JavaScript Tutorial

  1. Introduction
  2. Embedding JavaScript into an HTML Document
  3. Variables
    1. What are Variables?
    2. Values of Variables
    3. Data Type Conversion
  4. Literals
    1. Integers
    2. Floating-Point Literals
    3. Boolean Literals
    4. String Literals
    5. Escaping Literals
  5. Arrays
  6. Operators
    1. Selected Assignment Operators
    2. Comparison Operators
    3. Selected Arithmetic Operators
    4. Logical Operators
  7. Using JavaScript Objects
  8. Functions
    1. Defining a Function
    2. Calling a Function
  9. If/Then Statements
  10. Loops
    1. for Loops
    2. while Loops
  11. Commenting
  12. On-Line Help

1. Introduction

JavaScript is a simple programming language that can be written directly into HTML documents to allow for increased interactivity with the user. For example, JavaScript can be used to create online calculators or show the current date and time.

2. Embedding JavaScript into your HTML document

Browsers that recognize JavaScript also recognize the special <SCRIPT> ... </SCRIPT> tag. This tag goes in the <HEAD> of your HTML document, along with your <TITLE> tag. Here's a short example:
<TITLE>My JavaScript Page</TITLE>
(JavaScript code goes in here)
(rest of your HTML document goes here)

To make an object (such as an image, a form button, or a hyperlink) on your page do something in response to a user action, you can add an additional attribute to the tag for that object. For example, the following HTML snippet pops up a thank you message when the user clicks on the link:

<A HREF="" onClick="alert('Thanks for visiting the Bridge home page!')">Bridge home page</A>

Try it yourself! Just click on the following link: Bridge home page

You're familiar with the HREF="" attribute that specifies the URL that the link points to, but note the additional onClick="" attribute. The stuff between those quotation marks is JavaScript code, which in this case pops up an alert box with the specified message. (Don't worry if you don't understand the stuff between the quotation marks; you'll learn it later on. The important thing right now is to understand the additional attribute.)

Another point to recognize is that if a browser does not understand the <SCRIPT> tag, it will skip over it, and the text that is between the two tags (your code, basically) will appear on the screen as ordinary text. Since you want to create an HTML page that is viewable on all browsers, you would want to prevent this from happening.

To prevent this from happening, you should include the characters <!-- immediately following the <SCRIPT> tag and the characters --> immediately preceding the </SCRIPT> tag. In HTML in general, using this set of characters allows you to write comments to yourself that the browser will not read or display on the page. Inside the JavaScript tags, the browser ignores these characters. By doing this, a non-JavaScript readable browser will see the comment notation and ignore the text between them (which is your code). Your code would then look like this:


(Your code goes here...)


3. Variables

3.1. What are Variables?

Variables are like storage units. You can create variables to hold values. It is ideal to name a variable something that is logical, so that you'll remember what you are using it for. For example, if you were writing a program to divide 2 numbers, it could be confusing if you called your variables numberOne, numberTwo, numberThree because you may forget which one is the divisor, which one is the dividend, and which one is the quotient. A more logical approach would be to name them just that: divisor, dividend, quotient.

It is important to know the proper syntax to which variables must conform:

Some examples of legal names are Number_hits, temp99, and _name.

When you declare a variable by assignment outside of a function, it is called a global variable, because it is available everywhere in the current document. When you declare a variable within a function, it is called a local variable, because it is available only within the function. Using var is optional, but you need to use it if you have a variable that has been declared global and you want to re-declare it as a local variable inside a function.

Variables can store all kinds of data (see below, Values of Variables, section 3.2). To assign a value to a variable, you use the following notation:

dividend = 8;

divisor = 4;

myString = "I may want to use this message multiple times";
message = myString;

Let's say the main part of the function will be dividing the dividend by the divisor and storing that number in a variable called quotient. I can write this line of code in my program: quotient = divisor*dividend, and I have both stored the value of the quotient to the variable quotient and I have declared the variable at the same time. If I had wanted to, I could have declared it along with my other assigned variables above, with a value of null. After executing the program, the value of quotient will be 2.

It is important to think about the design of your program before you begin. You should create the appropriate variables so that it makes your life easier when you go to write the program. For instance, if you know that you will be coding a lot of the same strings in a message, you may want to create a variable called message and give it the value of your message. That way, when you call it in your program, you do not have to retype the same sentence over and over again, and if you want to change the content of that message, you only have to change it once -- in the variable declaration.

3.2. Values of Variables

JavaScript recognizes the following types of values:

This relatively small set of types of values, or data types, enables you to perform useful functions with your applications. There is no explicit distinction between integer and real-valued numbers.

3.3. Data Type Conversion

JavaScript is a loosely typed language. That means you do not have to specify the data type of a variable when you declare it, and data types are converted automatically as needed during script execution. So, for example, you could define a variable as follows:

var answer = 42

And later, you could assign the same variable a string value, for example,

answer = "Thanks for all the fish..."

Because JavaScript is loosely typed, this assignment does not cause an error message. However, this is not good coding! You should create variables for a specific type, such as an integer, string, or array, and be consistent in the values that you store in the variable. This prevents confusion when you are writing your program.

In expressions involving numeric and string values, JavaScript converts the numeric values to strings. For example, consider the following statements:

x = "The answer is " + 42
y = 42 + " is the answer."

(The + sign tells JavaScript to concatenate, or stick together, the two strings. For example, if you write:

message = "Hello" + "World"

...then the variable message becomes the string "Hello World")

In the first statement, x becomes the string "The answer is 42." In the second, y becomes the string "42 is the answer."

4. Literals

You use literals to represent values in JavaScript. These are fixed values, not variables, that you literally provide in your script. Examples of literals include: 1234, "This is a literal," and true.

4.1. Integers

Integers can be expressed in decimal (base 10), hexadecimal (base 16), and octal (base 8). A decimal integer literal consists of a sequence of digits without a leading 0 (zero). A leading 0 (zero) on an integer literal indicates it is in octal; a leading 0x (or 0X) indicates hexadecimal. Hexadecimal integers can include digits (0-9) and the letters a-f and A-F. Octal integers can include only the digits 0-7.

Some examples of integer literals are: 42, 0xFFF, and -345.

4.2. Floating-point literals

A floating-point literal can have the following parts: a decimal integer, a decimal point ("."), a fraction (another decimal number), an exponent, and a type suffix. The exponent part is an "e" or "E" followed by an integer, which can be signed (preceded by "+" or "-"). A floating-point literal must have at least one digit, plus either a decimal point or "e" (or "E").

Some examples of floating-point literals are 3.1415, -3.1E12, .1e12, and 2E-12

4.3. Boolean literals

The Boolean type has two literal values: true and false.

4.4. String literals

A string literal is zero or more characters enclosed in double (") or single (') quotation marks. A string must be delimited by quotation marks of the same type; that is, either both single quotation marks or double quotation marks. The following are examples of string literals:

In addition to ordinary characters, you can also include special characters in strings, as shown in the last element in the preceding list. The following table lists the special characters that you can use in JavaScript strings.
\fform feed
\nnew line
\rcarriage return
\\backslash character

4.5. Escaping characters

For characters not listed in the preceding table, a preceding backslash is ignored, with the exception of a quotation mark and the backslash character itself.

You can insert quotation marks inside strings by preceding them with a backslash. This is known as escaping the quotation marks. For example,

var quote = "He read \"The Cremation of Sam McGee\" by R.W. Service."

The result of this would be

He read "The Cremation of Sam McGee" by R.W. Service.

To include a literal backslash inside a string, you must escape the backslash character. For example, to assign the file path c:\temp to a string, use the following:

var home = "c:\\temp"

5. Arrays

An Array is an object which stores multiple values and has various properties. When you declare an array, you must declare the name of it, and then how many values it will need to store. It is important to realize that each value is stored in one of the elements of the array, and these elements start at 0. This means that the first value in the array is really in the 0 element, and the second number is really in the first element. So for example, if I want to store 10 values in my array, the storage elements would range from 0-9.

The notation for declaring an array looks like this:

myArray = new Array(10); foo = new Array(5);

Initially, all values are set to null. The notation for assigning values to each unit within the array looks like this:

myArray[0] = 56;
myArray[1] = 23;
myArray[9] = 44;

By putting the element number in brackets [ ] after the array's name, you can assign a value to that specific element. Note that there is no such element, in this example, as myArray[10]. Remember, the elements begin at myArray[0] and go up to myArray[9].

In JavaScript, however, an array's length increases if you assign a value to an element higher than the current length of the array. The following code creates an array of length zero, then assigns a value to element 99. This changes the length of the array to 100.

colors = new Array();
colors[99] = "midnightblue";

Be careful to reference the right cells, and make sure to reference them properly!

Because arrays are objects, they have certain properties that are pre-defined for your convenience. For example, you can find out how many elements myArray has and store this value in a variable called numberOfElements by using:

numberOfElements = myArray.length;

6. Operators

JavaScript has many different operators, which come in several flavors, including binary. This tutorial will cover some of the most essential assignment, comparison, arithmetic and logical operators.

6.1. Selected assignment operators

An assignment operator assigns a value to its left operand based on the value of its right operand. The basic assignment operator is equal (=), which assigns the value of its right operand to its left operand. The other operators are shorthand for standard operations. Find an abridged list of shorthand operators below:

Shorthand operator Meaning
x += y x = x + y
x -= y x = x - y
x *= y x = x * y
x /= y x = x / y

Note that the = sign here refers to assignment, not "equals" in the mathematical sense. So if x is 5 and y is 7, x = x + y is not a valid mathematical expression, but it works in JavaScript. It makes x the value of x + y (12 in this case).

EXAMPLES: If x = 10 and y = 2, x += y would mean x = x + y, hence x's new value would be the sum of x's previous value plus y's previous value. Upon executing x = x + y = 10 + 2, x's new value becomes 12, while y's new value remains equal to its old value. Similarly, x -= y would change x's value to 8. Calculate x *= y and x /= y to get a better idea of how these operators work.

6.2. Comparison operators

A comparison operator compares its operands and returns a logical value based on whether the comparison is true or not. The operands can be numerical or string values. When used on string values, the comparisons are based on the standard lexicographical ordering. They are described in the following table.

Operator Description Example
Equal (= =) Evaluates to true if the operands are equal. x == y evaluates to true if x equals y.
Not equal (!=) Evaluates to true if the operands are not equal. x != y evaluates to true if x is not equal to y.
Greater than (>) Evaluates to true if left operand is greater than right operand. x > y evaluates to true if x is greater than y.
Greater than or equal (>=) Evaluates to true if left operand is greater than or equal to right operand. x >= y evaluates to true if x is greater than or equal to y.
Less than (<) Evaluates to true if left operand is less than right operand. x < y evaluates to true if x is less than y.
Less than or equal (<=) Evaluates to true if left operand is less than or equal to right operand. x <= y evaluates to true if x is less than or equal to y.

EXAMPLES: 5 == 5 would return TRUE. 5 != 5 would return FALSE. (The statement 'Five is not equal to five.' is patently false.) 5 <= 5 would return TRUE. (Five is less than or equal to five. More precisely, it's exactly equal to five, but JavaScript could care less about boring details like that.)

6.3. Selected Arithmetic Operators

Arithmetic operators take numerical values (either literals or variables) as their operands and return a single numerical value. The standard arithmetic operators are addition (+), subtraction (-), multiplication (*), division (/) and remainder (%). These operators work as they do in other programming languages, as well as in standard algebra.

Since programmers frequently need to add or subtract 1 from a variable, JavaScript has shortcuts for doing this. myVar++ adds one to the value of myVar, while myVar-- subtracts one from myVar.

EXAMPLES: Let x = 3. x++ bumps x up to 4, while x-- makes x equal to 2.

6.4. Logical Operators

Logical operators take Boolean (logical) values as operands and return a Boolean value. That is, they evaluate whether each subexpression within a Boolean expression is true or false, and then execute the operation on the respective truth values. Consider the following table:

Operator Usage Description
and (&&) expr1 && expr2 True if both logical expressions expr1 and expr2 are true. False otherwise.
or (||) expr1 || expr2 True if either logical expression expr1 or expr2 is true. False if both expr1 and expr2 are false.
not (!) !expr False if expr is true; true if expr is false.

EXAMPLES: Since we have now learned to use the essential operators, we can use them in conjunction with one another. See if you can work out why the following examples resolve the way they do:

If x = 4 and y = 7, ((x + y + 2) == 13) && (((x + y) / 2) == 2) returns FALSE.

If x = 4 and y = 7, ((y - x + 9) == 12) || ((x * y) == 2) returns TRUE.

If x = 4 and y = 7, !((x/2 + y) == 9) || ((x * (y/2)) == 2) returns FALSE.

7. Using JavaScript Objects

When you load a document in your web browser, it creates a number of JavaScript objects with properties and capabilities based on the HTML in the document and other pertinent information. These objects exist in a hierarchy that reflects the structure of the HTML page itself.

The pre-defined objects that are most commonly used are the window and document objects. The window has methods that allow you to create new windows with the open() and close() methods. It also allows you to create message boxes using alert(), confirm(), and prompt(). Each displays the text that you put between the parentheses. For example, the following code:

alert("This is an alert box")

...pops up an alert box displaying the given message. Try it yourself by clicking on this link.

The document object models the HTML page. The document object contains arrays which store all the components constituting the contents of your web page, such as images, links, and forms. You can access and call methods on these elements of your web page through the arrays.

The objects in this pre-defined hierarchy can be accessed and modified. To refer to specific properties, you must specify the property name and all its ancestors, spelling out the complete hierarchy until the document object. A period, '.', is used in between each object and the name of its property. Generally, a property / object gets its name from the NAME attribute of the HTML tag. For example, the following refers to the value property of a text field named text1 in a form named myform in the current document.

Form elements can also be accessed through the aforementioned forms array of the document object. In the above example, if the form named myform was the first form on the page, and text1 was the third field in the form, the following also refers to that field's value property.
Functions (capabiltiies) of an object can similarly be accessed using the period notation. For example, the following instruction resets the 2nd form in the document.

Click on one of the objects below to view the Netscape documentation on the specific properties and methods that that object has:

8. Functions

Functions are one of the fundamental building blocks in JavaScript. A function is a JavaScript procedure -- a set of statements that performs a specific task. A function definition has these basic parts:

8.1. Defining a Function

When defining a function, it is very important that you pay close attention to the syntax. Unlike HTML, JavaScript is case sensitive, and it is very important to remember to enclose a function within curly braces { }, separate parameters with commas, and use a semi-colon at the end of your line of code.

It's important to understand the difference between defining and calling a function.

Defining the function names the function and specifies what to do when the function is called. You define a function within the <SCRIPT>...</SCRIPT> tags within the <HEAD>...</HEAD> tags. In defining a function, you must also declare the variables which you will be calling in that function.

Here's an example of defining a function:

function popupalert() {

		alert('This is an alert box.');


Notice the parentheses after the function name. It is imperative that you include these parentheses, even if they are empty. If you want to pass a parameter into the function, you would include that parameter inside of the parentheses. A parameter is a bit of extra information that cn be different each time the function is run. It is stored in a variable and can be accessed just like any other variable. Here's an example of a function that takes a parameter:

function anotherAlert(word) {

		alert(word + ' is the word that you clicked on');


When you call this function, you need to pass a parameter (such as the word that the user clicked on) into the function. Then the function can use this information. You can pass in a different word as a parameter each time you call the function, and the alert box will change appropriately. You'll see how to pass a parameter a little later on.

You can pass in multiple parameters, by separating them with a comma. You would want to pass in a few parameters if you have more than one variable that you either want to change or use in your function. Here are two examples of passing in multiple parameters when you are defining the function:

function secondAlert(word,password) {

		confirm(word + ' is the word that you clicked on. The

				secret password is ' + password);


function thirdAlert(word,password) {

		confirm(word + ' is the word you clicked on. Please

				take note of the password, ' + password);


You'll notice that the same parameters are passed into both of these functions. However, you can pass in whatever values you want to use (see this same example below in calling the function).

8.2. Calling a Function

Calling the function actually performs the specified actions. When you call a function, this is usually within the BODY of the HTML page, and you usually pass a parameter into the function. A parameter is a variable from outside of the defined function on which the function will act.

Here's an example of calling the same function:


For the other example, this is how you may call it:

<A HREF="#top" onClick="anotherAlert('top')">top</A>

This would bring you to the top of the page, and bring up an alert box that said: "top is the word you clicked on" Try it for yourself: top

Here is the same example with multiple parameters that was shown above:

<A HREF="#top" onClick="secondAlert('awesome','pandas')">awesome</A>

<A HREF="#top" onClick="thirdAlert('computers','insert')">computers</A>

You'll notice in the code that different values for the variables word and password are passed in. These values here are what the function will need to perform the actions in the function. Make sure that the values you pass in are in the correct order because the function will take them in and assign these values to the parameters in the parentheses of the function declaration. Once you pass values into your function, you can use them however you want within your function.

Try it for yourself:

When you click on the words below, a confirmation box will pop up and then the link will bring you to the top of the page.


9. If/Else Statements

if statements execute a set of commands if a specified condition is true. If the condition is false, another set of statements can be executed through the use of the else keyword.

The main idea behind if statements is embodied by the sentence: "If the weather's good tomorrow, we'll go out and have a picnic and Lisa will do cartwheels -- else, we'll stay in and Catherine will watch TV."

As you can see, the idea is quite intuitive and, surprisingly enough, so is the syntax:

if (condition) {
if (condition) {
else {

(An if statement does not require an else statement following it, but an else statement must be preceded by an if statement.)

condition can be any JavaScript expression that evaluates to true or false. Parentheses are required around the condition. If condition evaluates to true, the statements in statements1 are executed.

statements1 and statements2 can be any JavaScript statements, including further nested if statements. Multiple statements must be enclosed in braces.

Here's an example:

if (weather == 'good') {
else {

10. Loops

Loops are an incredibly useful programming tool. Loops handle repetitive tasks extremely well, especially in the context of consecutive elements. Arrays immediately spring too mind here, since array elements are numbered consecutively. It would be quite intuitive (and equally practical), for instance, to write a loop that added 1 to each element within an array. Don't worry if this doesn't make a lot of sense now, it will, after you finish reading the tutorial.

The two most common types of loops are for and while loops:

10.1. for Loops

A for loop constitutes a statement which consists of three expressions, enclosed in parentheses and separated by semicolons, followed by a block of statements executed in the loop.

This definition may, at first, sound confusing. Indeed, it is hard to understand for loops without seeing them in action.

A for loop resembles the following:

for (initial-expression; condition; increment-expression) {

The initial-expression is a statement or variable declaration. (See the section on variables for more information.) It is typically used to initialize a counter variable. This expression may optionally declare new variables with the var keyword.

The condition is evaluated on each pass through the loop. If this condition evaluates to true, the statements in statements are performed. When the condition evaluates to false, the execution of the for loop stops. This conditional test is optional. If omitted, the condition always evaluates to true.

The increment-expression is generally used to update or increment the counter variable.

The statements constitute a block of statements that are executed as long as condition evaluates to true. This can be a single statement or multiple statements. Although not required, it is good practice to indent these statements from the beginning of the for statement to make your code more readable.

Check out the following for statement. It starts by declaring the variable i and initializing it to zero. It checks whether i is less than nine, performs the two successive statements, and increments i by one after each pass through the loop:

var n = 0;
for (var i = 0; i < 3; i++) {
	n += i;
	alert("The value of n is now " + n);
Try it yourself: Click this link

10.2. while Loops

The while loop, although most people would not recognize it as such, is for's twin. The two can fill in for one another - using either one is only a matter of convenience or preference according to context. while creates a loop that evaluates an expression, and if it is true, executes a block of statements. The loop then repeats, as long as the specified condition is true.

The syntax of while differs slightly from that of for:

while (condition) {
condition is evaluated before each pass through the loop. If this condition evaluates to true, the statements in the succeeding block are performed. When condition evaluates to false, execution continues with the statement following statements.

statements is a block of statements that are executed as long as the condition evaluates to true. Although not required, it is good practice to indent these statements from the beginning of the statement.

The following while loop iterates as long as n is less than three.

var n = 0;
var x = 0;
while(n < 3) {
	x += n;
	alert("The value of n is " + n + ". The value of x is " + x);

Try it for yourself: Click this link

11. Commenting

Comments allow you to write notes to yourself within your program. These are important because they allow someone to browse your code and understand what the various functions do or what your variables represent. Comments also allow you to understand your code if it's been a while since you last looked at it.

In JavaScript, you can write both one-line comments and multiple line comments. The notation for each is different though. For a one line comment, you precede your comment with //. This indicates that everything written on that line, after the //, is a comment and the program should disregard it.

For a multiple-line comment, you start with /* and end with */ . It is nice to put an * at the beginning of each line just so someone perusing your code realizes that he/she is looking at a comment (if it is really long this helps). This is not necessary though.

The following are examples of comments in JavaScript.

// This is a single line comment.

/* This is a multiple line comment with only one line. */

/* This is a multiple line comment.
 * The star (*) at the beginning of this line is optional.
 * So is the star at the beginning of this line. */

12. On-Line Help

For more detailed explanations or further help, see Netscape's JavaScript Reference Guide for JavaScript 1.1. Make sure that if you consult other sources that they are refering to JavaScript 1.1. This is the version that is compatible with Netscape 3.0, so if you use code that is not recognized by JavaScript 1.1, it will not work when your paged is browsed in Netscape 3.0.


This tutorial was adapted from the Netscape Reference Source for CS2 at Brown University, Spring 1998, by Lisa Cozzens, Amanda Kudler, and Izel Sulam
It was slightly modified for use in A Bridge to Computer Science, Summer 1998, by Lisa Cozzens.