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< GEF‎ | GEF4

Note to non-wiki readers: This documentation is generated from the Eclipse wiki - if you have corrections or additions it would be awesome if you added them in the original wiki page.


The GEF4 Layout component provides basic abstractions for layout algorithms and related listeners, as well as a set of layout algorithm implementations. It is internally decomposed into the single Layout module. There are also a couple of undeployed Layout Examples.



  • feature: org.eclipse.gef4.layout
  • bundle: org.eclipse.gef4.layout

The Layout module of GEF4 Layout provides an interface-based facade to exchange layout information with layout algorithms ({Root}), concrete implementations of layout algorithms (Algorithms), as well as listeners to hook into the layout computation (Listeners).


  • package: org.eclipse.gef4.layout

The {Root} package provides support for automatic layout. Automatic layout is performed by ILayoutAlgorithm implementations. Each ILayoutAlgorithm is bound to an ILayoutContext, which provides all necessary information about what is to be layouted and how. The what is described in terms of IEntityLayout and IConnectionLayout abstractions, where an IEntityLayout may represent a simple node (INodeLayout) or a subgraph (ISubgraphLayout). An ILayoutFilter can be used to sort out layout abstractions (currently) not of relevance. Details about the what can be inferred from properties (LayoutProperties) that can be attributed to all layout abstractions. These can also be used to influence how the layout algorithm performs the layout.



ILayoutAlgorithm is the base abstraction for all layout algorithm implementations. An ILayoutAlgorithm needs a reference to an ILayoutContext, which provides information about what is to be layouted in terms of IEntityLayouts and IConnectionLayouts abstractions), which will have to be attributed in addition with respective properties that are required by the algorithm.

ILayoutContext, AbstractLayoutContext

An ILayoutContext provides the necessary context information needed by an ILayoutAlgorithm. The ILayoutContext is the central entry point for clients to trigger layout. It provides references to the IEntityLayout and IConnectionLayout representations that indicate what is to be layouted. These information is based on an underlying data model, for example, GEF4 Graph provides a graph data model for which GEF4 Zest provides an ILayoutContext implementation.

The ILayoutContext also contains references to a dynamic and static layout algorithm which may be applied. The difference between static and dynamic layout algorithms is that a dynamic layout algorithm is not re-initialized before applying the layout. Moreover, it supports notifying registered listeners upon changes to the context, i.e. addition/removal of nodes/edges, etc. This can be used by layout algorithms to update their internal state. Furthermore, it supports scheduling pre-layout-passes and post-layout-passes which are executed before or after applying a layout, respectively. These can, for example, be used to update the information which the ILayoutContext provides, prior to applying a layout, or transfering information back from the ILayoutContext to the underlying data model after applying a layout.

When applying a layout, the configured algorithm will include all layout entities (nodes and subgraphs) and edges returned by the ILayoutContext when computing the layout. Therefore, a context should only return those entities and edges which should be layed out. However, you do not need to remove all entities and edges from the context which should not be layed out, but can add an appropriate ILayoutFilter to the context which filters out all those entities and edges.

IEntityLayout, INodeLayout, ISubgraphLayout, IConnectionLayout

The IEntityLayout, INodeLayout, ISubgraphLayout, and IConnectionLayout abstractions represent layout entities (nodes and subgraphs), and edges between those entities. Usually, they are derived from an underlying data model. They provide a general property mechanism to store layout relevant data. The corresponding properties can be accessed using the LayoutProperties class.


An ILayoutFilter is used to filter out layout entities and edges from an ILayoutContext, so that they are not returned by the context, and therefore, are not layed out. For example, this is how GEF4 Zest filters out hidden nodes and edges:

// add layout filter for hidden/layout irrelevant elements
final HidingModel hidingModel = getHost().getRoot().getViewer().getAdapter(HidingModel.class);
layoutContext.addLayoutFilter(new ILayoutFilter() {

  public boolean isLayoutIrrelevant(IConnectionLayout connectionLayout) {
    return ZestProperties.getLayoutIrrelevant(((GraphEdgeLayout) connectionLayout).getEdge(), true)
           || isLayoutIrrelevant(connectionLayout.getSource())
	   || isLayoutIrrelevant(connectionLayout.getTarget());

  public boolean isLayoutIrrelevant(INodeLayout nodeLayout) {
    org.eclipse.gef4.graph.Node node = (org.eclipse.gef4.graph.Node) nodeLayout.getItems()[0];
    return ZestProperties.getLayoutIrrelevant(node, true) || hidingModel.isHidden(node);



The LayoutProperties class defines the layout properties for ILayoutContext, IEntityLayout, INodeLayout, ISubgraphLayout, and IConnectionLayout, as well as accessors for those properties. Layout algorithms access these properties to read/write node locations and sizes, among other things.

public static void main(String[] args) {
  // create graph
  Graph graph = new Graph();
  Node n1 = new Node();
  Node n2 = new Node();
  graph.getNodes().addAll(Arrays.asList(new Node[] { n1, n2 }));
  Edge e = new Edge(n1, n2);
  // create layout context
  GraphLayoutContext context = new GraphLayoutContext(graph);
  // set layout bounds
  LayoutProperties.setBounds(context, new Rectangle(0, 0, 100, 100));
  // set node layout sizes
  LayoutProperties.setSize(context.getNodeLayout(n1), 25, 25);
  LayoutProperties.setSize(context.getNodeLayout(n2), 25, 25);

  // set layout algorithm
  context.setStaticLayoutAlgorithm(new SpringLayoutAlgorithm());

  // apply layout

  // read locations after layout
  System.out.println("n1 at " + LayoutProperties.getLocation(context.getNodeLayout(n1)));
  System.out.println("n2 at " + LayoutProperties.getLocation(context.getNodeLayout(n2)));



  • package: org.eclipse.gef4.layout.algorithms

The Algorithms package provides different implementations of concrete layout algorithms. There are a couple of simple algorithms that arrange nodes in a grid (GridLayoutAlgorithm), a single column or row (BoxLayoutAlgorithm), or which simply prevent overlapping of nodes (HorizontalShiftLayoutAlgorithm).


There are also tree-based algorithms that arrange nodes in a classical (TreeLayoutAlgorithm) or radial tree (RadialLayoutAlgorithm), as well as a dedicated algorithm that optimizes folding and unfolding of sub-trees based on the available size (SpaceTreeLayoutAlgorithm).


Last, there is the implementation (SugiyamaLayoutAlgorithm) of a rank-based algorithm as published by Kozo Sugiyama, Shojiro Tagawa, and Mitsuhiko Toda in their paper about Methods for Visual Understanding of Hierarchical System Structures.



A GridLayoutAlgorithm is a simple layout algorithm that places all elements into a grid, where the number of columns and rows is computed by the algorithm.


A BoxLayoutAlgorithm is a simple layout algorithm that places all elements in a single column or row, depending on a specifiable orientation.




A HorizontalShiftLayoutAlgorithm is a simple layout algorithm that shifts overlapping nodes to the right.


The TreeLayoutAlgorithm was designed with the PDE Dependency Visualization in mind and is based on its layout algorithm. Initially only nodes without predecessors are expanded. Other nodes become visible if they have at least one direct predecessor which is visible and expanded. Collapsed nodes can have outcoming connections if the target node is visible because of a predecessor. There's an option to hide such connections.



The RadialLayoutAlgorithm lays out a tree in a circular fashion, where the roots are located in the center.



The SpaceTreeLayoutAlgorithm keeps track of node positions all the time, always trying to form a nice tree structure. This means movement of nodes with the mouse is somehow restricted (you can move a node within its current layer, but only if it doesn't cause nodes to be pushed out of the graph area. When an expand operation is requested on a node, the node is centered and its subtree is shown, as long as there's enough space (other parts of the tree can be collapsed to extend available space).



The SugiyamaLayoutAlgorithm lays out nodes in ranks. Its an implementation of the algorithm published by Kozo Sugiyama, Shojiro Tagawa, and Mitsuhiko Today in their paper about Methods for Visual Understanding of Hierarchical System Structures.



  • package: org.eclipse.gef4.layout.listeners

The Listeners package contains interfaces for various listeners which can be registered on an ILayoutContext, as well as a support class which can handle the listener (un-)registration and firing of events.



An IContextListener is notified about changes to context attributes such as the "bounds" which limits the area where nodes can be placed by layout algorithms, the "pruningEnablement" which defines whether nodes can be pruned, and the "backgroundEnablement" which defines whether layout algorithms are allowed to perform a layout pass in reaction to layout context events.


An IGraphStructureListener is notified about structural changes, i.e. the addition/removal of nodes and connections.


An ILayoutListener is notified about layout changes, i.e. relocation of nodes, resizing of nodes, relocation of subgraphs, and resizing of subgraphs.


An IPruningListener is notified about pruning changes, i.e. adding nodes to a subgraph (pruning), or removing nodes from a subgraph (unpruning).


The LayoutListenerSupport can handle the (un-)registration of layout event listeners (IContextListener, IGraphStructureListener, ILayoutListener, and IPruningListener) and firing of events. It is used by the AbstractLayoutContext.

Migration from Zest 1.x to GEF4 Layout

The layout API that was part of Zest 1.x has been migrated into the GEF4 Layout component, where it has been reworked (see [#372365] for details).

Custom Layouts

To define custom layouts, instead of extending AbstractLayoutAlgorithm implement ILayoutAlgorithm (see example below and full code in CustomLayoutExample.java in the examples bundle).

ILayoutAlgorithm layoutAlgorithm = new ILayoutAlgorithm() {
  private ILayoutContext context;

  public void applyLayout(boolean clean) {
    IEntityLayout[] entitiesToLayout = context.getEntities();
    int totalSteps = entitiesToLayout.length;
    double distance = LayoutProperties.getBounds(context).getWidth() / totalSteps;
    int xLocation = 0;

    for (int currentStep = 0; currentStep < entitiesToLayout.length; currentStep++) {
      IEntityLayout layoutEntity = entitiesToLayout[currentStep];
      LayoutProperties.setLocation(layoutEntity, xLocation,
      /* LayoutProperties.getLocation(layoutEntity).y */0);
      xLocation += distance;

  public ILayoutContext getLayoutContext() {
    return context;

  public void setLayoutContext(ILayoutContext context) {
    this.context = context;