The Elements of JavaFX You Need to Master

The Nodes

There are large amount of classes in JavaFX arranged in a hierarchy starting with a top level class called, Node. There are a number of layout classes that all work differently, such as BorderPane, ScrollPane, HBox, VBox, GridPane and StackPane which can all be embedded inside of each other to create exactly the layout you want.

There are classes to display images, text or text and images together. ListView, TreeView and TableView allow collections of data to be displayed on screen (and edited) in highly customizable ways.

For user input, you can choose from TextField, ComboBox, ChoiceBox, Spinner, Checkbox, RadioButton, Buttons and ToggleButtons.

All of these Nodes have a large number of methods and properties for controlling their presentation and how they act. Learning how to use them and configure them can be a daunting task. Luckily, most of the tutorials on the web seem to focus on this aspect of JavaFX, so help is easy to find.

Read More

Bindings and Observable Objects

This is the Reactive part of JavaFX, and it’s critical to understand how this works.

Observable Objects

Just like the Nodes, there are a large number of classes and interfaces that extend from the Observable interface. This includes the ObservableList and Property interfaces which used extensively in just about any JavaFX application.

Observables are wrappers around various data types, and the values inside them can be imperatively accessed through getters and setters.

Observables are used in two ways. The most important is Bindings, the other is ChangeListeners.


The interface Property contains only methods related to binding, and this is the key characteristic of any Observable class. Binding is how a Property is connected to one or more other properties. So that a change in one of those Properties will trigger a change in the bound Property. Binding is also an interface - which extends Observable, and ObservableValue - so you can connect any number of Properties together into a single value which is contained inside of an Observable wrapper, which means it can be used just like a read-only Property.

Read About Bindings Here

All of the JavaFX Node descendants have a variety of properties that can be bound from (or to) properties in other Nodes, or custom properties created by the programmer. This is the core of how a reactive application is built - Properties in the GUI are bound to Properties in the Data Model, and then application controls the GUI largely by manipulating the state of the Data Model.


ChangeListeners are way to manually monitor a Property for changes in its value, and then to trigger some code when a change happens. Generally speaking, Bindings are much preferred over listeners, but there are times when only a listener will work. The reason for this is that Bindings link “State”, while ChangeListeners transform changes in “State” to actions. Programming to State is usually better, but events work better in some circumstances, such as when data from external API’s need to be loaded on a State change.

Read More About Listeners

Events and Actions

At its heart, JavaFX is “Event Driven Programming”, and even bindings probably boil down to event handling deep inside the JavaFX library. Events can be triggered by Property changes, through mouse move movements and clicks, by keyboard actions, and the actions on Nodes like Buttons and MenuItems. Events are captured in the code through “Handlers”, and each EventHandler specifies code that should be run when the event occurs.

It’s important to understand where actions and Events are more appropriate than State changes and Bindings. Something like a Button click is unmistakably an “Action”, and should probably be treated as such. It would be possible to configure a click handler on a Button to toggle a Property in State, which is then captured with a ChangeListener in an application logic class, but that’s probably the most complicated way to program the process.


All of the JavaFX Nodes can be styled with cascading style sheets. These are largely compatible with web standards for CSS, but there are some differences to learn about. How you implement CSS styling largely becomes a matter of taste. You can override the standard styling for entire classes of Nodes, or you can create custom selectors and attach them to specific Nodes in your code. Or you can do both.

Getting started with stylesheets is pretty easy. There are, as usual, some things you need to know before you get going but they’ve all been gathered together in this article:

Read About How to Get Started with Stylesheets Here

Pseudo-Classes are the best way to represent changes in the State of your application the styling of your GUI.

Read About Pseudo-Classes Here

Handling the GUI Thread

Like virtually every GUI library available, it’s really, really bad to do long or blocking operations on the same thread that is maintaining the GUI. This handled by launching a background thread to do the otherwise blocking operation, and then triggering an event at its completion which will update the GUI. The GUI thread in JavaFX is called the “FX Application Thread”, or “FXAT”


This is probably the number one issue that beginners in JavaFX struggle with.

The biggest implication of this is that you cannot program linearly. Try as hard as you like, but there’s no way that you can run anything that looks like a “Function” (ie. input some data and wait for an answer) triggered from the FXAT that uses a background thread. When your application behaves weirdly and seems laggy or hangs, come back to this paragraph and read it carefully because this is what you’re probably trying to do.

JavaFX provides a handy class called “Task”, which supplies a runnable which you can pass to a Thread. When the code in the Task has been completed, it triggers a “Success” Event. You can supply an Event Handler which be invoked when the “Success” event is triggered. Just like any Event Handler, it will be run on the FXAT and can therefore update the GUI.

Read About The FXAT and Task Here