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Lesson 3 - Simple calculator in Java Swing

In the previous lesson, Java Swing under the hood, we explained how Swing works and learned to center the application window. In today's lesson, we're going to have a look at events and create a simple calculator. It'll look like this:

Java Swing Calculator in Window

Preparing the form

Create a new project (Java Application without the main class) named Calculator. Add a new JFrame Form called CalculatorJFrame to the project. In Properties, set the title to Calculator. When creating applications, we usually start with the form design. Let's drag several components onto the form from the palette. We'll need:

  • 2x Label
  • 1x Button
  • 2x Spinner
  • 1x ComboBox


We already know label; it's simply an explanatory text.

If we don't use components from the code, we don't have to name them. If so, we should rename them (see below) and then we access the component by this name from the code.

We already know the text property. It contains what is displayed in the label. We'll only use one of the labels to display the text "=". So, set it up. We'll use the second label to display the result. Since we'll set its value by the program, we'll rename it to resultJLabel (with the capital letter J). To do this, right-click the label and choose Change Variable Name...:

Rename component in Java Swing

We'll set the text to "0". And we can increase the font of the result label to 16.


A button is simply a component that calls a method when clicked (more precisely triggers an event). In our case, the button will be named calculateJButton and its text will be Calculate. We'll assign the event to the button later.


Spinner is the first component to enter a value that we'll mention. We can enter a whole number in it (and also a decimal number if we enable it). The advantage of entering numbers with this component is that the user can't enter an invalid value. If we parsed the number from a Text Field (we'll show these in the following lessons), our application might crash due to invalid input. It's always easier to choose the right component than to validate the user input.

We'll name the components as number1JSpinner and number2JSpinner. Note that the name should always contain the component type as well. Like that, it's possible to have, for example, both ageJLabel and ageJSpinner, where the label is the description of the field serving to enter an age and the spinner is then that field. Moreover, our code is then much clearer. Names such as numberSpn, calculateBtn and so on are sometimes used as well.


We're almost finished. Combo Box is a drop-down list with several predefined elements. The elements can either be added in the designer or from the code, even at runtime. This applies to all components, we can set all properties found in the designer from the code as well.

Let's name the component operationJComboBox and click on the "..." button next to the Model property. In the newly opened window, we'll list the options to choose from in the Combo Box. We write each option on a separate line, in our case, it'll be +, -, *, /:

ComboBox items from Java Swing in NetBeans IDE

Note: The items may not only be strings but also objects. We'll show it later.

We can set the default selected item with the selectedIndex property, 0 is the first value.

We'll arrange the components on the form as shown at the beginning of the article.

Event handling

So we just have to respond to the button click event. Click the button twice, and a new method will be generated in our code:

private void calculateJButtonActionPerformed(java.awt.event.ActionEvent evt) {
        // TODO add your handling code here:

When we expand the generated initComponents() method, we find the button with a few lines setting its ActionListener. This is an object that can respond to an action (a click on the button in our case) and calls the above method.

calculateJButton.addActionListener(new java.awt.event.ActionListener() {
    public void actionPerformed(java.awt.event.ActionEvent evt) {

If you've finished reading our course on object-oriented programming, you should know this is an anonymous class. If not, it doesn't matter at all. The key is that you have an idea of how the connection between the component and the click-handling method is created.

Let's go back to the designer (the Design button in the top bar) and select the button. In the Properties window, you can switch between Properties and Events (the Properties and Events buttons).

NetBeans Events

Here we can see our actionPerformed event (this is the click event). We could remove it from here and possibly add it again. Some components have special events for which we generate methods from here.

Never remove events by deleting the handler method from the code, the designer would stop working, and you would have to correct the file (specifically, remove the line with the registration of a non-existent method to the event). While NetBeans will not allow you to do this, it's possible to delete it e.g. in another editor. The only right way is through the designer.


Let's proceed to the calculation itself. The code won't be complicated. In the handler method, we'll simply use if statements for the selected item of the operationComboBox and calculate the result accordingly. Then we'll set the result as the text of resultJLabel. We shouldn't forget to handle the division by zero.

The code of the event handler method might look like this:

private void calculateJButtonActionPerformed(java.awt.event.ActionEvent evt) {
        // declaration of variables
    String operation = String.valueOf(operationJComboBox.getSelectedItem());
    int number1 = (int)number1JSpinner.getValue();
    int number2 = (int)number2JSpinner.getValue();
    double result = 0;

    // calculation
    if (operation.equals("+"))
        result = number1 + number2;
    else if (operation.equals("-"))
        result = number1 - number2;
    else if (operation.equals("*"))
        result = number1 * number2;
    else if (operation.equals("/"))
        if (number2 != 0)
            result = number1 / number2;
            result = 0;
            JOptionPane.showMessageDialog(null, "Cannot Divide by Zero!");

First, we store the values ​​from the components to variables, so it's more readable. We get the selected Combo Box item using the getSelectedItem() property, which is of the Object type. In our case, we have to convert it to String. We could also work just with the numeric index of the item using getSelectedIndex(). Since Spinner returns the value as an Object type, we must cast it to int.

In case of the zero divider, we display a MessageBox using the static JOptionPane class. It contains the showMessageDialog() method. Finally, we pass the result to resultJLabel. Unlike the console, where numbers could be simply printed out, here we must first convert the number to String.

If we turn off the resizable property in the Properties window, it won't be possible to resize the window, which is useful for our application.

This app may already be worth sending to someone. By pressing the icon with the broom and the hammer (Clean and Build Project) in Netbeans, we'll generate a dist/ folder in the project folder where you can find the Calculator.jar file. This is an executable file for your application. Of course, you must have Java installed to run it. But most people have it.

The project source code is attached to the article as always. The next time, Birthday Reminder in Java Swing - Form design, we'll create a more complex application with multiple forms. It'll be a birthday reminder.


Did you have a problem with anything? Download the sample application below and compare it with your project, you will find the error easily.


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