Focus Input Element in Halogen

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In the landscape of frontend development, managing focus within applications is a common yet nuanced challenge. In this article, we dive into PureScript's Halogen, a powerful framework in the functional programmer's arsenal, and explore how to manage focus effectively within our applications.

The Ref Mechanism in Halogen

Refs in Halogen are labels attached to DOM elements that can be used to perform effects on those elements. While React utilizes refs primarily as mutable containers to store references to DOM nodes, Halogen treats refs more as keys to access DOM elements within the Halogen framework's controlled environment.

Implementing Focus: A Practical Scenario

Consider a scenario where you have an input element in your Halogen component, and you wish to focus this input when a user clicks a button. This could be for example a search field which enlarges to an input field when the search icon is clicked. Here’s how you can achieve this:

Step 1: Attaching the Ref to an Element

In your component's render function, you attach a "ref" (a reference) to your desired input element using the HP.ref function.

HH.input [ HP.type_ HP.InputText, HP.ref (H.RefLabel "input") ]

Pay attention that we use not only a string but the H.RefLabel. The final name does not need to be unique across the whole DOM.

Step 2: Focusing the Element

The focus management is performed in the eval function of your component. When an action (triggered by a button click, for example) is received, you can retrieve the element using getHTMLElementRef and apply focus to it.

ToggleFocues -> do
  mElement <- getHTMLElementRef $ H.RefLabel "input"
  for_ mElement \element -> do
    H.liftEffect $ focus element

The focus function is the foreign function from the Web.HTML.HTMLElement module. This way we stay very close to the default JavaScript implementation.


In conclusion, focusing elements in Halogen might require a different mindset, especially for those coming from an imperative or loosely-typed background. However, the robustness and clarity provided by PureScript and Halogen make these efforts worthwhile. As functional programming continues to make inroads into frontend development, understanding and mastering these concepts becomes increasingly valuable.

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