Drop-down lists

Thursday Mar 1st 2001
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Like a group of radio buttons, a drop-down list is a way to force the user to select only one element from a group of possibilities. However, it’s a much more compact way to accomplish this, and it’s easier to change the elements of the list without surprising the user. (You can change radio buttons dynamically, but that tends to be visibly jarring).

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Like a group of radio buttons, a drop-down list is a way to force the user to select only one element from a group of possibilities. However, it’s a much more compact way to accomplish this, and it’s easier to change the elements of the list without surprising the user. (You can change radio buttons dynamically, but that tends to be visibly jarring).

Java’s Choice box is not like the combo box in Windows, which lets you select from a list or type in your own selection. With a Choice box you choose one and only one element from the list. In the following example, the Choice box starts with a certain number of entries and then new entries are added to the box when a button is pressed. This allows you to see some interesting behaviors in Choice boxes:

//: Choice1.java
// Using drop-down lists
import java.awt.*;
import java.applet.*;
 
public class Choice1 extends Applet {
  String[] description = { "Ebullient", "Obtuse",
    "Recalcitrant", "Brilliant", "Somnescent",
    "Timorous", "Florid", "Putrescent" };
  TextField t = new TextField(30);
  Choice c = new Choice();
  Button b = new Button("Add items");
  int count = 0;
  public void init() {
    t.setEditable(false);
    for(int i = 0; i < 4; i++)
      c.addItem(description[count++]);
    add(t);
    add(c);
    add(b);
  }
  public boolean action (Event evt, Object arg) {
    if(evt.target.equals(c))
      t.setText("index: " +  c.getSelectedIndex()
        + "   " + (String)arg);
    else if(evt.target.equals(b)) {
      if(count < description.length)
        c.addItem(description[count++]);
    } 
    else 
      return super.action(evt, arg);
    return true;
  }
} ///:~ 

The TextField displays the “selected index,” which is the sequence number of the currently selected element, as well as the String representation of the second argument of action( ), which is in this case the string that was selected.

When you run this applet, pay attention to the determination of the size of the Choice box: in Windows, the size is fixed from the first time you drop down the list. This means that if you drop down the list, then add more elements to the list, the elements will be there but the drop-down list won’t get any longer [57] (you can scroll through the elements). However, if you add all the elements before the first time the list is dropped down, then it will be sized correctly. Of course, the user will expect to see the whole list when it’s dropped down, so this behavior puts some significant limitations on adding elements to Choice boxes.


[57] This behavior is apparently a bug and will be fixed in a later version of Java.

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