Using jQuery to Enhance the Appearance and Usability of a Web Page

jQuery is a light-weight JavaScript library that allows programmers to easily and quickly add enhancements to the appearance and behaviors of their web pages. jQuery's syntax is concise and makes use of variables in the form of CSS selectors as a way of connecting an effect with any targeted element of the DOM, be it a unique element (id), or set of elements (class), or arbitrarily chosen. Because jQuery is JavaScript, it can be embedded in any project where JavaScript can be applied.

This tutorial demonstrates how to get started using jQuery in NetBeans projects, and take advantage of the IDE when working in any front-end project involving HTML, CSS, and JavaScript files. Primarily, you'll be shown how to invoke code completion on functions, and use the integrated API support. You'll also be introduced to key jQuery concepts, including the $(document).ready function call, the use of CSS-selector-like jQuery objects, and the chaining together of jQuery effects and behaviors. You'll also explore the benefits of the jQuery UI libary by setting up a simple 'contacts list' example document, and applying the jQuery accordion widget to it.

For an example of how to use jQuery in an HTML5 application, see the Getting Started with HTML5 Applications tutorial.

Contents

Content on this page applies to NetBeans IDE 7.2, 7.3, 7.4 and 8.0

To complete this tutorial, you will need the following resources.

Software or Resource Version Required
NetBeans IDE, Java EE or HTML5 & PHP bundle 7.0 or later
Java Development Kit (JDK) 7 or 8
jQuery Core Library 1.4.2 or later
jQuery Accordion Widget 1.8.1 or later
Project Resources n/a

Notes:

  • The project resources contain JPG files needed to complete this tutorial.
  • If you need to compare your project with a working solution, you can download the sample project. (Includes both PHP and Java Web versions.)
  • If plan to work in a Java project, you should consider configuring a server for your development environment. The GlassFish server is included with the IDE's Java download, and is configured to run from NetBeans by default.
  • If you plan to work in a PHP project, you'll need to download PHP and configure your environment. For more information, see the PHP Learning Trail.
  • This document assumes you have some basic knowledge of, or programming experience with HTML, CSS, and JavaScript.

Setting Up a NetBeans Project

  1. Start by creating a new project. Select File > New Project (Ctrl-Shift-N; ⌘-Shift-N on Mac).
  2. If you want to work in a PHP project, select the PHP category, then select or PHP Application.

    If you want to work in a Java Web project, select the Java Web category, then select Web Application.
  3. Click Next and name the project jqproject. Also, specify the directory on your computer where you want save the project. Click Next.
  4. In Step 3, for purposes of this tutorial, accept default settings provided in the wizard.

    Note: If you are creating a PHP project for the first time and need help, see Configuring Your Environment for PHP Development in the PHP Learning Trail.

  5. Click Finish to complete the wizard and create a new project. The jqproject opens in the Projects window, and the project welcome file opens in the editor.
  6. Create a plain HTML file, which you can work in for the remainder of this tutorial. Because the jQuery code that we'll be adding does not require any communication with a back-end server, we'll just run the HTML file in a browser to view results.

    Right-click the project node and choose New > HTML file (Ctrl-N).

  7. Name the file index, then click Finish. In the Projects window, note that the new index.html file is listed within the project, and that the file opens in the editor.
  8. Take a look at what the welcome page looks like in a browser. To do so, right-click the index.html node in the Projects window and choose View. (You can also choose View from the file's right-click menu in the editor.) The page displays in a browser window.
    index.html displayed in browser
  9. In the index.html file in the NetBeans editor, type in jQuery Test Project between the <title> tags, and create a pair of <style> tags within the page's <head> tags. (Changes in bold.)
    <html>
      <head>
        <title>jQuery Test Project</title>
        <meta http-equiv="Content-Type" content="text/html; charset=UTF-8">
        <style type="text/css">
    
        </style>
      </head>
      <body>
        TODO write content
      </body>
    </html>
  10. Configure your project so that the index.html file displays as the welcome file when the application is deployed and run. To do so, right-click the jqproject node in the Projects window and choose Properties.
    • PHP projects: Select the Run Configuration category, then type in index.html in the Index File field.
    • Java Web projects: Select the Run category, then type in index.html in the Relative URL field.
  11. Click OK to close the Project Properties window and save changes.
  12. At this stage, you can delete the original index file that was created with your project. In PHP projects, this is the index.php file; in Java Web projects, this is the index.jsp file.

    To delete the file, right-click the file in the Projects window and choose Delete. In the confirmation dialog that displays, click Yes.

Adding the jQuery Library to the Project

Before we can begin working with jQuery, we must add the jQuery library to the project. If you haven't done so already, download the jQuery library from http://jquery.com/.

Choose the uncompressed version, i.e., 'Development', before downloading. Using the uncompressed version will allow you to examine the JavaScript code in the editor, and aid in any debugging processes.

To add the jQuery library to your NetBeans project, simply copy the library folder from its location on your computer, and paste it directly into your project in the IDE's Projects window. Details follow.

  1. In the IDE, create a folder named js, and add it to your project. To do so, click the New File ( New File button ) button in the IDE's toolbar. (Alternatively, press Ctrl-N; ⌘-N on Mac.)
  2. Select the Other category, then select Folder.
  3. Name the folder js.

    For Java Web projects, ensure that you place the js folder in the project's web root. To do so, enter web in the Parent Folder field.
  4. Click Finish to exit the wizard.
  5. Locate the jQuery library that you downloaded onto your computer. To date, the current library version is 1.4.2, so the file is typically named jquery-1.4.2.js. Copy the file to your clipboard (Ctrl-C; ⌘-C on Mac).
  6. Paste the library file into the new js folder. To do so, right-click the js and choose Paste (Ctrl-V; ⌘-V on Mac). The jquery-1.4.2.js file node appears within the folder.

    PHP project:

    Java Web project:

    jQuery library displayed in IDE's Projects window jQuery library displayed in IDE's Projects window
  7. In the editor, reference the jQuery library from the index.html file. To do so, add a pair of <script> tags and use the src attribute to point to the library location. (Changes in bold.)
    <html>
      <head>
        <title>jQuery Test Project</title>
        <meta http-equiv="Content-Type" content="text/html; charset=UTF-8">
        <script type="text/javascript" src="js/jquery-1.4.2.js"></script>
    
        <style type="text/css">
    
        </style>
      </head>
      ...
  8. Save the file (Ctrl-S; ⌘-S on Mac).

The jQuery library is now included in the jqproject project, and referenced from our index.html file. We can begin adding jQuery functionality to the page.


Getting Acquainted with jQuery

jQuery works by connecting dynamically-applied JavaScript attributes and behaviors to elements of the DOM (Document Object Model). Let's add an element to the DOM and try to affect its properties. We'll create a heading that changes color from black to blue when we click on it.

  1. We start by creating the heading, structurally an <h1> element. Remove the 'TODO write content' comment and enter the following between the <body> tags:
    <h1>Test.</h1>
  2. Now we'll create a CSS class that makes an element appear blue when it is applied. Enter the following between the <style> tags in the <head> of the document:
    .blue { color: blue; }
  3. Next we'll set up a place to put our jQuery commands. Add a new set of <script> tags to the <head> of the document, e.g., after the <script> tags linking to the jQuery library. (Changes in bold.)
    <html>
        <head>
            <title>jQuery Test Project</title>
            <meta http-equiv="Content-Type" content="text/html; charset=UTF-8">
            <script type="text/javascript" src="js/jquery-1.3.2.js"></script>
    
            <script type="text/javascript">
    
            </script>
    
            <style type="text/css">
                .blue { color: blue; }
            </style>
        </head>
        ...

    You can tidy up your code by right-clicking in the editor and choosing Format.

    The jQuery instructions that we will add must be executed only after all of the elements of the DOM have been loaded by the browser. This is important because jQuery behaviors connect to elements of the DOM, and these elements must be available to jQuery in order to get the results we expect. jQuery takes care of this for us through its built-in (document).ready function, which follows the jQuery object, represented by $.
  4. Enter this construction between the script tags you just created:
    $(document).ready(function(){
    
    });

    There is also an abbreviated version of this function that can alternately be used:

    $(function(){
    
    });
    Our instructions for jQuery take the form of a JavaScript method, with an optional object literal representing an array of parameters, and must be placed between the curly braces {} inside the (document).ready function in order to execute only at the proper time, which is after the DOM has completely loaded.

    At this stage, the index.html file should look as follows:
    <!DOCTYPE HTML PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.01 Transitional//EN">
    <html>
        <head>
            <title>jQuery Test Project</title>
            <meta http-equiv="Content-Type" content="text/html; charset=UTF-8">
            <script type="text/javascript" src="js/jquery-1.3.2.js"></script>
    
            <script type="text/javascript">
                $(document).ready(function(){
    
                });
            </script>
    
            <style type="text/css">
                .blue { color: blue; }
            </style>
        </head>
        <body>
            <h1>Test.</h1>
        </body>
    </html>
  5. To demonstrate how jQuery syntax works, let's try something simple. We'll add jQuery instructions to our page that will make the word 'Test' turn blue when we click on it. To accomplish this, we want jQuery to add the CSS class .blue to the <h1> element of the DOM when it receives a mouse click.

    Enter the following code inside the (document).ready function, between the braces {}:
    $("h1").click(function(){
    	$(this).addClass("blue");
    });
  6. Save the document (Ctrl-S; ⌘-S on Mac), then right-click in the editor and choose View to load it in your web browser. Test it to see if it works. When you click on the word 'Test', it should turn blue.
    Blue text in browser

    This example uses the jQuery click() function to invoke the jQuery addClass() function when an element matching the CSS selector "h1" is encountered. The $(this) refers back to the calling element. If we were to add more <h1>s to our page, the same behavior will be applied to all of them with this single set of rules, and each will interact with jQuery independently. (You can try this yourself as a quick exercise.)
  7. Another important quality of jQuery is that functions can be simply chained together to create more complicated or even sequenced behaviors. To demonstrate this let's add a jQuery instruction for a slow fadeOut to our click() function. Place a fadeOut("slow") jQuery function after the addClass function so that the line of code looks like this:
    $(this).addClass("blue").fadeOut("slow");
    The complete jQuery function should now look like this:
    $(document).ready(function(){
        $("h1").click(function(){
            $(this).addClass("blue").fadeOut("slow");
        });
    });
  8. In the browser, refresh the page and then click 'Test.' You will see that it turns blue, and then fades out, disappearing from the page. (To try it again, you must refresh the page.)


Adding the jQuery Accordion Widget to the Project

We created the simple test above by using JavaScript behaviors that are included in the core jQuery library. Now let's examine a more real-world example by setting up an employee contact list using basic HTML markup. We'll then apply the jQuery accordion widget to the contact list.

The accordion widget is part of the jQuery UI library. The UI library is built on top of the core library, and provides a modular approach to enabling interactions, widgets and effects to your web pages. You can keep file sizes to a mininum and conveniently select only the components you need from the jQuery's download interface at http://jqueryui.com/download.

If you have not already done so, visit http://jqueryui.com/download and download the accordion navigation widget. Note that when you select the accordion widget, the UI Core library, and Widget Factory are also automatically selected. Also note that from the download page, the 'UI lightness' theme is selected by default, and is included in your download package. We'll be applying this theme to our contact list in the following section.

  1. Paste the following code into your document in place of <h1>Test.</h1>.
    <div id="infolist">
    
        <h3><a href="#">Mary Adams</a></h3>
        <div>
            <img src="pix/maryadams.jpg" alt="Mary Adams">
            <ul>
                <li><h4>Vice President</h4></li>
                <li><b>phone:</b> x8234</li>
                <li><b>office:</b> 102 Bldg 1</li>
                <li><b>email:</b> </li>
            </ul>
            <br clear="all">
        </div>
    
        <h3><a href="#">John Matthews</a></h3>
        <div>
            <img src="pix/johnmatthews.jpg" alt="John Matthews">
            <ul>
                <li><h4>Middle Manager</h4></li>
                <li><b>phone:</b> x3082</li>
                <li><b>office:</b> 307 Bldg 1</li>
                <li><b>email:</b> </li>
            </ul>
            <br clear="all">
        </div>
    
        <h3><a href="#">Sam Jackson</a></h3>
        <div>
            <img src="pix/samjackson.jpg" alt="Sam Jackson">
            <ul>
                <li><h4>Deputy Assistant</h4></li>
                <li><b>phone:</b> x3494</li>
                <li><b>office:</b> 457 Bldg 2</li>
                <li><b>email:</b> </li>
            </ul>
            <br clear="all">
        </div>
    
        <h3><a href="#">Jennifer Brooks</a></h3>
        <div>
            <img src="pix/jeniferapplethwaite.jpg" alt="Jenifer Applethwaite">
            <ul>
                <li><h4>Senior Technician</h4></li>
                <li><b>phone:</b> x9430</li>
                <li><b>office:</b> 327 Bldg 2</li>
                <li><b>email:</b> </li>
            </ul>
            <br clear="all">
        </div>
    </div>
    Observe that the overall enclosing <div> element is given an id attribute with a value of infolist. Within this <div> element, there are four sets of <h3> tags and <div> tags that contain an image and unordered list.
  2. Add a few inline CSS rules to the above markup. Delete the .blue style rule you created for testing purposes above. In its place, add the following rules. (Changes in bold.)
    <style type="text/css">
        ul {list-style-type: none}
        img {padding-right: 20px; float:left}
    
        #infolist {width:500px}
    </style>

    When you type within <style> tags, take advantage of the IDE's built-in CSS code-completion by pressing Ctrl-Space.

  3. Save the file (Ctrl-S; ⌘-S on Mac).
  4. Now we'll add the the JPG portraits that are referenced in the above code fragment to our project. Retrieve the pix directory from the project resources you downloaded earlier and copy the entire directory to your project folder, placing it at the same level as index.html. After a brief moment, NetBeans automatically updates the Projects window to reflect that a new directory has been manually added to the project.
  5. Switch to your browser and refresh the page.
    Structured list displayed in browser

    There are a number of problems with this document that we will address. Firstly, it is more difficult than it needs to be to scan the list quickly to find the person you're looking for: one must scroll the page and visually inspect a lot of information that may not be of immediate interest. Four contacts in a list might be manageable, but if the number grew to say, 50, then the list would become much more difficult to use. Secondly, the document is visually plain, and is unlikely to blend in esthetically with most web site designs, particularly designs that have a strong graphic identity. We will address these issues by using the jQuery accordion widget, in combination with jQuery UI's default theme.
  6. To produce the accordion effect, navigate to the location on your computer where you downloaded the accordion widget. Within the downloaded folder, you'll find a folder named 'development-bundle'. Within the development-bundle folder, expand the ui folder and locate the following three scripts:
    • jquery.ui.core.js
    • jquery.ui.widget.js
    • jquery.ui.accordion.js

    Development versions of toolkit scripts are unminimized, meaning that their code is human-readable when viewed in an editor. Normally, you would want to switch to the compressed, minimized versions for a production-ready application in order to conserve download times.

  7. Copy (Ctrl-C; ⌘-C on Mac) the three scripts and, back in the IDE, paste them in the js folder you created earlier in your jqproject folder.

    You can paste by either pressing Ctrl-V (⌘-V on Mac), or right-clicking the js folder and choosing Paste.

    The development-bundle > ui folder also contains a file named jquery-ui-1.8.1.custom.js. This file combines the three scripts listed above into a single script. You could equally paste this file into your project in place of the three individual scripts.

  8. Reference the scripts in your index.html page by entering three <script> tags linking to these new JavaScript files. You can add the <script> tags immediately after the <script> tags that refers to the core jQuery library jquery-1.4.2.js. Use the existing <script> tags as a model.
  9. Delete the test code we created inside the (document).ready function. You no longer need it.

    The <head> tags of your file should now look as follows.
    <head>
        <title>jQuery Test Project</title>
        <meta http-equiv="Content-Type" content="text/html; charset=UTF-8">
    
        <script type="text/javascript" src="js/jquery-1.4.2.js"></script>
        <script type="text/javascript" src="js/jquery.ui.core.js"></script>
        <script type="text/javascript" src="js/jquery.ui.widget.js"></script>
        <script type="text/javascript" src="js/jquery.ui.accordion.js"></script>
    
        <script type="text/javascript">
            $(document).ready(function(){
    
            });
        </script>
    </head>
  10. To make our static, unstyled list take on the accordion behavior is as simple as adding a single line of jQuery code. Enter this line into the (document).ready function. (Changes in bold.)
    $(document).ready(function(){
        $("#infolist").accordion({
            autoHeight: false
        });
    });
    In this line of code, #infolist is a CSS selector connected to a unique DOM element that has an id attribute with the value infolist; in other words, our contacts list. It is connected using typical JavaScript dot notation ('.') to the jQuery instruction that uses the accordion() method to display this element.

    You've also specified 'autoHeight: false' in the above snippet. This prevents the accordion widget from setting the height of each panel based on the highest content part contained within the markup. For more information, consult the accordion API documentation.

  11. Save the file (Ctrl-S; ⌘-S on Mac).
  12. Go back to the web browser and refresh. Click on one of the names (other than the top one) to see the accordion effect in action. The jQuery accordion widget handles all the details of handling the DOM and responding to user mouse clicks.
    Accordion list displayed in browser

Using jQuery's Default Theme for Style Enhancement

Our project now has the behavior we want, but it looks quite plain and still lacks a well-organized appearance. Let's address this by incorporating jQuery's default 'UI lightness' theme.

  1. Navigate to the location on your computer where you downloaded the accordion widget. Within the downloaded folder, expand the development-bundle > themes > ui-lightness folder.
  2. Within the ui-lightness folder, copy (Ctrl-C; ⌘-C on Mac) the jquery-ui-1.8.1.custom.css file, and the images folder, which contains all of the images necessary for the theme to render properly.
  3. In the IDE, create a new folder within your project named css. This folder will contain the 'UI lightness' theme for the accordion widget.

    To do so, right-click the project node and choose New > Folder. (If Folder doesn't appear as an option, click the New File ( New File button ) button in the IDE's toolbar, then choose Other > Folder in the New File wizard.) Name the folder css and place it within the same directory as your index.html file.

    For Java Web projects, ensure that you place the css folder in the project's web root. To do so, enter web in the Parent Folder field.
  4. Paste the two items directly into the new css folder. To do so, right-click the css folder node and choose Paste. Your project folder should look as follows.

    PHP project:

    Java Web project:

    Projects window - jQuery default theme contained in project Projects window - jQuery default theme contained in project
  5. Reference the jquery-ui-1.8.1.custom.css file from within your index.html web page. Add the following <link> tag within the page's head.
    <link rel="stylesheet" href="css/jquery-ui-1.8.1.custom.css" type="text/css">
  6. Save the file (Ctrl-S; ⌘-S on Mac).
  7. Return to the web browser and refresh the page. Notice that the list now displays using jQuery's default theme, which is an esthetic improvement over the plain, unstylized version.
    Accordion list displayed in browser with default jQuery theme

Summary

In this tutorial, you have learned how to add jQuery libraries to your project, as well as how to write some basic instructions using the jQuery syntax. You also learned how jQuery interacts with the DOM (Document Object Model) using variables that resemble CSS selectors to affect the appearance and behavior of elements on a web page.

Finally, you briefly explored the capabilities of the jQuery UI library by applying the accordion widget to a simple contact list. After implementing the accordion effect, you applied jQuery's default style theme to the list. You should now be better able to appreciate how jQuery can be used to create dynamic web pages, while improving overall appearance and usability.



See Also

For more information about support for HTML5 applications and JavaScript in the IDE on netbeans.org, see the following resources:

For more information about jQuery, refer to the official documentation:


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