Mouse events basics

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

Mouse event types

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

Simple events

The most used simple events are:

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

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

Complex events

click
Triggers after mousedown and then mouseup over the same element.
contextmenu
Triggers after mousedown if the right mouse button was used.
dblclick
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.

For touchscreen and touchpad devices mouse events also happen, they are emulated.

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. Events are handled in the same sequence: onmouseup finishes before onclick runs.

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 that allows to get the 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.

The properties are:

  • shiftKey
  • altKey
  • ctrlKey
  • metaKey (Cmd for Mac)

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

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

<script>
  button.onclick = function(event) {
    if (event.altKey && event.shiftKey) {
      alert('Hooray!');
    }
  };
</script>
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, it corresponds to the property metaKey.

In most cases when Windows/Linux uses Ctrl, on Mac people use Cmd. So where a Windows user presses Ctrl+Enter or Ctrl+A, a Mac user would press Cmd+Enter or Cmd+A, and so on, most apps use Cmd instead of Ctrl.

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 Mac, 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 use 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 your device doesn’t have it – then there’s 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. They are similar to position:fixed.

Move the mouse over the input field to see clientX/clientY (it’s 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 are counted from the left-upper corner of the document, not the window. Coordinates pageX, pageY are similar to position:absolute on the document level.

You can read more about coordinates in the chapter Coordinates.

No selection on mousedown

Mouse clicks have a side-effect that may be disturbing. A double click selects the text.

If we want to handle click events ourselves, then the “extra” selection doesn’t look good.

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

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

There’s a CSS way to stop the selection: the user-select property from CSS UI Draft.

Most browsers support it with prefixes:

<style>
  b {
    -webkit-user-select: none;
    -moz-user-select: none;
    -ms-user-select: none;
    user-select: none;
  }
</style>

Before...
<b ondblclick="alert('Test')">
  Unselectable
</b>
...After

Now if you double-click on “Unselectable”, it doesn’t get selected. Seems to work.

…But there is a potential problem! The text became truly unselectable. Even if a user starts the selection from “Before” and ends with “After”, the selection skips “Unselectable” part. Do we really want to make our text unselectable?

Most of time, we don’t. A user may have valid reasons to select the text, for copying or other needs. That may be disturbing if we don’t allow him to do it. So the solution is not that good.

What we want is to prevent the selection on double-click, that’s it.

A text selection is the default browser action on mousedown event. So the alternative solution would be to handle mousedown and prevent it, like this:

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

Now the bold element is not selected on double clicks.

From the other hand, the text inside it is still selectable. The selection should start not on the text itself, but before or after it. Usually that’s fine.

Canceling the selection

Instead of preventing the selection, we can cancel it “post-factum” in the event handler.

Here’s how:

Before...
<b ondblclick="getSelection().removeAllRanges()">
  Double-click me
</b>
...After

If you double-click on the bold element, then the selection appears and then is immediately removed. That doesn’t look nice though.

Preventing copying

If we want to disable selection to protect our 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.
</div>

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

Surely that can’t stop the user from opening HTML-source, but not everyone knows how to do it.

Summary

Mouse events have 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 use Cmd, so it’s better to check if (e.metaKey || e.ctrlKey).
  • Window-relative coordinates: clientX/clientY.

  • Document-relative coordinates: pageX/clientX.

In the tasks below it’s also important to deal with the selection as an unwanted side-effect of clicks.

There are several ways, for instance:

  1. CSS-property user-select:none (with browser prefixes) completely disables it.
  2. Cancel the selection post-factum using getSelection().removeAllRanges().
  3. Handle mousedown and prevent the default action (usually the best).

Tasks

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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