I plan to post a series of examples demonstrating how to use the new Ajax functionality in ColdFusion 8 (many based on examples used during our recent usergroup tour). The first one I’ll start with is the auto-suggest control. Auto-suggest is a modified text input box, one that displays suggestions as the user types. The auto-suggest control in ColdFusion 8 can be used in two ways, with local client-side data, and with asynchronous calls back to ColdFusion.
Here’s a simple client-side data example (which uses one of the CF8 example databases, so this should work for you as is):

SELECT artname
FROM art
ORDER BY artname


This form displays a simple text box, but as text is entered, suggestions are displayed. The list of suggestions are passed to the autosuggest attribute which accepts a comma delimited list. The list could be hardcoded, but here ValueList() is being used to dynamically build a list based on a prior database lookup.
This is not an Ajax control in that lookups are not asynchronous, there is no communication back to the server to retrieve data, all data is local. This is actually a preferred form of auto-suggest for smaller lists.
For longer lists asynchronous interaction is indeed preferred, and the auto-suggest control supports this by allowing asynchronous calls to a ColdFusion component. Here is a sample CFC:

SELECT artname
FROM art
WHERE UCase(artname) LIKE Ucase('#ARGUMENTS.search#%')
ORDER BY artname

This CFC has a single method named lookupArt which accepts a string and performs a query to find all matches that start with the specified value. Auto-suggest requires that results be returns in a single dimensional array (for now, hopefully this will change before we ship the final product), and so the code populates an array with the results which are then returned.
Now for the modified form code to use this CFC and method:


Here the autosuggest points to a CFC, and as the CFC (I named it art.cfc) is in the current folder, no path needs to be specified. When a user enters a value, generated JavaScript code triggers an asynchronous calls to the lookupArt method in art.cfc. {cfautosuggestvalue} gets automatically replaced with whatever value the user has entered, and that value is then used by the CFC in the lookup. When an array of results get returned the auto-suggest list gets populated.
Auto-suggest does not get any cleaner and simpler than this.

104 thoughts

  1. Thanks for the example Ben. This might seem like an odd question, but could you, in theory, replace {cfautosuggestvalue} with some other binding expression? I can’t think of a good reason off-hand, but seeing it there makes me curious what would happen. Actually, I suppose I’ll go try that out now. 🙂

  2. I’ve been playing with stuff most afternoon.
    Downright awesome how easy it is to get it to do these things!
    If only there was a cfinput type="file" with a upload progress meter….

  3. Nice example. Is the autosuggest customizable? Is the style of the text displayed customizable (font, size, color) etc…?

  4. That’s what I would like to know. Is the Autosuggest CSS customisable? I noticed in the source code CF puts in some style sheets but is it possible to over-ride these mainly for the reason that I and many others will be on a shared hosting environment and not able to modify the CSS on the server.

  5. Hi Ben,
    I notice that if you put a DIV around all of your code and align it to center only the word Art: is centered. The form field remains on the left. Looks like a CSS issue (not your code’s fault though).
    Cheers for being a great CF evangelist.

  6. The CSS is completely customizable. Copy the directory structure under CFIDE/scripts/ajax/resources to your application folder, and modify the CSS and images in there to suit your needs. Then put this line at the top of your template:
    <cfajaximport cssSrc="path to your resources folder">

  7. This fails if you enter a number. The autosuggest bind errors because it is not a string. Is this a bug in the autosuggest? If not, how would one avoid the issue?

  8. Is there a way to search within the string instead of from the beginning?
    If I had a list of names with last name, "SMITH", I’d want to type smith within the input field and get a listing of everyone with smith in their name.
    Is this possible? I know it’s possible with SPRY Autosuggest, just wondering if they’re porting this over to CF8.

  9. Hi Ben,
    I have just tried this Ajax Tutorial.
    But I cannot locate the cfc.
    I have created the Artists.cfc and it is located in the same directory as the cfm code.
    But when it runs I get an
    error:http: Error invoking CFC /Art.cfc : Not Found
    What is wrong?

  10. This CF capability is very very neat. From reading and copying/pasting from one box to another (that has cf8 installed) and everything else, about 15 minutes. It works like a beauty.
    Thanks, man.

  11. Is there a way to use this if you wanted to allow the user to input multiple values into the field, separated by commas, and still have the auto-suggest offer suggestions for each value they type? So if the user were to input "Apples, Oranges, Bananas" into the field. The auto-suggest would display the drop down suggestions for each. Not sure if that’s possible or not with the built in functionality. There would need to be a way to have it check against the auto-suggest list each time a comma was typed in the field.

  12. I’m having trouble implementing the autosuggest feature with a cfc. specifically, while I can make it function – it doesn’t function correctly. The autosuggest will only suggest every other keystroke. I can force the lookup on the alternating key strokes if I key the delete key after the stroke that results in no lookup – but this seems counter productive to say the least. I have also noticed that it will throw a bind error occasionally if say I use the arrow key to navigate.
    I’m unsure why any of this occurs. I’d also love to know how to force the bind errors to cease popping up as in a real world environment I’m not likely to want customers seeing errors that they can’t do anything about.

  13. Ok. Here is my issue.
    I created a simple .cfc called suggest.cfc. I store it in this directory:
    Then I created a simple cfm file with <CFINPUT> and did the autosuggest that you mention calling the cfc. I call it by putting the following:
    <cfinput type="text" name="cust_search" autosuggest="cfc:sms.cfc.suggest.getCustomers({cfautosuggestvalue})">
    I store this .cfm under:
    Then I run this file.
    I get an AJAX error (I used ?cfdebug) that it cannot find the suggest.cfc web service. So I do a view source, and I see the following code:
    ColdFusion.Bind.cfcBindHandler(null, {‘bindTo’:ColdFusion.Autosuggest.loadAutoSuggest,’bindToAttr’:’true’,’cfc’:’/suggest.cfc’,’cfcFunction’:’getCustomers’,’bindExpr’:[[‘searchstring’,cfautosuggestvalue]], ‘bindToParams’: { ‘autosuggestid’:"cust_search" }});
    Notice the "/suggest.cfc". When I save the source as a CFM, change the /suggest.cfc to /sms/cfc/suggest.cfc it works like a charm.
    Why is it calling in AJAX /suggest and not the directory path I stated in the dot notation in the CFC.
    Any help would be greatly appreciate it.

  14. I am having exactly the same "autosuggest will suggest every other keystroke" problem as Eric Brown posts above. I have to say that in my experience the CF8 autosuggest is the very worst autosuggest I have EVER seen! Does anyone know a reason for the every other keystroke problem? Is it due to slow query in the CFC?

  15. We are having the same exact problem that Marcelo describes above…
    The path that we specify in our cfm file does not propogate properly into the the javascript that is built by ColdFusion.
    Perhaps this is a configuration error? (BTW: we are not mapping our cfc directory)
    We use IIS on Windows 2003 Enterprise server.
    Please help.

  16. We found our problem… using ‘Virtual Directories’ in IIS, the ColdFusion AJAX feature binding won’t work (it just can’t seem to find the cfc file). When the same files are installed on the web root, it works 100%.
    What really threw us off was that, with our original configuration, the cfc’s were accessible via a cfinvoke and via the url…
    Unfortunately, it will be alot of work to re-configure our other webservers so that we can utilize these new features.

  17. Hi Ben,
    I’m having the same problem as Kruse. I’ve the cfc inthe same directory as the cfm but i keep getting:
    Error invoking CFC /<name>.cfc : Not Found
    but when i introduce some error to the function in the cfc (such as a required parameter) the error is immidiately detected and flagged, which indicates that the cfc is being found.

  18. We’ve somewhat addressed the autosuggest feature only suggesting on every other keystroke – however, not being a javascript guru, I’m sure there’s more that needs to be addressed.
    Specifically, in the cfautosuggest.js file located in CFIDE/scripts/ajax/package – on or about line 68 – this code is what causes the issue:
    If you change it to not check the Open Container – as follows:
    it should now function (at least most of the time).
    Hope that helps.

  19. Hi Ben,
    I can invoke the CFC directly using the URL and also invoke methods using the CreateObject("component",…). Another thing I found out was that if I put the CFC in the webroot it seems to work but if I put it in the virtual directory it says CFC not found. Is that the normal behaviour. I thought CFC’s could be placed anywhere and referenced using the path syntax.

  20. Jesbin, I’d have thought that if the URL works from the browser than it should work from the JavaScript client side code. If it were outside the web root, then yes, I’d expect it to just be available on the server itself but not from outside the server, which is why I asked you if a direct URL invocation from the browser works. I am going to pass this one on to the engineering team to see if they have any comments or suggestions.
    — Ben

  21. Our team is trying to get cfajaxproxy to work as well, so far netting the same problem as posted by Jesbin: "Error invoking CFC /xxxx.cfc: Not Found". Invoking the xxxx.cfc from browser works fine. Our mappings are all correct. We’re thinking that perhaps the fact that our web server (IIS v6) and CFMX v8/JRun servers are running on separate boxes may be the culprit.

  22. Tim,
    Just to let you know, in my case the web server and the CFMX/v8 are on the same machine and still the error exists.

  23. Several of you have run into an issue where web browsers can invoke the CFCs, but the same CFC cannot be invoked from an Ajax call without generating a ‘not found’ error. The good news is that the engineering team dug into this and has identified this as a bug, and they are working on a fix.
    — Ben

  24. Autosuggest, i even used the autosuggest2.cfm and movies.cfc down loaded from your website. all i get is an error when i do ANY autosuggest….. HELP!!

  25. Can the resulting html file be run on a non cf8 server? I tested the idea and I was getting WDDX error then I retested with return type XML and returned the array as a cfwddx string and I get nothing on both the cf8 and cf6.1 test servers.

  26. In using the sample Autosuggest2.cfm, I couldn’t make it work until I deleted the WHERE UCase(Lastname) LIKE UCase (‘#ARGUMENTS.search#%’), which was causing an error: "Error invoking CFC… Error Executing Database Query.
    of course, without that WHERE clause, the autosuggesting is very very slow. strange, i copied the code directly and, except for fixing 1 code error, it’s identical to Ben’s code, but i get that error if the WHERE clause is there.

  27. I didn’t see an answer to passing multiple parameters to the cfc. I have an autosuggest that allows the user to select a company. What I return is a list of companies, city, state, and the company number prefixed with a ^ so I can find it later using listlast. The next field is another autosuggest that allow the user to select a job record. I need to list only the job records for the company previously selected and that match the title typed in by the user as a suggestion. I’m having a terrible time trying to pass the company number to the "job" autosuggest cfc along with the suggested value.

  28. I actually got it to work. I passed ({autosuggestvalue}.{sfcname}) where sfcname was the input name of the previous autosuggest that contained the company number. It was a bit more complicated in that I had to parse the company number from that string and the field name was dynamic (I added a count number to the end of the field name ie sfcname1).

  29. Hi Ben, love the new features in CF8, so much more to learn but great that it makes it all so simple, especially the Ajax features. I would really like to see a book just explaining in depth all the new Ajax stuff, there are so many Php/Ajax books out there so maybe a ColdFusion/Ajax book would be a good idea?
    Anyway I tried your suggestion about copying the resources folder to be able to CSS change the css for the AutoSuggest however I can’t get it to find it.
    I have my AutoSuggest template in a folder called AutoSuggest and have copied the resources folder into it and added the <cfajaximport cssSrc> tag at the top of the template.
    I have tried the following to get it to find the css files but none have worked, am I missing something simple here?
    <cfajaximport cssSrc="resources">
    <cfajaximport cssSrc="resources/ext">
    <cfajaximport cssSrc="C:InetpubwwwrootCF8AutoSuggestresourcesext">

  30. Ben,
    The "CFC not found error" is really a pain. I see that this may be a bug.
    Do we know what the ETA of the fix is for this?
    Is there a bug page on the Adobe Site like there was on the Macromedia website?

  31. We have recently updated to CF8 and our MX code runs well on CF8 and makes extensive use of CFC’s.
    The Problem
    I am running a template (http:// localserver/open/index.cfm) that is calling a cfc from within the same folder and I get the following debug output from the CF Ajax Debugger.
    error:http: Error invoking CFC /open/places.cfc : Internal Server Error
    info:widget: Created grid, id: reportsGrid
    info:http: HTTP GET /open/places.cfc?method=getData&returnFormat=json&argumentCollection=%7B%22page%22%3A1%2C%22size%22%3A10%2C%22sortcol%22%3A%22%22%2C%22sortdir%22%3A%22%22%7D&_cf_nodebug=true&_cf_nocache=true&_cf_rc=0
    info:http: Invoking CFC: /open/places.cfc , function: getData , arguments: {"page":1,"size":10,"sortcol":"","sortdir":""}
    info:LogReader: LogReader initialized
    info:global: Logger initialized
    As you can see, it seems to invoke the cfc initially, but gets an Internal Server Error when trying to retrieve the data. So I thought I would call the cfc directly from the browser – http:// localserver/open/places.cfc?method=getData (this works on my set up of CF7). The error I get this time is a “JRun Servelet Error”.
    at jrun.servlet.JRunRequestDispatcher.invoke(JRunRequestDispatcher.java:283)
    at jrun.servlet.ServletEngineService.dispatch(ServletEngineService.java:543)
    at jrun.servlet.jrpp.JRunProxyService.invokeRunnable(JRunProxyService.java:203)
    at jrunx.scheduler.ThreadPool$ThreadThrottle.invokeRunnable(ThreadPool.java:428)
    at jrunx.scheduler.WorkerThread.run(WorkerThread.java:66)
    If I try and call a cfc that doesn’t exist, for example http:// localserver/open/places.cfc?method=getData then I get exactly the same error. Which led me to think that for some reason that the CF Server was having problems finding CFC’s. So I tried to call a non existant cfc from the initial template, http:// localserver/open/index.cfm and got the error message i would expect:
    The specified CFC place could not be found.
    The path to the CFC must be specified as a full path, or as a relative path from the current template, without the use of mappings.
    I am now totally confused and would welcome any suggestions…

  32. On further investigation, it does seem to be a configuration issue on our development machines. We are running XP Pro, using Apache 2.0.59 as the web server along with a J2EE multi-server CF install.
    When we try and run the cfc (or the template containing the CFGRID), Apache.exe is suffering a Buffer Overflow and I guess this must be the problem.

  33. Hi Ben,
    Thanks for your reply, but I am unclear which updater you mean. Can you please clarify.

  34. I’m getting the same "error invoking cfc: Internal Server Error" error when doing a cfc/ajax routine within fusebox 4.
    The interesting thing is that on the windows development machine I don’t get the error; on the Redhat Linux production machine I do.
    Same exact code structure on both machines.
    Same CF 8 version.

  35. Does anyone know how to use asynchronous autosuggest in a <cfinput> from a cfc that receives inputs and returns a query? Here is my function:
    ===== START =====
    <cffunction name="getUsers" displayname="getUsers" hint="Method to return users for a specified customer" returntype="query" access="public" output="no">
    <cfargument name="custnum" displayname="custNum" hint="Customer number of users" type="numeric" required="yes" />
    <cfargument name="userid" displayname="userID" hint="Specific ID of a user" type="numeric" required="no" default="0" />
    <cfargument name="orderby" displayname="orderBy" hint="Column to sort records by" type="string" required="no" default="fullname" />
    <cfquery name="getusers" datasource="conCourseGPS">
    lastname + ‘, ‘ + firstname AS fullname,
    FROM users
    WHERE cust_num = <cfqueryparam cfsqltype="cf_sql_integer" value="#arguments.custnum#" />
    <cfif arguments.userid>
    AND userid = <cfqueryparam cfsqltype="cf_sql_integer" value="#arguments.userid#" />
    ORDER BY #arguments.orderby#
    <cfreturn getusers>
    ===== END =====
    I would like to bind a <cfinput> with an asynchronous autosuggest from getusers.fullname, and I need to pass this function a variable customer number (custnum).
    Is this even possible?
    I may have to resort to calling the cfc and then setting the autosuggest to a valueList() on the column. By doing this, though, I lose the asynchronous functionality.
    Any help would be much appreciated.

  36. Ben,
    Is there any workaround for the file not found using virtual dirs on IIS? I mean can I somehow use full path?
    Thanks for this great article!

  37. Thanks for your quick response! I guess we’ll have to wait then.
    Btw I too got it to work when the file was inside a real IIS directory (x:inetpubwwwroot)

  38. Thanks to the guys that figured out the virtual directory problem! was driving me nuts… Works great once you are inside of the root and no big deal where ya put the code for what is being delivered here with so few lines of code (that we have to write anyway) try taking a look at all that is going on using Firebug and it is quite impressive. Kudus to you Ben and the dev team, looking forward to more of your tutorials.

  39. I was having the same problem as John when trying to customize the cfinput Autosuggest using <cfajaximport cssSrc="path to your resources folder">
    Figured it out this morning, here’s how I did it.
    Created a folder called “ajaxScripts” under the application directory
    Copied the “resources” directory to it.
    Import using <cfajaximport cssSrc="/myWebApp/ajaxScripts">
    see: http://livedocs.adobe.com/coldfusion/8/htmldocs/help.html?content=Tags_a-b_2.html
    – Ty

  40. Hi Ben, great stuff this 🙂 A question was raised on the CF-Talk lists about having the autosuggest collect multiple values in a list (like an email ‘to’ field). I didn’t think this was possible but came up with a pretty neat solution:
    If it isn’t possible, could it be submitted as a new feature request for 9? A simple autosuggestdelimiter attribute for the cfinput tag would be great 😉

  41. This is a response to Chris from last July.
    Problem summary: If you write SQL in the bound autosuggest function like this:
    WHERE d_name LIKE ‘%#srch#%’
    the coldfusion cfinput autosuggest function forces the result to START WITH the search term, where the SQL is looking for containment of the search string. So, for example, my query returns 10 matches, 6 start with the search term and 4 contain the search term but not at the beginning. The cfinput box only lists the 6 that start with the search term. This is actually intended behavior by Coldfusion.
    p658 of the cf8 developers guide reads:
    "You do not have to limit the returned data to values that match the cfautosuggestvalue contents, because the client-side code displays only the values that match the user input."
    Why force a filter on the results when we can do it ourselves? Not good.
    The problem is that is Coldfusion failed to think to pass a parameter to the YUI component AutoComplete. It’s defined in /CFIDE/scripts/ajax/yui/autocomplete/autocomplete-min.js.
    Search for this line:
    Change the false to true.
    That fixes the problem.
    I’m not sure what other coldfusion functions use this component or what unexpected side effects this change will introduce.
    However, this change allows the autosuggest feature to to function as it should, where you have the control in your SQL of what results are displayed in the dropdown. If you want the results to start with the search term, then search for
    WHERE d_name LIKE ‘#srch#%’
    like Mr. Forta does in his example above. You could even return results totally unrelated to the searched term if you wanted to.

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