1. JToolBar Basics

Swing provides a very nice new component not available in the AWT: JToolBar. In the most basic use it is little more than a JPanel, acting as a container to hold small buttons. However, the main distinction is that JToolBar is dockable (or floatable), meaning that it can be dragged out of the original window and kept as a standalone window. It can also be dragged back into the window, or dropped into the side of the window even if it was originally placed at the top.

To build a JToolBar, you simply call the empty constructor (for a horizontal toolbar), or pass in JToolBar.VERTICAL. You typically place a horizontal toolbar in the north or south region of a container that uses BorderLayout, and a vertical toolbar in the east or west region. What little complexity there is with JToolBar comes from the buttons you put in it. You could just drop normal JButtons in, or call add on an Action (a special subclass of ActionListener that includes info on labels and icons), which automatically creates a JButton. The problem in both cases is that a graphical button for a toolbar differs in two ways from normal JButtons:

  1. A toolbar button should be very small, while JButton maintains relatively large margins. Solution: call setMargin with an Insets object with all values zero (or at least small).
  2. A JButton puts text labels to the right of the icon, but toolbars usually have the label below. Solution: call setVerticalTextPosition(BOTTOM) and setHorizontalTextPosition(CENTER).
Here's an example of a floating JToolBar with buttons defined this way:

Floating JToolbar

Since I want to do the above two steps for virtually all buttons I ever put in a JToolBar, I defined a small class that extends JButton with these modifications.

ToolBarButton.java (Download source code)

import java.awt.*;
import javax.swing.*;

public class ToolBarButton extends JButton {
  private static final Insets margins =
    new Insets(0, 0, 0, 0);

  public ToolBarButton(Icon icon) {

  public ToolBarButton(String imageFile) {
    this(new ImageIcon(imageFile));

  public ToolBarButton(String imageFile, String text) {
    this(new ImageIcon(imageFile));

2. JToolBar Example

This example makes a simple JFrame with a JToolBar at the top. The toolbar is intended to look somewhat like one that might come with a simple Web browser. Text labels are initially off, but can be toggled on and off by the use of a JCheckBox.
JToolbar on Top
(Original Configuration)
JToolbar on Left
(After Drag/Drop)
Floating JToolbar
(After Drag)
JToolbar with Text Labels
(After Selecting JCheckBox)
JToolbar on Top JToolbar on Left Floating JToolbar JToolbar with Text Labels

JToolBarExample.java (Download source code)

import java.awt.*;
import javax.swing.*;
import java.awt.event.*;

public class JToolBarExample extends JFrame
                             implements ItemListener {
  private BrowserToolBar toolbar;
  private JCheckBox labelBox;
  public static void main(String[] args) {
    new JToolBarExample();

  public JToolBarExample() {
    super("JToolBar Example");
    addWindowListener(new ExitListener());
    Container content = getContentPane();
    toolbar = new BrowserToolBar();
    content.add(toolbar, BorderLayout.NORTH);
    labelBox = new JCheckBox("Show Text Labels?");
    content.add(new JTextArea(10,30), BorderLayout.CENTER);
    content.add(labelBox, BorderLayout.SOUTH);

  public void itemStateChanged(ItemEvent event) {
Note: also requires WindowUtilities.java and ExitListener.java, shown earlier.

BrowserToolBar.java (Download source code)

import java.awt.*;
import javax.swing.*;

public class BrowserToolBar extends JToolBar {
  public BrowserToolBar() { 
    String[] imageFiles =
      { "Left.gif", "Right.gif", "RotCCUp.gif",
        "TrafficRed.gif", "Home.gif", "Print.gif", "Help.gif" };
    String[] toolbarLabels =
      { "Back", "Forward", "Reload", "Stop", "Home", "Print", "Help" };
    Insets margins = new Insets(0, 0, 0, 0);
    for(int i=0; i<toolbarLabels.length; i++) {
      ToolBarButton button =
        new ToolBarButton("images/" + imageFiles[i]);

  public void setTextLabels(boolean labelsAreEnabled) {
    Component c;
    int i = 0;
    while((c = getComponentAtIndex(i++)) != null) {
      ToolBarButton button = (ToolBarButton)c;
      if (labelsAreEnabled)
Note: in addition to ToolBarButton.java (shown above), this requires various GIF images.

This page is part of my Quick Swing Tutorial for AWT Programmers. © 1999 Marty Hall. All source code freely available for unrestricted use. Created for for work in the Research and Technology Development Center of the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Lab, for courses in the Johns Hopkins Part-Time MS Program in Computer Science, and for various industry seminars and Java short courses.