout.GridDataFactory.fillDefaults;
import static org.eclipse.jface.widgets.WidgetFactory.text;

parent.setLayout(new GridLayout(2, false));

text = text(SWT.BORDER).message("Enter City")
        .grab(true, false).create())

// Define field assists for the text widget
// use "." and " " activate the content proposals
char[] autoActivationCharacters = new char[] { '.', ' ' };
KeyStroke keyStroke;
try {
    keyStroke = KeyStroke.getInstance("Ctrl+Space");
    new ContentProposalAdapter(text, new TextContentAdapter(),
    new SimpleContentProposalProvider("ProposalOne", "ProposalTwo", "ProposalThree"),
    keyStroke, autoActivationCharacters);
} catch (ParseException e1) {

If used the result should look similar to the following.

Running application with ControlDecoration and FieldAssists

4.1. Field assist without filtering

The AutoCompleteField can be used to dynamically calculate proposals. You find an example in the exercises.

The AutoCompleteField class that we’re using comes with default settings that can’t be changed. This includes filtering being activated. AutoCompleteField doesn’t provide a way to change this but since it’s only doing some initial wiring we can implement it ourselves without too much unnecessary duplication.

public class AutoCompleteFieldPart {

    private static class AutoComplete {
        private SimpleContentProposalProvider proposalProvider;
        private ContentProposalAdapter adapter;

        public AutoComplete(Control control, IControlContentAdapter controlContentAdapter, String... proposals) {
            proposalProvider = new SimpleContentProposalProvider(proposals);
            adapter = new ContentProposalAdapter(control, controlContentAdapter, proposalProvider, null, null);

        public void setProposals(String... proposals) {

    // more code..


4.2. Field assist with custom filtering

The correct place to change the filter behavior is in the IContentProposalProvider#getProposals() method. The following code shows an implementation of IContentProposalsProvider that takes the caret position into consideration when applying the filter.

The input /b|in ("|" marks the caret position) should show proposals for all folders starting with a b.

fieldassist substring filtering
import java.util.regex.Pattern;
import org.eclipse.swt.widgets.Control;

// more imports

public class AutoCompleteFieldPart {

    private static class SubstringMatchContentProposalProvider implements IContentProposalProvider {

        private List<String> proposals = Collections.emptyList();

        public IContentProposal[] getProposals(String contents, int position) {
            if (position == 0) {
                return null;
            String substring = contents.substring(0, position);
            Pattern pattern = Pattern.compile(substring,
                    Pattern.LITERAL | Pattern.CASE_INSENSITIVE | Pattern.UNICODE_CASE);
            IContentProposal[] filteredProposals =
                    .filter(proposal -> proposal.length() >= substring.length() && pattern.matcher(proposal).find())
            // callers expect us to return null if we don't find any matching proposal
            return filteredProposals.length == 0 ? null : filteredProposals;

        public void setProposals(List<String> proposals) {
            this.proposals = proposals;

    private static class AutoComplete {
        private SubstringMatchContentProposalProvider proposalProvider;
        private ContentProposalAdapter adapter;

        public AutoComplete(Control control, IControlContentAdapter controlContentAdapter, List<String> proposals) {
            proposalProvider = new SubstringMatchContentProposalProvider();
            adapter = new ContentProposalAdapter(control, controlContentAdapter, proposalProvider, null, null);

        public void setProposals(List<String> proposals) {

    // more code..

4.3. Exercises

You find detailed exercises and solutions for the usage of field assists in the commercial JFace field assists exercises.

5. Eclipse JFace Viewers

5.1. Purpose of the JFace viewer framework

The JFace viewer framework allows you to display a domain model in a standard SWT widget like list, combo, tree or table without converting the domain model beforehand.

A viewer allows you to set a content provider which provides the data for the viewer. The content provider makes no assumption about the presentation of the data model.

You can also assign at least one label provider to a viewer. The label provider defines how the data from the model will be displayed in the viewer.

5.2. Standard JFace viewer

JFace provides several standard viewer implementations. These viewers are part of the org.eclipse.jface.viewers package. The following list contains the most important ones.

  • ComboViewer

  • ListViewer

  • TreeViewer

  • TableViewer

5.3. Standard content and label provider

The related interfaces for defining a content provider are described in the following table.

Table 1. Content providers
Interface Default implementation Description



Used for the List-, Combo- and TableViewer. JFace provides a default implementation for Collections and Arrays with the ArrayContentProvider class. Because the ArrayContentProvider class does not store any data, it is possible to share an instance with several viewers. To get a shared instance use the ArrayContentProvider.getInstance() method.


Not available

Used for the TreeViewer class. Has additional methods to determine the children and the parents of the elements.

Important standard label providers are listed in the following table.

Table 2. Label providers
Required class Standard label providers Description



Used for lists and trees, can return an icon and a label per element.



Used for tables. Defines a label provider per column.

6. JFace ComboViewer

The ComboViewer class simplifies the implementation of a SWT Combo (Drop-down box).

Assume the folloiwng data model.

package com.vogella.eclipse.viewer;

public class Person {
    private String firstName;
    private String lastName;
    private boolean married;

    public Person(String firstName, String lastName) {
        this.firstName = firstName;
        this.lastName = lastName;

    public String getFirstName() {
        return firstName;

    public void setFirstName(String firstName) {
        this.firstName = firstName;

    public String getLastName() {
        return lastName;

    public void setLastName(String lastName) {
        this.lastName = lastName;

    public boolean isMarried() {
        return married;

    public void setMarried(boolean married) {
        this.married = married;

The following example snippet shows you how you could use this given data model in a ComboViewer. The listener is is notified whenever the selection of the viewer changes.

// the following code is executed by the method which
// creates the user interface
// assumes parent is an SWT Composite

GridLayout layout = new GridLayout(2, false);

Label label = new Label(parent, SWT.NONE);
label.setText("Select a person:");
final ComboViewer viewer = new ComboViewer(parent, SWT.READ_ONLY);

// the ArrayContentProvider object does not store any state,
// therefore, you can re-use instances

viewer.setLabelProvider(new LabelProvider() {
    public String getText(Object element) {
        if (element instanceof Person) {
            Person person = (Person) element;
            return person.getFirstName();
        return super.getText(element);

List<Person> persons = Arrays.asList(new Person("Lars", "Vogel"),
        new Person("Tim", "Taler"), new Person("Jim", "Knopf"));

// set the input of the Viewer,
// this input is send to the content provider
// must be called after setContentProvider


//react to the selection change of the viewer
//note that the viewer returns the actual object

viewer.addSelectionChangedListener(new ISelectionChangedListener() {
    public void selectionChanged(SelectionChangedEvent event) {
        IStructuredSelection selection = (IStructuredSelection) event
        if (selection.size() > 0){
            System.out.println(((Person) selection.getFirstElement())

You can get and set selections using Java objects based on your domain model.

// you can select an object directly via the domain object
Person person = persons[0];
viewer.setSelection(new StructuredSelection(person));

// retrieves the selection, returns the data model object
IStructuredSelection selection = viewer.getStructuredSelection();
Person p = (Person) selection.getFirstElement();

7. Learn more and get support

This tutorial continues on Eclipse RCP online training or Eclipse IDE extensions with lots of video material, additional exercises and much more content.

8. JFace resources

9. vogella training and consulting support

Copyright © 2012-2019 vogella GmbH. Free use of the software examples is granted under the terms of the Eclipse Public License 2.0. This tutorial is published under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Germany license.