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ColdFusion AJAX Tutorial 1: Auto-Suggest

Auto-Suggest is a modified text input box, one that displays suggestions as the user types

Ben Forta's Blog

I plan to post a series of examples demonstrating how to use the new Ajax functionality in ColdFusion 8 (many based on examples used during our recent usergroup tour). The first one I'll start with is the auto-suggest control. Auto-suggest is a modified text input box, one that displays suggestions as the user types. The auto-suggest control in ColdFusion 8 can be used in two ways, with local client-side data, and with asynchronous calls back to ColdFusion.

Here's a simple client-side data example (which uses one of the CF8 example databases, so this should work for you as is):

 

<!--- Get data --->
<cfquery datasource="cfartgallery" name="data">
SELECT artname
FROM art
ORDER BY artname
</cfquery>

<!--- The form --->
<cfform>
Art:
<!--- Populate auto-suggest control --->
<cfinput type="text"
name="artname"
autosuggest="#ValueList(data.artname)#">

</cfform>

This form displays a simple text box, but as text is entered, suggestions are displayed. The list of suggestions are passed to the autosuggest attribute which accepts a comma delimited list. The list could be hardcoded, but here ValueList() is being used to dynamically build a list based on a prior database lookup.

This is not an Ajax control in that lookups are not asynchronous, there is no communication back to the server to retrieve data, all data is local. This is actually a preferred form of auto-suggest for smaller lists.

For longer lists asynchronous interaction is indeed preferred, and the auto-suggest control supports this by allowing asynchronous calls to a ColdFusion component. Here is a sample CFC:

 

<cfcomponent output="false">

<cfset THIS.dsn="cfartgallery">

<!--- Lookup used for auto suggest --->
<cffunction name="lookupArt" access="remote" returntype="array">
<cfargument name="search" type="any" required="false" default="">

<!--- Define variables --->
<cfset var data="">
<cfset var result=ArrayNew(1)>

<!--- Do search --->
<cfquery datasource="#THIS.dsn#" name="data">
SELECT artname
FROM art
WHERE UCase(artname) LIKE Ucase('#ARGUMENTS.search#%')
ORDER BY artname
</cfquery>

<!--- Build result array --->
<cfloop query="data">
<cfset ArrayAppend(result, artname)>
</cfloop>

<!--- And return it --->
<cfreturn result>
</cffunction>

</cfcomponent>

This CFC has a single method named lookupArt which accepts a string and performs a query to find all matches that start with the specified value. Auto-suggest requires that results be returns in a single dimensional array (for now, hopefully this will change before we ship the final product), and so the code populates an array with the results which are then returned.

Now for the modified form code to use this CFC and method:

 

<cfform>
Art:
<cfinput type="text"
name="artname"
autosuggest="cfc:art.lookupArt({cfautosuggestvalue})">

</cfform>

Here the autosuggest points to a CFC, and as the CFC (I named it art.cfc) is in the current folder, no path needs to be specified. When a user enters a value, generated JavaScript code triggers an asynchronous calls to the lookupArt method in art.cfc. {cfautosuggestvalue} gets automatically replaced with whatever value the user has entered, and that value is then used by the CFC in the lookup. When an array of results get returned the auto-suggest list gets populated.

Auto-suggest does not get any cleaner and simpler than this.

 

More Stories By Ben Forta

Ben Forta is Adobe's Senior Technical Evangelist. In that capacity he spends a considerable amount of time talking and writing about Adobe products (with an emphasis on ColdFusion and Flex), and providing feedback to help shape the future direction of the products. By the way, if you are not yet a ColdFusion user, you should be. It is an incredible product, and is truly deserving of all the praise it has been receiving. In a prior life he was a ColdFusion customer (he wrote one of the first large high visibility web sites using the product) and was so impressed he ended up working for the company that created it (Allaire). Ben is also the author of books on ColdFusion, SQL, Windows 2000, JSP, WAP, Regular Expressions, and more. Before joining Adobe (well, Allaire actually, and then Macromedia and Allaire merged, and then Adobe bought Macromedia) he helped found a company called Car.com which provides automotive services (buy a car, sell a car, etc) over the Web. Car.com (including Stoneage) is one of the largest automotive web sites out there, was written entirely in ColdFusion, and is now owned by Auto-By-Tel.

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