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This article covers some of the philosophy behind the AWT and addresses the practical concern of how to create a simple user interface for an applet or application.
The user interface is that part of a program that interacts with the user of the program. User interfaces take many forms. These forms range in complexity from simple command-line interfaces to the point-and-click graphical user interfaces provided by many modern applications.
At the lowest level, the operating system transmits information from the mouse and keyboard to the program as input, and provides pixels for program output. The AWT was designed so that programmers don't have worry about the details of tracking the mouse or reading the keyboard, nor attend to the details of writing to the screen. The AWT provides a well-designed object-oriented interface to these low-level services and resources.
Because the Java programming language is platform-independent, the AWT must also be platform-independent. The AWT was designed to provide a common set of tools for graphical user interface design that work on a variety of platforms. The user interface elements provided by the AWT are implemented using each platform's native GUI toolkit, thereby preserving the look and feel of each platform. This is one of the AWT's strongest points. The disadvantage of such an approach is the fact that a graphical user interface designed on one platform may look different when displayed on another platform.
A graphical user interface is built of graphical elements called components. Typical components include such items as buttons, scrollbars, and text fields. Components allow the user to interact with the program and provide the user with visual feedback about the state of the program. In the AWT, all user interface components are instances of class Component or one of its subtypes.
Components do not stand alone, but rather are found within containers. Containers contain and control the layout of components. Containers are themselves components, and can thus be placed inside other containers. In the AWT, all containers are instances of class Container or one of its subtypes.