Substance look and feel - FAQ

Question 1

Can i use some / all of the code in Substance?


Substance is released under BSD license. You are free to modify any part of the code as long as you mention the original license in the source code / the runnable distribution.

Question 2

Can i create my own look-and-feel on top of Substance?


There are two supported ways of extending Substance. To create a custom look for branding your application, start by reading the skinning documentation and the code of the core skins in the package. To add custom behavior to the specific control(s), start by reading the widget documentation and the code in the Laf-Widget project.

While you can extend the UI delegates in the org.pushingpixels.substance.internal.ui package, it is not recommended. In fact, anything in this package is subject to change at any point in time - and frequently does so between releases.

Question 3

What is the policy for backwards binary and visual compatibility?


I will do my best not to break the APIs exposed in the org.pushingpixels.substance.api package (read the skinning documentation and API documentation for more information).

Classes in the org.pushingpixels.substance.internal.ui package are not for application use and can change at any point in time.

There are no guarantees about visual compatibility between major or minor releases. Core painters and skins undergo routine reexamination to address visual flaws, add polish and remove unnecessary visual noise. If your application requires absolute visual backwards compatibility, it is recommended to create a custom skin that does not extend any of the existing core Substance skins.

Question 4

Is it possible to backport Substance to 1.4 or 5.0?


The current capabilities of tools such as Retrotranslator and Retroweaver do not support the new Java 5.0 and 6.0 classes and functions that Substance is using. In addition, a lot of UI-related bugs were fixed in JDK 6.0.

Question 5

I like some of the features, but the jar size is too big. How can i get a smaller runnable?


In short - if you like the features, you pay the price. In long - you have a number of options:

  • Use lite version (available from release 2.2). It's about 510KB less.
  • Use special tools such as Stripper. Has been successfully tested - the jar size is cut by 25% (about 140KB less for full version, about 100KB less for lite version). Note that if you use this option, the stack traces of Substance defects will not contain line numbers. This may make it very difficult to reproduce and fix the defect.
  • Set compiler.debug property to "off". The result is the same as in the above option.
  • Use code obfuscators. Almost all classes and all non-private methods will need to have their names preserved.
  • Remove UI delegates for components that you don't use.
  • Fork the codebase and follow the moving target.

Substance provides not only a highly configurable "look" part. It also adds significant amount of features to the core Swing components. If you need this functionality, you can either use third-party components, write the functionality yourself or take Substance. In any case these features have to reside somewhere in the classpath. Having them in Substance enables you to use well-tested additional "feel" part of the core Swing components.

Question 6

Why are you breaking my application by enforcing the creation and modification of components on the Event Dispatch Thread (EDT)?


This has been introduced in version 5.0, and is being extended in every subsequent release. The answer to this question can be found on the "Pushing Pixels" blog in entry from July 2008 and in entry from February 2010.

Question 7

Scrolling and moving windows leaves the watermark in inconsistent state. Is it a bug?


No, it's by design. Swing does not repaint the component on every event while scrolling or moving the windows / frames / dialogs. Try it and watch the CPU go berserk. As by default the Substance watermarks are screen-bound, you may (and will) experience the watermark inconsistency. Here are some things you can do:

  • Define your scrolled component to be non-opaque. It will be repainted on every scroll, including the watermark. Doesn't really help with CPU if you have a lot of child components.
  • Add scroll / move listener and repaint the component there. It is recommended to call repaint every 100+ milliseconds to keep the application responsive. You will still experience "jagged" behaviour on fast scrolls / drags.
  • Use WATERMARK_VISIBLE client property on the specific component, setting it to Boolean.FALSE
  • Use null watermark (see watermarks) for your application.
  • Use SubstanceImageWatermark.setImageWatermarkKind(ImageWatermarkKind) and specify one of APP_ANCHOR, APP_CENTER or APP_TILE values for the image watermark kind. This is relevant only for image-based watermarks.

Question 8

I use an image-based watermark in my application / applet and don't see it. Is it a bug?


By default, all Substance watermarks are screen-bound (also true under multiple screens). This is in order to enable smooth and seamless operation of applications that use multiple frames / dialogs. In addition, this allows to blend Substance-based applications on desktops with matching backgrounds. Specifically for image-based watermarks this may present a visual problem if the specified (local or remote) image is smaller than the screen (one or both dimensions). In this case the image is not enlarged and is centered in the middle of the screen. Unless your application is situated properly, the visual result is "no watermark". In order to amend the situation you will need to provide a larger image. Two notes:

  • If one or both dimensions of the watermark image are larger than the corresponding dimension(s) of the screen(s), the image will be scaled down.
  • In order to ensure seamless operation of applications that use multiple frames / dialogs under window move / drag see the answer to question 6 above.

Question 8

I don't like Substance.


That's not really a question. If you don't like it, you can either help improve it by suggesting additional features in the forums and mailing lists, or use any other core or third-party look-and-feel. Here is an excellent list of all currently available third-patry LAFs.

Question 10

I requested the Project Owner / Developer / Content Developer role in this project. Why did you reject my request?


Look-and-feel in general and Substance in particular require fairly advanced knowledge of Swing. This is not a playground / sandbox for experimenting with Swing - Substance aims to be a production-quality alternative to core and other third-party LAFs. As you wouldn't want a total stranger to be a part of your production team, you need first to establish yourself a worthy addition to this (or any other) project. You can start by requesting the Observer role, suggest new features, learn Substance codebase and propose ways to implement new features. After you show your skill and the will to stick with this project, you can expect a serious thought invested in answering the request for the Developer role. In addition, there is no need for Content Developer role in this project since I'm quite capable of maintaining a static HTML site by myself. The Project Owner role is granted only after certified analysis by three independent doctors that shows that the requester is in a lucid state of mind.

Question 11

Are there any known issues in Substance?


See the known issues documentation. If you find an issue not mentioned in the above document, you can report it in either issue tracker, mailing lists, forums or direct mail to {kirillcool [@at@] yahoo [.dot.] com}.

Question 12

How can i use Substance on Mac and still have the standard Mac application menu bar?


The global Mac application menu bar is available only under menu UI delegates from the native Aqua look-and-feel. There are two options to have this functionality in your application.

  • Use AWT menus. Thanks to Werner Randelshofer for this option.
  • Use Aqua UI delegates for the menus and menu related classes. The recommended way to do this:
    1. Call UIManager.setLookAndFeel(UIManager.getSystemLookAndFeelClassName()).
    2. Query and store the UIManager entries for the following keys: MenuBarUI, MenuUI, MenuItemUI, CheckBoxMenuItemUI, RadioButtonMenuItemUI, PopupMenuUI.
    3. Set Substance as the look-and-feel.
    4. Before creating your first window, restore the UIManager entries for the keys specified in the second step.
    It is not recommended to rely on the current class names for the Aqua UI delegates, since the package that hosts these classes is different for different versions of Apple VM. This is mentioned in the release notes for Apple VM 1.6.0 on Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard (radar #4907470). Thanks to Sergiy Michka and Mike Swingler for this option.

Question 13

I use animated GIFs as icons on internal frames and the CPU usage goes berserk (100% maxed out). Some parts of the application do not get repainted at all. What do i do?


When an animated GIF is set as an internal frame icon, the entire desktop pane is repainted on the GIF frame sequencing - not only the icon, not only the frame title pane and even not only that internal frame. Since Substance is much more CPU-intensive than Metal / Windows (it is partially addressed with the image caching), this results in severe CPU bottlenecks and refresh glitches on some controls. The call to repaint() doesn't necessarily cause an immediate repaint (this is what the paintImmediately() API is for). When the CPU is heavily loaded, most of the repaints will be skipped (coalesced). In extreme cases, the CPU is so heavily loaded that the repaint manager never gets to repaint some controls (such as combobox popup in a floating toolbar).

The best advice is to not use animated GIFs as icons. Thanks to Martin Clifford for pointing out this issue.

Question 14

What's going on with my cell renderers?


By design, Substance provides default renderers for trees, tables and lists that provide the following functionality:

  1. Respect the background color of the component.
  2. Provide alternating striped painting of background (table / list only).
  3. Provide theme-consistent rollover and selection highlighting.

This functionality is only available on default Substance renderers in the org.pushingpixels.substance.api.renderers. If you use custom renderers that extend core Swing classes, you will not have it.

If you want to change the default animation settings on your lists, tables and trees (for example, to disable core Substance animations on custom application renderers) please consult the animation primer.

Question 15

Is there support for custom tab components in Java 6?


Substance does not support custom tab components specified by the JTabbedPane.setTabComponentAt API.

Question 16

Can i use Substance only for some parts of my UI?


No. Substance in particular, and Java look and feels in general are not designed to be installed in the "mix and match" fashion.

Question 17

How do i make Substance to paint the title panes?


In case you wish to use cross-platform frame and dialog decorations, use the following before you instantiate your first top-level window: JFrame.setDefaultLookAndFeelDecorated(true); and JDialog.setDefaultLookAndFeelDecorated(true);. This, however, causes flicker on resize due to a known Swing bug. For Windows, there is a workaround, using System.setProperty("sun.awt.noerasebackground", "true");. You can set this property along with the above two lines.

Question 18

I'm using setOpaque() method and i see visual artifacts in my UI


Do not change the opacity of controls painted by Substance in the application code. Doing so will lead to unpredictable visual results at runtime.