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Trail: Creating a GUI with JFC/Swing
Lesson: Using Swing Components

How to Use File Choosers

File choosers provide a GUI for navigating the file system, and then either choosing a file or directory from a list or entering a file name or directory name. To display a file chooser, you can either add an instance of JFileChooser(in the API reference documentation) to a container, or use the JFileChooser API to show a modal dialog that contains a file chooser. File choosers often appear within modal dialogs because file operations can be sensitive to changes within a program,

A JFileChooser object only presents the GUI for choosing files. Your program is responsible for doing something with the chosen file, such as opening or saving it.

Here's a snapshot of an application that brings up an open file chooser and a save file chooser:

A program that brings up an open or save file chooser

And here's a picture of the file chooser that appears when the user clicks the Open a File... button. This is the Java Look & Feel's standard open file chooser.

A standard open file chooser shown in the Java Look & Feel

The look and feel determine what the open and save dialogs look like and how they differ. In the Java Look & Feel, the save file chooser looks the same as the open file chooser, except for the title on the dialog's window and the text on the button that approves the operation.

Try this: 
  1. Compile and run the program: a .java source file). You will also need to put two image files in a directory named images: open.gif, and save.gif.
    See Getting Started with Swing if you need help compiling or running this application.
  2. Click the Open a File... button. Navigate around the file chooser, choose a file, and click the dialog's Open button.
  3. Use the Save a File... button to bring up a save file chooser. Try to use all of the controls on the file chooser.

Bringing up a standard open file chooser requires only two lines of code:
//Create a file chooser
final JFileChooser fc = new JFileChooser();
//In response to a button click:
int returnVal = fc.showOpenDialog(aComponent);
The argument to the showOpenDialog method specifies the parent component for the dialog. The parent component affects the position of the dialog and the frame that the dialog depends on. For example, the Java Look & Feel places the dialog directly over the parent component. If the parent component is in a frame, then the dialog is dependent on that frame, disappearing when the frame is iconified and reappearing when the frame is deiconified.

By default, a file chooser that hasn't been shown before displays all files in the user's home directory. You can specify the file chooser's initial directory using one of JFileChooser's other constructors, or you can set the directory with the setCurrentDirectory method.

The call to showOpenDialog appears in the actionPerformed method of the Open a File... button's action listener, shown in full here:

public void actionPerformed(ActionEvent e) {
    int returnVal = fc.showOpenDialog(FileChooserDemo.this);

    if (returnVal == JFileChooser.APPROVE_OPTION) {
        File file = fc.getSelectedFile();
        //this is where a real application would open the file.
        log.append("Opening: " + file.getName() + "." + newline);
    } else {
        log.append("Open command cancelled by user." + newline);
The showOpenDialog methods return an integer that indicates whether the user selected a file. The value returned is either CANCEL_OPTION or APPROVE_OPTION, both constants defined by JFileChooser. Use the return value to determine whether to perform the required operation. To get the chosen file, call getSelectedFile on the file chooser. This method returns an instance of File(in the API reference documentation).

The example gets the name of the file and uses it in the log message. You can call other methods on the File object, such as getPath, isDirectory, or exists to get information about the file. You can also call other methods such as delete and rename to change the file in some way. Of course, you might also want to open or save the file using one of the reader or writer classes provided by the JDK. See Reading and Writing (but no 'rithmetic)(in the Creating a GUI with JFC/Swing trail) for information about using readers and writers to read and write data to the file system.

The example program uses the same instance of JFileChooser to display a standard save file chooser. This time the program calls showSaveDialog:

int returnVal = fc.showSaveDialog(FileChooserDemo.this);
By using the same file chooser instance to display its open and save file choosers, the program reaps these benefits: If you want to create a file chooser for a task other than opening or saving, or if you want to customize the file chooser, keep reading. This page goes on to discuss the following topics:

Another Example: FileChooserDemo2

Let's look at FileChooserDemo2, a modified version of the previous demo program that uses more of the JFileChooser API. This example uses a file chooser that has been customized in several ways. Like the original example, the user invokes a file chooser with the push of a button. Here's a picture of the file chooser:

A file chooser with various customizations

You need several source and image files to run this example. See the examples index for links to all the files required by this example.

As the figure shows, this file chooser has been customized for a special task (attaching), provides a user-choosable file filter, uses a special file view for image files, and has an accessory component that displays a thumbnail sketch of the currently selected image file.

The remainder of this section shows you the code that creates and customizes this file chooser.

Using a File Chooser for a Custom Task

As you've seen, JFileChooser provides showOpenDialog for displaying an open file chooser and showSaveDialog for displaying a save file chooser.

The class has another method, showDialog, for displaying a file chooser for a custom task in a dialog. In the Java Look & Feel, the only difference between this file chooser and the others is the title on the dialog window and the label on the approve button. Here's the code from FileChooserDemo2 that brings up the file chooser dialog for the Attach task:

JFileChooser fc = new JFileChooser();
int returnVal = fc.showDialog(FileChooserDemo2.this, "Attach");
The first argument to the showDialog method is the parent component for the dialog. The second argument is a String that provides both the title for the dialog window and the label for the approve button.

Once again, the file chooser doesn't do anything with the selected file. The program is responsible for implementing the custom task for which the file chooser was created.

Filtering the List of Files

By default, a file chooser displays all of the files and directories that it detects, except hidden files. A program can apply one or more file filters to a file chooser so that the chooser shows only some files. The file chooser calls the filter's accept method for each file to determine whether it should be displayed. A file filter accepts or rejects a file based on some criteria such as file type, size, ownership, and so on. Filters affect the list of files displayed by the file chooser. The user can enter the name of any file even if it's not displayed.

JFileChooser supports three different kinds of filtering. The filters are checked in the order listed here. So a filter of the second type can filter only those files accepted by the first, and so on.

Built-in filtering
Filtering is set up through specific method calls on a file chooser. Currently the only built-in filter available is for hidden files, such as those that begin with period (.) on UNIX systems. By default, hidden files are not shown. Call setFileHidingEnabled(false) to show hidden files.
Application-controlled filtering
The application determines which files are shown. Create a custom subclass of FileFilter(in the API reference documentation), instantiate it, and use the instance as an argument to setFileFilter. The file chooser shows only those files that the filter accepts.
User-choosable filtering
The file chooser GUI provides a list of filters that the user can choose from. When the user chooses a filter, the file chooser shows only those file accepted by that filter. FileChooserDemo2 adds a custom file filter to the list of user-choosable filters:
fc.addChoosableFileFilter(new ImageFilter());
The custom file filter is implemented in a .java source file) and is a subclass of FileFilter. The ImageFilter class implements the getDescription method to return a string to put in the list of user-choosable filters. ImageFilter implements the accept method to accept all directories and any file that has a .jpg, .jpeg, .gif, .tif, or .tiff filename extension.
public boolean accept(File f) {
    if (f.isDirectory()) {
	return true;

    String extension = Utils.getExtension(f);
    if (extension != null) {
	if (extension.equals(Utils.tiff) ||
	    extension.equals(Utils.tif) ||
	    extension.equals(Utils.gif) ||
	    extension.equals(Utils.jpeg) ||
	    extension.equals(Utils.jpg)) {
	        return true;
	} else {
	    return false;

    return false;
By accepting all directories, this filter allows the user to navigate around the file system. If the bold lines were omitted from this method, the user would be limited to the directory with which the chooser was initialized.

The preceding code sample uses the getExtension method and several string constants from a .java source file), shown here:

public class Utils {

    public final static String jpeg = "jpeg";
    public final static String jpg = "jpg";
    public final static String gif = "gif";
    public final static String tiff = "tiff";
    public final static String tif = "tif";

     * Get the extension of a file.
    public static String getExtension(File f) {
        String ext = null;
        String s = f.getName();
        int i = s.lastIndexOf('.');

        if (i > 0 &&  i < s.length() - 1) {
            ext = s.substring(i+1).toLowerCase();
        return ext;

Customizing the File View

In the Java Look & Feel, the chooser's list shows each file's name and displays a small icon that represents whether the file is a true file or a directory. You can customize this file view by creating a custom subclass of FileView(in the API reference documentation) and using an instance of the class as an argument to setFileView. The example uses an instance of a custom class, implemented in a .java source file), as the file chooser's file view.
fc.setFileView(new ImageFileView());
ImageFileView shows a different icon for each type of image accepted by the image filter described previously.

The ImageFileView class overrides the five abstract methods defined in FileView as follows. Note that some of these methods call getExtension, which is a private method to ImageFileView.

String getTypeDescription(File f)
Returns a description of the file type. This is not yet used by any look and feel. The intent is to provide information about the file's type. Here is ImageFileView's implementation of this method:
public String getTypeDescription(File f) {
        String extension = Utils.getExtension(f);
        String type = null;

        if (extension != null) {
            if (extension.equals(Utils.jpeg) ||
                extension.equals(Utils.jpg)) {
                type = "JPEG Image";
            } else if (extension.equals(Utils.gif)){
                type = "GIF Image";
            } else if (extension.equals(Utils.tiff) ||
                       extension.equals(Utils.tif)) {
                type = "TIFF Image";
        return type;
Icon getIcon(File f)
Returns an icon representing the file or its type. Here is ImageFileView's implementation of this method:
public Icon getIcon(File f) {
        String extension = Utils.getExtension(f);
        Icon icon = null;

        if (extension != null) {
            if (extension.equals(Utils.jpeg) ||
                extension.equals(Utils.jpg)) {
                icon = jpgIcon;
            } else if (extension.equals(Utils.gif)) {
                icon = gifIcon;
            } else if (extension.equals(Utils.tiff) ||
                       extension.equals(Utils.tif)) {
                icon = tiffIcon;
        return icon;
String getName(File f)
Returns the name of the file. Most implementations of this method should return null to indicate that the look and feel should figure it out. Another common implementation returns f.getName().

String getDescription(File f)
Returns a description of the file. This is not yet used by any look and feel. The intent is to describe individual files more specifically. A common implementation of this method returns null to indicate that the look and feel should figure it out.

Boolean isTraversable(File f)
Returns whether a directory is traversable. Most implementations of this method should return null to indicate that the look and feel should figure it out. Some applications might want to prevent users from descending into a certain type of directory because it represents a compound document. The isTraversable method should never return true for a non-directory.

Providing an Accessory Component

The customized file chooser in FileChooserDemo2 has an accessory component. If the currently selected item is a JPEG, TIFF, or GIF image, the accessory component displays a thumbnail sketch of the image. Otherwise, the accessory component is empty. Aside from a previewer, probably the most common use for the accessory component is a panel with more controls on it -- say, checkboxes that toggle some features.

The example calls the setAccessory method to establish an instance of the ImagePreview class, implemented in a .java source file), as the chooser's accessory component:

fc.setAccessory(new ImagePreview(fc));
Any object that inherits from JComponent can be an accessory component. The component should have a preferred size that looks good in the file chooser.

The file chooser fires a property change event when the user selects an item in the list. So, a program with an accessory component must register to receive these events to update the accessory component whenever the selection changes. In the example, the ImagePreview object itself registers for these events. This keeps all the code related to the accessory component together in one class.

Here is the example's implementation of the propertyChange method, which is the method called when a property change event is fired:

//where member variables are declared
File file = null;
public void propertyChange(PropertyChangeEvent e) {
    String prop = e.getPropertyName();
    if (prop.equals(JFileChooser.SELECTED_FILE_CHANGED_PROPERTY)) {
        file = (File) e.getNewValue();
        if (isShowing()) {
If SELECTED_FILE_CHANGED_PROPERTY is the property that changed, this method gets a File object from the file chooser. The loadImage and repaint methods use the File to load the image and repaint the accessory component.

The File Chooser API

The API for using file choosers falls into these categories:

Creating and Showing the File Chooser
Method Purpose
Create a file chooser instance. The File and String arguments, when present, provide the initial directory.
int showOpenDialog(Component)
int showSaveDialog(Component)
int showDialog(Component, String)
Show a modal dialog containing the file chooser. These methods return APPROVE_OPTION if the user approved the operation and CANCEL_OPTION if the user cancelled it.

Selecting Files and Directories
Method Purpose
void setSelectedFile(File)
File getSelectedFile()
Set or get the currently selected file.
void setSelectedFiles(File[])
File[] getSelectedFiles()
Set or get the currently selected files. Multiple selection is not yet implemented by any look and feel. Calling these methods might produce unpredictable results.
void setFileSelectionMode(int)
int getFileSelectionMode()
boolean isDirectorySelectionEnabled()
boolean isFileSelectionEnabled()
Set the file selection mode. Acceptable values are FILES_ONLY (the default), DIRECTORIES_ONLY, and FILES_AND_DIRECTORIES.
void setMultiSelectionEnabled(boolean)
boolean isMultiSelectionEnabled()
Set or get whether multiple files can be selected at once. By default, a user can choose only one file. Multiple selection is not yet implemented by any look and feel.

Navigating the File Chooser's List
Method Purpose
void ensureFileIsVisible(File) Scroll the file chooser's list such that the indicated file is visible.
void setCurrentDirectory(File)
File getCurrentDirectory()
Set or get the directory whose files are displayed in the file chooser's list.
void changeToParentDirectory() Change the list to display the current directory's parent.
void rescanCurrentDirectory() Check the file system and update the chooser's list.

Customizing the File Chooser
Method Purpose
JComponent getAccessory()
void setAccessory(JComponent)
Set or get the file chooser's accessory component.
void setFileFilter(FileFilter)
FileFilter getFileFilter()
Set or get the file chooser's primary file filter.
void setFileView(FileView)
FileView getFileView()
Set or get the chooser's file view.
FileFilter[] getChoosableFileFilters()
void setChoosableFileFilters(FileFilter[])
void addChoosableFileFilter(FileFilter)
boolean removeChoosableFileFilter(FileFilter)
void resetChoosable(FileFilter)
FileFilter getAcceptAllFileFilter()
Set, get, or modify the list of user-choosable file filters.
void setFileHidingEnabled(boolean)
boolean isFileHidingEnabled()
Set or get whether hidden files are displayed.

Examples that Use File Choosers

This table shows the examples that use JFileChooser and where those examples are described.

Example Where Described Notes
FileChooserDemo This section Displays an open file chooser and a save file chooser.
FileChooserDemo2 This section Uses a file chooser with custom filtering, a custom file view, and an accessory component.

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