NetBeans Platform 6.0 Quick Start Tutorial

This tutorial demonstrates how to build an HTML Editor, without any Java coding whatsoever. At the end of this tutorial, you will have an HTML Editor that looks like this:

splash screen panel

Although this is a very simple demo application, it is not a toy! It is a real program that supports easy editing of HTML pages, with features such as code completion, validation, and predefined HTML snippets.

The HTML Editor that you create in this tutorial is a rich-client application built "on top of the NetBeans Platform". What this means is that the core of the IDE, which is what the NetBeans Platform is, will be the base of your application. On top of the NetBeans Platform, you add the modules that you need and exclude the ones that the IDE needs but that your application doesn't. Here you see some of the IDE's modules, added to the NetBeans Platform, which is its base:

HTML Editor

Creating this HTML Editor means generating an application skeleton, excluding the modules and user interface items that you do not need, and then setting the Favorites window as the window that will open by default when the IDE starts. All of these activities are supported by user interface elements in the IDE.

You will see for yourself how simple and easy it is to build, or to be more precise, to assemble a full-featured application on top of the NetBeans Platform. At the end, you are shown how to make the final product easily downloadable and launchable using WebStart.

Note: Even though it is a separate product, there is no need to download the NetBeans Platform separately for purposes of this tutorial. You will develop the rich-client application in the IDE and then exclude the modules that are specific to the IDE but that are superfluous to you application.


Content on this page applies to NetBeans IDE 6.0

For more information on working with modules, see the NetBeans Development Project home on the NetBeans website. If you have questions, visit the NetBeans Developer FAQ or use the feedback link at the top of this page.

Getting Started

Before you begin, you need to install the following software on your computer:

Generating the Skeleton Application

When creating an application on the NetBeans Platform, the very first step is to create a module suite project. The default module suite project includes all the modules included in the NetBeans Platform as well as all the modules included in NetBeans IDE. Since we do not need all these modules, we will exclude those that we do not need.

  1. Using the New Project wizard (Ctrl-Shift-N), create a Module Suite Project from the template in the NetBeans modules category, as shown below:

    splash screen panel

    Click Next and name the module suite "NetBeans HTML Editor". Click Finish.

  2. Right-click the project node, choose Properties, and then make a few changes in the module suite's Project Properties dialog box:
  3. In the Libraries panel of the Project Properties dialog box, you see a list of "clusters". A cluster is a collection of related modules. The only clusters that need to be selected are ide8 and platform7. Deselect all the other clusters.
  4. In the platform7 cluster, you only need the following modules:

    Actions APIs
    Core - Execution
    Core - UI
    Core - Windows
    Datasystems API
    Dialogs API
    Execution API
    Explorer and Property Sheet API
    File System API
    General Queries API
    I/O APIs
    JavaHelp Integration
    Keymap Options
    Look & Feel Customization Library
    MIME Lookup API
    MIME Lookup On SystemFS
    Master Filesystem
    Module System API
    Nodes API
    Options Dialog and SPI
    Output Window
    Progress API
    Progress UI
    Settings API
    Settings Options API
    Swing Layout Extensions integration
    Tab Control
    Text API
    UI Utilities API
    Utilities API
    Window System API

  5. In ide8 cluster, only the following modules are needed:

    Common Palette
    Editor Brace Matching
    Editor Code Completion
    Editor Code Folding
    Editor Guarded Sections
    Editor Indentation
    Editor Library
    Editor Library2
    Editor Settings
    Editor Settings Storage
    Editor Utilities
    Error Stripe API
    Error Stripe Core
    General Options Dialog Panels
    Generic Languages Framework
    HTML Editor
    HTML Editor Library
    HTML Lexer
    IDE Defaults
    Lexer to NetBeans Bridge
    Navigator API
    Plain Editor
    Plain Editor Library
    Project API
    Search API
    Tags Based Editors Library

Tweaking the User Interface

You can keep or reject as much of the IDE's user interface as you want. Your HTML Editor probably does not need any or all of the items under the Tools menu. Similarly, maybe there are toolbars or toolbar buttons that you can do without. In this section, you prune the IDE's user interface until you are left with a subset that is useful to your rich-client application.

  1. Expand the module suite, right-click the Modules node and choose Add New, as shown below:

    this layer in context

    The New Project wizard (Ctrl-Shift-N) appears. Name the project BrandingModule, click Next, and then click Finish.

  2. In the branding module's Important Files node, expand the XML Layer node. Two subnodes are exposed:

    expanded xml layer

  3. In the <this layer in context> node, the IDE shows you a merged view of all folders and files that all modules register in their layers. To exclude items, you can right-click them and choose 'Delete', as shown below:

    this layer in context

    The IDE then adds tags to the module's layer.xml file which, when the module is installed, hides the items that you have deleted. For example, by right-clicking within Menu Bar/Edit, you can remove menu items from the Edit menu that are not necessary for the HTML Editor. By doing this, you generate snippets such as the following in the layer.xml file:

    <folder name="Menu">
        <folder name="Edit">
            <file name="org-netbeans-modules-editor-MainMenuAction$StartMacroRecordingAction.instance_hidden"/>
            <file name="org-netbeans-modules-editor-MainMenuAction$StopMacroRecordingAction.instance_hidden"/>

    The result of the above snippet is that the Start Macro Recording and Stop Macro Recording actions provided by another module are removed from the menu by your branding module.

  4. Use the approach described in the previous step to hide as many toolbars, toolbar buttons, menus, and menu items as you want.

Tweaking the Window Layout

By using the <this layer in context> node, you can not only delete existing items, but you can also change their content. For example, the HTML Editor works on HTML files, so in contrast to the regular IDE, which works with Java source files and projects as well, it makes sense to show the Favorites window in the initial layout.

The definition of the window layout is also described as files in layers, all stored under the Windows2 folder. The files in the Windows2 folder are pseudo-human readable XML files defined by the Window System APIs. They are quite complex but the good news is that, for purposes of our HTML Editor, it is not necessary to understand them fully, as shown below.

  1. In your branding module's <this layer in context> node, right-click the Windows2 node and choose Find, as shown below:

    find favorites

  2. Search for an object named Favorites, ignoring the case. You will find two files:

    find favorites

    The first file defines what the component is going to look like and how it gets created. As this does not need to be changed, there is no need to modify the file. The second is more interesting for your purposes, it contains the following:

    <tc-ref version="2.0">
        <module name="org.netbeans.modules.favorites/1" spec="1.1" />
        <tc-id id="favorites" />
        <state opened="false" />

  3. Even though most of the XML is cryptic, there is one line which seems promising—without needing to read any kind of documentation, it seems likely that changing the false to true is going to make the component opened by default. Do so now.
  4. In a similar way you can change the Component Palete so that it opens by default, and the Navigator so that it is closed. Perform both these steps.

You should now see that your branding module contains three new files, one for each of the files that you changed. In effect, these files override the ones that you found in the previous steps, so that you have now provided the required information for overriding the window layout:

find favorites

Tweaking the Favorites Window

In the subfolders of a module suite's branding folder, which is visible in the Files window, you can override strings defined in the NetBeans sources. In this section, you will override strings that define labels used in the Favorites window. For example, we will change the "Favorites" label to "HTML Files", because we will use that window specifically for HTML files.

  1. Open the Files window and expand the module suite's branding folder.
  2. Create a new folder structure within branding/modules. The new folder should be named org-netbeans-modules-favorites.jar. Within that folder, create a folder hierarchy of org/netbeans/modules/favorites. Within the final folder, i.e. favorites, create a new file. This folder structure and properties file matches the folder structure in the NetBeans sources that relate to the Favorites window.
  3. Add the strings shown in the screenshot below, to override the same strings defined in the matching properties file in the Favorites window sources:

    find favorites

    For ease of copying and pasting, these are the strings defined above:

    Favorites=HTML Files
    ACT_AddOnFavoritesNode=&Find HTML Files...
    ACT_Remove=&Remove from HTML Files List
    ACT_View=HTML Files
    ACT_Select=HTML Files
    ACT_Select_Main_Menu=Select in HTML Files List
    # JFileChooser
    CTL_DialogTitle=Add to HTML Files List
    ERR_FileDoesNotExist={0} does not exist.
    ERR_FileDoesNotExistDlgTitle=Add to HTML Files List
    MSG_NodeNotFound=The document node could not be found in the HTML Files List.

Running the Application

Running your application is as simple as right-clicking the project node and choosing a menu item.

  1. Right-click the application's project node and choose Clean and Build All.
  2. Right-click the application's project node and choose Run:

    running the application

  3. After the application is deployed, you can right-click inside the Favorites window and choose a folder containing HTML files, and then open an HTML file, as shown below:

    splash screen panel

Including Update Functionality

To make your application extendable, you need to let your users install modules to enhance the application's functionality. To do so, you simply need to enable a few extra modules, which will bundle the Plugin Manager with your HTML Editor.

  1. Right-click the module suite project and choose Properties. In the Project Properties dialog box, use the Libraries panel and select the checkboxes that are highlighted below:

    running the application

  2. Right-click the application's project node and choose Clean and Build All.
  3. Run the application again and notice that you now have a new menu item, named "Plugins", under the Tools menu:

    splash screen panel

  4. Choose the new Plugins menu item and install some plugins that are useful to your HTML Editor. Browse the Plugin Portal to find some suitable ones.

Distributing the Application

The IDE can create a JNLP application, for web starting your application, as well as a ZIP file, which includes the application's launcher. In this section, we examine the latter approach.

  1. Right-click the application's project node and choose Build ZIP Distribution, as shown below:

    running the application

    A ZIP file is created in the module suite's dist folder, which you can see in the Files window.

  2. After unzipping the application, you should see the following:

    running the application

    Note: The application's launcher is created in the bin folder, as shown above.

Distributing the HTML Editor via the Shared NetBeans JNLP Repository

Finally, let's finetune the master.jnlp file that is generated the first time you start the application. Even though it does the job, it is not yet ready for distribution. At the very least, you need to change the information section to provide better descriptions and icons.

Another change to the standard JNLP infrastructure is the use of a shared JNLP repository on By default, the JNLP application generated for a suite always contains all its modules as well as all the modules it depends on. This may be useful for intranet usage, but it is a bit less practical for wide internet use. When on the internet, it is much better if all the applications built on the NetBeans Platform refer to one repository of NetBeans modules, which means that such modules are shared and do not need to be downloaded more than once.

There is such a repository for NetBeans 6.0. It does not contain all the modules that NetBeans IDE has, but it contains enough to make non-IDE applications like our HTML Editor possible. (See issue 112726.) To use the repository you only need to modify by adding the correct URL:

# share the libraries from common repository on
# this URL is for release60 JNLP files:

As soon as the application is started as a JNLP application, all its shared plug-in modules are going to be loaded from and shared with other applications doing the same.

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Next Steps

Now that you have learnt a lot of nice tricks and have a working application built on the NetBeans Platform, you can look at the XML Layer node's subnodes some more. Without much work, you can continue finetuning your application, pruning and tweaking it until you have a solid, streamlined application that does exactly what you want it to do. Next, find out how easy it is to add your own modules to your application. The Tutorials for NetBeans Module (Plug-in) and Rich Client Application Development show you a wide variety of use cases for extending the HTML Editor. For example, maybe you want to add your own menu items in the menu bar. Or maybe you want to provide additional HTML snippets in the component palette. Both these scenarios, and many more, are outlined in the tutorials in the Module Developer's Resources.

Also take a look at the NetBeans Platform 6.0 Paint Application Tutorial, which shows you how to create your own Paint Application. Finally, a slightly more complex application is provided in the NetBeans Platform 6.0 Feed Reader Tutorial.