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Widget factory

Page history last edited by Scott González 12 years, 3 months ago

All of jQuery UI's widgets and interactions are built from a simple, reusable base - the jQuery UI Widget Factory. It provides a flexible base for building complex, stateful plugins with a consistent API. It is designed not only for plugins that are part of jQuery UI, but for general consumption by developers who want to create object-oriented components without reinventing common infrastructure. It does not have any dependencies on the rest of jQuery UI, but most of jQuery UI is dependent on it.


Other Resources



What is it?


The widget factory is a simple function on the global jQuery object - jQuery.widget - that accepts 2 or 3 arguments.


jQuery.widget( "namespace.widgetname", /* optional - an existing widget prototype to inherit from */, /* An object literal to become the widget's prototype*/ {...} ); 


The first argument to the widget factory is a string containing a namespace and the widget name, separated by a dot. The namespace is mandatory, and it refers to the location on the global jQuery object where the widget prototype will be stored. If the namespace does not exist, the widget factory will create it for you. The widget name serves as the actual name of the plugin function and prototype. For instance, jQuery.widget( "demo.multi", {...} )will create jQuery.demojQuery.demo.multi, and jQuery.demo.multi.prototype.


The second (optional) argument is a widget prototype to inherit from. For instance, jQuery UI has a "mouse" plugin on which the rest of the interaction plugins are based. In order to achieve this, draggable, droppable, etc. all inherit from the mouse plugin like so: jQuery.widget( "ui.draggable", $.ui.mouse, {...} ); If you do not supply this argument, the widget will inherit directly from the "base widget," jQuery.Widget (note the difference between lowercase "w" jQuery.widget and uppercase "W" jQuery.Widget). 


The last argument to the widget factory is an object literal that will be transformed into the prototype for each instance of the widget. The widget factory sets up the prototype chain, connecting the widget's prototype to any widgets from which it inherits, up to the base jQuery.Widget.


Once you make the call to jQuery.widget, there will be a new method available on the jQuery prototype (jQuery.fn) that corresponds to the widget name - in the case of our example, jQuery.fn.multi. This .fn method serves as the interface between the DOM elements contained in a given jQuery object and instances of the widget prototype you created. A new instance of the widget is created for each element in the jQuery object.




The basic approach described in the Plugin Authoring Guidelines leaves a lot up to the implementor when it comes to implementing stateful, object-oriented plugins. Furthermore, it doesn't offer any conveniences to obscure away common plumbing tasks. The widget factory provides you with jQuery UI's API for allowing communication with your plugin instance, and abstracts a number of repetitive tasks.


  • Creation of a namespace (if necessary) and prototype
    • A pseudoselector is also generated from the namespace and name, for querying and filtering, e.g., $( ":demo-multi" )
  • Linkage between prototype and jQuery.fn

    • This is accomplished using jQuery.widget.bridge

  • Merging default options with user-supplied overrides
    • The default values are also exposed so that users can change the actual defaults

  • Plugin instance accessible via $( "#something" ).data( "pluginname" )
    • A reference to a jQuery object containing the DOM element is available as a property of the instance as this.element, so it is easy to go back and forth between the object and the element.

  • The widget's methods are accessible via string invocation through the method on the jQuery prototype - $( "#something" ).multi( "refresh" ) - or directly from the instance itself - $( "#something" ).data( "multi" ).refresh()

  • Prevention against multiple instantiations of the widget on the same element 

  • A mechanism for dispatching callbacks the plugin user can subscribe to: this._trigger( "clear" )

    • The user can subscribe via an option:

      • $( "#something" ).multi({ clear: function( event ) {} }); 

    • Or using .bind()

      • $( "#something" ).bind( "multiclear", function( event ) {} );

  • A mechanism for facilitating and responding to changes to plugin options after instantiation
    • $( "#something" ).multi( "option", "clear" , function ( event ) { alert( "I cleared the multiselect!" ); } );
  • Easily enable or disable the widget, or destroy the instance entirely and return the element to its original state


Building Your Prototype




The object literal you provide to the widget factory to serve as the widget prototype can be as complicated as you need, but at a minimum, it should contain default options, and basic _create, _setOption, and destroy callbacks


(function( $ ) {
  $.widget( "demo.multi", {
    // These options will be used as defaults
    options: { 
      clear: null
    // Set up the widget
    _create: function() {
    // Use the _setOption method to respond to changes to options
    _setOption: function( key, value ) {
      switch( key ) {
        case "clear":
          // handle changes to clear option
      // In jQuery UI 1.8, you have to manually invoke the _setOption method from the base widget
      $.Widget.prototype._setOption.apply( this, arguments );
      // In jQuery UI 1.9 and above, you use the _super method instead
      this._super( "_setOption", key, value );
    // Use the destroy method to clean up any modifications your widget has made to the DOM
    destroy: function() {
      // In jQuery UI 1.8, you must invoke the destroy method from the base widget
      $.Widget.prototype.destroy.call( this );
      // In jQuery UI 1.9 and above, you would define _destroy instead of destroy and not call the base method
}( jQuery ) );

Encapsulation into Methods


This object will also likely need to contain methods to handle various bits of your widget-specific functionality, like building and appending new elements or handling events.  It is wise to use discrete methods to handle each chunk of functionality, instead of handling too much directly in your _create method.  This will enable you to react to eventual changes in state without duplicating code. 


For instance, in a hypothetical widget to enhance a <select multiple>, one might have to iterate over the <option>s in the select to create a corresponding <li> in a proxy <ul>. This could be accomplished in the _create method, like so:


_create: function() {

    var self = this;

    this.list = $( "<ul>" ).insertAfter( this.element );

    this.element.hide().find( "option" ).each(function( i, el ) {

        var $el = $( el ),

            text = $( el ).text(),

            item = $( "<li class='multi-option-item'>" + text + "</li>" );

        item.appendTo( self.list ).click(function(){ 

            console.log( $el.val() );





Unfortunately, leaving this code in _create makes it difficult to manage the relationship between the original <option> elements and the list items, or deal with the problem of reflecting the state of <option> elements that have been added to or removed from the original <select> after the widget is instantiated. Instead, we build a refresh method, responsible exclusively for dealing with this linkage, and invoke it from _create. We'll also keep the logic for handling clicks on the list items separate, and we'll use event delegation to avoid having to bind new handlers when new list items are created.


_create: function() {
    this.list = $( "<ul>" )
        .insertAfter( this.element )
        .delegate( "li.multi-option-item", "click", $.proxy( this._itemClick, this ) );
refresh: function() {
    // Keep track of the generated list items
    this.items = this.items || $();
    // Use a class to avoid working on options that have already been created
    this.element.find( "option:not(.demo-multi-option)" ).each( $.proxy(function( i, el ) {
        // Add the class so this option will not be processed next time the list is refreshed
        var $el = $( el ).addClass( "demo-multi-option" ),
            text = $el.text(),
            // Create the list item
            item = $( "<li class='multi-option-item'>" + text + "</li>" )
                .data( "option.multi", el )
                .appendTo( this.list );
        // Save it into the item cache
        this.items = this.items.add( item );
    // If the the option associated with this list item is no longer contained by the
    // real select element, remove it from the list and the cache
    this.items = this.items.filter( $.proxy(function( i, item ) {
        var isInOriginal = $.contains( this.element[0], $.data( item, "option.multi" ) );
        if ( !isInOriginal ) {
            $( item ).remove();
        return isInOriginal;
    }, this ));
_itemClick: function( event ) {
     console.log( $( event.target ).val() );


Private vs. Public Methods

As you may have noticed, some of the methods on the prototype are prefixed with an underscore, and others are not. Methods prefixed with an underscore are considered to be "private" by jQuery UI. The widget factory will block any calls made via $.fn to a private method: $( "#something" ).multi( "_create" ) will throw an exception. Since these private methods exist directly on the widget prototype, however, they are private by convention only. When a reference to the actual widget instance is acquired via .data(), any of its methods can be invoked directly: $( "#something" ).data( "multi" )._create().


So how do you know which is the appropriate decision? If your widget's users will likely have a need for a particular method's functionality, make it public. The refresh example is a case in point: Since the user will be the one manipulating elements in the original <select>, we must provide the facility for him to update the proxy. On the other hand, a plumbing function to handle input on the proxy elements the widget creates, like the _itemClick method, is only for internal use, so we make it private and block it from the widget's public API.






The element that was used to instantiate the plugin. For example, if you were to do $( "#foo" ).myWidget(), then inside your widget instance this.element would be a jQuery object containing the element with id foo. If you select multiple elements and call .myWidget() on the collection, a separate plugin instance will be instantiated for each element. In other words, this.element will always contain exactly one element.



The options currently being used for the plugin configuration. On instantiation, any options provided by the user will automatically be merged with any default values defined in $.demo.multi.prototype.options. User specified options override the defaults.



The namespace the plugin lives in, in this case "demo". This is usually not needed inside of individual plugins.



The name of the plugin, in this case "multi". Slightly more useful than this.namespace, but generally not needed inside of individual plugins.



This is used to determine how to name events that are associated with any callbacks the plugin provides. For example, dialog has a close callback, and when the close callback is executed, a dialogclose event is triggered. The name of the event is the event prefix + the callback name. The widgetEventPrefix defaults to the widget name, but can be overridden if the event names should be different. For example, when a user starts dragging an element, we don't want the name of the event to be draggablestart, we want it to be dragstart, so we override the event prefix to be "drag". If the name of the callback is the same as the event prefix, then the event name will not be prefixed. This prevents an event name like dragdrag.



This is useful for building class names to use on elements within your widget. For example, if you wanted to mark an element as being active, you could do element.addClass( this.widgetBaseClass + "-active" ). This isn't really necessary to use in individual plugins because you can just as easily do .addClass( "demo-multi-active" ). This is more for use inside the widget factory and abstract plugins like $.ui.mouse.





This is where you setup everything related to your widget, such as creating elements, binding events, etc. This gets run once, immediately after instantiation.



This method is invoked anytime your widget is invoked without either 0 arguments or with a single options argument. This could be the first time it is invoked, in which case _init will get called after _create. It could also be called at any time after the widget create, in which case _init allows you to handle any re-initialization without forcing the user to perform a destroy->create cycle.



This destroys an instantiated plugin and does any necessary cleanup. All modifications your plugin performs must be removed on destroy. This includes removing classes, unbinding events, destroying created elements, etc. The widget factory provides a starting point, but should be extended to meet the needs of the individual plugin.



Used for getting and setting options after instantiation. The method signature is the same as .css() and .attr(). You can specify just a name to get a value, a name and value to set a value, or a hash to set multiple values. This method calls _setOptions internally, so this method should never need to be modified by an individual plugin.



An internal utility method that is used for setting options after instantiation. This method calls _setOption internally, so this method should never need to be modified by an individual plugin.



Called when a user sets an option value via the option method. This method may need to be modified by an individual plugin so the plugin can react when certain options change. For example, when a dialog's title option changes, the text inside the title bar must be updated.


_setOption: function(key, value) {
    if (key === 'title') {
    $.Widget.prototype._setOption.apply(this, arguments);


By calling the base _setOption, we get the default side effect of setting the option to the new value. This should not be performed by _setOption. In some instances, it's necessary to compare the old and new values to determine the correct side effects. In those instance, you can compare this.options[key] with value as long as you delay the call to the base _setOption until the end. If you don't need to compare the old and new values, you can call the base _setOption at top of your _setOption function.



Helper method that just calls option('disabled', false). Note that you'll want to handle this by having an if (key === "disabled") block in your _setOption



Helper method that just calls option('disabled', true). Note that you'll want to handle this by having an if (key === "disabled") block in your _setOption



This method must be used to execute all callbacks. The only required parameter is the name of the callback to execute. All callbacks also trigger events (see notes about this.widgetEventPrefix above). You may also provide an event object that represents the event that initiated the process. For example, a drag event is initiated by a mousemove event, so the original mousemove event object must be passed in to _trigger. The third parameter is a hash of data that will be passed as a parameter to the callback and event handlers. Data provided in this hash should only be information that is relevant to the specific event and is not readily available thorugh some other use of the plugin API.


Other Benefits and Use:


Plugins using the widget factory only deal with the plugin instance and never with the jQuery object the method is being called on. When a method is called on your plugin from a jQuery object, the widget factory will delegate the method call to the appropriate plugin instances. The widget factory will also handle chaining for you automatically. If the method returns the plugin instance, then the widget factory will make the call chainable and invoke the call on each plugin instance; if the method returns a value other than the plugin instance, that value will be returned from the original call on the jQuery object.


Comments (9)

Richard D. Worth said

at 7:51 pm on Jun 18, 2011

Article on widget bridge http://www.erichynds.com/jquery/using-jquery-ui-widget-factory-bridge/ Let's review and make sure we have coverage

Richard D. Worth said

at 8:01 pm on Jun 18, 2011

I closed http://bugs.jqueryui.com/ticket/7489 as invalid. I think it is invalid/as-designed as of today, with the way our widgets are designed. But it brings up an interesting issue. Perhaps we should fix our dependencies so they're on the namespace-safe-instances rather than the $.fn. aliases. That way someone can have their own $.fn.menu without breaking autocomplete, because autocomplete would depend on $.ui.menu instead of $.fn.menu. Or perhaps we could have a dependencies option like { dependencies: { menu: $.ui.menu } }. That might provide the ultimate flexibility, because then you can change only the autocomplete's menu without changing menu for all of jQuery UI.

Scott González said

at 8:29 pm on Jun 18, 2011

I've actually been contemplating this for over a year. We should talk to Wijmo about this and see if they have ideas as well. The dependencies hash is interesting because it would allow Wijmo to have their combobox inherit from autocomplete, while changing the menu that it uses to the Wijmo menu.

Richard D. Worth said

at 8:35 pm on Jun 18, 2011

A dependencies hash would also codify what is currently only in a comment in the file header: depends. This info could be used to validate against a dependencies list in a future plugin package.json as well as used for the new download builder.

Jörn Zaefferer said

at 1:23 pm on Jun 19, 2011

Thats indeed an interesting idea. Would be useful for various components depending on menu, or the dialog interaction dependencies.

It'll also highlight the missing support for polyphormism: When autocomplete calls .menu("next"), replacing menu with menu2 doesn't work. But if autocomplete depends only on the menu instance, not the bridge, polyphormism as provided by prototype inheritance should be functional again.

Corey said

at 12:37 pm on Sep 27, 2011

Should we add _bind(), _delay(), _focusable(), _hoverable() here?

Scott González said

at 12:59 pm on Sep 27, 2011

Yes, but we're writing a completely new set of docs for the widget factory. This page is essentially deprecated.

Szaby Grünwald said

at 10:47 am on Nov 7, 2011

oh.. This page is the first result for the search "widget factory" right now. Maybe put a "Deprecated" mark at the beginning and a link to the new one. I'm looking for it as well.. Where can I find it?

Scott González said

at 10:54 am on Nov 7, 2011

The new docs are in a temporary repo: https://github.com/scottgonzalez/widget-factory-docs/

They're still a work in progress, so we're not ready to mark this page as deprecated.

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