Pete Freitag Pete Freitag

Howto Build Server Side AJAX Suggestions with


I'm a big fan of the javascript library. I have been using some of the effects on a dashboard console for one of my clients, it has been quite nice to work with, and has really helped improve the user experience.

I also used on for the dynamic css property suggestions ( calls this autocomplete).

So let's get started

Step 1: Include javascript libraries

First you need to include prototype.js (which you can find in the lib folder of your scriptaculous download. I recommend creating a folder for your javascript files called js. Next you need to include scriptaculous.js - this file will include some of the other scripts included such as controls.js

<script src="js/prototype.js" type="text/javascript"></script>
<script src="js/scriptaculous.js" type="text/javascript"></script>

Step 2: Create Your Form

Next we need to create a form, we are also going to add a div after our text box this is where the suggestions will show up.

<form action="search.cfm">
  <input type="text" name="email" id="email" />
  <div id="suggestionBox"></div>

Step 3: Call Ajax.Autocompleter

Now we need to use the Ajax.Autocompleter javascript class in

<script type="text/javascript" language="javascript">
  var myAutoCompleter = new Ajax.Autocompleter('email', 'suggestionBox', 'suggest.cfm', {});

Step 4: Create Server Side Element: suggest.cfm

In this example I'm using ColdFusion (CFML), but you could just as easily replace this part with suggest.php, suggest.jsp, or whatever.

<cfparam name="" default="" type="string">
<cfquery datasource="dsn" name="suggestions">
  SELECT email
  FROM contacts
  WHERE email LIKE 
<cfoutput query="suggestions">

The Ajax.Autocompleter will by default pass what the user is typing in as POST form variable with the same name as the input element. We can then use a LIKE command in SQL to find matches, which should be outputted as a UL list.

Step 5: Add some CSS

Finally you need to add some CSS to make things look nice. The selected suggestion will have the CSS class selected so we will want to set a background-color on that.

.selected { background-color: #f1f1f1; }
#suggestionBox { display:none; border: 1px solid silver; }

And that's it, you can check out a live example at:

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Howto Build Server Side AJAX Suggestions with was first published on December 06, 2006.

If you like reading about ajax, javascript, tutorial, howto, scriptaculous, prototype, or autocomplete then you might also like:


Pete, if you like scriptaculous, you're gonna love jQuery ( You need to check it out. I just got Joe Danziger to check it out and look what he wrote:

Rob Gonda is another one of my converts. Once you use it, you'll be hooked. :o)

by Rey Bango on 12/06/2006 at 7:57:40 PM UTC
Here is another tutorial on the same subject, I wrote a few months ago.

One tip, make sure the query has a limit. Too many results will cause JS to crawl.
by Kris Brixon on 12/07/2006 at 6:10:26 AM UTC
One problem i had with this autocomplete was that it wasn't smart enough... ie... if my search term was missing a word, it couldn't find what i was looking for.

For example, in a db of cameras if I was looking for a "Camera PowerShot sd800 Digital Elph"
but only remember the model number, not the full name i'd type in "Canon SD800"...and itd give me nothing
It wasn't until i typed in "Canon PowerShot SD..." that it found something. I needed it to ignore that I had forgotten PowerShot

I found a real simple solution - which I describe in detail here -
by susan buck on 09/28/2007 at 8:21:49 PM UTC

I've got this almost working. The only snag is that ColdFusion is not recognizing the search variable sent from the scriptaculous script. I'm checking to see if it's defined, and it isn't. What do I do? I'm at a loss here. Anyone's help would be greatly appreciated.

Thanks much,
by JW! on 10/17/2008 at 8:52:12 AM UTC
My name Gim and i can sell you best 2006 health - see it,
by bnm8 on 10/29/2008 at 12:16:52 AM UTC