JavaFX vs Swing | Java GUI Libraries [2020]


This article is a JavaFX vs Swing Comparison, explaining the pros and cons.

Java has long been a very popular language since the 1990’s, used by a great number of people. Overtime many Java GUI frameworks have come and gone. There are a few that stand out as the most important, and those of those are JavaFX and Swing.

In this “vs” article we’ll be comparing the older framework Swing, with the newer Java flagship framework, JavaFX. Our goal is to decide which GUI library a Java programmer should be learning in this age and time.


Swing

We’ll start off with Swing as it’s the older GUI framework.

Background

Swing was released back in 1997 as the successor to the popular AWT framework. AWT was the main GUI framework of it’s time, gaining reputation for it’s simple and easy to use nature. Swing built onto the AWT framework, fixing and replacing many features with better ones or adding extra functionality onto pre-existing ones.

Needless to say, Swing quickly replaced AWT and become the standard GUI framework for Java.

Features

Since Swing has had so much time to mature over the years, it’s gained a massive number of widgets that exceed other GUI frameworks. As a GUI framework that’s been around for over two decades, it has a large amount of support from many IDE’s as well as the community.

One of the reasons why Swing gained popularity over AWT was it’s introduction of lightweight UI components. Compared to AWT, Swing’s components were faster and used less memory. The reason for this improvement is because unlike AWT, Swing does not rely on any native libraries, requiring only Java itself.

Swing components are actually platform-independent. This means that regardless of the platform they are run on, they will have the same look and feel. This is generally referred to as “non-native” GUI. On the other hand, a native GUI like AWT produces GUI’s that look native to the platform they are run on. Whether this is a Pro or a Con, depends on your situation and requirement.

Future outlook

Even now there are many projects out there which still use and maintain the Swing framework. However, these are all pre-existing projects from a long time ago.

Swing has been declining in use ever since the introduction of JavaFX, it’s successor. The community has almost completely transitioned away from Swing and newer projects are no longer using it. Considering the situation, the use of Swing will decline significantly in the next 5 years.


JavaFX

Background

JavaFX is the latest Flagship of Oracle released in 2008 replacing Swing, promising to be the new standard in creating rich desktop and web applications. Due to this status as the new flagship, JavaFX receives alot of attention and support, both from Oracle and the community.

You may find that Swing is more “mature” and developed than JavaFX (due to it’s age), but this difference is decreasing every year and may already be non-existent. Remember, Swing is no longer receiving new features, while JavaFX is.

Features

JavaFX is well known for it’s ability to create modern looking GUI’s with rich features. This ability, combined with the fact that JavaFX is going to have alot of future support, most development projects that require use of a GUI framework are now using JavaFX.

One of the few advantages JavaFX has over Swing is it’s superior MVC (Module View Controller) support. Swing’s MVC just isn’t very consistent across it’s components. A framework with good MVC support allows you to cleanly separate your work into different parts allowing for better management.

Another significant selling point of JavaFX is how well it does transitions, animations and video related stuff. Its both better in quality and features, and much easier to implement than other frameworks.

Let’s not forget the use of FXML and CSS in JavaFX. FXML is a type of XML format that allows you to separate your JavaFX layout code from your application code, allowing for cleaner code. As for CSS, it’s used to add styles to JavaFX and it’s components. The syntax is similar to the CSS used on the web, but the names of the properties are a bit different for JavaFX.

There are a whole bunch of other smaller things as well. For instance JavaFX is portable to web environment. What this basically means you could deploy a JavaFX based application as a website.

Scene Builder

Another plus point in JavaFX’s favor is the Scene Builder. It’s a sort of drag and drop tool that allows you to create rich GUI’s without having to write much code. It’s an option that’s becoming increasingly popular, though I actually prefer the traditional way of creating GUI’s with JavaFX.

If you’ve heard of or used the QtDesigner for PyQt5 (A Python GUI framework), then Scene Builder is basically the Java equivalent.

Future Outlook

As the new and current flagship, JavaFX is likely to have a strong future. There’s no successor to it currently in sight and development on JavaFX is still continuing with newer features released with each update. These are pretty positive signs regarding it’s longetivity.

Swing had a major impact, which is why you’ll find countless material on Swing online, even more so than JavaFX. It takes time, but within the next few years JavaFX can be expected to overtake Swing in all regards.


Extending Swing

It’s actually possible to use both Swing and JavaFX in the same application. The nice thing about AWT, Swing and JavaFX that they were all built onto each other (Swing on AWT, and JavaFX on Swing). This allows for an easy integration of one framework into the other.

This is particularly useful for Swing developers looking to add JavaFX components into their pre-existing Swing applications. You get the newer features of JavaFX, without having to start over. It also helps to make a gradual change from one framework to the other, instead of all at once.


Conclusion

This may be a Swing vs JavaFX article, but the purpose of it was mainly to highlight the growing difference between the two. Swing is a GUI framework whose golden age was passed a long time ago. Just like Swing replaced AWT as the best framework choice over 20 years ago, JavaFX is here to do the same to Swing, and in the eyes of many, it already has.

The best thing to do now is to embrace the future and move forward with JavaFX, a framework that’s bound to be supported for the next decade or two.


Note:

On a side note, you may be wondering about other alternatives to Swing and JavaFX. While there are a few other GUI frameworks, their use and community support is much lower than that of Swing and JavaFX. At this point and time it’s better to just stick to either Swing or JavaFX.


This marks the end of the JavaFX vs Swing Comparison. Any suggestions or contributions are more than welcome. Questions regarding the article content can be asked in the comments section below.

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