PALS3004/G308 Web Programming
UCL Division of Psychology and Language Sciences
PALS3004/G308 Web programming for research in psychology and language sciences

4. Introduction to Scripting

Learning Objectives

By the end of the session you should:


  1. Anatomy of an Interactive Web Application
  2. In an interactive web application, a web page displayed in a browser acts as the interface between the user and the application script. A user will typically interact with the web page by directing keystrokes and mouse clicks to elements of the page. Typically these elements will be controls such as buttons, text boxes and scroll bars, but they may also be images or regions of text. The browser then indicates to the application script that certain events have arisen on these elements, and the application script can define functions which handle these events. These handler functions perform some desired operation and then make changes to the state of the web page to show the user that their input has been processed. The script may do this by making changes to the state of the controls on the web page or to the content of the web page itself. A user interaction may simply change the internal state of the application, or it may cause the script to communicate information back to the server which might, for example, store information into a database or retrieve information from a database. Information coming back from the database via the server may end up being displayed in the web page by the script.

  3. Essential HTML Controls
  4. Here are the controls that are most commonly used to create interactive web pages.


    A button is a labelled region which responds to mouse clicks.

    <input type="button" id="ID" value="Label" />
    <button id="ID">Label</button>

    Text Box

    A text box is a region where the user can type a line of text.

    <input type="text" id="ID" size="20" value="Example content" />

    Text Area

    A text area is a region where a user can type or edit multiple lines of text.

    <textarea id="ID" rows="5" cols="10">
      Example content


    A checkbox is a special type of button that can be in a "checked" or "unchecked" state. Clicking on the button will typically cause it to switch checked state.

    <input type="checkbox" id="ID" checked /> Label text

    Label text

    Radio Button

    A radio button is a special type of button that can be in a "checked" or "unchecked" state. Radio buttons typically come in groups, such that only one may be checked at ay one time. Clicking on a radio button will cause that button to become checked, and all other buttons in the group to become unchecked.

    <input type="radio" name="group" id="ID1" checked />Option 1
    <input type="radio" name="group" id="ID2" />Option 2

    Option 1 Option 2

    List Selection

    A selection list presents a set of options to the user. The list can be displayed on one or multiple lines, and can allow single or multiple selections to be made.

    <select id="ID">
    <option value="1" selected>List item 1</option>
    <option value="2">List item 2</option>
    <option value="3">List item 3</option>


    The range control presents a slider which may be dragged to different positions to indicate a particular numeric value on a scale.

    <input type="range" id="ID" min="0" max="10" step="1" value="3" />

    Other controls

    Other controls exist:

    • A "progress bar" control can be used to indicate progress through a time-intensive task.
    • A "file upload" control can be used to let the user select and upload a file to the server.
    • A "password" control is like a text control, but the typed characters are hidden from display.
    • A "date" control can be used to accept a date.
    • A "colour" control can be used to accept a colour.

    You can try many of these for yourself.

  5. HTML Events
  6. These are the most common events.

    Document events

    Handlers for these events are usually assigned in the <body> element.

    onloadDocument loadFires when the browser finishes loading all content within a document, including window, frames, objects and images
    onunloadDocument unloadFires when the browser removes all content from a window or frame
    onresizeWindow resizeFires when the user changes the size of the browser window

    Mouse events

    Handlers for these events are usually assigned to controls, images, <div> or <span> elements.

    onclickMouse clickFires when the pointing device button is clicked over an element. A click is defined as a mousedown and mouseup over the same screen location. The sequence of these events is: mousedown mouseup click
    ondblclickMouse double clickFires when the pointing device button is double clicked over an element
    onmousedownMouse button downFires when the pointing device button is pressed over an element
    onmouseupMouse button upFires when the pointing device button is released over an element
    onmouseoverMouse hover overFires when the pointing device is moved onto an element
    onmousemoveMouse moveFires when the pointing device is moved while it is over an element
    onmouseoutMouse leaveFires when the pointing device is moved away from an element


    Handlers for these events are usually assigned to the &body> element.

    onkeydownKey downFires before keypress, when a key on the keyboard is pressed
    onkeypressKey pressedFires after keydown, when a key on the keyboard is pressed
    onkeyupKey upFires when a key on the keyboard is released

    Control state

    Handlers for these events are usually assigned to controls.

    oninputValue changedFires when the value of a control has been modified since gaining focus
    onchangeValue changedFires when a control loses the input focus and its value has been modified since gaining focus

    There are also "touch" events which you can use to handle interactions with touch screens on smartphones and tablets.

    You can find a complete list of events here.

  7. Basics of Javascript Event Handlers
  8. To handle events you should first indicate on each control which script function you want to use to handle each of the events you are interested in. Here we handle the onclick event using a script function button1click by adding a value to the "onclick" attribute of the button element:

    <button id="button1" onclick="button1click()">Click Me!</button>

    Include a <script> section in the header of your file:

    <title>Document title</title>

    Write the handler function in Javascript in the script section:

    function button1click() {
       alert("Click on button received!");

    The alert function in Javascript pops up a message to the user with the given text.

    In the event handler function you can access all the current contents of the web page and you can modify the content in anyway you choose.

  9. Accessing parts of the web page through the document object model (DOM)
  10. Within JavaScript code, the contents of the web page are made available though the document object. The document object has a number of methods that allow you to read the current state of each html element (and its contents) and to modify that state (or contents).

    The document method document.getElementById() is the workhorse method since it provides access to any element in the page identified by its id attribute. Given the object returned by getElementById() you can then access any of its attributes, style properties and contents.

    To access the value of a control with an ID of "ctrl", you would write:


    To access the HTML contents of an element with an ID of "elmt", you would write:


    To access a style property of an element with an ID of "elmt", you would write:


    where you need to replace property with the name of a style property, see below.

    In this complete example, we use a handler for a click event to set some text displayed in a <span> section of the page:

    function button1click() {
       document.getElementById("reply").innerHTML = 
          "<b>Hello " + document.getElementById("input").value + "!</b>";
      <p>Your name: <input type="text" id="input" size="20" >
      <p><button onclick="button1click()">Hello Computer</button>
      <p><span id="reply">
        Type your name and click the "Hello Computer" button.

    You can see this code working below:

    Your name:

    Type your name and click the "Hello Computer" button.

    The line

    document.getElementById("reply").innerHTML = 
      "<b>Hello " + document.getElementById("input").value + "!</b>";

    sets the innerHTML property of the "reply" object (actually the HTML inside a <span> tag) to the string value made up by concatenating three string values. The "+" signs in this string expression mean glue together the character strings. Note how we can put HTML element names in the strings, and these are processed by the browser just as if we had originally typed them in the body of the original document.

    To change a style property of an element you can assign string values to each property in a similar manner. For example to set the color property to red you might write:


    This statement is equivalent to setting the "style" attribute directly on that element, over-ruling any style-sheet specifications.

    Note that some style property names need to be modified before they can be used in JavaScript statements, this is because a hyphen "-" is not allowed as the name of a JavaScript identifier. Instead, you should remove the hyphen and change the property name to "camel case", that is capitalising the first letter of the next word. So "font-weight" becomes "fontWeight", etc:


  11. Some useful functions
  12. Function nameExampleDescription
    document.getElementByIddocument.getElementById("text1")Gets object on page by its ID
    alertalert("Hello World!")Displays pop-up message
    console.logconsole.log("got event")Prints a message to the developer console



  1. Implement demonstration demo4-1.html. Modify the code ("ex4-1.html") so that the handler function responds to the "oninput" event on textbox1 instead of requiring a button click.
  2. Implement demonstration demo4-2.html. Modify the code ("ex4-2.html") so that the handler function responds to the "oninput" event on range1 instead of the onchange event.
  3. Implement demonstration demo4-3.html. Modify the code ("ex4-3.html") so that the handler function changes the "textDecoration" property instead of the "fontFamily" property.
  4. Write an interactive application ("ex4-4.html") which allows you to set the "backgroundColor" property of the page from the settings of three range controls (one for each of red, green and blue). Hint: you will need to assign the colour property in the form of a string like "rgb("+red+","+green+","+blue+")".


  1. Watch an introductory video on JavaScript to get an idea of how JavaScript interacts with the HTML and CSS content of web pages. Both the Lynda and Microsoft tutorials are good here.
  2. Work through a little of a text tutorial on JavaScript, such as the W3Schools tutorial linked in the resources section.
  3. Build a web application which exercises all the events listed in section 3. Specify handlers for each event on the body element or on a number of HTML control elements. For each event handler, just use the console.log() function to indicate that it has been called, for example:
  4. function handle_onclick() {
        console.log("onclick event occurred");
    function handle_onmouseover() {
        console.log("onmouseover event occurred");
    <button onclick='handle_onclick()' 
       onmouseover='handle_onmouseover()'>Click Me</button>

    You can then display the console output in Chrome Developer Tools to see which events are fired as you interact with elements on the page.

  5. Upload your homework to your exercises folder on the course web space.

Word count: . Last modified: 12:20 25-Oct-2016.