NetBeans 3.6 IDE Released

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The NetBeans version 3.6 is the next major revision to the NetBeans Integrated Development Environment (IDE). The 3.6 release brings users a number of significant improvements, including many improvements to the editor, window navigation, web and Java 2 Platform, Enterprise Edition (J2EE) development, as well as new task list functionality and updated support for the Ant build tool and JUnit testing framework.

With NetBeans IDE 3.6, and Sun Microsystems have significantly updated this leading integrated development environment (IDE) for the Java platform. Whether building Java technology-based components, web applications, rich desktop clients or mobile applications, NetBeans IDE 3.6 provides a complete and powerful solution.

The NetBeans IDE 3.6 includes the following new features and functionality:

  • A brand new windowing system, providing native look and feel on Windows platforms
  • Enhanced navigation and workflow
  • 2-tier J2EE 1.4 support (servlet 2.4 and JSP 2.0)
  • Improved JSP debugging with JSR-45 Support
  • Available cobundled with Sun Java System Application Server, Platform Edition 8
  • Code editor enhancements such as Smart Brackets and Code Folding
  • Integrated testing support through JUnit
  • Improved online help with JavaHelp 2.0 integration
  • Improved CVS Support
  • Task List window
  • Basic Support for J2SE 1.5 (Tiger) Beta
  • Available cobundled with J2SE 1.4.2

If you haven't tried NetBeans before, or even if you have, this version is worth a download because the changes that the community incorporated are not only useful, they can save you steps building, testing, debugging and deploying your Java applications. Amongst many of the editor productivity features, smart brackets and code folding are worth trying. So is the new integrated unit testing through JUnit. CVS access was streamlined, and the Ant build tool is now configurable. Also, NetBeans 3.6 further improves the powerful GUI builder from previous NetBeans versions that lets you build rich clients that use both AWT or the Java Foundation Classes (JFC/Swing). The GridBagLayout Customizer will save you time by customizing the GridBagLayout to better match your coding style.

This article serves as a jumping-off point, directing you to NetBeans resources and downloads as it highlights some of the new 3.6 features including:

Editor Improvements

Code folding was introduced in NetBeans 3.6. With this new feature, you can hide method bodies, comments, import statements, and other blocks of code by folding them in the Source Editor. This feature alone will save you time scrolling up and down. This is useful particularly for long sources, where the ability to "Collapse All" serves as a nice overview mode.

Code Folding
Tag Matching

Good for anyone, but especially Java programming newbies are the method overriding marking, tooltip error description, opening/closing tag matching, and smart brackets features. The Source Editor marks all inherited methods in the left margin, so you won't accidentally override any. Just hold your mouse over the icon and you'll see which class or interface the method is inherited from. The error description works the same way -- hold your mouse over any text containing compilation errors to view the error in a tooltip. The Source Editor also now automatically closes all open parentheses, brackets, and quotes. A good example is when you type System.out.println( , the IDE will automatically enter the closing parenthesis. And if you forgot where a code block closes, put your cursor on the starting curly bracket and it's reciprocal will be highlighted.

The advanced debugger also boasts many new features. This fully-integrated visual debugger lets you capture snapshots of the state of your application during execution. It provides simultaneous multi-process debugging, thus simplifying the development of your partitioned applications. The remote debugger allows you to debug complex distributed applications, and the multi- platform debugging feature helps you to debug Java applications on different platforms. This debugger also includes support for functions such as multiple and conditional breakpoints, thread and threadgroups, including suspend and restart threads, "Watch" variables for finding/fixing bugs, and multiple debugger implementations with a common User Interface, including the Java platform Debugger Architecture (JPDA), and JDK debugger.

Better Integrated Version Control Systems (CVS)

Version Control

Support for version control systems has been streamlined. Both the built-in CVS client and command-line CVS support have been harmonized to use the same wizards, property editors, and command dialog boxes. Now you can connect to a CVS repository from the IDE without having a separate CVS binary on your system.

Also improved is the display of the output of versioning commands. Tabs in the VCS Output window now display the output for all VCS commands including command properties, command execution, command pools, caching, file status, and stop any running command.

Help System and Web-Based Documentation

Help System
Click to enlarge

The NetBeans 3.6 IDE merges the help for all modules into a single table of contents and index for easier navigation. Between search, index and contents, the help system has been enhanced to quickly provide solutions to your questions about the tool.

Web-based resources include three guides to help you become familiar and comfortable with using NetBeans. Using NetBeans IDE Guide walks you through the IDE workflow and highlights the most useful features. The NetBeans IDE QuickStart Guide provides a brief overview of basic tasks. Getting Started with the Form Editor is a mini tutorial on creating visual Java desktop applications in the IDE.

Web/J2EE Development

Web and J2EE development just got easier with NetBeans IDE 3.6. The IDE now supports the latest standard - J2EE 1.4, and bundles Tomcat 5 as the default web application container. The code completion database has been upgraded to support Servlet 2.4 and JSP 2.0 specifications. HTML code completion now enters the tags in uppercase or lowercase instead of in uppercase only. The NetBeans IDE provides a Validate action for JSPs instead of a Compile action, which detects all syntax problems except for syntax errors that occur at translation time.

Web/J2EE Development

Tomcat HTTP Server Integration

Tomcat 5 is bundled and supported as a default server, replacing the support for Tomcat 4.x version. You can now deploy and debug two-tier J2EE 1.4 applications within the IDE.

Sun Java System Application Server Platform Edition 8 Support

NetBeans 3.6 now also supports Sun's latest application server, and allows developers to construct and deploy truly enterprise class solutions.

Ant Support

The IDE now comes bundled with the Ant build tool, version 1.6.1. Ant is a build tool based on the Java programming language and can be used instead of the traditional make tool. The IDE's Ant support lets you compile and build your classes using build scripts written for Ant. Using Ant in NetBeans has the advantages of being written in the Java programming language, and allowing you to create cross-platform scripts and use XML as a scripting language.

Ant Support

Ant is also now configurable within the IDE which will let you set the Ant classpath, use a different version of the build tool, and more. By default, the IDE ignores your environment's CLASSPATH variable whenever it runs Ant. So, you must add the tasks to Ant's classpath if your build script is going to use custom tasks.

If you would like to change the version of Ant that the IDE uses, switch the Ant installation directory in Ant settings. You can only switch between versions 1.5.3 and higher of Ant. See the "Ant tips" sidebar to learn how to set the CLASSPATH environment or to use a different version of Ant.

Ant Tips

Provided by the NetBeans IDE 3.6 Help system

Adding Custom Tasks to Ant's Classpath
You can add custom tasks to Ant's classpath within the IDE in one of three ways:

  • Configuring the Additional Classpath property under Ant Settings in the Options window, to provide an explicit classpath to the tasks in your build script. This is the recommended method.
  • Easy management of the Ant classpath. Go to Ant Settings in the Options window and add any additional directories or libraries to Ant's classpath using the Additional Classpath property.
  • Mounting the tasks in the Filesystems tab of the Explorer and putting the entire contents of the IDE's filesystems in the build script's classpath. This method lets you develop your build scripts without having to change classpath elements, but also makes your build scripts runnable in the IDE only.

To Switch the IDE's Version of Ant:

  1. Open the Options window and select Building -> Ant Settings.
  2. Type the full path to the Ant installation directory in the Ant Home property. The Ant installation directory must contain a lib/ subdirectory containing the ant.jar binary. For example, for the standard Ant 1.5.4 release, the Ant installation directory is apache-ant-1.5.4. If you enter a directory that does not match this structure, the IDE gives you an error.

JUnit Support

JUnit 3.8.1 comes bundled with NetBeans 3.6 IDE. The JUnit framework is an open source framework that supports development of tests and provides a harness for running the tests. This integrated unit testing capability greatly enhances productivity, as you can automatically generate and execute unit tests and test suites in both text and GUI mode.

GridBagLayout Customizer

The GridBagLayout customizer gives you a visual way to work with a container's GridBagLayout manager. The customizer lets you drag and drop components into their desired locations. Then, you can fine tune the components' behavior and position with a set of simple controls and a property sheet. The IDE works behind the scenes to translate your actions into code that sets the right values for each component's GridBagConstraints object. The benefit is that you can save time by customizing the GridBagLayout to better match your coding style.

Using NetBeans 3.6 and J2SE 1.5 (Tiger) Together

The NetBeans release 3.6 can be used with the J2SE 1.5 Beta release. To use them together, read How to Use NetBeans IDE 3.6 Beta with JDK 1.5 (Tiger) Beta, which specifies the settings required to use it with J2SE 1.5. Down the road, NetBeans release 4.0 is expected to be fully optimized to take advantage of J2SE 1.5 platform features.

The Best Tool for the Job

Although it is one of the longest-lived open source tools effort in the Java community, a clear example of NetBeans' value to advancing the cause of Java development is in Sun's newest developer tool, Sun Java Studio Creator. By basing Java Studio Creator on the sophisticated features in the NetBeans core technology, Sun has been able to jumpstart its efforts to reach out to millions of corporate developers with easy-to-use visual development tools.

NetBeans' Recent Recognition

In 2003, NetBeans won two notable awards:

  • "Best Java Debugging Tool 2003" from the Readers' Choice Awards at the Edge 2004 East Conference and Expo in Boston. This award ceremony is proudly referred to as the "The Oscars of the Software Industry."
  • "Java Tool of the Year 2003" award

The NetBeans IDE is also a finalist in two categories at the upcoming Codie Awards: Best Open Source Product or Service and Best Software Development Product.

About the NetBeans Open Source Project

In June of 2000, NetBeans was made open source by Sun Microsystems, who remains the project sponsor. Today, the award-winning NetBeans IDE fulfills three roles:

  • An integrated Java IDE with facilities for a complete edit, compile, debug, and test cycle
  • A Tools platform with an extensible modular architecture to allow integration of plug-ins and easy development of ISV value-add tools solutions
  • A platform for building rich desktop clients

NetBeans is open source and freely available for commercial and noncommercial use. The source code is available to anyone to reuse as they see fit, under the terms of use. The development of the tool happens in public; decisions are made on public mailing lists, and by consensus. Individuals or companies may contribute code to the project and participation is open to anyone who wishes to participate.

The NetBeans IDE is written entirely in the Java programming language, ensuring inherent multiplatform support -- including the Solaris Operating System, Windows, Linux, OpenVMS and Macintosh platforms.

The NetBeans IDE has broad appeal among developers who use the Java programming language, and is the foundation for Sun's developer tools product line including Sun Java Studio Standard, Sun Java Studio Enterprise and Sun Java Studio Creator products. With over 2.5 million downloads since June 2003, and over 10,000 new downloads per week, the latest version, 3.6 is now available at


Explore the NetBeans IDE and platform by trying these links:

Download NetBeans 3.6 Full Release
Download the latest version of the NetBeans IDE.

Moderated Chat: What's New and Cool in NetBeans?
Read the complete transcript of the NetBeans chat that took place on March 31, 2004. It touched upon many interesting topics that are relevant to the NetBeans community as a whole.

NetBeans IDE 3.6 Release Plans
Read the main charter for the NetBeans 3.6 release, which is primarily improving navigation within the IDE, the appearance, and some coding productivity improvements.

NetBeans IDE 3.6 Release Notes

What's New in NetBeans 3.6
Read about the latest and greatest features waiting to be unlocked.

NetBeans IDE 3.6 Quick Start Guide
This document takes you through the basics of using NetBeans IDE 3.6 by creating a simple "Hello World" application, and is designed to get you going as quickly as possible.

Using NetBeans IDE 3.6
This guide is designed to give you a more detailed introduction to the IDE than available in the Quick Start Guide. Various aspects of the IDE are explored in detail.

How to install J2SE SDK 1.5 Tiger
This article specifies the settings needed in order to use NetBeans with J2SE 1.5.

Unleashing NetBeans

NetBeans Community
Visit the place where NetBeans developers and project committers gather and discuss the IDE.

Notable NetBeans News

GUI Building in NetBeans IDE 3.6
This short tutorial guides you through the process of creating an application called ColorSwitch. You will build a simple program that enables you to switch the color of a panel from light gray to medium gray to black.

NetBeans PhotoAlbum Demo
Highlights some of the functionality in NetBeans relating to web, desktop and mobile applications. A Flash demo is shown using the NetBeans IDE 3.5.1 but you may download the a complete package including: source code, demo script and installation instructions for use with NetBeans 3.6.

For more support, you may subscribe to the mailing list where you will find amateurs and experts alike to help you with your questions.

NetBeans Knowledge Base

NetBeans Online Help - The documentation included in NetBeans IDE itself. Press F1 to open the online help.

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