Selection Components

Vaadin offers many alternative ways for selecting one or more items. The core library includes the following selection components, all based on the AbstractSelect class:

ComboBox ("ComboBox")

A drop-down list with a text box, where the user can type text to find matching items. The component also provides an input prompt and the user can enter new items.

ListSelect ("ListSelect")

A vertical list box for selecting items in either single or multiple selection mode.

NativeSelect ("NativeSelect")

Provides selection using the native selection component of the browser, typically a drop-down list for single selection and a multi-line list in multiselect mode. This uses the <select> element in HTML.

OptionGroup ("OptionGroup")

Shows the items as a vertically arranged group of radio buttons in the single selection mode and of check boxes in multiple selection mode.

TwinColSelect ("TwinColSelect")

Shows two list boxes side by side where the user can select items from a list of available items and move them to a list of selected items using control buttons.

In addition, the Tree, Table, and TreeTable components allow special forms of selection. They also inherit AbstractSelect.

Binding Selection Components to Data

The selection components are strongly coupled with the Vaadin Data Model, described in "Binding Components to Data". The selectable items in all selection components are objects that implement the Item interface. The items are contained in a Container.

All selection components are containers themselves and simply forward all container operations to the underlying container data source. You can give the container in the constructor or set it set setContainerDataSource(). This is further described in "Basic Use of Containers".

// Have a container data source of some kind
IndexedContainer container = new IndexedContainer();
container.addContainerProperty("name", String.class, null);

// Create a selection component bound to the container
OptionGroup group = new OptionGroup("My Select", container);

If you do not bind a selection component to a container data source, a default container is used. It is usually either an IndexedContainer or a HierarchicalContainer.

The current selection of a selection component is bound to the Property interface, so you can get the current selection as the value of the selection component. Also selection changes are handled as value change events, as is described later.

Adding New Items

New items are added with the addItem() method defined in the Container interface, described in "Basic Use of Containers".

// Create a selection component
ComboBox select = new ComboBox("My ComboBox");

// Add items with given item IDs

The addItem() method creates an empty Item, which is identified by its item identifier (IID) object, given as the parameter. This item ID is by default used also as the caption of the item, as described in more detail later.

We emphasize that addItem() is a factory method that takes an item ID, not the actual item as the parameter - the item is returned by the method. The item is of a type that is specific to the container and has itself little relevance for most selection components, as the properties of an item may not be used in any way (except in Table), only the item ID.

The item identifier is typically a string, in which case it can be used as the caption, but can be any object type. We could as well have given integers for the item identifiers and set the captions explicitly with setItemCaption(). You could also add an item with the parameterless addItem(), which returns an automatically generated item ID.

// Create a selection component
ComboBox select = new ComboBox("My Select");

// Add an item with a generated ID
Object itemId = select.addItem();
select.setItemCaption(itemId, "The Sun");

// Select the item

Some container types may support passing the actual data object to the add method. For example, you can add items to a BeanItemContainer with addBean(). Such implementations can use a separate item ID object, or the data object itself as the item ID, as is done in addBean(). In the latter case you can not depend on the default way of acquiring the item caption; see the description of the different caption modes later.

The next section describes the different options for determining the item captions.

Item Captions

The displayed captions of items in a selection component can be set explicitly with setItemCaption() or determined from the item IDs or item properties. The caption determination is defined with the caption mode, any of the modes in the AbstractSelect.ItemCaptionMode enum, which you can set with setItemCaptionMode(). The default mode is EXPLICIT_DEFAULTS_ID, which uses the item identifiers for the captions, unless given explicitly.

In addition to a caption, an item can have an icon. The icon is set with setItemIcon().

The caption modes defined in ItemCaptionMode are the following:


This is the default caption mode and its flexibility allows using it in most cases. By default, the item identifier will be used as the caption. The identifier object does not necessarily have to be a string; the caption is retrieved with toString() method. If the caption is specified explicitly with setItemCaption(), it overrides the item identifier.

// Create a selection component
ComboBox select = new ComboBox("Moons of Mars");

// The given item ID is also used as the caption
select.addItem(new Integer(1));

// Set item caption for this item explicitly
select.addItem(2); // same as "new Integer(2)"
select.setItemCaption(2, "Deimos");

Captions must be explicitly specified with setItemCaption(). If they are not, the caption will be empty. Such items with empty captions will nevertheless be displayed in the selection component as empty items. If they have an icon, they will be visible.


Only icons are shown, captions are hidden.


String representation of the item identifier object is used as caption. This is useful when the identifier is a string, and also when the identifier is an complex object that has a string representation. For example:

ComboBox select = new ComboBox("Inner Planets");

// A class that implements toString()
class PlanetId extends Object
               implements Serializable {
    String planetName;

    PlanetId (String name) {
        planetName = name;
    public String toString () {
        return "The Planet " + planetName;

// Use such objects as item identifiers
String planets[] = {"Mercury", "Venus",
                    "Earth", "Mars"};
for (int i=0; i<planets.length; i++)
    select.addItem(new PlanetId(planets[i]));

Index number of item is used as caption. This caption mode is applicable only to data sources that implement the Container.Indexed interface. If the interface is not available, the component will throw a ClassCastException. The AbstractSelect itself does not implement this interface, so the mode is not usable without a separate data source. An IndexedContainer, for example, would work.


String representation of item, acquired with toString(), is used as the caption. This is applicable mainly when using a custom Item class, which also requires using a custom Container that is used as a data source for the selection component.


Item captions are read from the String representation of the property with the identifier specified with setItemCaptionPropertyId(). This is useful, for example, when you have a container that you use as the data source for the selection component, and you want to use a specific property for caption.

In the example below, we bind a selection component to a bean container and use a property of the bean as the caption.

/** A bean with a "name" property. */
public class Planet implements Serializable {
    int    id;
    String name;

    public Planet(int id, String name) {   = id; = name;

    ... setters and getters ...

public void captionproperty(
        VerticalLayout layout) {
    // Have a bean container to put the beans in
    BeanItemContainer<Planet> container =
        new BeanItemContainer<Planet>(

    // Put some example data in it
        new Planet(1, "Mercury"));
    container.addItem(new Planet(2, "Venus"));
    container.addItem(new Planet(3, "Earth"));
    container.addItem(new Planet(4, "Mars"));

    // Create a selection component bound
    // to the container
    ComboBox select = new ComboBox("Planets",

    // Set the caption mode to read the
    // caption directly from the 'name'
    // property of the bean


Getting and Setting Selection

A selection component provides the current selection as the property of the component (with the Property interface). The property value is an item identifier object that identifies the selected item. You can get the identifier with getValue() of the Property interface.

You can select an item with the corresponding setValue() method. In multiselect mode, the property will be an unmodifiable set of item identifiers. If no item is selected, the property will be null in single selection mode or an empty collection in multiselect mode.

The ComboBox and NativeSelect will show empty selection when no actual item is selected. This is the null selection item identifier. You can set an alternative ID with setNullSelectionItemId(). Setting the alternative null ID is merely a visual text; the getValue() will still return null value if no item is selected, or an empty set in multiselect mode.

Handling Selection Changes

The item identifier of the currently selected item will be set as the property of the selection component. You can access it with the getValue() method of the Property interface of the component. Also, when handling selection changes with a Property.ValueChangeListener, the ValueChangeEvent will have the selected item as the property of the event, accessible with the getProperty() method.

// Create a selection component with some items
ComboBox select = new ComboBox("My Select");
select.addItems("Io", "Europa", "Ganymedes", "Callisto");

// Handle selection change
select.addValueChangeListener(event -> // Java 8
    layout.addComponent(new Label("Selected " +

The result of user interaction is shown in Selected Item.

Selected Item

Allowing Adding New Items

Some selection components can allow the user to add new items. Currently, only ComboBox allows it, when the user types in a value and presses Enter. You need to enable the mode with setNewItemsAllowed(true). Setting the component also in immediate mode may be necessary, as otherwise the item would not be added immediately when the user interacts with the component, but after some other component causes a server request.


The user interface for adding new items depends on the selection component. The regular ComboBox component allows you to simply type the new item in the combo box and hit Enter to add it.

Adding new items is not possible if the selection component is read-only or is bound to a Container that does not allow adding new items. An attempt to do so may result in an exception.

Handling New Items

Adding new items is handled by a NewItemHandler, which gets the item caption string as parameter for the addNewItem() method. The default implementation, DefaultNewItemHandler, checks for read-only state, adds the item using the entered caption as the item ID, and if the selection component gets the captions from a property, copies the caption to that property. It also selects the item. The default implementation may not be suitable for all container types, in which case you need to define a custom handler. For example, a BeanItemContainer expects the items to have the bean object itself as the ID, not a string.

// Have a bean container to put the beans in
final BeanItemContainer<Planet> container =
    new BeanItemContainer<Planet>(Planet.class);

// Put some example data in it
container.addItem(new Planet(1, "Mercury"));
container.addItem(new Planet(2, "Venus"));
container.addItem(new Planet(3, "Earth"));
container.addItem(new Planet(4, "Mars"));

final ComboBox select =
    new ComboBox("Select or Add a Planet", container);

// Use the name property for item captions

// Allow adding new items

// Custom handling for new items
select.setNewItemHandler(new NewItemHandler() {
    public void addNewItem(String newItemCaption) {
        // Create a new bean - can't set all properties
        Planet newPlanet = new Planet(0, newItemCaption);

        // Remember to set the selection to the new item;"Added new planet called " +

Multiple Selection

Some selection components, such as OptionGroup and ListSelect support a multiple selection mode, which you can enable with setMultiSelect(). For TwinColSelect, which is especially intended for multiple selection, it is enabled by default.


As in single selection mode, the property value of the component indicates the selection. In multiple selection mode, however, the property value is a Collection of the item IDs of the currently selected items. You can get and set the property with the getValue() and setValue() methods as usual.

A change in the selection will trigger a ValueChangeEvent, which you can handle with a Propery.ValueChangeListener. As usual, you should use setImmediate(true) to trigger the event immediately when the user changes the selection. The following example shows how to handle selection changes with a listener.

// A selection component with some items
ListSelect select = new ListSelect("My Selection");
select.addItems("Mercury", "Venus", "Earth",
    "Mars", "Jupiter", "Saturn", "Uranus", "Neptune");

// Multiple selection mode

// Feedback on value changes
    new Property.ValueChangeListener() {
    public void valueChange(ValueChangeEvent event) {
        // Some feedback
        layout.addComponent(new Label("Selected: " +

Item Icons

You can set an icon for each item with setItemIcon(), or define an item property that provides the icon resource with setItemIconPropertyId(), in a fashion similar to captions. Notice, however, that icons are not supported in NativeSelect, TwinColSelect, and some other selection components and modes. This is because HTML does not support images inside the native select elements. Icons are also not really visually applicable.