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5.6. Look and Feel
Last updated: 25 January 2013.

This tutorial explains how to use different look and feels in Java.

Swing allows you to customize a GUI by changing the look and feel (L&F) as you like. A given L&F displays the GUI in a particular flavour.The look defines the general appearance of components and the feel defines their behaviour (for example, the highlighting when the mouse hovers a component). Several L&Fs are provided by the JDK. You can choose a L&F from the ones provided by the JDK or create your own L&F or just set the L&F to the native system's L&F. By default, the L&F is set to the Swing L&F (also known as the Metal L&F).

L&F creation is not covered in this tutorial because it is quite challenging and I think it is not worth the effort. Instead, this tutorial will show you how to set the L&F to one of the available L&Fs on your system, which generally produces satisfactory results.

L&Fs are subclasses of the class LookAndFeel. Each L&F is identified by its fully qualified class name. For example, the class name javax.swing.plaf.metal.MetalLookAndFeel refers to the default Swing L&F which is also known as the Metal L&F. Note that the default Swing L&F or Metal L&F is sometimes simply called the Java L&F.

5.6.1. What are the available L&Fs on your system?

At least, the two following L&Fs are available on every system:Additionally, other L&Fs are usually provided by the JDK, such as Nimbus and Motif. The following code prints to the standard output the class names of the available L&Fs:

import javax.swing.UIManager;
import javax.swing.UIManager.LookAndFeelInfo;

public class App {

public static void main(String[] args){
for(LookAndFeelInfo info : UIManager.getInstalledLookAndFeels())

Here are snapshots of several L&Fs available on a Mac OS X system:

Swing Metal



Swing Metal Nimbus Motif

5.6.2. How to set the L&F?

The L&F can be set in 3 different ways:
  1. Programmatically:

    To set the L&F programmatically, just call the method setLookAndFeel(String className) or setLookAndFeel(LookAndFeel newLookAndFeel) provided by the class UIManager. The first method takes a fully qualified class name and the second method takes a subclass of the class LookAndFeel. The call to setLookAndFeel must be done before instanciating any Swing class, otherwise the default Swing L&F will be loaded. As an example, the following statement sets the L&F to the Nimbus L&F:

    catch(Exception e){

    If the Nimbus L&F is not available on your system, an exception is thrown and the L&F is set to the default L&F.

    As I said before, Apple computers use their native system's L&F as the default L&F. If you are a Mac user and want to set the L&F to the Swing default L&F know as the Metal L&F, you can do it in 3 ways:



    (new MetalLookAndFeel());

    Conversely, the default L&F for computers running Windows or Linux is the Swing default L&F. If you want to set the L&F to the native system's L&F, you can call the method setLookAndFeel(String className) like this:


    Note that you can also change the L&F after your GUI has been displayed. All you have to do is change the L&F and then call the static method updateComponentTreeUI(Component c) provided by the class SwingUtilities for the change to take effect. The argument of the method updateComponentTreeUI(Component c) is a top level container. Hence, the method must be invoked for each top level container of your application.

  2. Using the command line:

    You can set the L&F by specifying a command-line argument at startup this way:

    java -Dswing.defaultlaf=com.sun.java.swing.plaf.nimbus.NimbusLookAndFeel App

    App is the class containing the code that starts your application (the main method). In the above command, the swing.defaultlaf property is set to com.sun.java.swing.plaf.nimbus.NimbusLookAndFeel.

  3. Using the swing.properties file:

    You can set the swing.defaultlaf property within a file named swing.properties located in the lib subdirectory of your JDK installation directory. If the file does not exist, you have to create it. For example, the swing.properties file on a Mac computer may contain the following line:


5.6.4. How to use third-party L&Fs?

This tutorial discussed different ways of setting the L&F to one of the available L&Fs on your system. However, you can download and use a third-party L&F as well. All you need to do is add the downloaded L&F to your classpath and use it as any other available L&F on your system.

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