Getting started

his chapter introduces JavaScript, discusses some of the fundamental concepts of JavaScript in Navigator and provides basic examples. It shows JavaScript code in action, so you can begin writing your own scripts immediately, using the example code as a starting point.

What is JavaScript?

JavaScript is Netscape's cross-platform, object-based scripting language for client and server applications. There are two types of JavaScript:

JavaScript in Navigator

Netscape Navigator 2.0 (and later versions) can interpret JavaScript statements embedded in an HTML page. When Navigator requests such a page, the server sends the full content of the document, including HTML and JavaScript statements, over the network to the client. The Navigator then displays the HTML and executes the JavaScript, producing the results that the user sees. This process is illustrated in Figure 1.1.

Client-side JavaScript statements embedded in an HTML page can respond to user events such as mouse-clicks, form input, and page navigation. For example, you can write a JavaScript function to verify that users enter valid information into a form requesting a telephone number or zip code. Without any network transmission, the HTML page with embedded JavaScript can check the entered data and alert the user with a dialog box if the input is invalid.

JavaScript in LiveWire

LiveWire is an application development environment that uses JavaScript for creating server-based applications similar to CGI programs. In contrast to Navigator JavaScript, LiveWire JavaScript applications are compiled into bytecode executable files. These application executables are run in concert with a Netscape server (version 2.0 and later) that contains the LiveWire server extension.

The LiveWire server extension generates HTML dynamically; this HTML (which may also include client-side JavaScript statements) is then sent by the server over the network to the Navigator client, which displays the results. This process is illustrated in Figure 1.2.

JavaScript in LiveWire

For more information on LiveWire, see the LiveWire Developer's Guide.
In contrast to standard CGI programs, LiveWire JavaScript is integrated directly into HTML pages, facilitating rapid development and easy maintenance. LiveWire JavaScript contains an object framework that you can use to maintain data that persist across client requests, multiple clients, and multiple applications. LiveWire JavaScript also provides objects and methods for database access that serve as an interface to Structured Query Language (SQL) database servers.

JavaScript, the language

Part 2, "The JavaScript Language," describes the common features of client and server JavaScript.
As described in the previous sections, client and server JavaScript differ in numerous ways, but they have the following elements in common:

JavaScript and Java

JavaScript and Java are similar in some ways but fundamentally different in others. The JavaScript language resembles Java but does not have Java's static typing and strong type checking. JavaScript supports most Java expression syntax and basic control-flow constructs. In contrast to Java's compile-time system of classes built by declarations, JavaScript supports a runtime system based on a small number of data types representing numeric, Boolean, and string values. JavaScript has a simple, instance-based object model that still provides significant capabilities. JavaScript also supports functions without any special declarative requirements. Functions can be properties of objects, executing as loosely typed methods.

Java is an object-oriented programming language designed for fast execution and type safety. Type safety means, for instance, that you can't cast a Java integer into an object reference or access private memory by corrupting Java bytecodes. Java's object-oriented model means that programs consist exclusively of classes and their methods. Java's class inheritance and strong typing generally require tightly coupled object hierarchies. These requirements make Java programming more complex than JavaScript authoring.

In contrast, JavaScript descends in spirit from a line of smaller, dynamically typed languages like HyperTalk and dBASE. These scripting languages offer programming tools to a much wider audience because of their easier syntax, specialized built-in functionality, and minimal requirements for object creation.


Interpreted (not compiled) by client. Compiled bytecodes downloaded from server, executed on client.
Object-based. Uses built-in, extensible objects, but no classes or inheritance. Object-oriented. Applets consist of object classes with inheritance.
Code integrated with, and embedded in, HTML. Applets distinct from HTML (accessed from HTML pages).
Variable data types not declared (loose typing). Variable data types must be declared (strong typing).
Dynamic binding. Object references checked at runtime. Static binding. Object references must exist at compile-time.
Cannot automatically write to hard disk. Cannot automatically write to hard disk.

Embedding JavaScript in HTML

You can embed JavaScript in an HTML document in two ways:

The SCRIPT tag is an extension to HTML that can enclose any number of Java-Script statements as shown here:

A document can have multiple SCRIPT tags, and each can enclose any number of JavaScript statements.
   JavaScript statements...
The optional LANGUAGE attribute specifies the scripting language:

   JavaScript statements...
Unlike HTML, JavaScript is case sensitive.

Script hiding

Only Netscape Navigator versions 2.0 and later recognize JavaScript. To ensure that other browsers ignore JavaScript code, place the entire script within HTML comment tags, and precede the ending comment tag with a double-slash (//) that indicates a JavaScript single-line comment:

<!-- Begin to hide script contents from old browsers.
JavaScript statements...
// End the hiding here. -->
Since browsers typically ignore unknown tags, non-JavaScript-capable browsers will ignore the beginning and ending SCRIPT tags. All the script statements in between are enclosed in an HTML comment, so they are ignored too. Navigator properly interprets the SCRIPT tags and ignores the line in the script beginning with the double-slash (//).

Although you are not required to use this technique, it is considered good etiquette so that your pages don't generate unformatted script statements for those not using Navigator 2.0 or later.

Note For simplicity, some of the examples in this book do not hide scripts, because the examples are written specifically for Navigator 2.0.

Example: a first script

<HTML> <HEAD> <SCRIPT LANGUAGE="JavaScript"> <!--- Hide script from old browsers. document.write("Hello, net!") // End the hiding here. --> </SCRIPT> <P>That's all, folks. </BODY> </HTML>
This script displays the following in Navigator:

Hello, net!

That's all, folks.

Notice that there is no difference in appearance between the first line, generated with JavaScript, and the second line, generated with plain HTML.

You may sometimes see a semicolon at the end of each line of JavaScript. In general, semicolons are optional and are only required if you want to put more than one statement on a single line. This is most useful in defining event handlers, which are discussed in "Scripting event handlers".

Defining and calling functions

For a complete description of defining and calling functions, see "Functions".
Functions are one of the fundamental building blocks in JavaScript. A function is a JavaScript procedure--a set of statements that performs a specific task. A function definition has three basic parts:

It's important to understand the difference between defining and calling a function. Defining the function simply names the function and specifies what to do when the function is called. Calling the function actually performs the specified actions with the indicated parameters.

Event handlers are introduced in "Scripting event handlers".
Generally, you should define the functions for a page in the HEAD portion of a document. That way, all functions are defined before any content is displayed. Otherwise, the user might perform an action while the page is still loading that triggers an event handler and calls an undefined function, leading to an error.

The following example defines a simple function in the HEAD of a document and then calls it in the BODY of the document:

<!-- Hide script from old browsers
function square(number) {
	return number * number
// End script hiding from old browsers -->
	document.write("The function returned ", square(5), ".")
<P> All done.
The function square takes one argument, called number. The function consists of one statement

return number * number
that indicates to return the argument of the function multiplied by itself. The return statement specifies the value returned by the function. In the BODY of the document, the statement

calls the function with an argument of five. The function executes its statements and returns the value twenty-five. The script displays the following results:

The function returned 25.

All done.

The square function used the line

to display output in Navigator. This line calls the write method of the Navigator document object with JavaScript's standard object notation:

where objectName is the name of the object, methodName is the name of the method, and arguments is a list of arguments to the method, separated by commas.

A method is a function associated with an object. You'll learn more about objects and methods in Chapter 7, "Object model." But right now, we will explore write a little more, because it is particularly useful.

Using the write method

As you saw in the previous example, the write method of document displays output in the Navigator. "Big deal," you say, "HTML already does that." But in a script you can do all kinds of things you can't do with ordinary HTML. For example, you can display text conditionally or based on variable arguments. For these reasons, write is one of the most often-used JavaScript methods.

The write method takes any number of string arguments that can be string literals or variables. You can also use the string concatenation operator (+) to create one string from several when using write.

Consider the following script, which generates dynamic HTML with Navigator JavaScript:

<!--- Hide script from old browsers
// This function displays a horizontal bar of specified width
function bar(widthPct) {
	document.write("<HR ALIGN='left' WIDTH=" + widthPct + "%>")
// This function displays a heading of specified level and some text
function output(headLevel, headText, text) {
	document.write("<H", headLevel, ">", headText, "</H", 
	headLevel, "><P>", text)
// end script hiding from old browsers -->
<!--- hide script from old browsers
output(2, "JavaScript Rules!", "Using JavaScript is easy...")
// end script hiding from old browsers -->
<P> This is some standard HTML, unlike the above that is generated.
The HEAD of this document defines two functions:

This is some standard HTML, unlike the above that is generated.

The following line creates the output of the bar function:

document.write("<HR ALIGN='left' WIDTH=", widthPct, "%>")
Notice that the definition of bar uses single quotation marks inside double quotation marks. You must do this whenever you want to indicate a quoted string inside a string literal. Then the call to bar with an argument of twenty-five produces output equivalent to the following HTML:

<HR ALIGN="left" WIDTH=25%>
write has a companion method, writeln, which adds a newline sequence (a carriage return or a carriage return and linefeed, depending on the platform) at the end of its output. Because HTML generally ignores newlines, there is no difference between write and writeln except inside tags such as PRE, which respect carriage returns.

Printing output

Navigator 2.0 does not print output created with JavaScript. For example, if you choose File|Print to print the page in the previous example, you see only the line that reads "This is some standard HTML...," even though you see both lines onscreen.

Displaying output

JavaScript in Navigator generates its results from the top of the page down. Once text has been displayed, you can't change it without reloading the page. In general, you cannot update part of a page without updating the entire page. However, you can update

Scripting event handlers

JavaScript applications in the Navigator are largely event-driven. Events are actions that occur usually as a result of something the user does. For example, clicking a button is an event, as is changing a text field or moving the mouse over a hyperlink. You can define event handlers, such as onChange and onClick, to make your script react to events.

Each event is recognized by certain objects (HTML tags), summarized in the following table:

Applies To

Occurs When

Event Handler

blur text fields, textareas, select lists User removes input focus from form element onBlur
click buttons, radio buttons, checkboxes, submit buttons, reset buttons, links User clicks form element or link onClick
change text fields, textareas, select lists User changes value of element onChange
focus text fields, textareas, select lists User gives form element input focus onFocus
load document body User loads the page in the Navigator onLoad
mouseover links User moves mouse pointer over a link onMouse- Over
select text fields, textareas User selects form element's input field onSelect
submit submit button User submits a form onSubmit
unload document body User exits the page onUnload

If an event applies to an HTML tag, then you can define an event handler for it. The name of an event handler is the name of the event, preceded by "on." For example, the event handler for the focus event is onFocus.

To create an event handler for an HTML tag, add an event handler attribute to the tag; Put JavaScript code in quotation marks as the attribute value. The general syntax is

<TAG eventHandler="JavaScript Code">
where TAG is an HTML tag and eventHandler is the name of the event handler.

For example, suppose you have created a JavaScript function called compute. You can cause Navigator to perform this function when the user clicks a button by assigning the function call to the button's onClick event handler:

<INPUT TYPE="button" VALUE="Calculate" onClick="compute(this.form)">
You can put any JavaScript statements inside the quotation marks following onClick. These statements are executed when the user clicks the button. If you want to include more than one statement, separate statements with a semicolon (;).

Notice in the preceding example this.form refers to the current form. The keyword this refers to the current object, which is the button. The construct this.form then refers to the form containing the button. The onClick event handler is a call to the compute function, with the current form as the argument.

In general, it is good practice to define functions for your event handlers:

Using quotation marks

Use single quotation marks ( ' ) to delimit string literals so that scripts can distinguish the literal from attribute values enclosed in double quotation marks. In the previous example, function bar contains the literal "left" within a double-quoted attribute value. Here's another example:

<INPUT TYPE="button" VALUE="Press Me" onClick="myfunc('astring')">
Be sure to alternate double quotation marks with single quotation marks. Because event handlers in HTML must be enclosed in quotation marks, you must use single quotation marks to delimit string arguments. For example

<FORM NAME="myform">
<INPUT TYPE="button" NAME="Button1" VALUE="Open Sesame!"
	onClick="'mydoc.html', 'newWin')">
Alternatively, you can escape quotation marks by preceding them with a backslash (). You must use this technique if your code requires more than two levels of quoting.

Example: using an event handler

In the following example, you can enter an expression (for example, 2 + 2) in the first text field, and then click the button. The second text field then displays the value of the expression (for example, 4).

<!--- Hide script from old browsers
function compute(f) {
	if (confirm("Are you sure?"))
		f.result.value = eval(f.expr.value)
		alert("Please come back again.")
// end hiding from old browsers -->
Enter an expression:
<INPUT TYPE="text" NAME="expr" SIZE=15 >
<INPUT TYPE="button" VALUE="Calculate" onClick="compute(this.form)">
<INPUT TYPE="text" NAME="result" SIZE=15 >
The display in Navigator will look like this:

Enter an expression:

Try entering some arithmetic expressions in the field and clicking the button.

The HEAD of the document defines a single function, compute, taking one argument, f, which is a form object. The function uses the Navigator JavaScript method confirm to display a Confirm dialog box with OK and Cancel buttons.

If the user clicks OK, then confirm returns true, and the value of the result text field is set to the value of eval(f.expr.value). The built-in JavaScript function eval evaluates its argument, which can be any string representing any JavaScript expression or statements.

If the user clicks Cancel, then confirm returns false and the alert method displays another message.

The form contains a button with an onClick event handler that calls the compute function. When the user clicks the button, JavaScript calls compute with the argument this.form that denotes the current form object. In compute, this form is referred to as the argument f.

Validating form input

If you can't run server-based programs, skip this section.
One of the most important uses of JavaScript is to validate form input to server-based programs such as LiveWire applications or CGI programs. This is useful because

Example validation functions

The following are some simple validation functions.

<HEAD> <SCRIPT LANGUAGE="javascript">
function isaPosNum(s) {
	return (parseInt(s) > 0)
function qty_check(item, min, max) {
	var returnVal = false
	if (!isaPosNum(item.value)) 
		alert("Please enter a postive number" )
	else if (parseInt(item.value) < min) 
		alert("Please enter a " + + " greater than " + min)
	else if (parseInt(item.value) > max) 
		alert("Please enter a " + + " less than " + max)
		returnVal = true
	return returnVal
function validateAndSubmit(theform) {
	if (qty_check(theform.quantity, 0, 999)) {
		alert("Order has been Submitted")
		alert("Sorry, Order Cannot Be Submitted!")
isaPosNum is a simple function that returns true if its argument is a positive number, and false otherwise.

qty_check takes three arguments: an object corresponding to the form element being validated (item) and the minimum and maximum allowable values for the item (min and max). It checks that the value of item is a number between min and max and displays an alert if it is not.

validateAndSubmit takes a form object as its argument; it uses qty_check to check the value of the form element and submits the form if the input value is valid. Otherwise, it displays an alert and does not submit the form.

Using the validation functions

In this example, the BODY of the document uses qty_check as an onChange event handler for a text field and validateAndSubmit as the onClick event handler for a button

<FORM NAME="widget_order" ACTION="lwapp.html" METHOD="post">
How many widgets today? 
<INPUT TYPE="text" NAME="quantity" onChange="qty_check(this, 0, 999)">
<INPUT TYPE="button" VALUE="Enter Order" 
This form submits the values to a page in a LiveWire application called lwapp.html. It also could be used to submit the form to a CGI program.

The form looks like this:

How many widgets today?

Try entering some numbers, and see how the script reacts. (Note: this example does not actually submit the order to a server-based program (lwapp.html), as shown in the example code.)

The onChange event handler is triggered when you change the value in the text field and move focus from the field by either pressing the Tab key or clicking the mouse outside the field. Notice that both event handlers use this to represent the current object: in the text field, it is used to pass the JavaScript object corresponding to the text field to qty_check, and in the button it is used to pass the JavaScript form object to validateAndSubmit.

To submit the form to the server-based program, this example uses a button that calls validateAndSubmit, which submits the form using the submit method, if the data are valid. You can also use a submit button (defined by <INPUT TYPE="submit">) with an onSubmit event handler that returns false if the data are not valid. For example,

<INPUT TYPE="submit" onSubmit="qty_check(theform.quantity, 0, 999)"
When qty_check returns false if the data are invalid, the onSubmit handler will prohibit the form from being submitted.