Getting Selective with Dijit

In this tutorial, we will explore widgets in the dijit/form namespace which enhance the user experience of HTML select elements: Select, FilteringSelect, and ComboBox.

  • Difficulty: Beginner
  • Dojo Version: 1.8

Introduction

Dijit, the Dojo Toolkit's UI framework, contains a comprehensive set of widgets to help you rapidly develop web applications. As we discussed previously in Dijit Themes, Buttons, and TextBoxes, Dijit has many form-based widgets for you to work with, including a wide range of buttons and textboxes. As we will see in this tutorial, Dijit also provides several select-based widgets: dijit/form/Select, dijit/form/FilteringSelect, and dijit/form/ComboBox.

Getting Started

Using Dijit solves one of the more vexing problems presented to web application developers when using HTML select elements—custom styling. By using Dijit theming (as seen in previous tutorials), we can create elements with a uniform look and feel across all supported browsers. With some simple code examples, we will show you how to replace your HTML select elements with these elegant, powerful, and easy to use Dijit widgets:

  • dijit/form/Select: A skinnable drop-down select box [ref | api]
  • dijit/form/FilteringSelect: A select box with a text field to filter results; the field is marked invalid if the text entered does not match a value in the drop-down list [ref | api]
  • dijit/form/ComboBox: A free-form text field that displays suggestions in a drop-down list [ref | api]

dijit/form/Select

dijit/form/Select is in many ways similar to HTML's select element, but Dijit's widget provides useful functionality that can help you customize the appearance and behavior of this simple drop-down.

Important dijit/form/Select properties include:

  • displayedValue: The value presently displayed in the field
  • value: The internal value of the selected option; in the context of a form, this is what would be submitted to the server

In the following example, we create a dijit/form/Select widget from standard select markup with just a couple of additions:

<body class="claro">
	<select id="stateSelect" data-dojo-type="dijit/form/Select"
		name="stateSelect">
		<option value="" selected="selected">Select a state</option>
		<option value="AL">Alabama</option>
		<option value="AK">Alaska</option>
		<option value="AZ">Arizona</option>
		<option value="AR">Arkansas</option>
		<option value="CA">California</option>
	</select>

	<script>
		require(["dijit/form/Select", "dojo/parser"]);
	</script>
</body>
View Demo

In this simple declarative example, you can see that the only difference between a standard HTML select and dijit/form/Select is indeed a data-dojo-type="dijit/form/Select" attribute in the select tag, and the specification of the input's name within data-dojo-props. All other markup is the same, including how to set the selected value. Using this simple addition to a normal select tag and applying the Claro theme gives you a drop-down that will look great across browsers.

Don't forget: when creating widgets declaratively, make sure you add "parseOnLoad: true" to the data-dojo-config attribute on the script tag that includes dojo.js on the page. Furthermore, it is necessary to explicitly require("dojo/parser") when you intend to use it.

Don't forget to include the class="claro" attribute in the body tag to apply the claro theme to your page. In this case, it's important for it to be in the body tag specifically, so that the theme takes effect not only in the select boxes, but also their associated popup menus.

dijit/form/FilteringSelect

Like a normal select, dijit/form/FilteringSelect allows selection of an option by clicking on the arrow icon and browsing the list of options. Additionally, however, it allows a user to type text into an input field, and will show matching options as he or she types.

Important dijit/form/FilteringSelect properties include:

  • required: Whether or not a value must be provided for the field to be considered valid; defaults to true
  • placeHolder: Text to display in the field when it is blank and unfocused, to indicate instruction or purpose (this feature is inherited from dijit/form/TextBox)
  • displayedValue: The value presently contained in the text field
  • value: The internal value of the selected option; in the context of a form, this is what would be submitted to the server

Note that aside from the addition of text input, dijit/form/FilteringSelect essentially behaves like a dijit/form/Select. To this end, the type-ahead text field is validated in order to guarantee the integrity of the input. If the text entered does not ultimately match any option in the list, the input will be flagged as invalid, and value will report an empty string.

<body class="claro">
	<select id="stateSelect" name="stateSelect" data-dojo-type="dijit/form/FilteringSelect"
		data-dojo-props="
			value: '',
			placeHolder: 'Select a State'">
		<option value="AL">Alabama</option>
		<option value="AK">Alaska</option>
		<option value="AZ">Arizona</option>
		<option value="AR">Arkansas</option>
		<option value="CA">California</option>
	</select>

	<script>
		require(["dijit/form/FilteringSelect", "dojo/parser"]);
	</script>
</body>
View Demo

In combination with required: true, you can specify value: "" and placeholder text such as placeHolder: "Select an option" to achieve a common UI design pattern, executed with style and ease thanks to Dijit and its themes.

dijit/form/ComboBox

dijit/form/ComboBox is a hybrid of a select element and a textbox. There is often confusion as to the behavior of ComboBox, because it looks like dijit/form/FilteringSelect; the main difference between the two is that the ComboBox will accept your input even if it does not match an option in the list.

Important dijit/form/ComboBox properties include:

  • required: Whether or not a value must be provided for the field to be considered valid; defaults to false (note that this default differs from that of dijit/form/FilteringSelect)
  • placeHolder: Text to display in the field when it is blank and unfocused, to indicate instruction or purpose (this feature is inherited from dijit/form/TextBox)
  • value: The value presently contained in the text field; in the context of a form, this is what would be submitted to the server

The behavior of ComboBox's value property is a very important distinction that trips up many developers as well. Due to its free-form nature, ComboBox only maintains its value based on what is contained in the textbox, and that value is what is sent upon submission. Put another way, dijit/form/ComboBox has no displayedValue distinction—its value is its "displayed value".

To reinforce this distinction, it may help to think about dijit/form/ComboBox from a different perspective. While Select and FilteringSelect are primarily focused on selecting an item from a list, ComboBox is primarily a text input that also provides a list of suggestions to help users get started—much like a feature seen in popular search engines.

<body class="claro">
	<select id="stateSelect" name="stateSelect" data-dojo-type="dijit/form/ComboBox"
		data-dojo-props="
			value: '',
			placeHolder: 'Select a State'">
		<option value="AL">Alabama</option>
		<option value="AK">Alaska</option>
		<option value="AZ">Arizona</option>
		<option value="AR">Arkansas</option>
		<option value="CA">California</option>
	</select>

	<script>
		require(["dijit/form/ComboBox", "dojo/parser"]);
	</script>
</body>
View Demo

Again, it is very important to remember that dijit/form/ComboBox reports/submits the value contained in its textbox, unlike the previous two widgets.

Conclusion

In this tutorial, we've demonstrated that Dijit provides several select widgets with a consistent look and behavior. These range from a simple replacement of a normal HTML select element (dijit/form/Select) to more powerful widgets such as dijit/form/FilteringSelect and dijit/form/ComboBox, which allow you to type in a value, but differ in how this value is validated and submitted.

This tutorial focused exclusively on how easy it is to replace standard HTML select elements with Dijit select widgets using declarative markup. It is also possible to create these widgets programmatically, in which case it is common to obtain options from a data store. We explore this in detail in the next tutorial: Advanced Dijit Selects using Stores.

Error in the tutorial? Can’t find what you are looking for? Let us know!