A lightweight framework for building de-coupled apps



Relay is a framework for organizing Javascript applications into scoped modules that are tied to HTML nodes.

Relay imposes an organization where messages are passed down the HTML tree to other Javascript objects, thereby eliminating the need to pass object references around, which simplifies application design.

Relay serves as the pipelining and scaffolding only and does not duplicate the myriad of helper functions like jQuery or template systems like mustache, which work in tandem with this framework.


Add this to your HTML page inside the <HEAD> tag.

 <script src="relay.js"></script>

Add this to the bottom of your page below most of your content, but before your </BODY> tag.



Relay allows you to write application modules without needing to worry about how they link together. This is particularly useful when writing single-page web application. You can swap modules in and out or nest modules within one another simply by manipulating the HTML at any time even when the application is already running.

One of the pains in writing complex applications is the need to add callback functions (event listeners) in all child objects and removing the callbacks when the child object is removed. Relay eliminates the need for these callback functions by allowing child objects to dispatch events to it's parent and ancestor objects systematically following the path of the HTML tree.

This reduces a lot of the clean up code that typically needs to be written when making single-page web applications.

The power of relays

Event handling is the ugliest part of a program. Not hardest, but ugliest.

For event handling, typically one resorts to addEventListener and handleEvent. But let's face it, every object will have to expose an event handler that is registered with another object so that the other object can call the handler when something exciting happens. Then you have to call removeEventListener whenever an object changes so now you have to keep track of when objects arrive and go. And for every separate event you need to have a separate event listener dance ritual. Catch my drift? What if your object is thrown away and you forgot to removeEventListener, well now you got unexpected behavior and possibly memory leaks. The ugly just got uglier.

Another technique is to resort to publish-subscribe which is essentially a giant singleton that everyone hooks up with. It is a giant event bus where raised events get published to and interested parties can subscribe to. It's quite the decoupling, but again, you need to remember to unsubscribe when objects go away or you will get unexpected behavior. It sounds nice, but what you've just done is thrown a bunch of events into the sea and see which fishing net picks out which events. You're betting that someone else with the same sized net hasn't caught your fish first (intentionally or accidentally). After all, how can you know who else is finishing in the same lake?

Then comes relay to the rescue. It introduces structure in a simple way. And it doesn't it by free riding on top of your HTML DOM tree. After all, what is more structured than HTML, and what is more free than what the browser has already built for you?

It's clean and follows a predefined path without deviation. There is no mixing with the wrong crowd. And there is no dance ritual and no housekeeping.


Imagine modules as iframes

Think of each module as being a separate browser window in an iframe. Each "window" has it's own set of global variables and global functions which can be invoked from anywhere within the window. The global variables are also not exposed to the outside world.

The global functions can also be called inline by the HTML and calling them inline will not affect other functions outside of the window, in say, an iframe or a parent frame.

Think of the parallels in the follow examples:

<INS cite="js:....."> maps to window.onload = function() {}

relay("openLightbox", "://", this) maps to"://", "_blank")

<div onclick="relay('setCount', 1, this);"> maps to <div onclick="count=1;">

Imagine modules with inline event handlers

If you yearn for the good old days of inline event handlers, but don't want to pollute the global object or want the handler to be specific to a particular instance of multiple objects, then relay can help you.

<INS cite="js:ui.Button">
  <input type="checkbox" onclick="relay('checkMe', 1, this);">
<INS cite="js:ui.Button">
  <input type="checkbox" onclick="relay('checkMe', 1, this);">

Clicking on either checkboxes won't mix up their code as they refer to different instances of Button.

Note that inline event handlers is optional and you may use relay with addEventLister too.

 $(".nav button").click(function(event) {
   relay("checkMe", 1, event);


Asking parents for permission

A module can send a message to it's parents asking if any of them have objections to navigating away from the current page.

 ChatWidget.loadURL = function(url) {
   var ok = relay("canUnload", this);
   if(ok) location.href = url;

Asking parents to handle an unknown action

A module can handle an unknown request by passing it to it's parents to be handled.

 ChatWidget.mailtoButton.onClick = function(node) {
   relay("sendmail", node.href, this);

A web browser application that uses inline handlers

<ins cite="js:firefox">
  <ins cite="js:firefox.toolbar">
    <button onclick="relay('go', -1, this);">Back</button>
    <button onclick="relay('go', 1, this);">Forward</button>
    <button onclick="relay('go', 0, this);">Reload</button>
    <button onclick="relay('stop', this);">Stop</button>
    <ins cite="js:firefox.urlbar">
      <input type="text">
      <button onclick="relay('go', this);">Go</button>
  <ins cite="js:firefox.iframe">

Notice how there are multiple places where go is called, but relay knows whether to call firefox.toolbar.go() or firefox.urlbar.go().

Working with mustache

<INS cite="js:ui.DatePicker"></INS>

ui.DatePicker = function(appName, node) {
  //initialize our view
  node.innerHTML = Mustache.render(document.getElementById(appName).innerHTML, this.getData());
<script type="text/x-template" id="ui.DatePicker">

Localized handlers

Since events are passed down the node tree until it meets an object which is able to handle it, you can implement what we call localized handlers.

An ideal example is in making loading indicators. Sometimes we want the loading indicator to be near the object which is loading. But sometimes the object itself doesn't have it's own loading indicator so a global loading indicator needs to be used.

When a status event propagates out from within a module, if the module can show it's own status, then it can handle it by itself. If not, then a higher up module can use it's own status indicator. If it still can't, then it will propagate to the top and the main application can use the ultimate status indicator to indicate status.


relay(functionName, [parameters,]*, thisNode)

Example: var retVal = relay("showFolder", "C001", this);

Walks down the node tree starting from the current node until it finds a Javascript object with a "showFolder" method and calls it with "C001" as the parameter. If the "showFolder" method returns the object relay.BUBBLE, then we continue to walk down the node tree to the next node with a Javascript object with a "showFolder" method.

This function returns whatever "showFolder" returns.

relay(inlineFunction, [parameters,]*, thisNode)

Example: relay(function() {this.showFolder();}, this);

Walks down the node tree starting from the current node until it find a Javascript object and calls the inline function with the Javascript object as the this scope.

relay.forward(topic, [parameters,]*, thisNode)

Example: relay.forward("newposts", this);

Walks up the tree by getting all INS decendant nodes and seeing which has a Javascript object with a "subscribe" property that points to an object with a property called "newposts" which points to a function. Then calls that function. Keeps doing this until all INS nodes are parsed.

relay.start() and relay.initTree(node)

Parses a node's children for <INS> tags that have objects to be instantiated. Or parses the document's root node.


Returns the Javascript object that is hooked to the node with the specified ID attribute. The ID is retrieved using getElementById and this function is equivalent to calling

relay.getObjectFromNode(document.getElementById(id) || id)

Rules of engagement

  • Javascript objects should not be loaded/instantiated programmatically. They are automatically loaded when the relay parser finds an <INS cite="js:....."> tag that references a Javascript constructor.

  • Relay will instantiate that object and store a reference to it privately. It cannot be referenced directly except through the node.

  • Application objects should not reference each other directly, but should call each other by passing messages down the node tree.

  • If a message is passed down by a node higher up in the tree and the current object cannot handle it (because it doesn't have a method of the correct name), then the message is passed further down the tree until someone can handle it.

Browser support

Relay works on IE6+, Firefox 1.0+, Opera 8+, Safari, iOS 4+