To Be Or Not To Be (Native), was:Look and feel mechanism?

Anthony Petrov anthony.petrov at
Tue Dec 10 09:25:43 PST 2013

We have implemented HW/LW components mixing for AWT/Swing in the past 
[1]. However, the feature is very limited (no transparency support, 
etc.), and the limitations come from native system capabilities that 
can't be worked around easily.

Do we really want something limited like this in FX?


best regards,

On 12/10/2013 06:14 AM, Stephen F Northover wrote:
> At one point,  I was very interested in seeing this happen but there
> wasn't the band width and resources.
> Steve
> On 2013-12-09 1:00 PM, Felix Bembrick wrote:
>> What can we expect from the JavaFX team in this regard in the future?
>> I know we have talked about mixing lightweight and heavyweight
>> controls in the same context but is it going to happen? Is this
>> planned for JFX9 perhaps? Is it *really* even feasible?
>>> On 10 Dec 2013, at 4:55, Stephen F Northover
>>> <steve.x.northover at> wrote:
>>> Today, you can only exercise the choice by writing native code and
>>> you face heavyweight / lightweight issues depending on the platform
>>> and API.
>>> Steve
>>>> On 2013-12-09 12:31 PM, Felix Bembrick wrote:
>>>> Stephen, I thoroughly agree that JavaFX is by far the best choice
>>>> for non-native apps/widgets which is precisely my point. They are
>>>> the kind of apps perfect for using JavaFX.
>>>> But you refer to giving people the choice to go native where
>>>> appropriate. How can I exercise that choice? Where is the support
>>>> for native widgets in JavaFX?
>>>> And isn't the real Holy Grail being able to mix native and
>>>> non-native widgets in the same app with all features of Node being
>>>> available to every widget, with all the effects and transforms, all
>>>> the CSS/styling and with all the performance?
>>>> Could JavaFX ever be such a toolkit?
>>>>> On 10 Dec 2013, at 2:24, Stephen F Northover
>>>>> <steve.x.northover at> wrote:
>>>>> Here are my thoughts on the matter.  Give people the choice of
>>>>> whether to use native or non-native components.  In some
>>>>> applications, everything will be non-native.  In others, only the
>>>>> main content area will be non-native and the rest will be native.
>>>>> In some mobile applications, perhaps the preference pages will be
>>>>> native and other parts will not.
>>>>> JavaFX is the best choice for non-native widgets and we are
>>>>> committed to making it the best toolkit all around.
>>>>> Steve
>>>>>> On 2013-12-09 9:49 AM, Scott Palmer wrote:
>>>>>> I agree that perfect sync with native look and feels is not what
>>>>>> is required and not worth the effort.  I do think though that
>>>>>> major concepts in the platform's look and feel should (must!) be
>>>>>> followed or the user experience is ruined.
>>>>>> The example of the order of the ok and cancel buttons has been
>>>>>> brought up already.  But that isn't even the most important one.
>>>>>> Things like shortcut keys. CTRL-C to copy on windows, Command-C to
>>>>>> copy on Mac.  Standard menu layouts, right-click behaviour and
>>>>>> standard context menus.  They just have to be in the right place.
>>>>>> That they look different doesn't matter as much. And this doesn't
>>>>>> mean that you can't try new ideas for UI.  But basic things that
>>>>>> users expect to work should still work. E.g. Command-Q on OS X
>>>>>> better quit the app :-)
>>>>>> As noted already with my reference to Office and browsers.. Fully
>>>>>> native apps can be non-compliant with the platforms look and
>>>>>> feel.  So this isn't really a Java-specific issue.
>>>>>> Scott
>>>>>>> On Dec 9, 2013, at 4:24 AM, Felix Bembrick
>>>>>>> <felix.bembrick at> wrote:
>>>>>>> Spoiler: This is something I have become intensely passionate
>>>>>>> about so this is likely to be a long post...
>>>>>>> OK, so this (hijacked) thread started out as a discussion of
>>>>>>> options in JavaFX for implementing "Look and Feel".  I think
>>>>>>> everyone agrees that even with CSS and skins, JavaFX lacks the
>>>>>>> built-in ability to define a true Look *and* Feel.  Further to
>>>>>>> this, there has been discussion on Twitter and elsewhere
>>>>>>> regarding *native* Look and Feel and the merits of attempting
>>>>>>> such an animal with JavaFX.
>>>>>>> It is on this topic that I would like to add my 2 bits (as I am
>>>>>>> known to do)!  I was going to use my blog
>>>>>>> but decided I would be much more likely to be able to engage
>>>>>>> fellow JavaFX developers in a positive, polite and respectful
>>>>>>> conversation here.
>>>>>>> First, anyone who may follow me on Twitter, in this forum or when
>>>>>>> I post in other forums (anyone?) will probably be a little bit
>>>>>>> confused as to where I actually stand on this issue.  Well, this
>>>>>>> stems from the fact that I have been giving confusing (if not
>>>>>>> conflicting) input into various threads on this topic for quite a
>>>>>>> while.
>>>>>>> Why?
>>>>>>> Well, because until very recently, I myself was completely torn
>>>>>>> on the subject of native Look and Feel.  In fact, I seemed to
>>>>>>> oscillate on an almost daily basis from thinking it's a great,
>>>>>>> achievable idea to dismissing such an idea on various grounds.  I
>>>>>>> am swaying so much because I have so much riding on successful
>>>>>>> ports of JavaFX to iOS and Android and because those ports depend
>>>>>>> heavily on resolving this issue once and for all.
>>>>>>> Now I have had something of an epiphany and reached a
>>>>>>> conclusion.  I now do not believe that pouring large (massive?)
>>>>>>> amounts of resources into the painstaking task of building a
>>>>>>> fully compliant, fully performant native Look and Feel is
>>>>>>> justifiable or worth the effort.  And let's be clear about this:
>>>>>>> it is a *lot* of effort!
>>>>>>> But before I proceed I just want to say categorically how much I
>>>>>>> admire the thoroughly awesome work/efforts of the likes of Pedro
>>>>>>> DV, Claudine Zillmann, Hendrik Ebbers et. al. in (trying ever so
>>>>>>> hard) to bring native Look and Feel to various OS/platforms with
>>>>>>> JavaFX.  I cannot put in words how much I am in awe of the
>>>>>>> commitment, the attention to detail, the technical prowess, the
>>>>>>> artistry and the drive of these fantastic people.  Their work
>>>>>>> will undoubtedly be extremely useful to many developers worldwide.
>>>>>>> I want to make all that *perfectly clear* because now I am going
>>>>>>> to explain why I (probably) will not be one of those people and
>>>>>>> (hopefully) do it with the utmost respect for the aforementioned
>>>>>>> rock stars :-)
>>>>>>> Right, so back to the issue of whether to or not to implement or
>>>>>>> use a native Look and Feel.  Some of the following comments have
>>>>>>> already been made by me on other networks and in other forums so
>>>>>>> apologies if it seems a bit repetitive to some.
>>>>>>> At first glance, the idea of a native Look and Feel seems almost
>>>>>>> like the proverbial Holy Grail.  I mean, if such a thing were
>>>>>>> truly possible and viable, who wouldn't want one?  You still have
>>>>>>> your single codebase across all platforms and you just just
>>>>>>> plug-in the particular native Look and Feel for your target
>>>>>>> platform and voila!  World domination will surely soon follow!
>>>>>>> Well, not quite.  It's a great idea but I am going out on a limb
>>>>>>> to claim that it has *never* worked.  Ever!  And by "work" I mean
>>>>>>> so that your "not-so-native" app looks and feels (which includes
>>>>>>> all aspects of behaviour, not just appearance) *exactly* like a
>>>>>>> true native app and *no one* could tell you that it *wasn't* a
>>>>>>> native app.
>>>>>>> Yes, I know there are masses now screaming at their monitors who
>>>>>>> will undoubtedly cite the numerous success stories of Swing apps
>>>>>>> or maybe even Qt or some other cross-platform UI toolkit and
>>>>>>> maybe my standards/criteria are harsher than others but I stand
>>>>>>> by my claim that this has *never ever* really, really, really
>>>>>>> worked.
>>>>>>> OK, so why not?
>>>>>>> Here's my first point: I postulate that such a noble goal is not
>>>>>>> actually achievable.  It is not actually achievable for a number
>>>>>>> of reasons.
>>>>>>> It is not actually achievable because, in most cases, we do not
>>>>>>> have access to the code that implements the native controls on
>>>>>>> each OS so, at best, we are "guessing" when we try to emulate all
>>>>>>> aspects of their appearance and behaviour.  Try as we may, we
>>>>>>> will never get *every* control exactly right and I firmly believe
>>>>>>> that anything that purports to be something else needs to be
>>>>>>> *identical*.
>>>>>>> It is not actually achievable because just as you feel you have
>>>>>>> reached an acceptable level of "compliance" (which I again wager
>>>>>>> is never 100%), the goal posts will move.  That is, the OS vendor
>>>>>>> will release an update and even the minor ones can change either
>>>>>>> the appearance or behaviour of controls, sometimes in subtle
>>>>>>> ways, sometimes in not so subtle ways.  Either way, there is then
>>>>>>> going to be a period of time where you are playing a futile game
>>>>>>> of catch-up and during that time your "native" controls will be
>>>>>>> surely exposed for the impostors they are.
>>>>>>> It is not actually achievable because the same control on one OS
>>>>>>> can look and feel/behave quite differently on another OS which
>>>>>>> leads to very poor levels of reuse.
>>>>>>> It is not actually achievable because many controls simply can't
>>>>>>> be emulated in using Java/JavaFX most likely because they have
>>>>>>> exclusive access to native system or OS calls that are not
>>>>>>> accessible to Java or because the expected levels of performance
>>>>>>> or "snappiness" cannot be achieved using Java by any means.  Even
>>>>>>> with JNA or JNI you would be left scratching your head in many
>>>>>>> cases.
>>>>>>> And, it is not actually achievable because it's simply too much
>>>>>>> work to get anywhere near to perfection!  We are talking
>>>>>>> *massive* amounts of effort and very few people have either the
>>>>>>> talent, the eye, the attention to detail or the patience to see
>>>>>>> such a project right through to the end where *all* controls are
>>>>>>> covered.  The rock stars I mentioned earlier are the exceptions
>>>>>>> of course.  There's clearly zero point in emulating *some* of the
>>>>>>> controls only; you need the *full set* or it's just not viable.
>>>>>>> Finally, and to look at it another way, what do we get even if
>>>>>>> some super-human delivers us a native Look and Feel for every
>>>>>>> possible platform?  Well, a massive maintenance nightmare for a
>>>>>>> start!  This super-human would basically be spending all their
>>>>>>> super time and using up all their super powers just keeping such
>>>>>>> libraries current.
>>>>>>> So, if you are still with me, why bother?  Just consider if all
>>>>>>> those rock stars (and super heroes) concentrated all their super
>>>>>>> efforts into either improving the features, stability,
>>>>>>> performance or appearance of JavaFX itself?  Just think what we
>>>>>>> could achieve!
>>>>>>> And on the why bother theme, why bother to devote all that time
>>>>>>> and effort, spend all those millions, tear out all that hair and
>>>>>>> hit all those roadblocks when the very thing we are trying to
>>>>>>> achieve is already available?
>>>>>>> Yes, that's right, if you really, really, really want to build a
>>>>>>> native app then why don't you just build a native app?  There are
>>>>>>> numerous tools, languages, IDEs, toolchains and libraries that
>>>>>>> enable you to build awesome *true* native apps!  I just don't
>>>>>>> think JavaFX is one of them :-)
>>>>>>> And it doesn't have to be one of those toolkits because JavaFX
>>>>>>> can be used to build an entirely different class of application
>>>>>>> and I now strongly believe that this is the kind of app we should
>>>>>>> be concentrating on.  That class (or classes) of app is one that
>>>>>>> is not so heavily dependent on the native Look and Feel and
>>>>>>> doesn't need to be.  There are probably hundreds of thousands of
>>>>>>> apps that are like this.  They are everywhere and JavaFX is
>>>>>>> *perfect* for them!
>>>>>>> Scott Palmer has argued that this approach is not valid (and
>>>>>>> sorry Scott if am inaccurately paraphrasing you).  He cites
>>>>>>> examples such as Chrome, Firefox and even MS Office as proof that
>>>>>>> this approach does not work.  However, my response to that would
>>>>>>> be to say that just because these are examples of where the
>>>>>>> developers got it seriously wrong, they do not prove that this
>>>>>>> approach can't work and isn't working all over the marketplace.
>>>>>>> There is no need to develop crappy, mistake ridden software by
>>>>>>> using a toolkit such as JavaFX in a way that does not attempt to
>>>>>>> emulate the native Look and Feel and the fact that even big
>>>>>>> companies like Google *still* clearly get it horribly wrong
>>>>>>> doesn't imply that we *all* have to be so ineffective.
>>>>>>> Part of my newly-found aversion to emulated native Look and Feel
>>>>>>> comes from my many years of both developing and using Swing
>>>>>>> applications.  Sure, I know there are *some* (handful?)
>>>>>>> successful Swing apps, most notably those developed with the
>>>>>>> NetBeans RCP, but in general Swing has failed to have any
>>>>>>> penetration into serious commercial software.  Why?  Well, there
>>>>>>> are several reasons (and a lot are due to Java itself) but, for
>>>>>>> me, I was never satisfied with the so-called native Look and Feel
>>>>>>> options that come with Swing.  I have been (and still am) very
>>>>>>> critical of the Windows Look and Feel in Swing in particular
>>>>>>> because, even today, there is a vast gulf between an actual
>>>>>>> native Windows application and a Swing application with this Look
>>>>>>> and Feel.  So much so that I still want to almost knock my
>>>>>>> monitor off the desk when I am using an application developed in
>>>>>>> this way.  For me, this is not acceptable and such an application
>>>>>>> could never be released as a serious commercial product.
>>>>>>> And that's pretty much what this all boils down to: developing
>>>>>>> serious commercial software.
>>>>>>> If you are interested in developing something else then these
>>>>>>> lengthy comments (am I *still* going?) probably do not apply to
>>>>>>> you :-)
>>>>>>> So to summarise, I argue that it is not possible to develop
>>>>>>> serious commercial software using emulated Look and Feel in
>>>>>>> JavaFX or in *any* UI toolkit.  I *strongly* recommend that we
>>>>>>> all work together to make JavaFX as good as it can be (which is
>>>>>>> absolutely awesome) by focusing on the core product, the API, the
>>>>>>> performance, the feature set, the stability *and* the supported
>>>>>>> platforms rather than throw good money after bad on a *wonderful*
>>>>>>> goal that ultimately can never be reached...
>>>>>>> Just my 2 bits,
>>>>>>> Felix
>>>>>>> P.S. I surely hope I have not offended any/all those who either
>>>>>>> disagree with the main points or who still believe that native
>>>>>>> Look and Feel is viable.  I remind you all that I am on my knees
>>>>>>> bowing with respect to the rock stars I referred to and anyone
>>>>>>> else working on similar projects.  Absolutely no offence is
>>>>>>> intended, I am merely expressing my (passionate) feelings on this
>>>>>>> subject.
>>>>>>>> On 9 December 2013 19:10, Felix Bembrick
>>>>>>>> <felix.bembrick at> wrote:
>>>>>>>>> On 9 December 2013 16:10, Scott Palmer <swpalmer at> wrote:
>>>>>>>>>> On Dec 8, 2013, at 9:18 PM, Felix Bembrick
>>>>>>>>>> <felix.bembrick at> wrote:
>>>>>>>>> <snip>
>>>>>>>>>> Firstly, it will *never* be possible to completely emulate the
>>>>>>>>>> native look
>>>>>>>>>> and feel.
>>>>>>>>> Sure it is. Though it may never be practical, for many of the
>>>>>>>>> reasons you have given.
>>>>>>>>>> My reasoning is: why bother?
>>>>>>>>> Because it matters. As computer literate developers, we often
>>>>>>>>> don't realize what trips other people up.  I get so frustrated
>>>>>>>>> with apps these days because they have become hard to use
>>>>>>>>> simply because the developers tried to define their own look
>>>>>>>>> and feel.  For example, Chrome and Firefox... Or Microsoft
>>>>>>>>> Office...
>>>>>>>>> Where did the title bar go in chrome?
>>>>>>>>> Where have all the menus gone in Chrome, Firefox andOffice?  I
>>>>>>>>> can find them, but when I have to play tech support over the
>>>>>>>>> phone to my parents these changes are massive problems. I ask
>>>>>>>>> my dad to move he window by dragging the title bar (please
>>>>>>>>> don't ask why he doesn't know to do this himself after decades
>>>>>>>>> of computer use) and he says "there is no title bar"... I the
>>>>>>>>> remember that yes, chrome did that... They got rid of a
>>>>>>>>> standard concept in the OS' windowing system and screed the end
>>>>>>>>> users.
>>>>>>>>> These apps became harder to use because of this "innovation" in
>>>>>>>>> the UI.
>>>>>>>>> Contrast this with applications on OS X where getting the UI
>>>>>>>>> right has always been an important priority for developers.
>>>>>>>>> Because adhering to the system look and feel has always been
>>>>>>>>> strongly encouraged the system is much easier to use.
>>>>>>>>>> These days, many apps do not look 100% native and may have
>>>>>>>>>> their own
>>>>>>>>>> controls or look and feel in general.
>>>>>>>>> Yes, but to what end? They are now more difficult to use.
>>>>>>>>>>   Why not channel all that massive
>>>>>>>>>> effort in constructing an emulated native look and feel into
>>>>>>>>>> simply making
>>>>>>>>>> JavaFX better overall?
>>>>>>>>> But I agree here.  The general look isn't the main issue.. E.g.
>>>>>>>>> little variations in color and minor tweaks to a few pixels
>>>>>>>>> here and there don't really matter.  What does matter is when
>>>>>>>>> you change the order of buttons, like Okay & Cancel which have
>>>>>>>>> standard places that are different between Mac and Windows, or
>>>>>>>>> you move the About menu item from the Application menu on an OS
>>>>>>>>> X app to the help menu! because that is where you find it on
>>>>>>>>> Windows.  Those things matter.
>>>>>>>>> Scott
>>>>>>>>>> Felix
>>>>>>>>>> On 9 December 2013 12:35, Pedro Duque Vieira
>>>>>>>>>> <pedro.duquevieira at>wrote:
>>>>>>>>>>> Thanks!
>>>>>>>>>>> @Jasper: Yes, that's very interesting! Forgot that was
>>>>>>>>>>> possible to do in
>>>>>>>>>>> CSS.
>>>>>>>>>>>> On Mon, Dec 9, 2013 at 12:15 AM, Stephen Winnall
>>>>>>>>>>>> <steve at> wrote:
>>>>>>>>>>>> It may be possible to change the LOOK with CSS, but not the
>>>>>>>>>>>> FEEL, which
>>>>>>>>>>> is
>>>>>>>>>>>> where Java apps have traditionally failed big time.
>>>>>>>>>>>> Some things that I don’t think can be changed with CSS:
>>>>>>>>>>>> 1) texts
>>>>>>>>>>>> 2) order of buttons
>>>>>>>>>>>> 3) escape characters for shortcuts
>>>>>>>>>>>> 4) menus
>>>>>>>>>>>> 5) system-level stuff (double-clicking on files, dropping
>>>>>>>>>>>> files on
>>>>>>>>>>>> applications, …)
>>>>>>>>>>>> 6) filesystem conventions
>>>>>>>>>>>> 7) ...
>>>>>>>>>>>> I think FXML can fix some of these, but not all. So it seems
>>>>>>>>>>>> to me that a
>>>>>>>>>>>> LaF in JFX will consist of at least:
>>>>>>>>>>>>         - one or more CSS files
>>>>>>>>>>>>         - one or more FXML files
>>>>>>>>>>>>         - some plumbing at the system level
>>>>>>>>>>>> It would be nice to have a set of proper LaFs for each major
>>>>>>>>>>>> platform
>>>>>>>>>>> with
>>>>>>>>>>>> an appropriate common API.
>>>>>>>>>>>> Steve
>>>>>>>>>>>>> On 9 Dec 2013, at 00:20, Jasper Potts
>>>>>>>>>>>>> <jasper.potts at> wrote:
>>>>>>>>>>>>> You can set skin classes from CSS so should be able to do
>>>>>>>>>>>>> everything
>>>>>>>>>>> you
>>>>>>>>>>>> could with Swing and more. With just a CSS file and skins as
>>>>>>>>>>>> and when
>>>>>>>>>>>> needed.
>>>>>>>>>>>>> Jasper
>>>>>>>>>>>>>> On Dec 8, 2013, at 3:00 PM, Jonathan Giles
>>>>>>>>>>>>>> <jonathan.giles at
>>>>>>>>>>>> wrote:
>>>>>>>>>>>>>> At present there are no plans to introduce any further API or
>>>>>>>>>>>>>> functionality in this area, but if there is something you
>>>>>>>>>>>>>> are wanting
>>>>>>>>>>>>>> then you should file feature requests in Jira.
>>>>>>>>>>>>>> -- Jonathan
>>>>>>>>>>>>>>> On 9/12/2013 11:54 a.m., Pedro Duque Vieira wrote:
>>>>>>>>>>>>>>> Hi,
>>>>>>>>>>>>>>> Is there any Look and Feel mechanism in place, like the
>>>>>>>>>>>>>>> one in Swing?
>>>>>>>>>>>> That
>>>>>>>>>>>>>>> doesn't appear to exist..
>>>>>>>>>>>>>>> Are there any plans to add one? You can only do so much
>>>>>>>>>>>>>>> with CSS...
>>>>>>>>>>>>>>> Thanks in advance, best regards,
>>>>>>>>>>> --
>>>>>>>>>>> Pedro Duque Vieira

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