The top ten topics (we didn't cover) - Head First JavaScript Programming (2014)

Head First JavaScript Programming (2014)

Appendix A. Leftovers: The top ten topics (we didn't cover)

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We’ve covered a lot of ground, and you’re almost finished with this book. We’ll miss you, but before we let you go, we wouldn’t feel right about sending you out into the world without a little more preparation. We can’t possibly fit everything you’ll need to know into this relatively small chapter. Actually, we did originally include everything you need to know about JavaScript Programming (not already covered by the other chapters), by reducing the type point size to .00004. It all fit, but nobody could read it. So we threw most of it away, and kept the best bits for this Top Ten appendix. This really is the end of the book. Except for the index, of course (a must-read!).

#1 jQuery

jQuery is a JavaScript library that is aimed at reducing and simplifying much of the JavaScript code and syntax that is needed to work with the DOM and add visual effects to your pages. jQuery is an enormously popular library that is widely used and expandable through its plug-in model.

Now, there’s nothing you can do in jQuery that you can’t do with JavaScript (as we said, jQuery is just a JavaScript library); however, it does have the power to reduce the amount of code you need to write.

jQuery’s popularity speaks for itself, although it can take some getting used to if you are new to it. Let’s check out a few things you can do in jQuery and we encourage you to take a closer look if you think it might be for you.


A working knowledge of jQuery is a good skill these days on the job front and for understanding others’ code.

For starters, remember all the window.onload functions we wrote in this book? Like:

window.onload = function() {

alert("the page is loaded!");


Here’s the same thing using jQuery:

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Or you can shorten this even more, to:

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So what about getting elements from the DOM? That’s where jQuery shines. Let’s say you have an <a> element in your page with an id of “buynow” and you want to assign a click handler to the click event on that element (like we’ve done a few times in this book). Here’s how you do that:

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That’s really just the beginning; we can just as easily set the click handler on every <a> element in the page:

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Or, we can do things that are much more complex:

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There’s a whole ’nother side of jQuery that allows you to do interesting interface transformations on your elements, like this:

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As you can see, there’s a lot you can do with jQuery, and we haven’t even talked about how we can use jQuery to talk to web services, or all the plug-ins that work with jQuery. If you’re interested, the best thing you can do is point your browser to and check out the tutorials and documentation there.


And, check out Head First jQuery too!

#2 Doing more with the DOM

We’ve touched on some of the things you can do with the DOM in this book, but there’s a lot more to learn. The objects that represent the document in your page—that is, the document object, and the various element objects—are chock full of properties and methods you can use to interact with and manipulate your page.

You already know how to use document.getElementById and document.getElementsByTagName to get elements from the page. The document object has these other methods you can use to get elements, too:

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Here’s how you’d use document.querySelector to match a list item element with the class “song” that’s nested in a <ul> element with the id “playlist”:

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What if you want to add new elements to your page from your code? You can use a combination of document object methods and element methods to do that, like this:

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There’s a lot more you can do with the DOM using JavaScript. For a good introduction, check out Head First HTML5 Programming.

#3 The Window Object

You’ve heard of the DOM, but you should know there’s also a BOM, or Browser Object Model. It’s not really an official standard, but all browsers support it through the window object. You’ve seen the window object in passing when we’ve used the window.onload property, and you’ll remember we can assign an event handler to this property that is triggered when the browser has fully loaded a page.

You’ve also seen the window object when we’ve used the alert and prompt methods, even though it might not have been obvious. The reason it wasn’t obvious is that window is the object that acts as the global namespace. When you declare any kind of global variable or define a global function, it is stored as a property in the window object. So for every call we made to alert, we could have instead called window.alert, because it’s the same thing.

Another place you’ve used the window object without knowing it is when you’ve used the document object to do things like get elements from the DOM with document.getElementById. The document object is a property of window, so we could writewindow.document.getElementById. But, just like with alert, we don’t have to, because window is the global object, and it is the default object for all the properties and methods we use from it.

In addition to being the global object, and supplying the onload property and the alert and prompt methods, the window object supplies other interesting browser-based properties and methods. For instance, it’s common to make use of the width and height of the browser window to tailor a web page experience to the size of the browser. You can access these values like this:

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Check out the W3C documentation[2] for more on the window object. Here are a few common methods and properties:

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#4 Arguments

An object named arguments is available in every function when that function is called. You won’t ever see this object in the parameter list, but it is available nevertheless every time a function is called, in the variable arguments.

The arguments object contains every argument passed to your function, and it can be accessed in an array-like manner. You can use arguments to create a function that accepts a variable number of arguments, or create a function that does different things depending on the number of arguments passed to it. Let’s see how arguments works with this code:

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While arguments looks just like an array, it is not actually an array; it’s an object. It has a length property, and you can iterate over it and access items in it using bracket notation, but that’s where the similarity with an array ends. Also, note that you can use both parameters and thearguments object in the same function. Let’s write one more piece of code to see how a function with a variable number of arguments might be written:

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#5 Handling exceptions

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JavaScript is a fairly forgiving language, but now and then things go wrong—wrong enough that the browser can’t continue executing your code. When that happens, your page stops working, and if you look in the console you’re likely to see an error. Let’s take a look at an example of some code that causes an error. Start by creating a simple HTML page with a single element in the body:

<div id="message"></div>

Now, add the following JavaScript:

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Load the page in your browser, make sure the console is open, and you’ll get an error. Can you see what went wrong? We mistyped the id of the <div> element, so when your code tries to retrieve that <div> element it fails, and the variable message is null. And you can’t access theinnerHTML property of null.


Uncaught TypeError: Cannot set

property 'innerHTML' of null

When you get an error that causes your code to stop executing like this one does, it’s called an exception. JavaScript has a mechanism, called try/catch, that you can use to watch for exceptions and catch them when they happen. The idea is that if you can catch one of these exceptions, rather than your code just stopping, you can take an alternative action (try something else, offer the user a different experience, etc.).


The way you use try/catch is like this: you put the code you want to try in the try block, and then you write a catch block that contains code that will be executed in case anything goes wrong with the code in the try block. The catch keyword is followed by parentheses that contain a variable name (that acts a lot like a function parameter). If something goes wrong and an exception is caught, the variable will be assigned to a value related to the exception, often an Error object. Here’s how you use a try/catch statement:

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#6 Adding event handlers with addEventListener

In this book, we used object properties to assign event handlers to events. For instance, when we wanted to handle the load event, we assigned an event handler to the window.onload property. And when we wanted to handle a button click, we assigned an event handler to that button’sonclick property.

This is a convenient way of assigning event handlers. But sometimes, you might need a more general way of assigning event handlers. For instance, if you want to assign multiple handlers for one event type, you can’t do that if you use a property like onload. But you can with a method named addEventListener:

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You can assign a second load event handler to window simply by calling addEventListener again, passing a different event handler function reference as the second argument. This is handy if you want to split your initialization code into two separate functions, but remember—you won’t know which handler will be called first, so keep that in mind as you’re designing your code.

The third argument to addEventListener determines if the event is “bubbled up” to parent elements. This doesn’t make a difference for the load event (because the window object is at the top level), but if you have, say, a <span> element nested inside a <div> element, and you click on the <span> but want the <div> to receive the event, then you can set bubble to true instead of false.

It’s totally fine to mix and match using the event properties, like onload, with addEventListener. Also, if you add an event handler with addEventListener, you can remove it later with removeEventListener, like this:

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Event handling in IE8 and older

We’ve handled a few different kinds of events in this book—mouse clicks, load events, key presses, and more—and hopefully you’ve been using a modern browser and the code has worked for you. However, if you are writing a web page that handles events (and what web page doesn’t?) and you’re concerned that some of the people in your audience may be using versions of Internet Explorer (IE) that are version 8 or older, you need to be aware of an issue with event handling.

Unfortunately, IE handled events differently from other browsers until IE9. You could use properties like onclick and onload to set event handlers across all browsers, however, the way that older IE browsers handle the event object is different. In addition, if you happen to be using the standardized addEventListener method, IE didn’t support this method until IE9 and later. Here are the main issues to be aware of:

IE8 and older browsers do support most of the “on” properties you can use to assign event handlers.

IE8 and older browsers use a method named attachEvent instead of the addEventListener method.

When an event is triggered and your event handler is called, instead of passing an event object to the handler, IE8 and older store the event object in the window object.

So, if you want to be sure that your code works across all browsers, including IE8 and older browsers, then you can manage these differences like this:

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#7 Regular Expressions

You’ve seen the RegExp object in passing in this book—“RegExp” stands for regular expression, which is, formally, a grammar for describing patterns in text. For instance, using a regular expression, you could write an expression that matches all text that starts with “t” and ends with “e”, with at least one “a” and no more than two “u”s in between.

Regular expressions can get complex fast. In fact, regular expressions can almost seem like an alien language when you first try to read them. But you can get started with simple regular expressions fairly quickly, and if you like them, check out a good reference on the topic.

The RegExp constructor

Let’s take a look at a couple of regular expressions. To create a regular expression, pass a search pattern to the RegExp constructor, between two slashes, like this: The key to understanding regular expressions is learning how to read the search patterns. These search patterns are the most complex part of regular expressions, so we’ll work through the two examples here, and you’ll have to explore the rest on your own.

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The key to understanding regular expressions is learning how to read the search patterns. These search patterns are the most complex part of regular expressions, so we’ll work through the two examples here, and you’ll have to explore the rest on your own.

Using a RegExp object

To use a regular expression, you first need a string to search:

var amyHome = "555-1212";

Then, you match the regular expression to the string by calling the match method on the string, and passing the regular expression object as an argument:

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The result is an array containing any parts of the string that matched. If the result is null, then nothing in the string matched the regular expression:

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Once you’ve got a regular expression, like phoneNumber, you can just keep using it to match as many strings as you like.

#8 Recursion

When you give a function a name it allows you to do something quite interesting: call that function from within the function. We call this recursion, or a recursive function call.

Now why would you need such a thing? Well, some problems are inherently recursive. Here’s one from mathematics: an algorithm to compute the Fibonacci number series. The Fibonacci number series is:

0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55, 89, 144... and so on.

To compute a Fibonacci number we start by assuming:

Fibonacci of 0 is 1

Fibonacci of 1 is 1

and then to compute any other number in the series we simply add together the two previous numbers in the series. So:

Fibonacci of 2 is Fibonacci of 1 + Fibonacci of 0 = 2

Fibonacci of 3 is Fibonacci of 2 + Fibonacci of 1 = 3

Fibonacci of 4 is Fibonacci of 3 + Fibonacci of 2 = 5

and so on... The algorithm to compute Fibonacci numbers is inherently recursive because you compute the next number using the results of the previous two Fibonacci numbers.

We can make a recursive function to compute Fibonacci numbers like this: to compute the Fibonacci of the number n, we call the Fibonacci function with the argument n-1 and call the Fibonacci function with the argument n-2, and then add the results together.

Let’s do that in code. We’ll start by handling the cases of 0 and 1:

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These are the base cases—that is, the cases that don’t rely on previous Fibonacci numbers to compute—and it is usually good to write them first. From there you can think like this: “To compute a Fibonacci number n, I return the result of adding the Fibonacci of n-1 and the Fibonacci of n-2.

Let’s do that...

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This looks a little like magic if you’ve never seen recursion before, but this does compute Fibonacci numbers. Let’s clean the code up a little, and test it:

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The fibonacci of 0 is 1

The fibonacci of 1 is 1

The fibonacci of 2 is 2

The fibonacci of 3 is 3

The fibonacci of 4 is 5

The fibonacci of 5 is 8

The fibonacci of 6 is 13

The fibonacci of 7 is 21

The fibonacci of 8 is 34

The fibonacci of 9 is 55


Make sure you have a base case.

If recursive code never reaches a base case where the computation ends, it will run forever, like an infinite loop. In other words, the function will continue calling itself over and over, consuming resources until your browser can’t take it anymore. So if you write recursive code and your page isn’t responding, figure out how to make sure you’re getting to the base case.


Not only is JavaScript the programming language of the Web, it’s becoming a common interchange format for storing and transmitting objects. JSON is an acronym for “JavaScript Object Notation” and is a format that allows you to represent a JavaScript object as a string—a string that can be stored and transmitted:

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Now, the cool thing about JSON is we can take strings like this and turn them into objects. The way we do it is with a couple of methods supplied by JavaScript JSON object: JSON.parse and JSON.stringify. We’ll use the parse method to parse the fidoString above and turn it into a real dog (well, a JavaScript object anyway):


Notice that we’re using the JSON object here. JSON is both the name of a string format and an object in JavaScript.

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And you can go the other way, too. If you have an object, fido, and you want to turn it into a string, you just call the JSON.stringify method, like this:

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Note that the JSON format doesn’t work with methods (so you can’t include, say, a bark method in your JSON string), but it does work with all the primitive types, as well as objects and arrays.

#10 Server-side JavaScript

In this book we’ve focused on the browser and client-side programming, but there’s a whole world of server-side programming where you can now use your JavaScript skills. Server-side programming is typically required for the kinds of web and cloud services you use on the Internet. If you want to create Webville Taco’s new online order system, or you think the next big idea is the anti-social network, you’ll need to write code that lives and runs in the cloud (on a server on the Internet).

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Node.js is the JavaScript server-side technology of choice these days, and it includes its own runtime environment and set of libraries (in the same way client-side JavaScript uses the browser’s libraries). And like the browser, Node.js runs JavaScript in a single-threaded model where only one thread of execution can happen at a time. This leads to a programing model similar to the browser that is based on asynchronous events and an event loop.

As an example, the method below starts up a web server listening for incoming web requests. It takes a handler that is responsible for handling those requests when they occur. Notice that the convention for setting up the event handler for incoming requests is to pass an anonymous function to the createServer method.

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Of course, there is much more to explain and to work through to understand how Node.js works. But, given your knowledge of objects and functions you are well positioned to take this on. Also, explaining Node.js requires at least an entire book of its own, but you’ll also find many online tutorials, articles and demonstrations at