How can JavaScript be used to improve the user interface?

Q

How can JavaScript be used to improve the "look and feel" of a Web site? By the same token, how can JavaScript be used to improve the user interface?

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A

On their own, Web pages tend to be lifeless and flat unless you add animated images or more bandwidth-intensive content such as Java applets or other content requiring plug-ins to operate (ShockWave and Flash, for example).

Embedding JavaScript into an HTML page can bring the page to life in any number of ways. Perhaps the most visible features built into pages recently with the help of JavaScript are the so-called image rollovers: roll the cursor atop a graphic image and its appearance changes to a highlighted version as a feedback mechanism to let you know precisely what you're about to click on. But there are less visible yet more powerful enhancements to pages that JavaScript offers.

Interactive forms validation is an extremely useful application of JavaScript. While a user is entering data into form fields, scripts can examine the validity of the data--did the user type any letters into a phone number field?, for instance. Without scripting, the user has to submit the form and let a server program (CGI) check the field entry and then report back to the user. This is usually done in a batch mode (the entire form at once), and the extra transactions take a lot of time and server processing power. Interactive validation scripts can check each form field immediately after the user has entered the data, while the information is fresh in the mind.

Another helpful example is embedding small data collections into a document that scripts can look up without having to do all the server programming for database access. For instance, a small company could put its entire employee directory on a page that has its own search facility built into the script. You can cram a lot of text data into scripts no larger than an average image file, so it's not like the user has to wait forever for the data to be downloaded.

Other examples abound, such as interactive tree-structure tables of contents. More modern scriptable browsers can be scripted to pre-cache images during the page's initial download to make them appear lickety-split when needed for image swapping. I've even written some multi-screen interactive applications that run entirely on the client, and never talk to the server once everything is downloaded.

2008-04-22, 4805👍, 0💬