David R. Heffelfinger
NetBeans Visual Web Pack Dead, What a Shame
One of the features I really liked about NetBeans was it's Visual Web Pack (VWP) functionality, it allowed developing the GUI of a JSF application by simply dragging and dropping components from a palette into the page.
Although I have no trouble actually typing code or markup by hand, especially with a good code editor such as the one provided by NetBeans, the convenience of VWP didn't stop with the visual drag and drop.
When creating a VWP page, a managed bean was created automatically, and automatically added to
faces-config.xml. Although on the surface this sounds simple, it was a big time saver. Additionally, a database table could be dragged to some of the components, and a lot of "plumbing" code was automatically generated to display or update, as illustrated in this tutorial.
Visual Web Pack used the Woodstock JSF component library, in October 2008, Sun announced that it would be abandoning project Woodstock, but luckily provided a migration path to IceFaces, going as far as having IceFaces provide a VWP plugin for NetBeans. Unfortunately it looked like this was the beginning of the end of VWP.
I actually used the IceFaces VWP NetBeans plugin for a small project, although my initial impression of the NetBeans IceFaces plugin was less than favorable, after a while I started liking it. Lately, I've been using the NetBeans 6.7 release candidate, one of the first things I did after installing this version of NetBeans was to get the IceFaces NetBeans plugin for it. To my surprise and dismay, it does not provide Visual Web functionality.
It is really unfortunate that for whatever reason, IceFaces decided to drop support for visual web development, as far as I can tell, all their current NetBeans plugin does is provide a palette that introduces markup to JSF pages (mind you, this is not visual), and include the IceFaces libraries in any JSF project declared to use IceFaces.
Dragging and dropping into markup is not really that useful, we can simply type an opening angled bracket ("<") and hit
ctrl+space to see all the JSF tags we can use, this is actually faster than moving the hand to the mouse, scroll the components in the palette up and down until we find the one we need, then drag it and drop it to the appropriate location on the page.
The one thing I will miss the most is the automated managed bean generation, in practice, I rarely used the feature where a database table could be visually linked to a JSF component since th generated code was a bit convoluted an unusual. I want to say it used JDBC, but this is not exactly accurate, it used a VWP specific concept of a dataprovider to link the database data to the component, I tend to use JPA in my Java EE projects, the fact that the database table drag and drop functionality did not generate JPA code kept me from using it in my project.
In any case, it looks like VWP is dead, long live VWP!