In this chapter we’ll get into more details about mouse events and their properties.

Please note: such events may come not only from “mouse devices”, but are also from other devices, such as phones and tablets, where they are emulated for compatibility.

Mouse event types

We can split mouse events into two categories: “simple” and “complex”

Simple events

The most used simple events are:

Mouse button is clicked/released over an element.
Mouse pointer comes over/out from an element.
Every mouse move over an element triggers that event.

…There are several other event types too, we’ll cover them later.

Complex events

Triggers after mousedown and then mouseup over the same element if the left mouse button was used.
Triggers after mousedown if the right mouse button was used.
Triggers after a double click over an element.

Complex events are made of simple ones, so in theory we could live without them. But they exist, and that’s good, because they are convenient.

Events order

An action may trigger multiple events.

For instance, a click first triggers mousedown, when the button is pressed, then mouseup and click when it’s released.

In cases when a single action initiates multiple events, their order is fixed. That is, the handlers are called in the order mousedownmouseupclick.

Click the button below and you’ll see the events. Try double-click too.

On the teststand below all mouse events are logged, and if there are more than 1 second delay between them, then they are separated by a horizontal ruler.

Also we can see the which property that allows to detect the mouse button.

Getting the button: which

Click-related events always have the which property, which allows to get the exact mouse button.

It is not used for click and contextmenu events, because the former happens only on left-click, and the latter – only on right-click.

But if we track mousedown and mouseup, then we need it, because these events trigger on any button, so which allows to distinguish between “right-mousedown” and “left-mousedown”.

There are the three possible values:

  • event.which == 1 – the left button
  • event.which == 2 – the middle button
  • event.which == 3 – the right button

The middle button is somewhat exotic right now and is very rarely used.

Modifiers: shift, alt, ctrl and meta

All mouse events include the information about pressed modifier keys.

Event properties:

  • shiftKey: Shift
  • altKey: Alt (or Opt for Mac)
  • ctrlKey: Ctrl
  • metaKey: Cmd for Mac

They are true if the corresponding key was pressed during the event.

For instance, the button below only works on Alt+Shift+click:

<button id="button">Alt+Shift+Click on me!</button>

  button.onclick = function(event) {
    if (event.altKey && event.shiftKey) {
Attention: on Mac it’s usually Cmd instead of Ctrl

On Windows and Linux there are modifier keys Alt, Shift and Ctrl. On Mac there’s one more: Cmd, corresponding to the property metaKey.

In most applications, when Windows/Linux uses Ctrl, on Mac Cmd is used.

That is: where a Windows user presses Ctrl+Enter or Ctrl+A, a Mac user would press Cmd+Enter or Cmd+A, and so on.

So if we want to support combinations like Ctrl+click, then for Mac it makes sense to use Cmd+click. That’s more comfortable for Mac users.

Even if we’d like to force Mac users to Ctrl+click – that’s kind of difficult. The problem is: a left-click with Ctrl is interpreted as a right-click on MacOS, and it generates the contextmenu event, not click like Windows/Linux.

So if we want users of all operational systems to feel comfortable, then together with ctrlKey we should check metaKey.

For JS-code it means that we should check if (event.ctrlKey || event.metaKey).

There are also mobile devices

Keyboard combinations are good as an addition to the workflow. So that if the visitor has a keyboard – it works. And if their device doesn’t have it – then there should be another way to do the same.

Coordinates: clientX/Y, pageX/Y

All mouse events have coordinates in two flavours:

  1. Window-relative: clientX and clientY.
  2. Document-relative: pageX and pageY.

For instance, if we have a window of the size 500x500, and the mouse is in the left-upper corner, then clientX and clientY are 0. And if the mouse is in the center, then clientX and clientY are 250, no matter what place in the document it is, how far the document was scrolled. They are similar to position:fixed.

Move the mouse over the input field to see clientX/clientY (the example is in the iframe, so coordinates are relative to that iframe):

<input onmousemove="this.value=event.clientX+':'+event.clientY" value="Mouse over me">

Document-relative coordinates pageX, pageY are counted from the left-upper corner of the document, not the window. You can read more about coordinates in the chapter Coordinates.

Disabling selection

Double mouse click has a side-effect that may be disturbing in some interfaces: it selects the text.

For instance, a double-click on the text below selects it in addition to our handler:

<span ondblclick="alert('dblclick')">Double-click me</span>

If one presses the left mouse button and, without releasing it, moves the mouse, that also makes the selection, often unwanted.

There are multiple ways to prevent the selection, that you can read in the chapter Selection and Range.

In this particular case the most reasonable way is to prevent the browser action on mousedown. It prevents both these selections:

<b ondblclick="alert('Click!')" onmousedown="return false">
  Double-click me

Now the bold element is not selected on double clicks, and pressing the left button on it won’t start the selection.

Please note: the text inside it is still selectable. However, the selection should start not on the text itself, but before or after it. Usually that’s fine for users.

Preventing copying

If we want to disable selection to protect our page content from copy-pasting, then we can use another event: oncopy.

<div oncopy="alert('Copying forbidden!');return false">
  Dear user,
  The copying is forbidden for you.
  If you know JS or HTML, then you can get everything from the page source though.

If you try to copy a piece of text in the <div>, that won’t work, because the default action oncopy is prevented.

Surely the user has access to HTML-source of the page, and can take the content from there, but not everyone knows how to do it.


Mouse events have the following properties:

  • Button: which.

  • Modifier keys (true if pressed): altKey, ctrlKey, shiftKey and metaKey (Mac).

    • If you want to handle Ctrl, then don’t forget Mac users, they usually use Cmd, so it’s better to check if (e.metaKey || e.ctrlKey).
  • Window-relative coordinates: clientX/clientY.

  • Document-relative coordinates: pageX/pageY.

The default browser action of mousedown is text selection, if it’s not good for the interface, then it should be prevented.

In the next chapter we’ll see more details about events that follow pointer movement and how to track element changes under it.


importance: 5

Create a list where elements are selectable, like in file-managers.

  • A click on a list element selects only that element (adds the class .selected), deselects all others.
  • If a click is made with Ctrl (Cmd for Mac), then the selection is toggled on the element, but other elements are not modified.

The demo:

P.S. For this task we can assume that list items are text-only. No nested tags.

P.P.S. Prevent the native browser selection of the text on clicks.

Open a sandbox for the task.

Tutorial map


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