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Animating with jQuery

    Earle Castledine

    jQuery was built to animate. Whether it’s fading out a warning message after a failed login, sliding down a menu control, or even powering a complete side-scrolling, “shoot ’em up” game—it’s all a snap with some powerful built-in methods, augmented with an extensive array of plugins.

    Animating CSS Properties

    We have mastered some valuable examples of animation so far—sliding, fading, and some fancy hiding and showing—but we haven’t had a lot of control over what exactly is animated and exactly how it happens. It’s time to introduce a very exciting jQuery function, helpfully called animate, which lets you animate a whole host of CSS properties to fashion some striking effects of your own. Let’s have a look at an example of animate in action:

      padding: '20px',
      fontSize: '30px'
    }, 2000);

    This code will animate all paragraphs on the page, changing the padding from its initial state to 20px and increasing the font size to 30px over a period of 2 seconds (2,000 milliseconds).

    To use animate, we pass an object literal containing the properties we would like to animate specified as key/value pairs—much the same as when you assign multiple properties with the css function. There’s one caveat that you’ll need to remember: property names must be camel-cased in order to be used by the animate function; that is to say, you’ll need to write backgroundColor instead of background-color, and marginLeft instead of margin-left. Any property name made up of multiple words needs to be modified in this way.

    You can pass a number of milliseconds, or one of the strings slow, fast, or normal. Values for CSS properties can be set in pixels, ems, percentages, or points. For example, you could write 100px, 10em, 50%, or 16pt.

    Even more excitingly, the values you define can be relative to the element’s current values: all you need to do is specify += or -= in front of the value, and that value will be added to or subtracted from the element’s current property. Let’s use this ability to make our navigation menu swing as we pass our mouse over the menu items using the hover function:

    $('#navigation li').hover(function() {
      $(this).animate({paddingLeft: '+=15px'}, 200);
    }, function() {
      $(this).animate({paddingLeft: '-=15px'}, 200);

    Mouse over the navigation menu, and you’ll see the links wobble around nicely.

    You can also use animate to achieve fine-grained control over showing, hiding, and toggling functions. We simply specify a property’s animation value as show, hide, or toggle rather than a numeric amount:

      opacity: 'hide',
      height: 'hide'
    }, 'slow');

    It’s terribly satisfying seeing elements animate. As an exercise, try animating every element property you can think of—you’ll stumble on some interesting effects! The animate function also has some powerful advanced options, which we’ll examine in detail over the course of this chapter.

    Color Animation

    Once you realize how cool the animate function is, you’ll probably want to animate an element’s color. However, animating color is a little bit tricky, because the color values “in between” the start and end colors need to be calculated in a special way. Unlike a height or width value that moves from one value to another in a simple, linear manner, jQuery needs to do some extra math to figure out what color is, say, three-quarters of the way between light blue and orange.

    This color-calculating functionality is omitted from the core library. This makes sense when you think about it: most projects have no need for this functionality, so jQuery can keep the size of the core library to a minimum. If you want to animate color, you’re going to need to download the Color Animations plugin.
    Using Plugins

    The official jQuery plugin repository contains an ever-increasing number of plugins—some more useful than others. You can search for plugins by name, category (such as effects or utilities), or by the rating it’s received from the jQuery community.

    Once you’ve found a plugin you’re interested in, download it to a suitable location for your project (most likely the same place as your jQuery source file). It’s a good idea to peruse the readme file or related documentation before you use a plugin, but generally all you need to do is include it in your HTML files, in much the same way as we’ve been including our custom JavaScript file.

    How you make use of your newfound functionality varies from plugin to plugin, so you’ll have to consult each plugin’s documentation to put it to the best use.

    After downloading and including the Color Animations plugin, you can now animate color properties in your jQuery animation code, just as you would other CSS properties. Let’s gradually highlight our disclaimer message over a period of two seconds as the page loads, to make sure no one misses it:

    $('#disclaimer').animate({'backgroundColor':'#ff9f5f'}, 2000);

    See how animating the disclaimer makes it so much more noticeable?

    Easing refers to the acceleration and deceleration that occurs during an animation to give it a more natural feel. Easing applies a mathematical algorithm to alter the speed of an animation as it progresses. Thankfully, we’re using jQuery, so you can leave your high school math skills safely locked away.

    There are two types of easing available to use in jQuery: linear and swing. Any time you use an animation function in jQuery, you can specify either of these parameters to control the animation’s easing. The difference between them can be seen in the figure below, which shows how a property is adjusted over the period of an animation depending on which easing option you select.

    swing easing starts off slowly before gaining speed, then towards the end of the animation it slows down again, nice and gently. Visually, swing easing looks far more natural than linear easing, and jQuery uses it by default if no easing parameter is specified.

    The linear easing method has no acceleration or deceleration: animations occur at a constant rate. It looks fairly boring and a bit rigid in most circumstances, but it’s worth giving it a try—it might just be appropriate for your purposes.

    As an example, we’ll animate the first paragraph tag so that when clicked, it grows and shrinks; we’ll use linear easing as it grows, and swing easing as it shrinks. The difference is quite subtle, but if you repeat the animations a few times you should be able to distinguish between them; the shrinking animation feels a little bit more natural:

    $('p:first').toggle(function() {
      $(this).animate({'height':'+=150px'}, 1000, 'linear');
    }, function() {
      $(this).animate({'height':'-=150px'}, 1000, 'swing');

    There’s quite a lot of jQuery in this statement, so now might be a good time to pause and make sure you understand everything that’s going on here:

    • We use a filter with a selector to grab only the first paragraph tag.
    • A toggle event handler (which executes each passed function on successive clicks) is attached to the paragraph.
    • Inside the handlers we select this, which refers to the element that triggered the event (in our example, it’s the paragraph itself).
    • The first handler uses the += format to grow the paragraph’s height by 150 pixels, using the linear easing function.
    • The second handler uses the -= format to shrink the paragraph’s height by 150 pixels, using the swing easing function.

    If you managed to follow along and understand each of these steps, pat yourself on the back! You’re really getting the hang of jQuery!

    Advanced Easing

    As stated, swing easing provides a much more visually pleasing transition, and is probably adequate for most tasks. But swing and linear easing are just the tip of the iceberg. There is a vast array of easing options beyond these two basic types included in the core jQuery library. Most of these are available in the easing plugin, available from the jQuery plugin repository.

    jQuery UI Includes Several Plugins

    The easing library is also included in the effects section of the jQuery UI library. This library includes several common plugins, including color animation, class transitions, and easing. By including the jQuery UI library, you’ll avoid needing to include each plugin separately in your pages.

    Just download and include the plugin’s JavaScript file in your HTML page, anywhere after the jQuery library. Rather than providing you with new functions, the easing plugin simply gives you access to over 30 new easing options. Explaining what all of these easing functions do would test even the most imaginative writer, so we’ll simply direct your attention to the figure below, where you can see a few of the algorithms represented graphically.

    You’ll notice that some of the algorithms move out of the graph area; when animated elements reach this part of the transition, they’ll move past their destination and finally turn back to settle there. The effect is that of an element attached to a piece of elastic, which gently pulls everything back into place.


    To use one of the new algorithms, we just need to pass its name to our animate function. There are lots to choose from, so we might as well jump straight into it and try a few different ones:

    $('p:first').animate({height: '+=300px'}, 2000, 'easeOutBounce');
    $('p:first').animate({height: '-=300px'}, 2000, 'easeInOutExpo');
    $('p:first').animate({height: 'hide'}, 2000, 'easeOutCirc');
    $('p:first').animate({height: 'show'}, 2000, 'easeOutElastic');

    Look at that paragraph go! You might want to know where these easing option names are coming from—or where you can see the full list. The algorithms originated from Robert Penner’s easing equations, which are described in detail on his web site.

    The best way to see all the available equations is to view the plugin’s source code. If you use your text editor to open up the file you downloaded, you’ll see a list of the functions you can use in jQuery animations.

    Time to Play Around

    Take a break and test out all of the easing functions that the plugin makes available. It’s unlikely you’ll ever need to use all of them, but becoming familiar with them will let you choose the right one to give your interface the precise feel you want. Moreover, playing around with the animate function will cement your knowledge of it: it’s an important part of a jQuery ninja’s arsenal!

    Bouncy Content Panes

    Now that we’ve learned a bit about how the animate function works, let’s have a look at a client’s latest round of requests. Today’s to-do list includes the addition of a vitally important page component: the StarTrackr! Daily “Who’s Hot Right Now?” List (or the SDWHRNL for short). The list consists of the latest celebrities to fall in or out of favor, along with an accompanying photo and brief bio. We’ll apply some of the animation and easing techniques we’ve just learned to implement the list as panes that can be opened and closed independently.

    The appearance of the widget in the page is shown below.


    In our HTML, we’ll implement the section as a div element containing all of our celebrities. Each celebrity’s pane will be marked up as an h3, followed by another div containing an image and a short paragraph:

    <div id="bio">
      <h2>Who’s Hot Right Now?</h2>
      <h3>Beau Dandy</h3>
        <img src="../images/beau_100.jpg" width="100" 
          height="100" alt="Beau Dandy"/>
        <p>Content about Beau Dandy</p>
      <h3>Johnny Stardust</h3>
        <img src="../images/johnny_100.jpg" width="100" 
          height="100" alt="Johny Stardust"/>
        <p>Content about Johny Stardust</p>
        <img src="../images/glenda_100.jpg" width="100" 
          height="100" alt="Glendatronix"/>
        <p>Content about Glendatronix</p>

    When a user clicks on one of the headings, we want the associated content pane to toggle open and closed. You can style your panes however you see fit, but having a block-level element for a heading with a different-colored background is a common technique: it provides a clear call to action for the user to click on it.

    “Jumpy” Animation?

    One quirk to be aware of is that animating an element directly next to a heading tag can sometimes look “jumpy”—especially when the element hides. This is due to the heading’s margin, which collapses as the following element hides. A simple workaround, which we’ve used here, is to remove margins from the heading tag entirely.

    We want to avoid showing any content when the page loads, so the first thing to do is to hide all of the content containers:

    $('#bio > div').hide();

    If, instead, you’d prefer to have one pane open by default, you could specify it here. This can help to make it more evident to users that there’s content “hidden” in the panes, and that they’re meant to click on the headings to reveal it. Making this work in jQuery is simple: we merely apply the :first filter and call the show action to reveal only the first pane:

    $('#bio > div:first').show();

    The Child Selector

    There’s a selector feature in these examples that we’ve yet to cover. It’s the child selector, and it’s indicated by the greater-than angle bracket (>). A child selector selects all the immediate children that match the selector. If we’d omitted the child selector, our code would select all div elements underneath the bio div element, even if they were nested inside other elements. For more details and code examples using this selector, feel free to look it up in the jQuery API documentation.

    Now that our content is marked up the way we want it, we simply need to add some jQuery interaction magic to it. To reveal our secret content we’ll take the familiar approach of capturing the click event, finding the next element (which contains our content), and showing it. But this time, we’ll employ a touch of “bounce,” easing to the content’s height so that the panes bounce in and out of view:

    $('#bio h3').click(function() {
        {'height':'toggle'}, 'slow', 'easeOutBounce'

    The easing function easeOutBounce produces a great bouncing ball effect, which works wonderfully for content panes like this. Give it a spin in your browser and see for yourself!

    note:Want more?

    Check out the book and buy it online at jQuery: Novice to Ninja, by Earle Castledine & Craig Sharkie