Trail: JavaBeans(TM)
Lesson: Introspection

Introspection is the automatic process of analyzing a bean's design patterns to reveal the bean's properties, events, and methods. This process controls the publishing and discovery of bean operations and properties. This lesson explains the purpose of introspection, introduces the Introspection API, and gives an example of introspection code.

Purpose of Introspection

A growing number of Java object repository sites exist on the Internet in answer to the demand for centralized deployment of applets, classes, and source code in general. Any developer who has spent time hunting through these sites for licensable Java code to incorporate into a program has undoubtedly struggled with issues of how to quickly and cleanly integrate code from one particular source into an application.

The way in which introspection is implemented provides great advantages, including:

  1. Portability - Everything is done in the Java platform, so you can write components once, reuse them everywhere. There are no extra specification files that need to be maintained independently from your component code. There are no platform-specific issues to contend with. Your component is not tied to one component model or one proprietary platform. You get all the advantages of the evolving Java APIs, while maintaining the portability of your components.
  2. Reuse - By following the JavaBeans design conventions, implementing the appropriate interfaces, and extending the appropriate classes, you provide your component with reuse potential that possibly exceeds your expectations.

Introspection API

The JavaBeans API architecture supplies a set of classes and interfaces to provide introspection.

The BeanInfo (in the API reference documentation) interface of the java.beans package defines a set of methods that allow bean implementors to provide explicit information about their beans. By specifying BeanInfo for a bean component, a developer can hide methods, specify an icon for the toolbox, provide descriptive names for properties, define which properties are bound properties, and much more.

The getBeanInfo(beanName) (in the API reference documentation) of the Introspector (in the API reference documentation) class can be used by builder tools and other automated environments to provide detailed information about a bean. The getBeanInfo method relies on the naming conventions for the bean's properties, events, and methods. A call to getBeanInfo results in the introspection process analyzing the bean’s classes and superclasses.

The Introspector class provides descriptor classes with information about properties, events, and methods of a bean. Methods of this class locate any descriptor information that has been explicitly supplied by the developer through BeanInfo classes. Then the Introspector class applies the naming conventions to determine what properties the bean has, the events to which it can listen, and those which it can send.

The following figure represents a hierarchy of the FeatureDescriptor classes:

This figure represents a hierarchy of descriptor classes beginning with the FeatureDescriptor class

Each class represented in this group describes a particular attribute of the bean. For example, the isBound method of the PropertyDescriptor class indicates whether a PropertyChangeEvent event is fired when the value of this property changes.

Editing Bean Info with the NetBeans BeanInfo Editor


Note: This tutorial covers the Java Beans functionality available in the Beans module of the NetBeans IDE. Due to this module has been removed from the NetBeans IDE 6.0 (see the NetBeans project page for more information) it is recommended to use version 5.5.1 to obtain the full range of the Java Beans features.

To open the BeanInfo dialog box, expand the appropriate class hierarchy to the bean Patterns node. Right-click the bean Patterns node and choose BeanInfo Editor from the pop-up menu. All elements of the selected class that match bean-naming conventions will be displayed at the left in the BeanInfo Editor dialog box as shown in the following figure:

This figure shows the BeanInfo Editor dialog box and expanded Properties node

Select one of the following nodes to view and edit its properties at the right of the dialog box:

Special symbols (green and red) appear next to the subnode to indicate whether an element will be included or excluded from the BeanInfo class.

If the Get From Introspection option is not selected, the node's subnodes are available for inclusion in the BeanInfo class. To include all subnodes, right-click a node and choose Include All. You can also include each element individually by selecting its subnode and setting the Include in BeanInfo property. If the Get From Introspection option is selected, the setting the properties of subnodes has no effect in the generated BeanInfo code.

The following attributes are available for the nodes for each bean, property, event sources, and method:

For Event Source nodes, the following Expert properties are available:

Introspection Sample

The following example represents code to perform introspection:
import java.beans.BeanInfo;
import java.beans.Introspector;
import java.beans.IntrospectionException;
import java.beans.PropertyDescriptor;

public class SimpleBean
{
    private final String name = "SimpleBean";
    private int size;

    public String getName()
    {
        return this.name;
    }

    public int getSize()
    {
        return this.size;
    }

    public void setSize( int size )
    {
        this.size = size;
    }

    public static void main( String[] args )
            throws IntrospectionException
    {
        BeanInfo info = Introspector.getBeanInfo( SimpleBean.class );
        for ( PropertyDescriptor pd : info.getPropertyDescriptors() )
            System.out.println( pd.getName() );
    }
}

This example creates a non-visual bean and displays the following properties derived from the BeanInfo object:

Note that a class property was not defined in the SimpleBean class. This property was inherited from the Object class. To get properties defined only in the SimpleBean class, use the following form of the getBeanInfo method:

	Introspector.getBeanInfo( SimpleBean.class, Object.class );
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