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Looking for a Java Swing alternative? Consider Vaadin’s modern UI framework

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Lilli Salo
Lilli Salo
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On Mar 26, 2024 2:47:34 PM
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Discover how Vaadin's modern UI framework offers a seamless and advanced alternative to Java Swing for developing desktop and web applications.

Is Java Swing still being used? 

Java Swing was once the go-to for creating desktop applications, but as technology has evolved, it's starting to show its age. The shift from desktop to mobile and web platforms has made Swing less relevant. Not as many people are using or developing desktop-only applications, which means there's also a smaller pool of developers who know how to work with Swing.

Another issue with Swing is that it doesn't work with all devices anymore. Back in 1999, you could write a Swing application, and it would work on almost any device with graphics support without needing any changes. Nowadays, less than half of the devices can run Swing applications smoothly. This makes it tough for businesses that rely on Swing. They're finding their IT setups getting more complicated and expensive to maintain.

So, it's becoming clear why moving away from Swing to newer, more flexible technologies is a smart choice for many businesses. This switch can help companies stay up to date with technology, making their applications more accessible and easier to maintain.

An example of a UI view before and after migrating from Java Swing to Vaadin.An example of a UI view before and after migrating from Java Swing to Vaadin.

Compare common Java Swing alternatives

Exploring alternatives to Java Swing opens up a world of possibilities for developers looking to enhance their applications with modern UI and improved performance. Vaadin, JavaFX, SWT, and Jetpack Compose are four prominent options; JavaFX, SWT, and Vaadin stand out as three prominent options, each offering unique benefits and considerations.

Let’s take a look at them.

1. Vaadin

Vaadin is a web application framework for building rich, interactive web UIs in Java. It allows developers to write UIs 100% in Java without touching front-end technologies.

Pros:

  • Strong focus on UX with a vastcollection of high-quality, pre-built components.
  • Lets you build web applications 100% in Java, simplifying the complexities of HTML, CSS, and JavaScript.
  • Good integration with Java EE and Spring ecosystems.
  • Server-side architecture simplifies security implementations.

Cons:

  • A server-centric approach can result in increased server load and greater bandwidth consumption. However, this can also be an advantage in environments with low-power clients.
  • Vaadin is best-in-class for specific uses, so an organization with strong guidelines to use a single technology stack for all applications may find it difficult to use Vaadin everywhere.

Looking to upgrade your desktop application to the web? Download our blueprint to learn how to automate your Swing-to-Web migration.

2. JavaFX

JavaFX is a set of graphics and media packages that enables developers to design, create, test, and deploy rich client applications that operate consistently across diverse platforms.

Pros:

  • Modern and rich client interface capabilities.
  • Supports CSS styling and FXML, which enhances customization and layout management.
  • Offers a comprehensive set of built-in UI components and 3D graphics support.
  • Better performance for complex UIs compared to Swing.

Cons:

  • Steeper learning curve for Swing developers not familiar with scene graph-based UI development.
  • Requires additional effort to maintain compatibility with older Java versions.

3. SWT

SWT is a graphical widget toolkit for use with the Java platform. Developed by IBM, it's part of the Eclipse Foundation. SWT is designed to provide efficient, native look-and-feel performance in Java applications.

Pros:

  • Provides a native look and feel because it uses the underlying OS's graphical control elements.
  • Generally, offers better performance for GUI applications than Swing due to its use of native components.
  • Tight integration with the Eclipse IDE makes it a preferred choice for developers working within that environment.

Cons:

  • Platform-specific code may be required to handle the nuances of each operating system, potentially increasing the complexity of cross-platform applications.
  • Smaller community and fewer resources compared to Swing and JavaFX, which might make solving specific problems more challenging.
  • Lacks the wide array of built-in components found in JavaFX, potentially requiring more effort to create complex UIs.

4. Jetpack Compose

Jetpack Compose for Desktop is a relatively new kid on the block. It was first made for Android, but now there's a version for desktops that runs on the Java platform. Compose for Desktop is a modern UI toolkit for Kotlin that simplifies and accelerates UI development on desktop platforms.

Typically, graphical interfaces are built with object-oriented programming (OOP), where each component controls its data and behavior, as seen in Swing, JavaFX, SWT, and Vaadin. Compose shifts to Functional Programming, prioritizing functions for data management over objects.

Pros:

  • Compose for Desktop relies on a GUI class that inherits from​ Swing’s JFrame.
  • Allows developers to build their UIs in a declarative way, making code more concise and readable. This approach can lead to faster development and easier maintenance.
  • Developers can easily create modular and reusable UI components, which can improve development efficiency and consistency across projects.

Cons:

  • As a new framework, Jetpack Compose for Desktop’s ecosystem is still growing. Compared to more established frameworks like Swing or JavaFX, there may be fewer libraries and resources available.
  • Because it originated from Android and is still evolving, Compose for Desktop is missing key features. Additionally, certain aspects, such as window management, are cumbersome, and for some functionalities, like file dialogs, you may have to fall back on Swing.
  • Developers unfamiliar with declarative UI patterns or Kotlin might face a steep learning curve initially, including limited documentation and fewer community resources available (e.g., tutorials, forums, and examples) compared to more mature UI frameworks.

Why Vaadin is the ideal Java Swing replacement

Vaadin stands out as the ideal replacement for Java Swing, offering a seamless transition for developers aiming to modernize their desktop applications for the web.

With an extensive library of enterprise-grade components, Vaadin simplifies the creation of modern UIs 100% in Java. The intuitive Vaadin Flow full-stack framework streamlines the development process, allowing you to develop responsive and delightful web applications quickly without requiring in-depth knowledge of front-end technologies.

  • Browse Vaadin's 40+ Enterprise-grade components for Java web apps

Optimize developer productivity with Vaadin's built-in set of feature-rich web components.

Migrating from Swing to Vaadin not only updates the technological stack but also aligns with the current trend towards web-based applications, offering a more scalable and maintainable solution. Vaadin's framework is designed with the future in mind, ensuring that applications are ready for the evolving digital landscape. For developers specifically working on GUIs, Vaadin's approach simplifies the development process, enabling the creation of complex user interfaces without the steep learning curve associated with web technologies.

Migrate from Swing to Vaadin

Starting your journey to a modern web application has never been easier. With Vaadin, you can leverage the power of Java to create engaging, responsive UIs for the web. To get started with your Swing migration to Vaadin, our resources and tools are designed to guide you through a smooth transition.

For example, our Swing Kit is a tool designed to render Vaadin views inside Swing applications. Using Vaadin, you can gradually modernize your existing applications from Swing to Web, upgrading the application view-by-view. See documentation.

Vaadin Modernization Toolkit automates the conversion of Swing applications to modern web applications. It consists of a source code refactoring tool, feature packs, and an optional mechanism for taking a phased migration approach. Our Java-to-Java transpiler drastically reduces the investment needed.

Get started 

Looking to upgrade your desktop application to the web? Download our guide, ‘Modernizing Java Swing Applications: A Five-Step Blueprint for Decision-Makers,’ to learn how to automate your Swing-to-Web migration.

Or, map out your path to a successful migration with a Vaadin expert's help. Contact us.

Lilli Salo
Lilli Salo
Lilli joined Vaadin in 2021 after delivering content for various international SaaS startups. She enjoys the creative challenge of transforming complicated topics into clear and concise written material that provide value to the reader.
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