Howto Build Server Side AJAX Suggestions with

December 06, 2006

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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8 people found this page useful, what do you think?


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) Rey...
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.
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 -
How do I use this for my search form on my main page? Do I need anything special installed on the server?
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Hi, 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, JW!
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I’ve been visiting your blog for a while now and I always find a gem in your new posts. Thanks for sharing.
Does anyone have a php query solution . I put one together that creates an unordered list as suggested. I am not a javascript coder but for me it seems like the small bit of javascript is not passing anything to or calling the file ..not running the query ? Any thoughts anyone ..Pete?
Great Blog. I add this Blog to my bookmarks.
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