Developing using jQuery, Firefox and Firebug

10Its becoming more important to know jQuery. If you haven’t heard of jQuery, its one of the most commonly used javascript libraries used on the web. We use it for the corporate site, Hi, and GO. If your not a frequent developer in javaScript it can be an ordeal either re-learning what you’ve forgotten (I’m at that age) or having to learn something new for the first time.

As Douglas Adams would have said..

There are some really nice tools to get you started. If you don’t already, using Firefox as your development browser means that you can take advantage of a whole bunch of development tools, so if you haven’t already fire up this post in Firefox. One of the most famous developer tools for Firefox is Firebug. If you develop, you should use Firebug, get it and install it.

You don’t even need a site with jQuery already installed. BBC famously uses its own javaScript library (Glow), not jQuery, so go to the BBC homepage and fire up FireBug (F12) if you haven’t already done so.

If you’re new to FireBug, you may want a few minutes to explore and play (you’ll feel a little bit like the Scorcerer’s Apprentice). When you’ve finished playing; On the menu bar of Firebug you should see “Console”. Click “Console” to open it. In the bottom left hand corner enter :jQuery at the >>> prompt. As the BBC doesn’t use jQuery you should get an error telling you that jQuery isn’t defined.

John Reisig, the man behind jQuery, has created a bookmarklet called jQuerify. The bookmarklet loads jQuery to sites that don’t have jQuery (but only for your browser session). To use it just drag the jQuerify link into your browser toolbar and whilst on the BBC homepage, click it.

Now when you type jQuery at the Console, you should have access to the jQuery library. Now you can start to play with the jQuery library. For example, at the console type: jQuery(‘h2’) which gets all h2 elements on the page. Clicking the returned Object item takes you into the Document Object Model, giving access to all sorts of information about those page elements.

OK, lets do something freaky. Lets get rid of all the BBC’s h2 elements. Make sure you’re on the BBC home page, jQuerify has been clicked and go back to the console in Firebug and enter: jQuery(‘h2’).hide(2000)

This will hide all of the h2 elements on the page, but will be animated over 2 seconds so you can see them slide away. Don’t panic (you only did it in your browser)! You can re-display the elements by submitting: jQuery(‘h2’).show() You could also just refresh the browser, but you would have to re-click your jQuerify bookmarklet to continue experimenting with jQuery.

Now you can experiment with the entire jQuery library to learn many of the methods, documented on the site, just by entering code in the firebug console.

Video, Silverlight and jQuery

During our 25 days of blogging last year, Sam talked about some of the new websites designs that we’ve been working on.  The 125 website was the first to go live last month and today we have released the website accompanying the exhibition for a new sports development.

For both sites we’ve developed some new ways of displaying information as well as improving the designs. Bot the homepage designs use jQuery to create visual effects on the page. 125 has multiple “slides” of information. Each slide transitions to the next after a short period of time or when you click the link on the right.

New Sport also uses some jQuery transitions, this time to change the background image and headline when you hover over links to each section.

There’s a few more new additions to the sport site. We were provided with a DVD containing lots of aerial photos of the campus to feature in a gallery. We’ve done the usual thumbnail gallery but we’ve also got a fancier way of showing off photos.

Microsoft Photosynth is a tool from their Live Labs project. It works by taking a set of photos, working out how they fit together and creating a 3D model in which you can navigate around them. Our set of photos is 71% “synthy” – a measure of how we matched they are – pretty good I’d say! The one negative thing is that viewing the resulting photosynth requires Silverlight on the browser.

Photosynth of Edge Hill

Another new development that’s being released for the first time on this site is a video browser. The observant may have noticed last week video pages on the Edge Hill site changed slightly, doubling the size of the video and moving around some elements on the page. This was to allow us to highlight related videos right along side.

Video player

One final little thing we’ve incorporated into this site is embedding the PDF of exhibition boards – normally a sizable download – into the page using Scribd. Using third party hosted services has risks associated with it but here it clearly benefits the user to be able to quickly scan through pages without the need to download a large file and open in Acrobat.

Rose tinted json

Lately, we have been looking at providing a little automation to parts of the site which are less dynamic, by using some of the data serialisations that we create, with a sprinkling of javaScript magic.  Specifically we’ve looked at pulling Edge Hill event data, tagged with “rose theatre” into the Rose Theatre site.

This week I will be mostly using jsonCurrently events are added to the events Edge Hill events data, which can be duplicated. Our data serialisations come in four flavours, XML, JSON, PHP and YAML.

This week I have been mostly using JSON.

JSON is javaScript, and doesn’t need a server.  It runs on the site visitor’s browser (if enabled) and provides a way for us to access dynamic data and publish it on static web pages.

The first stage was to create the JSON feed.  Since Edge Hill already has data serialisations for Events and News, all I needed to do was to tweak it a bit and add a new function to the database to return events tagged with “rose theatre” and add a new URL to access the results which look something like this:

	"title":"Alternative Stand Up",
	"summary":"Comedy at the Rose Theatre.",
	"content":"<p>Tickets \u00a35.50 \/ \u00a33.50 concessions<p><strong>Jamie Sutherland<p>One of the freshest and most natural talents to emerge in the last few years, Jamie has truly established himself on the comedy circuit, and is now very much in demand all over the UK.\u00a0 Liverpool born Jamie will keep you amused with gags, tall tales, and true stories garnered from everyday observational topics.<p><strong>Danny McLoughlin<p>Danny is a complete natural and destined for the top.\u00a0 Think Peter Kay for the confidence factor.<p><strong>Rosie Wilby<p>Rosie Wilby has been performing as a singer songwriter for many years and turned to comedy in 2004, storming through to the semi finals of So You Think You're Funny, on only her second ever stand up gig.\u00a0 In August 2006, Rosie unveiled her debut full length show \u2018Olympic Swingball Champion 2012' at Edinburgh Fringe.<p>Compere.....<p><strong>Ste Porter<p>A top class act who will be a regular comedy circuit favourite before long.\u00a0 See him in Ormskirk first!<p>For further information or to book, call 01695 584480 or email <a>",
	"created_at":"2008-08-13 14:04:28",
	"updated_at":"2008-08-14 13:46:40",
		"Stand Up":"Stand Up",
		"rose theatre":"rose theatre"

Next, add the following code to the html document into which you want to add the data feed:

<div id="rtevents">
  <h3>Next up</h3>
    The Rose Theatre's <a href="/events/tag/rose theatre" title="List of events for the rose Theate">upcoming events</a>

The div with the id of “rtevents” acts as a placeholder for the code which will be inserted. At this point, a level 3 heading has been applied with a link to the events page. This gives visitors without javascript capabilities a way of viewing the events (in this case a link to events for the rose theatre page).

In addition to the tags, the jQuery library was added. jQuery has a ready-made method for “getting” a JSON feed and the documentation is detailed, yet simple enough to get you started with a working example.  Using that example, I wrote:

    $.getJSON(/events/tag/rose+theatre/json”, function(data){
      $(‘#rtevents’).html(<h3>Next up</h3>);
      $(‘#rtevents’).append(<table id="”eventrow”"></table>);
      $.each(data, function(i,data){
        urldate = data.start_date.substr(0, 4)+/+data.start_date.substr(5, 2)+/+data.start_date.substr(8, 2);
        date =<td>+data.start_date.substr(8, 2)+/+data.start_date.substr(5, 2)+</td>;
        time =<td>+data.start_time.substr(0, 5)+</td>;
        time = time ==<td>00:00</td>?<td>TBA</td>: time;
        oddeven = i % 2 == 0 ? ‘even’ : ‘odd’;
        $(“#eventrow”).append(<tr class="”‘+oddeven+‘”">+date+<td><a href="”/events/’+urldate+‘/’+data.slug+‘”">+data.title+</a></td>+time+</tr>);
        if (i == 5) {// sets the maximum number of records returned
          return false;

Let’s try to explain what’s going on here (row by row). The whole thing won’t work unless javascript is enabled in your browser.

  1. Line 1: A jQuery function which runs the javascript that follows it after the html page has loaded.
  2. Line 2: A jQuery call to the JSON feed and a function call to to tell the browser what to do with the data.
  3. Line 3: Find the element with the id “rtevents” and replace it’s contents with our <h3> element.
  4. Line 4-5: Append the table (named; “eventrow”) and table headers to the “rtevents” element (following the h3).
  5. Line 6: For each event returned in the JSON feed, do the following:
  6. Line 7-11: Format JSON data for output.
  7. Line 12: Append the table row to the table (named “eventrow”) with all the formatted data.
  8. Line 13-15: restrict the number of table rows returned if necessary.

Knowing this, you can parse any JSON feeds using jQuery, and there are plenty to choose from these days. A few examples:

Fancy yourself as a javaScript developer? Then add JSON to your bow strings.