Day 1 - Getting started with ExtJS screen library

Today we take a look at the ExtJS screen library and how to get started using it within a Catalyst web application.

Don't forget to come back on Day 9 for a more advanced example by jasonk in "Catalyst with Ext+Ajax: Editable Data Grids"

What is ExtJS?

ExtJS is a cross-browser Javascript library for web pages. You can use it to achieve Web 2.0 effects without writing too much Javascript code (always a good idea!). It offers abstracted handling for HTML elements, Document Object Model (DOM), event handling and AJAX (client-server) calls. ExtJS also provides styling (blue, aero and Vista, you can write more) and a good selection of widgets including:

* window
* layout
* tabs
* form
* toolbar
* menu
* tree
* combobox
* grid

The full range is listed here

The easiest way to see what is possible is to watch it in action:

* desktop
* feed viewer
* photo organiser

For more examples see

What web browsers does it work on?

* Internet Explorer 6+
* Firefox 1.5+ (PC, Mac)
* Safari 2+
* Opera 9+ (PC, Mac)

What about other Javascript libraries - I've got legacy code

Because it grew out of Yahoo's YUI library and its developers wanted to support legacy code, ExtJS has a tiered design that allows you to choose the base Javascript adapter library

* native Ext
* jQuery
* Prototype/

For new code, I'd recommend native Ext as it is faster to load.

There are more details and a pretty picture of the design at

Downloading and installing the ExtJS library

Download ExtJS 1.1.1 from

The stable release, used in this article, is 1.1.1 and that's the one you need. The latest development release is Ext 2.0 but be aware that it has a different object model to Ext 1.1 and many of the tutorials, docs and code on the site still relate to 1.1. Once the widgets and documentation have been done for 2.0 I expect there will be a rapid shift over in the user community. More details at


If you're on Linux, install ExtJS to your web server document root, e.g. /var/www/html/ext-1.1.1. When you want to use it in a Catalyst project create a symbolic link from your root/static directory

 $ ln -s /var/www/html/ext-1.1.1 root/static/

Otherwise, you can simply unzip the whole lot below root/static.

When running the Catalyst test server, it will expect to find the files there.

For production use, use absolute URLs to the ExtJS javascript files from your templates, e.g. http://myserver/ext-1.1.1/ext-core.js, and allow your web server to serve them rather than Catalyst. It's much faster.

Manuals and learning materials

Visit You will find tutorials at

Bookmark and early on read through the community manual

The archive comes with an ExtJS API reference manual. You can open ext- 1.1.1/docs/index.html in a browser or if you installed it under your Linux web server root it should be accessible at http://myserver/ext-1.1.1/docs/. It's also online at Use this to look up methods and attributes for ExtJS objects.

Adding ExtJS to a web page

Firstly you need to include the ExtJS Javascript libraries and stylesheets in the <head> section of your HTML page

 <link rel="stylesheet" type="text/css" href="/ext-1.1/resources/css/ext-all.css" />
 <script type="text/javascript" src="/ext-1.1/adapter/ext/ext-base.js"></script>
 <script type="text/javascript" src="/ext-1.1/ext-all.js"></script>

In the body section use classes for styling

 <body class="xtheme-gray" >

Use named <div> tags to identify content that ExtJS will enhance

 <div id="container"><div id="content" class="welcome">

Then supply Javascript to tell ExtJS what to do. The following creates a layout with one panel called 'content' after the HTML page has finished loading

 <script type="text/javascript">
 Thescreen = function(){
   return {
     init: function(){
       var layout = new Ext.BorderLayout(document.body, {
         center: {
           autoScroll: true,
           minTabWidth: 50,
           preferredTabWidth: 150,
           titlebar: true

       layout.add('center', new Ext.ContentPanel('content', {title:'ExtJS demo app'}));
 Ext.EventManager.onDocumentReady(Thescreen.init, Thescreen, true);

Note the prototype object-based approach used to create the 'Thescreen' object. This helps standardise objects and avoid memory leaks. See for further explanation.

Simple Example

I've provided a simple working example you can use as a starting point for writing ExtJS Catalyst applications. It provides code, a menu, a couple of pages and a set of templates initially generated using the Catalyst helpers to give a portal page.

The ExtJS Catalyst sample app is accessible at

Example application code

You can check out the code from the Catalyst repository with

 svn co

Run it with

 perl script/ -k

then browse to e.g. http://myserver:3000. Read the comments on the screens and in the code.

Form Architecture Considerations

You have a choice between implementing traditional "round trip" web pages and client-server AJAX dynamic web pages seen on Web 2.0 sites.

In the "round trip" case, the user browses to a page, clicks a submit button to post data to a server, HTML is sent back then the new page displays. You can continue to do this with templates and use ExtJS to enhance the appearance and add auto-completers to input fields.

In the second case, you send HTML back once for the first page and then use ExtJS to respond to events like button clicks to trigger display changes and send/retrieve data to the server via asynchronous data transfers. The ExtJS Form widget handles this and can automatically perform front-end data validation and display input warnings from the backend. See and look at the .js files. It's also possible to generate a form dynamically from an XML or JSON definition in a data source, so you could hold your form definitions in a database and serve them up from a Catalyst data handler.

The choice will depend on how slick a user interface you want and your available time, as writing Javascript can be time-consuming. AJAX screens often look better but are less accessible for blind visitors and can be harder to debug. For testing you would need to consider using a tool like Selenium. Check out

Comma Gotcha

If you leave a trailing comma in a Javascript data structure, which is very easy to do if you're used to programming Perl, it stops Internet Explorer's parser. You'll get a blank page! It's easily spotted by running your output HTML code through HTML Tidy.

Good luck!


peterdragon - Peter Edwards <>