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Learning Lab

O'Reilly Book Excerpts: JavaScript & DHTML Cookbook

Cooking with JavaScript & DHTML

Related Reading

JavaScript & DHTML Cookbook
Solutions and Example for Web Programmers
By Danny Goodman

by Danny Goodman

Editor's note: This sample recipe is the first of six we've excerpted from JavaScript & DHTML Cookbook. We'll be running one per week over consecutive weeks so check back to this space often for recipes that cover arrays and objects; browser feature detection; style-sheet management; and HTML elements positioning. Today's recipe is from Chapter 8 on "Dynamic Forms."

Recipe 8.12: Auto-Tabbing for Fixed-Length Text Boxes

NN 4, IE 4


You want to advance the text cursor from one field to the next in a sequence of fixed-length boxes.


The following form excerpt requests the customer's credit card number in four segments of four characters each:

Credit Card Number:
<input type="text" name="cc1" size="5" maxlength="4" 
    onkeypress="return numeralsOnly(event)" 
    onkeyup="autofocus(this, 4, 'cc2', event)">&nbsp;&nbsp;
<input type="text" name="cc2" size="5" maxlength="4" 
    onkeypress="return numeralsOnly(event)" 
    onkeyup="autofocus(this, 4, 'cc3', event)">&nbsp;&nbsp;
<input type="text" name="cc3" size="5" maxlength="4" 
    onkeypress="return numeralsOnly(event)" 
    onkeyup="autofocus(this, 4, 'cc4', event)">&nbsp;&nbsp;
<input type="text" name="cc4" size="5" maxlength="4" 
    onkeypress="return numeralsOnly(event)">

The onkeypress event handler for each field restricts entry to numerals, while the onkeyup event handlers invoke the following function, which advances focus to a named form field after a set number of characters:

function autofocus(field, limit, next, evt) {
    evt = (evt) ? evt : event;
    var charCode = (evt.charCode) ? evt.charCode : ((evt.keyCode) ? evt.keyCode : 
        ((evt.which) ? evt.which : 0));
    if (charCode > 31 && field.value.length =  = limit) {
        field.form.elements[next].focus( );

In this example, the final field does not advance focus, but you can add an onkeyup event handler that passes the name of the next form field to the autofocus( ) function.


Many variations on the themes presented in the autofocus() function are possible with this application. While it could be customized to work with a known set of fields (tearing apart the name of the event-processing field and incrementing the numeral portion to derive the name of the next field—cc1, cc2, etc.), it is usually best to generalize the function so that it may be reused with other field sets on the same page or some other application later on. Thus, the second argument to autofocus( ) is the number of characters to act as the upper limit of acceptable length. The same function could be used for the segments of a U.S. Social Security number, which is in segment lengths of three, two, and four.

Another possibility that would eliminate the limit argument is to derive this value from the field's maxLength property (an integer value). If you don't need to support Navigator 4 (which lacks this property), remove the argument from the list and modify the if condition to the following:

if (charCode > 31 && field.value.length =  = field.maxLength) {

The reason for the initial character code analysis is to allow Shift-Tab to move focus in the reverse direction through these fields for the user's convenience. If you include the low-order ASCII characters in the four-character limit, the user could become lost in a frustrating focus circle.

See Also

Recipe 8.11 (in JavaScript & DHTML Cookbook) for limiting real-time text field entries to a subset of characters.

Danny Goodman has been writing about technology and computers full-time since 1981 and is the author of Dynamic HTML: The Definitive Reference and "The Complete HyperCard Handbook."

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