Java: Swing or SWT – which one is better?

I’m actually to lazy to write a full argument here, so I will just post my bullshit filler crap from a recent research paper:

5.3 Designing a Graphical User Interface

The discussion of GUI design should start by choosing appropriate widget toolkit. Java offers developers several attractive graphical environments. We will first take a closer look on each of them. Visualization details will then be explained in terms of that chosen toolkit.

5.3.1 Choosing a Widget Toolkit

There are three competing major widget toolkits that can be used for building graphical user interfaces in Java: AWT, Swing and SWT. Both AWT and Swing are currently included in Java Standard Edition, while SWT is an external set of libraries that needs to be downloaded and deployed separately.

The AWT toolkit was the first widget system implemented for Java. It is composed from fairly simple wrapper classes which in turn make calls to the native windowing environment to display GUI elements. Since each platform has a different set of native widgets, Sun only included the most basic ones in AWT [37].

Swing toolkit was developed in 1998 as a replacement of AWT. It abandoned the idea of using the systems native windowing environment, and designed a complete, feature rich widget toolkit entirely in Java. Swing is still in active development, and offers an impressing number of different graphical tools and GUI elements to the developers. For example, the package included in Java 1.4 includes 85 public interfaces, and 451 public classes [40].

The pure Java implementation however has proved to be both a blessing and a curse for this toolkit. Since Swing elements are really Java objects, they can only communicate with the underlying operating system through the JVM. In some cases this can create significant overhead, and thus Java based interfaces will often appear
to be less responsive, or slower than their native counterparts [37].

The Standard Widget Toolkit (SWT) [41] developed by IBM is a hybrid between Swing and AWT. It combines both approaches by including both calls to native widget elements, as well as implementing pure Java based ones. This helps to significantly improve the performance without sacrificing any of the advanced features one may
look for in an enterprise grade product [37].

The difference in performance, and responsiveness between Swing and SWT however is widely disputed and highly controversial. For example some benchmarks claim that Swing can outperform it’s competitor with respect to speed of rendering and re drawing windows on non-windows platforms [42]. Thus is is not very clear if SWT is really faster than Swing, or if overhead of the native calls and communication between Java and non-Java elements diminishes any performance gains stemming from using a native widget implementation.

Benchmarking the two toolkits is out of scope for this paper, and thus we chose Swing as our GUI toolkit because it is a Java standard, and it reduces the complexity of our code by eliminating dependency on a third party library.


[37] S. Holzner, Eclipse: Programming Java Applications. O’Reilly, 2004.
[40] R. Eckstein, J. Elliott, B. Cole, D. Wood, and M. Loy, Java Swing. O’Reilly, 2002.
[41] “The standard widget toolkit,” IBM. [Online]. Available:
[42] I. Kriznar, “Swt vs. swing performance comparison,” Cosylab D.O.O, 2005. [Online]. Available Here

© 2007 Lukasz Grzegorz Maciak

I pulled the above from a draft version because it’s late, and I don’t feel like locating the finalized reviewed document. So there might be typos and grammar errors in there – which is of course nothing new around ere.

I ended up using Swing, and perhaps it was not the best choice. Not for an image processing application perhaps. So you tell me. Which one is better in your experience. Is SWK really that much faster than Swing? Is the added speed worth the hassle of bundling it with correct SWK packages for correct systems?

I would love to hear from bit SWK supporters – what are the best selling points of this widget kit over Swing, other than the speed? Anyone knows any good benchmark tests that were done to compare these?

I will have to make this same decision for another project soon, and as usual I’m not entirely convinced which one to choose. I’m leaning towards Swing because I worked with it before, and I know at least some of it’s quirks and pitfalls to be avoided. SWK would be a completely new ballgame.

What do you think?

[tags]java, swing, swk, gui widgets, gui toolkits, gui, java gui, ibm, sun[/tags]

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2 Responses to Java: Swing or SWT – which one is better?

  1. williamchen INDIA Mozilla Firefox Solaris says:

    As to image processing application, your choice of swing is correct. Swing may not be faster than SWT. But as an image and graphics tools, it has lots of advantages over SWT.

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  2. KNC UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Ubuntu Linux says:

    What do I think?

    I think if your first sentence is telling me you’ve posted the bullshit from your paper, then I’m not going to waste my time.

    I’m looking for reviews on the best choice for a Java GUI toolkit (or at least an unbiased comparison). But it’s nowhere to be found.

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