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Exploring Java

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Drawing with AWT
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16.4 Images

So far, we've worked with methods for drawing simple shapes and displaying text. For more complex graphics, we'll be working with images. AWT has a powerful set of tools for generating and displaying image data that address the problems of working in a distributed and multithreaded application environment. We'll start with the basics of the java.awt.Image class and see how to get an image into an Applet and draw it on a display. This job isn't quite as simple as it sounds; the browser might have to retrieve the image from a networked source when we ask for it. Fortunately, if we're just interested in getting the image on the screen whenever it's ready, we can let AWT handle the details for us. Later in this chapter, we'll discuss how to manage image loading ourselves, as well as how to create raw image data and feed it efficiently to the rest of an application.

16.4.1 The Image Class

The java.awt.Image class represents a view of an image. The view is created from an image source that produces pixel data. Images can be from a static source, such as GIF or JPEG data, or a dynamic one, such as a video stream or a graphics engine. The Image class in Java 1.1 also handles GIF89a animations, so that you can work with simple animations as easily as static images.

An applet can ask its viewer to retrieve an image by calling the getImage() method. The location of the image to be retrieved is given as a URL, either absolute or fetched from the applet's resources:

public class MyApplet extends java.applet.Applet { 
    public void init() { 
        try { 
            // absolute URL 
            URL monaURL = new URL(
            Image monaImage = getImage( monaURL ); 
            // applet resource URL 
            URL daffyURL = getClass().getResource("cartoons/images/daffy.gif"); 
            Image daffyDuckImage = getImage( daffyURL );
        catch ( MalformedURLException e ) { // unintelligable url } 

We usually want to package an applet's images with the applet itself, so using getResource() is preferred; it looks for the image in the applet's JAR file (if there is one), before looking elsewhere in the server's filesystem.

For a standalone application where we don't have the applet's getImage() method available, we can pass our image URLs to the AWT toolkit:

	Image dukeImage = getToolkit().getImage( url ); 
As with the previous example, this works just as well for URLs that we construct or those returned by getResource().

Once we have an Image object, we can draw it into a graphics context with the drawImage() method of the Graphics class. The simplest form of drawImage() takes four parameters: the Image object, the x, y coordinates at which to draw it, and a reference to a special image observer object.

16.4.2 Image Observers

Images in AWT are processed asynchronously, which means Java performs image operations like loading and scaling on its own time. For example, the getImage() method always returns immediately, even if the image data has to be retrieved over the network from Mars and isn't available yet. In fact, if it's a new image, Java won't even begin to fetch it until we try to use it. The advantage of this technique is that Java can do the work of a powerful, multithreaded image-processing environment for us. However, it also introduces several problems. If Java is loading an image for us, how do we know when it's completely loaded? What if we want to work with the image as it arrives? What if we need to know properties of the image (like its dimensions) before we can start working with it? What if there's an error in loading the image?

These problems are handled by image observers--designated objects that implement the ImageObserver interface. All operations that draw or examine Image objects return immediately, but they take an image-observer object as a parameter. The ImageObserver monitors the image's status and can make that information available to the rest of the application. When image data is loaded from its source, an image observer is notified of its progress, including when new pixels are available, when a complete frame of the image is ready, and if there is an error during loading. The image observer also receives attribute information about the image, such as its dimensions and properties, as soon as they are known.

The drawImage() method, like other image operations, takes a reference to an ImageObserver object as a parameter. drawImage() returns a boolean value specifying whether or not the image was painted in its entirety. If the image data has not yet been loaded or is only partially available, drawImage() paints whatever fraction of the image it can and returns. The image-observer object, however, is registered as being interested in information about the image. It's then called repeatedly as more pixel information is available and again when the entire image is complete. The image observer can do whatever it wants with this information. Most often it calls repaint() to prompt the applet to draw the image again with the updated data; as you should recall, a call to repaint() initiates a call to paint() to be scheduled. In this way an applet can redraw the image as it arrives, for a progressive loading effect. Alternatively, it could wait until the entire image is loaded before displaying it.

We'll discuss creating image observers a bit later. For now, we can avoid the issue by using a prefabricated image observer. It just so happens that the Component class implements the ImageObserver interface and provides some simple repainting behavior for us. This means that every component can serve as its own default image observer; we simply pass a reference to our applet (or other component) as the image-observer parameter of a drawImage() call. Hence the mysterious this we've occasionally seen when working with graphics:

class MyApplet extends java.applet.Applet { 
    public void paint( Graphics g ) { 
        drawImage( monaImage, x, y, this ); 

Our applet serves as the image observer and calls repaint() for us to redraw the image as necessary. If the image arrives slowly, our applet is notified repeatedly, as new chunks become available. As a result, the image appears gradually, as it's loaded. The awt.image.incrementaldraw and awt.image.redrawrate system properties control this behavior. redrawrate limits how often repaint() is called; the default value is every 100 milliseconds. incrementaldraw specifies whether or not drawing is delayed until the entire image has arrived. By default, this property is set to true; set it to false to turn off incremental redrawing.

16.4.3 Scaling and Size

Another version of drawImage() renders a scaled version of the image:

drawImage( monaImage, x, y, x2, y2, this ); 

This draws the entire image within the rectangle formed by the points x, y and x2, y2, scaling as necessary. (Cool, eh?) drawImage() behaves the same as before; the image is processed by the component as it arrives, and the image observer is notified as more pixel data and the completed image are available. Several other overloaded versions of drawImage() provide more complex options: you can scale, crop, and perform some simple transpositions.

If you want to actually make a scaled copy of an image (as opposed to simply painting one at draw-time), you can call getScaledInstance(). Here's how:

Image scaledDaffy = daffyImage.getScaledInstance(100,200,SCALE_AREA_AVERAGING);

This method scales the original image to the given size; in this case, 100 by 200 pixels. It returns a new Image that you can draw like any other image. SCALE_AREA_AVERAGING is a constant that tells getScaledImage() what scaling algorithm to use. The algorithm used here tries to do a decent job of scaling, at the expense of time. Some alternatives that take less time are SCALE_REPLICATE, which scales by replicating scan lines and columns (which is fast, but probably not pretty). You can also specify either SCALE_FAST or SCALE_SMOOTH and let the implementation choose an appropriate algorithm that optimizes for time or quality. If you don't have specific requirements, you should use SCALE_DEFAULT, which, ideally, would be set by a preference in the user's environment.

Scaling an image before calling drawImage() can improve performance, because the image loading and scaling can take place before the image is actually needed. Of course, the same amount of work is required, but in most situations, prescaling will make the program appear faster because it takes place while other things are going on; the user doesn't have to wait as long for the image to display.

The Image getHeight() and getWidth() methods retrieve the dimensions of an image. Since this information may not be available until the image data is completely loaded, both methods also take an ImageObserver object as a parameter. If the dimensions aren't yet available, they return values of -1 and notify the observer when the true value is known. We'll see how to deal with these and other problems a bit later. For now, we'll use Component as an image observer to get by, and move on to some general painting techniques.

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Other Books in this LibraryJava in a NutshellJava Language ReferenceJava AWTJava Fundamental ClassesExploring Java