Introduction to Java and NetBeans:
Hello World!

The Tools You Will Use

What is Java?

Java is a computer programming language — accompanied by a set of development tools, libraries, and runtime "virtual machines" for a variety of platforms — originally developed by James Gosling and his team of programmers at Sun Microsystems. (Sun continues to own the Java trademark; to declare and evolve the standard for Java; and to develop the core tools, classes, and virtual machines that make up the Java family of products.) The key goals of the Java platform are as follows:

In most of these aspects, Java succeeds pretty well. Of course, there is a price for the flexibility and power that Java offers: while its learning curve may not be as steep as that for C++ (for example), expertise in Java still requires a significant amount of time and practice. Nonetheless, a programmer can become productive in Java in a relatively short amount of time, and a casual programmer can do good work in Java without having to be a Java guru.

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What is Object-Oriented Programming?

Object-oriented programming is a programming style, and a set of programming practices — usually supported to some extent by the underlying programming language and environment — through the use of which a programmer is able to do the following:

The ability to encapsulate data and behavior together makes OOP a very good fit for modeling and simulation projects, where objects in the physical world (with their own attributes and behaviors) are mapped to corresponding objects (with the associated attributes and behaviors) in a computer program, and the interactions between those objects are simulated in the program.

A few programming languages have been designed from the ground-up as purely object-oriented languages. However, many more are hybrids — existing languages with object-oriented features added in, or new languages which incorporate some object-oriented, and some non-object-oriented, concepts and features. For example, Visual Basic and Object Pascal (the Pascal dialect used in Delphi) fall into the category of languages which started out as non-object-oriented, and which have had object-oriented features grafted on; on the other hand, C++ and Java fall into the category of hybrid languages which have incorporated some object-oriented elements — and some non-object-oriented elements — from their inceptions.

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How do I start writing Java programs?

Given Sun's aims for Java, it would make sense for Sun to make Java compilers, libraries, and virtual machines widely available, at minimal cost. In fact, that is exactly what they have done — not just at low cost, but at no cost (in most cases). The Java Development Kit (JDK) can be downloaded free of charge from the Sun Java site (, for Windows and several flavors of Unix/Linux (including Mac OS X), and for several different CPUs. With the JDK, you can compile Java applications and applets (which can use the services provided by the classes in the extensive Java API), package compiled classes into .jar archives, sign archives — even develop Java programs that will run on cell phones and PDAs.

Also available from the Sun Java site is complete reference documentation for Java — the language, tools, and APIs — and The Java Tutorial. The latter guides a new Java programmer, step-by-step, through exercises that explore all of the key features of the Java language, and a large portion of the API library.

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What is NetBeans?

There's one very important thing missing from the JDK: a development environment. You can write Java code with any text editor (a fair number still program with notepad.exe), and then use the compiler in the JDK, but a good development environment can have a dramatic impact on programmer productivity — as well as on the rate at which a programmer moves up the learning curve.

Fortunately, Sun recognized this shortcoming several years ago, and in 1999 acquired an Integrated Development Environment (IDE) intended for Java development — and written in Java, as well — called NetBeans; they also acquired the company that developed the IDE. In 2000, Sun released NetBeans to open source, allowing the entire community of NetBeans users to participate directly in the IDE's evolution. Just as is the case with Java itself, Sun maintains control over the specification of NetBeans, and over the official releases; but developers oustide Sun are encouraged to contribute fixes and enhancements, and to participate in the specifications and standards processes.

NetBeans can be downloaded free of charge from

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"Hello World" with Java and NetBeans

Why "Hello World"?

"Hello World" is the generic name for a program which does nothing more than display or print the text: "Hello, world!" Since the 1970s (the earliest documented appearance was in an internal Bell Laboratories memo on C programming), the "Hello World" program has been widely used as a first program — a first program for someone just learning to program, a first program for a programmer learning a new language, a first program used by a compiler writer to test a new build, etc. "Hello World" programs can be very simple (like the one we will write today), or much fancier (for example, using advanced features of a GUI to present an animated "Hello World" message).

Many of you have never programmed in Java before; some that have, have never used NetBeans. So, "Hello World" is probably not a bad place to start.

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Exercise #1: Creating a new NetBeans project

Launch the NetBeans program (it may take a few minutes to fully start up, the first time after installation). When it has completed its startup process, select New Project… from the File menu, to open the New Project wizard:

NetBeans New Project wizard

Select General from the list of categories, and Java Application from the list of projects. Then, press the Next button, to go to the following screen:

New Java Application properties

Follow these steps to complete the New Java Application screen:

  1. For Project Name, type "Hello World" (don't worry about spelling or case for this one — the name you type is the name NetBeans will use when displaying the project in its workspace, but is has little to do with the compilation and execution of your program).
  2. The value provided by default in Project Location is probably fine; but if you want to be able to copy your work to a floppy or USB drive, it might be easier if you specify a directory (by clicking the Browse… button, and navigating from there) that will be easily found later. (The Desktop is pretty good for this purpose.) In any event, you will want to write this value down for later use.
  3. Make sure that Set as Main Project is checked.
  4. Make sure that Create Main Class is checked, and type "HelloWorld" for the class name (this time, spelling and case are very important — also make sure you don't have spaces between the words).
  5. Click the Finish button.

Now, you should see a new NetBeans project, with the source file for the class you specified (in step #4) open and ready for editing. (Don't worry if your NetBeans screen isn't laid out in exactly the same way: as long as you see your new project on the left, and the file open on the right, you are doing fine.)

New NetBeans project with main class open for editing

Here are some things to notice about this what is displayed in the NetBeans workspace:

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Exercise #2: Adding the "Hello, World!" code

As mentioned above, every Java standalone application has a method called main, which is declared just like our own method by that name. There is a reason for this: the Java "executive" (the software responsible for loading and running programs written in Java) needs to be able to find this method, to know where our program starts. In other words, the main method is the starting point for a Java standalone application. Since all we need to do in our program is display a single line of text, it makes sense to keep things simple, and put the Java code to do that in the main method.

Actually, NetBeans has made our task pretty easy: all we need to do is replace the line that reads "// TODO code application logic here" with the line of code that will display "Hello, world!" The question is, what code will do that?

There is a class in the Java API which is always available to us, called System. This class provides many services to Java applications; one of the most important is access to the standard input and output devices (i.e. the keyboard and screen — more specifically, a text-mode window). The System.out object is the Java encapsulation of the standard output device. The type definition for this object (remember the description of object-oriented programming, above?) includes a number of operations — called "methods", in Java — for sending data to the standard output device (i.e. displaying data in a text-mode window). For fun (but mostly because we'll make use of it in a few minutes), we're going to use a method that was only recently added to the Java API, but which has been available to C and C++ programmers for years: printf.

So, we will be calling the printf method of the System.out object. And, just as the we write System.out, to refer to the out object in the System class, we will write System.out.printf, to refer to the printf method in the System.out object.

The only thing left is to tell System.out.printf what it should display. In Java, we put string literals (i.e. text that we know when we write the code, rather than text that is computed dynamically when the program is running) inside double quotes. So, the way we would write the text we will display is exactly what you might expect: "Hello, world!" And the way we tell System.out.printf to display that text is to pass it to the method, inside parentheses: System.out.printf("Hello, world!"). Finally, we need to end the line of code with a semicolon (all simple statements in Java need a semicolon at the end), giving us this complete line of code:

Statement to display "Hello, world!"
System.out.printf("Hello, world!");

Find the line of code in the file which reads "// TODO code application logic here", and replace the entire line (but nothing else) with the line shown above.

When you are done, your main method should read as follows:

"Hello World" main method
public static void main(String[] args) { System.out.printf("Hello, world!"); }

Select Run Main Project from the Run menu, and you should see your "Hello World" message, in the output pane of the NetBeans workspace:

Hello World output

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Exercise #3: Making it a bit more interesting

So far, so good — but let's face it: "Hello World" programs are pretty boring. We don't have time to do anything really exciting with our program, but we can make the text displayed a little less static. In fact, that was why we used the System.out.printf method: it makes it easy to output dynamic data, along with static text. We haven't made use of those capabilities yet — but we will now.

Our last Java programming task in this session will be to include the current date and time (to the nearest second) in the text we display.

First, let's see how we will need to change the "Hello World" text. The System.out.printf method lets us include placeholders in the text; at runtime, these placeholders are replaced with values that we pass to the method (in addition to the text itself). These placeholders not only mark the position in the text where we want the dynamic values to appear — they also indicate the kind of values we are passing, and any conversions we want to apply to those values, before displaying them. In this case, the placeholder for a date/time value, formatted in a fairly universal format, is "%tc"; for now, let's assume that we will put this placeholder in the text right after the words "Hello, world!", and in parentheses: "Hello, world! (%tc)".

The placeholder tells the System.out.printf method where and how to display the value we pass — but it doesn't tell it the value we want to display. We know we want to display the current date and time, but how can we refer to that value, and pass it to the System.out.printf method? As it turns out, there is a class in the standard Java API library, which will do most of the work for us. That class is one of the custom datatypes we discussed earlier — the class we want is called Date, and it is located in the package (packages are collections of classes) java.util; we can thus refer to the class as java.util.Date. When we create a new object from this class, that new Date object will have as its value the current date and time, taken from the computer's system clock; the way we create this new object is with the operator new, like this: new java.util.Date().

Finally, we can pass this new object (containing the current date and time) to the System.out.printf method, simply by including it in the parentheses, after the text, with a comma between them. After modifying the text to include the placeholder, and adding the new Date object, our "Hello World" line of code should read as follows:

Code to display "Hello, world!", with the current date & time
System.out.printf("Hello, world! (%tc)", new java.util.Date());

Find the line of code that you previously modified in, and replace it with the line shown above. Be very careful about your parentheses and quotation marks, when typing this new line.

When the change is complete, your main method should look like the following:

"Hello World" main method, with display of current date & time
public static void main(String[] args) { System.out.printf("Hello, world! (%tc)", new java.util.Date()); }

Select Run Main Project from the Run menu, and your new "Hello World" message, with the date and time, should appear in the NetBeans output pane:

Hello World output with date/time

Congratulations on completing your "Hello World" (with a twist) program in Java, with NetBeans!

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