jQuery Essentials

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By Troy Miles
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  1. jQuery Part by Part

About this book

JQuery is still the most popular JavaScript library. It is used in over 60% of the top websites on the Internet. It was written to make DOM manipulation (so, moving things around a web page) easier for developers. It acts through JavaScript to ascribe HTML elements to the DOM attributes. Because it is a library of predefined functions, all you need to start using jQuery is a working knowledge of the syntax and a reference for the functions available to you.

This practical guide shows you how to make the most of jQuery to boost the performance of your websites and applications. We start off with a quick glance through the basics of JQuery, followed by the explanation of JQuery selectors, filters, and DOM element manipulation. After this, you will learn how events and animations can be used to create and design beautiful and user-friendly sites. Next, you will be familiarized with Ajax functions to help you send and receive data from your server. Finally, we’ll walk you through using built-in plugins and eventually create your own plugins for your websites.

By the end of this book, you will be able to to build robust and efficient websites successfully using JQuery.

Publication date:
January 2016


Chapter 1. jQuery Part by Part

jQuery is hands down the most popular JavaScript library on the Internet. According to http://builtwith.com, it is used by over 87% of the websites that use a JavaScript library. That is an amazing amount of penetration. It is hard to believe that jQuery has only been around since 2006.

In this chapter, we will start to get you familiar with jQuery. We will cover the following topics:

  • Why was jQuery created?

  • The major components of jQuery

  • Why are there two maintained versions of jQuery?

  • What is a content delivery network?


Life before jQuery

2006 may not seem that long ago, but it is almost a lifetime in Internet years. If you don't agree, think about what kind of cellphone you had then, if you had one. At that time, the four most popular browsers were Internet Explorer, Firefox, Safari, and Opera. What about Chrome? It didn't exist yet, and it wouldn't come along until late 2008. Internet Explorer, used by over 80% of users, was by far the most popular.

At that time, Microsoft didn't seem too concerned with being standards-compliant. Why should they? They had over 80% of the market. If a website had to choose, they usually chose to work with IE. But the winds of change were already blowing. 80% might seem like an insurmountable lead, but two years ago, it was over 90%. The other browsers, led by Firefox, were slowly but surely chipping away at that lead. Lots of people, including developers, were switching to alternative browsers and they wanted websites that worked on them.

Unfortunately, writing web applications is tough now and it was worse then. JavaScript is not the friendliest programming language around. But JavaScript was not the problem; browsers were the problem. The same code ran on different browsers and behaved differently. On one, it ran perfectly; on another, it crashed, leaving users frustrated.

To understand how differences in browser implementations could result in lots of extra work for developers, let's take a look at implementing a JavaScript Ajax call. In 2006, the W3C (World Wide Web Consortium) standards didn't cover the XMLHttpRequest object that lies at the heart of all Ajax requests. Microsoft invented the technology way back in 1999 with Internet Explorer version 5. Unfortunately, they chose to implement it as an ActiveX control. ActiveX was a proprietary Microsoft technology, so there was no way other browsers could implement it in the same way. Mozilla, Safari, and Opera chose to implement it as an object attached to the global window. So, in order to add Ajax to a website that could work on all browsers, developers had to write, test, and maintain twice as much code as they should: a set of code for IE and another set of code for everybody else.

Are you thinking how hard could it be to detect whether the browser was IE and do something different? Well, you are right it isn't that hard to detect which browser your code is running, but it is hard to do it reliably because browsers can lie. According to the W3C standard, the way to detect the browser is simple:


This property is supposed to return the name of the browser, but if you try it on Chrome, Safari, or Internet Explorer, they all return the same value, "Netscape". What gives? As I already said, browsers can lie.


Downloading the example code

You can download the example code files from your account at http://www.packtpub.com for all the Packt Publishing books you have purchased. If you purchased this book elsewhere, you can visit http://www.packtpub.com/support and register to have the files e-mailed directly to you.

During the 90s, websites began to detect which browsers were visiting them. At that time, there were really only three browsers: Netscape Navigator, Microsoft's Internet Explorer and the browser that started it all, NCSA Mosaic. Mosaic was created by the National Center for Supercomputing Applications at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. At this time, the real battle for browser supremacy raged between Microsoft and Netscape. The companies fought by adding new features to their browsers.

One of the features that Netscape added to their browser was the frame element. It was very popular. Many websites of the time would only use the frame element if the browser was Netscape Navigator. They checked for Netscape either using window.navigator.appName or by window.navigator.userAgent. Navigator's code name was Mozilla, which was included in the user agent string. Later, when Microsoft added the frame element to IE, websites continued to not serve frame-based content to IE since they only identify the browser by name, not by feature detection. So, IE began to lie. It returned Netscape from window.navigator.appName and included Mozilla in its user agent. Now, for historical compatibility, many other browsers lie too.

There are two ways to deal with browser compatibility issues. The first way is the one we've already shown: browser detection. Browser detection is tougher than you think, and it can have unintended side effects, just like the failure of websites to serve frames to IE even after it supported them. The second technique is feature detection, also known as property sniffing. Before you use a feature, you should make sure the browser supports it. While this is usually more difficult code to write, it is much more beneficial to users. If the feature isn't supported in one version of a browser, it may be supported in the next. Feature detection is the method used in jQuery.


Best practice

Use feature detection, not browser detection. If you need to write code to detect a feature yourself instead of using jQuery or some other third-party solution such as Modernizr, always use feature detection and never use browser detection.


Why was jQuery created?

One of the major reasons for the creation of jQuery was to free developers from having to check the entire myriad of features, which were implemented differently on the available browsers. In fact, jQuery's motto is "write less, do more". One of the goals of jQuery is to free developers from writing plumbing code and concentrate on adding functionalities to their websites instead.


The major components of jQuery

Looking at the jQuery API page, http://api.jquery.com, for the first time can be mind-numbing. It lists over 300 different methods. Don't freak out; there is a method to the madness. Most of the API methods can be divided into just a few categories.

The DOM selection

These are the methods that give jQuery its name. They help find the element or elements that you are looking for in the document object model (DOM). If you know browser JavaScript, you are probably thinking what is the big deal? It has always been possible to query the DOM. There are document.getElementById, document.getElementsByClassName, and so on. But the interface of jQuery is much cleaner than any of these methods. jQuery uses CSS-style selectors to parse the DOM, and it consistently returns a jQuery object as an array of zero or more elements.

The document methods return different things depending on which method you call. If you call document.getElementById, it returns either an element object or null if the element is not found. For document.getElementsByClassName, it returns HTMLCollection, an array-like object.

DOM manipulation

Once you have found an element, you will usually want to modify it somehow. jQuery has an extensive set of manipulation methods. The built-in document methods can't compare. jQuery's methods allow you to delete or replace markups. You can also insert a new markup before, after, or surrounding the old markup.


Being able to handle events is crucial to creating a dynamic website. While modern browsers all pretty much follow the standards, this wasn't the case a few years ago. jQuery makes it possible to support both modern and old browsers from the same code base.


A good number of websites on the Internet have one or more forums to send user information back to a web server. These methods make it easier to send the information back to a server.

CSS and animation

CSS methods are convenience methods and aid the handling of classes and the locations and dimensions of elements. Unlike the built-in JavaScript methods, they do far more than simply reading the class attributes' string; they allow you to add, remove, toggle, and check for the presence of a class.

Animation methods are simple but add polish to your website. No longer do you have to settle for a markup, which appears or disappears; now, it fades in or out or even slides in or out. And if you are so inclined, you can use jQuery's effect framework to create your own custom animation effects.


As we've already discussed, Ajax is one of the main features of jQuery. Even if you don't need to support legacy browsers, jQuery's Ajax methods are much cleaner than those of the browser. They also have built-in support for asynchronous success and error functions and even return a JavaScript promise object.


The final, main group of jQuery methods is about helper functions, such as .each(), to iterate over a collection. jQuery also adds methods to determine the type of a JavaScript object, and it functions strangely missing from the language. Plus, it adds other methods that don't fit neatly into a category.


Why are there two maintained versions of jQuery?

After nearly 7 years of development, jQuery was beginning to show its age. The 1.8 version was a major release and included a rewrite of the Sizzle Selector Engine and improvements to the animations, but more was needed. There were some inconsistencies in the interface, there were lots of deprecated methods, and there was lots of code in need of thorough cleaning. So, the version 1.9 release consisted of jQuery and the jQuery Migrate plugin.

The jQuery development team believed 1.9 was such a huge change that they created the jQuery Migrate plugin to help ease the transition. The Migrate plugin included all of the deprecated methods, which sounds weird, but in its development version, it console logged the use of deprecated methods. This gave developers a working site and a way to know what things needed to be fixed. The production version doesn't do any extra logging.

The 2.0 version came out a few months later, and it brought a friend. The development team, continuing to address both the platform's weight and speed, decided to drop support for all versions of Internet Explorer below 9. A great deal of code in jQuery was written specifically for the quirks in older versions of Internet Explorer. The difference was dramatic. The minimized version of jQuery 1.10 is 93 KB, while the minimized version of jQuery 2.0 clocks in at 83 KB, a nearly an 11% reduction in size.

So, for now and the foreseeable future, there will be two versions of jQuery: the 1.x version that supports most browsers, including Internet Explorer versions 6, 7, and 8. The 2.x version supports all modern browsers, including IE versions 9 and higher. It is important to note that both versions have the same API, though their internals are different.


The difference between minified and un-minified versions

For each branch of jQuery, there are two versions: minified and un-minified. The un-minified version is intended only for development. It allows you to easily step through jQuery code while debugging and gives more meaningful stack traces. The minified version should be used in production. It has undergone minification, which removes all of the unnecessary whitespace and renames of JavaScript variables and internal methods. Minification decreases the download time of the file. The development version of jQuery 2.1.1 is 247 KB, while the production version is only 84 KB.

Should the need ever arise to debug the minified version of jQuery, you can download the source map file. A source map allows you to have access to the original debug information and is supported by all modern browsers, including IE.


What is a content delivery network?

The faster your site loads, the more visitors are encouraged to return later. Another way to speed up your load time is to use a content delivery network, or CDN. The magic of a CDN is twofold. First, CDNs are usually located on edge servers, which means that rather than being hosted at a single physical location, they are located at multiple locations across the Internet. This means they can be found and downloaded faster. Second, browsers will usually cache static files on the user's machine, and loading a local file is orders of magnitude faster than downloading it from the Internet. CDNs are used by lots of companies, big and small. So, it is possible that one of them is using the same copy of jQuery that your site needs and has already cached it locally on the user's machine. So, when your site asks for it, voila, it is already there, and your site gets a nice performance boost for free.



Modern browsers are far more capable than their nearly forgotten ancestors. It would be easy for a new web developer to wonder why jQuery exists. In this chapter, we explored the reasons for its existence by taking a look at what web development was like before jQuery. We then broke jQuery's API into easy-to-digest major components. We learned why it makes sense for jQuery to have two maintained versions and why each version has two different forms. In the next chapter, we will start digging into the API and learn how to write selectors and filters.

About the Author

  • Troy Miles

    Troy Miles, a.k.a. the Rockncoder, began writing games in assembly language for early computers, such as the Apple II, Vic20, C64, and the IBM PC, over 35 years ago. Currently, he spends his days writing web apps for a Southern California-based automotive valuation and information company. During the nights and weekends, he can usually be found writing cool apps for mobile and Web or teaching other developers how to do that. He likes to post interesting code nuggets on his blog at http://therockncoder.com and videos on his YouTube channel at https://www.youtube.com/user/rockncoder. He can be reached at [email protected].

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