Tether

A client-side library to make absolutely positioned elements attach to elements in the page efficiently.

0.6.5

Tether

Tether is a JavaScript library for efficiently making an absolutely positioned element stay next to another element on the page. For example, you might want a tooltip or dialog to open, and remain, next to the relevant item on the page.

Tether includes the ability to constrain the element within the viewport, its scroll parent, any other element on the page, or a fixed bounding box. When it exceeds those constraints it can be pinned to the edge, flip to the other side of its target, or hide itself.

Tether optimizes its location placement to result in the minimum amount of 'jankyness' as the page is scrolled and resized. The page can maintain 60fps scrolling even with dozens or hundreds of tethers on screen (pop open the devtools timeline as you scroll this page).

Tether is 5kb minified and gzipped, and supports IE9+, and all modern browsers.

Projects Built With Tether

Select Drop Tooltip Shepherd

Usage

The element to be moved is called the 'element'. The element in the page it's to be attached to is called the 'target'.

To use Tether, you define a point on the target and a point on the element. Tether moves the element to keep those two points on top of each other.

That point is called the attachment (we've marked it in the examples with a red ). For example, if you'd like the element to sit on the left of the target:

new Tether({
  element: yellowBox,
  target: greenBox,
  attachment: 'top right',
  targetAttachment: 'top left'
});

Attachment

You can move the attachment points of both the element and the target.

For example, lets move the element's attachment:

new Tether({
  element: yellowBox,
  target: greenBox,
  attachment: 'bottom left',
  targetAttachment: 'top left'
});

We can also change the target's attachment point:

new Tether({
  element: yellowBox,
  target: greenBox,
  attachment: 'bottom left',
  targetAttachment: 'bottom right'
});

There are two more attachment points we haven't seen yet, center and middle:

new Tether({
  element: yellowBox,
  target: greenBox,
  attachment: 'middle center',
  targetAttachment: 'middle center'
});

All told, Tether provides six built in attachment positions:

  • left
  • center
  • right
  • top
  • middle
  • bottom

The syntax of the attachment properties is: "vertical-attachment horizontal-attachment"

You must always supply an attachment. If you don't supply a target-attachment, it is assumed to be the mirror image of attachment.

Offset

The six attachment points we provide are not always enough to place the element exactly where you want it. To correct this, we provide two more properties, offset and targetOffset.

new Tether({
  element: yellowBox,
  target: greenBox,
  attachment: 'top right',
  targetAttachment: 'top left',
  offset: '0 10px'
});

As you can see, we've moved the attachment point of the element 10px to the right. We can also move the attachment point of the target:

new Tether({
  element: yellowBox,
  target: greenBox,
  attachment: 'top right',
  targetAttachment: 'top left',
  offset: '0 10px',
  targetOffset: '20px 0'
});

The offset properties also accept percentages. Percentages in offset refer to the height and width of the element, targetOffset the height and width of the target.

new Tether({
  element: yellowBox,
  target: greenBox,
  attachment: 'top right',
  targetAttachment: 'top left',
  targetOffset: '0 75%'
});

The syntax of the offset properties is "vertical-offset horizontal-offset"

Tether offers a couple of special attachments, using the targetModifier option:

new Tether({
  element: yellowBox,
  target: scrollBox,
  attachment: 'middle right',
  targetAttachment: 'middle left',
  targetModifier: 'scroll-handle'
});

Set the target to document.body to have the element follow the page's scroll bar.

The targetModifier visible can be used to attach an element to the visible part of an element:

new Tether({
  element: yellowBox,
  target: document.body,
  attachment: 'middle center',
  targetAttachment: 'middle center',
  targetModifier: 'visible'
});

new Tether({
  element: yellowBox,
  target: scrollBox,
  attachment: 'middle center',
  targetAttachment: 'middle center',
  targetModifier: 'visible'
});

Constraints

If you have tried any of the previous examples, you'll notice that it's pretty easy to scroll the regions in such a way that the element is hanging out on its own, with no target in sight.

Constraints allow you to control what happens when the tethered element would have to fall outside of a defined region to maintain the attachment.

new Tether({
  element: yellowBox,
  target: greenBox,
  attachment: 'middle left',
  targetAttachment: 'middle left',
  constraints: [
    {
      to: 'scrollParent',
      pin: true
    }
  ]
});

We've created a constraint which will keep the element within its scroll parent by 'pinning' it to the edges if it tries to escape. For the sake of the example, we're also highlighting the pinned edge in red.

Specify an array of sides if you'd only like to pin those edges:

new Tether({
  element: yellowBox,
  target: greenBox,
  attachment: 'middle left',
  targetAttachment: 'middle left',
  constraints: [
    {
      to: 'scrollParent',
      pin: ['top']
    }
  ]
});

You might want to allow the element to change its attachment, if doing so would keep more of it within its assigned region:

new Tether({
  element: yellowBox,
  target: greenBox,
  attachment: 'top left',
  targetAttachment: 'bottom left',
  constraints: [
    {
      to: 'scrollParent',
      attachment: 'together'
    }
  ]
});

If you scroll the example a bit, you'll see it flip the attachment when necessary. You can combine pin and attachment as well:

new Tether({
  element: yellowBox,
  target: greenBox,
  attachment: 'top left',
  targetAttachment: 'bottom left',
  constraints: [
    {
      to: 'scrollParent',
      attachment: 'together',
      pin: true
    }
  ]
});

Attachment will accept any of these values:

  • element: Only change the element's attachment
  • target: Only change the target's attachment
  • both: Change either's attachment (or both), as needed
  • together: Change both the element's and target's attachment at the same time (to 'flip' the element to the other side of the attachment)
  • none: Don't allow changes to attachment (the default)

Together is the option you will use most commonly:

new Tether({
  element: yellowBox,
  target: greenBox,
  attachment: 'top right',
  targetAttachment: 'bottom left',
  constraints: [
    {
      to: 'scrollParent',
      attachment: 'together'
    }
  ]
});

You can also provide different settings for the horizontal and vertical attachments:

new Tether({
  element: yellowBox,
  target: greenBox,
  attachment: 'top left',
  targetAttachment: 'bottom left',
  constraints: [
    {
      to: 'scrollParent',
      attachment: 'together none'
    }
  ]
});

Whenever the element is out of the constrained area, we add the tether-out-of-bounds class to it. If you add some CSS to make items with that class display: none, the tether will hide.

new Tether({
  element: yellowBox,
  target: greenBox,
  attachment: 'middle center',
  targetAttachment: 'middle center',
  constraints: [
    {
      to: 'scrollParent'
    }
  ]
});

You can also constrain the element to the viewport, you'll have to scroll the page to see this one.

new Tether({
  element: yellowBox,
  target: greenBox,
  attachment: 'top left',
  targetAttachment: 'bottom left',
  constraints: [
    {
      to: 'window',
      attachment: 'together'
    }
  ]
});

You can, of course, use pin with the window as well to make it always visible no matter where the user scrolls:

new Tether({
  element: yellowBox,
  target: greenBox,
  attachment: 'top left',
  targetAttachment: 'bottom left',
  constraints: [
    {
      to: 'window',
      attachment: 'together',
      pin: true
    }
  ]
});

to can be any of:

  • 'scrollParent'
  • 'window'
  • any DOM element
  • an array of bound points relative to the body [X1, Y1, X2, Y2]

You can also provide multiple constraints, keeping in mind that they are processed in the order supplied (the last one always has the final word).

new Tether({
  element: yellowBox,
  target: greenBox,
  attachment: 'top left',
  targetAttachment: 'bottom left',
  constraints: [
    {
      to: 'scrollParent',
      pin: true
    },
    {
      to: 'window',
      attachment: 'together'
    }
  ]
});

Optimization

Element Moving

The goal of Tether's optimizer is to not have to change the positioning CSS as the page is scrolled or resized. To accomplish this it looks at the last few positions, finds commonalities, and uses them to decide whether to position the element absolutely or with fixed positioning.

If the element is fully contained within its scroll parent, its DOM node can also be moved inside the scroll parent, to avoid repaints as the container is scrolled.

new Tether({
  element: yellowBox,
  target: greenBox,
  attachment: 'top left',
  targetAttachment: 'bottom left'
});

We are moving where the DOM node is, so if you have CSS which styles elements within the offset parent, you may see some rendering changes. Also note that this optimization works best if the scroll parent is the offset parent. In other words, the scroll parent should be made position relative, fixed or absolute to enable this optimization.

If you do see stylistic changes occur when the element is moved, you might want to disable this optimization. You can do that by setting optimizations.moveElement to false.

new Tether({
  element: yellowBox,
  target: greenBox,
  attachment: 'top left',
  targetAttachment: 'bottom left',
  optimizations: {
    moveElement: false
  }
});

GPU

By default tether positions elements using CSS transforms. These transforms allow the tethered element to be moved as its own layer to not force a repaint of the underlying page.

This method of positioning can cause some issues however, including color shifts and artifacts.

If you experience these issues, you can disable this optimization by setting optimizations.gpu to false:

new Tether({
  element: yellowBox,
  target: greenBox,
  attachment: 'top left',
  optimizations: {
    gpu: false
  }
});

Methods

The Tether constructor we've been using in these examples returns us a Tether object.

The Tether object has these methods:

  • setOptions({ options }) - Update any of the options (such as attachment)
  • disable() - Disable the tethering
  • enable() - Enable the tethering
  • destroy() - Disable and remove all references
  • position() - Manually trigger a repositioning

Options

The full list of options which can be passed to the Tether constructor and setOptions:

  • element: The DOM element, jQuery element, or a selector string of an element which will be moved
  • target: The DOM element, jQuery element, or a selector string of an element which the element will be attached to
  • attachment: A string of the form 'vert-attachment horiz-attachment'
    • vert-attachment can be any of 'top', 'middle', 'bottom'
    • horiz-attachment can be any of 'left', 'center', 'right'
  • targetAttachment: A string similar to attachment. The one difference is that, if it's not provided, targetAttachment will assume the mirror image of attachment.
  • offset: A string of the form 'vert-offset horiz-offset'
    • vert-offset and horiz-offset can be of the form "20px" or "55%"
  • targetOffset: A string similar to offset, but refering to the offset of the target
  • targetModifier: Can be set to 'visible' or 'scroll-handle'
  • enabled: Should the tether be enabled initially? Defaults to true.
  • classes: A hash of classes which should be changed or disabled
  • classPrefix: The prefix placed at the beginning of the default classes, defaults to 'tether'
  • optimizations: A hash of optimizations, used to disable them
  • constraints: An array of constraint definition objects. Each definition is of the form:
    • to: A DOM element, bounding box, the string 'window', or the string 'scrollParent'
    • pin: true or an array of strings representing the sides of the constraint
    • attachment: A string of the form "vert-modifier horiz-modifier", or a single value representing both
      • Each modifier should be one of "none", "together", "element", "target", or "both".
    • outOfBoundsClass: An alternative to "tether-out-of-bounds", useful if the class needs to be differentiated from that of another constraint.
    • pinnedClass: An alternative to "tether-pinned", similar to outOfBoundsClass.

Classes

Tether adds a variety of classes to the element and target to allow you to style them based on their tethering.

You can change the prefix of the classes with the classPrefix option. It is 'tether' by default, but you could, for example, change it to be 'bill' if you were building the bill library and all the classes would be 'bill-*'.

new Tether({
  classPrefix: 'bill'
});

The sass/css is similarily configurable, see tooltip for an example of how to make your own prefixed css file.

All classes can be changed or disabled with the classes option. For example, to change the tether-element class to be my-box:

new Tether({
  classes: {
    element: 'my-box'
  }
});

You can also disable classes you're not going to use:

new Tether({
  classes: {
    out-of-bounds: false
  }
});
  • tether-element is added to the element
  • tether-target is added to the target
  • tether-enabled is added to both elements when tether is not disabled
  • tether-element-attached-[left,right,top,bottom,middle,center] is added to both elements based on the elements attachment, if the element becomes detached (for example, if it's pinned), that class is removed. The class reflects how the element is actually attached, so if a constraint changes the attachment, that change will be reflected in the class.
  • tether-target-attached-[left,right,top,bottom,middle,center] is added to both elements based on the target's attachment. All of the characteristics are the same as for element-attached.
  • tether-out-of-bounds, tether-out-of-bounds-[side] are added to both the element and the target when the element is placed outside of its constraint.
  • tether-pinned, tether-pinned-[side] are added to both the element and target when a constraint has pinned the element to the [side] of the container.

Browser Support

Tether supports IE9+, and all modern browsers.

Google doesn't support IE8, Microsoft is dropping support in a few months, and not supporting it saves us a whole lot of trouble. If you are interested in adding support, get in touch, we're happy to accept a PR.

Contributing

Please contribute! Tether is developed in Coffeescript, but if that's problematic for you, feel free to submit pull requests which just change the JavaScript files, we can adapt them as needed.

To build Tether, you need:

  • Node.js
  • Ruby (for compass)

Instructions

  • Install compass (if you don't have it already)
gem update --system
gem install compass
  • Install the build tool
npm install -g gulp
  • Install the project
# In the project directory
npm install
  • Build / Watch
gulp