Backbone and Underscore: jQuery's New Friends

K. Adam White • @kadamwhite

WordPress & JavaScript


UpperCamelCase 4lyf!

JavaScript Logo

logo.js community logo by Chris Williams

jQuery Logo

jQuery is Everywhere

Excerpt of report on JavaScript usage

Used on 55% of the top 10,000 websites

7 of the top 20 most-used libraries are jQuery plugins—jQuery UI is in spot #4

Why jQuery?

Finding Things

jQuery's CSS selector-based query syntax makes finding elements on your page easy!

  $('.class div', '#li') // div children of .class, within #li
    .find('a') // all link elements undernead those divs
      .is(':visible') // Exclude any hidden links
      .nextAll('input[type="text"]') // All following siblings,
                                     // limited to text inputs
      .first(); // The first of those inputs, like :first-child

The ability to "chain" selector commands is the core strength of jQuery's API

Aside: There's a great talk from John Resig on jQuery selector performance up on—If you use jQuery regularly, check it out!

Finding Things

Don't repeat yourself! Save references to important objects so you can return to them later

  var $lastWidget = $('.widget').last();
  // ...
  // ...
  $lastWidget.find('.widget-title').text('I am beautiful');

Changing Things

Add or remove classes...

  // Rotate and re-color a button using existing CSS classes
  $('.btn').addClass('rotated green').removeClass('blue');

Show or hide content...

  // Hide the "Continue Reading" link
  // Reveal the expanded content

Once you have a reference to the object (once you've found it), you can do almost anything


Interact with your site visitors!

  // Whenever the .trigger button is clicked,
  // toggle the visibility of that post's content
  $('.post').on('click', 'a', function(event) {
  // When the user hovers over a link, make it red
  $('a').hover(function() {
    $(this).addClass('red'); // mouse over
  }, function() {
    $(this).removeClass('red'); // mouse out

Your site can react to keypress events, mouse clicks or movement, buttons, forms, scrollbars, and more

Retrieving Things

jQuery also comes with a strong set of AJAX methods for retrieving data and files from your server

  // Load the contents of 'content.html' into the last widget

  // Load a script used only on one page of your site
  $.getScript('/talks/js/jquery.ui.min.js', function callback() {

  // Get arbitrary data from the server
  $.ajax('some/data/you/want', function(data, status) {
    /* Use loaded data */

Note: Due to browser security restrictions on JavaScript, you usually can't
retrieve content or data from third-party servers

And Look Good Doing It

Reacting to events, finding objects within the DOM (the structure of your webpage), changing content, getting data via AJAX... these things are all harder to do without jQuery because of these:

Logos for five common desktop web browsers

jQuery behaves the same way in all browsers, "normalizing" events, selectors, errors, and more


In the beginning...

Prototype.js Logo

Prototype did a lot of what jQuery does (It even used '$')

It works by modifying JavaScript's native prototypes

Eventually, Prototype just didn't scale

@since 2.2.0

jQuery was added to WordPress on January 27, 2007 by Matt Mullenweg:

Changeset 4816

Soon followed by a trac ticket to switch from Prototype to jQuery in the Admin

The Whole Family

Prototype is still there (script-loader.php L108):

// WordPress no longer uses or bundles Prototype or
// These are now pulled from an external source.
$scripts->add( 'prototype',
  array(), '1.7.1'

However, of the 134 scripts loaded in script-loader.php, 87 scripts (over 60%) relate to jQuery


jQuery's focus is one of its chief strengths. lists the four things jQuery is designed to do:

HTML document traversing


Event handling

Ajax interaction

If it ain't on that list, jQuery might not be the best tool

jQuery does not tell you how to organize your code

Callback Soup

The deeper the nesting, the harder to maintain

$.ajax({ url: "/some/data.json",
    success: function( data ) {
        $.ajax({ url: "/api/get_post/?post_id=" +,
            success: function( d ) {
                data = d; // ...

When your callbacks have callbacks, it might be time to question your code's structure

Antipattern example adapted from Julian Aubourg's presentation From Callback Soup to Deferreds

Huge, Disorganized Files

As you add functionality jQuery files tend to get unwieldy, because jQuery does not give you any real guidance on how to organize your code


Easy to write yourself an unmaintainable thousands-of-lines monstrosity, difficult to maintain it later!

Beyond jQuery

21170: JavaScript Actions & Filters

Why not use custom jQuery events?
Custom jQuery events are great when we need to trigger actions on a DOM element. Triggering plain events on the body element (or any other hidden element) is not performant — every jQuery event normalizes an DOM Event object, which we then completely ignore.

- @koop

Beyond jQuery

21390: Upload/Insert media revamp

...backbone's models, collections, and views are pretty much exactly what we need to be able to make media work as awesome as we're aiming for

nacin, WordPress dev chat, 8/22/12


Backbone.js Logo


Backbone.js gives structure to web applications by providing models with key-value binding and custom events, collections with a rich API of enumerable functions, views with declarative event handling, and connects it all to your existing API over a RESTful JSON interface.



Model, View, Controller

Separation of Concerns

<h1 id="heading" style="font-weight:normal; text-align: center; font-size:150px; line-height:1em; margin: 50px; font-family:papyrus,comic-sans,monospace; color: lightPink;">TITLE</h1>
<a href="javascript:;" style="display: block; text-align: center;" onclick="document.getElementById('heading').innerHTML = 'NEW TITLE'">Click Me to do stuff</a>

Have you ever written this code?

Have you ever tried to modify it later?


HTML for content, CSS for appearance, JavaScript for interaction

In MVC, Models hold your data (content)

Views describe how it appears (appearance)

Controllers coordinate between the two (interaction)


Not classic MVC

Model, View, Collection (a group of models)


          var myApp.myModel = Backbone.Model.extend({});

Getting data for your models

The data for a front-end application has to come from somewhere

You can "bootstrap" it onto the page, or you can use AJAX to load it directly


JavaScript Object Notation

Easy, lightweight format

Smaller than XML, better than XML, sexier than XML!

WordPress JSON API plugin

JSON is the twinkies of APIs

-WP Late Night podcast


"Relational state transfer"

Essentially, a way to use verbs and nouns to describe the data you need

So what? We're running WordPress, not Node.js on some NoSQL nonsense...

Jetpack 1.9 Released Yesterday post on new jetpack

-Matt Mullenweg's announcement post REST API

REST API Resources


Rendering Your Data

This is another thing jQuery isn't super good at

$('.post').html('<h2>' + title + '</h2><p>' + content + '</p>');

Can be slow

Again, difficult to maintain

Don't mix HTML into your JS

JavaScript Templating

Render views without conflating HTML and JavaScript!

HTML with placeholders

    <li><a href="<%= address %>"><%= content %></a></li>


Templating Demo

var tmpl = null;

  url: '/wp/wp-content/plugins/wcpvd-backbone-demo/template.html',
  dataType: 'html',
  success: function(data) {
    tmpl = _.template(data);
    console.log('Template is ready');


I don't actually have any slides about collections

Underscore.js Playtime!

Further Reading: Backbone

Further Reading: Underscore

More Information Than Your Body Has Room For


K. Adam White /

Slides made with Reveal.js