What is an event?

Code in this post can be obsolete, however, principles and theory may still apply.

Historical Background

Most likely many of you who will read this article do not remember times of Fortran language and computers that were fed with tons of punch cards to have some some job done.

The main purpose of computers at that time was to compute something really; that is not true anymore because computers are used for getting computational result very rarely at schools or scientific institutions nowadays.

How did it work at that time? If you wanted a computer to run a program you went to a shelf with your punched cards, you found the drawer with the stack of them, fed them through card reader and the computer started your program.

First task was to ask for user inputs and once you filled them in the program computed the result, printed it and ended. Easy, straightforward, “single thread” job.

Events Introduced

With the invent of GUI and Mouse this concept of load-run-end just couldn’t work anymore as we needed some infinite loop that would wait for user actions (mouse movement and clicks) and that would process them to execute the required actions.

I has became clear very soon that putting the code that processes these action directly in that loop is the route to nowhere so the Event driven programming was born.

Event Definition

Event is a message, a function call, generated by one (part of) program, the event source, that notifies another (part of) program, the event listener, that something happened. Events are generated as responses to user actions or to state changes of the event source.

The event source is independent of event listeners and it generates events also if nobody listens or even if there is no listener defined. The viewpoint of our infinite loop would be: “I’m informing everybody that user moved the mouse to position [x,y] and I do not care who listens, if anybody.”

The viewpoint of the listener would be: “Let me know when user moves the mouse, I need to do something with it.”

Events in Ext

There are two main “sorts” of events in Ext: DOM events and JavaScript, or software, events.

DOM Events

Browsers that display (X)HTML pages already have our “infinite loop” that watches user actions and fires events if these actions are occurring on DOM elements. Before Ext we were used to install event listeners on DOM elements this way:

Click me!

Ext.Element wraps DOM elements together with their events so now we install the same event handlers this way:

It can be said that DOM events are “passed-through” from DOM through Ext.Element to listeners.

JavaScript Events

Now, DOM elements are not only possible event sources; it is quite easy to implement event source logic and event listener installation to any JavaScript object. But, what could it be good for?

Imagine that you have a complex component such as grid. If you had only DOM events, the handling of user actions such as column move would be extremely difficult. You would need to listen to DOM elements, process mouse clicks, moves, calculate from where to where the column has been moved, etc. If would be much easier if grid component would do all this dirty work for you and, after everything has be done, just informed you: “User moved column 3 to position 1.”

That is exactly what grid does: it fires JavaScript events that inform potential listeners what has happened to it. The same is true for another Ext components. Form validation events, Panel resize events, Tree expand/collapse events can serve as examples, to name a few.

How do I listen to events?

If you have an object of Ext class, for example Panel, and you need to do some action when panel resizes you would install a listener to implement your action:

From this point on, whenever the panel myPanel is resized your function is called so you can do your actions.

How do I create event source?

Events related functionality is implemented in Ext.util.Observable class so if you want your extension to be an event source just extend Observable. Also, if you extend a class that is already descendant of Observable (Panel, Grid, Form, Tree, etc), your extension is automatically the event source.

Events fired by your extension are events fired by parent class(es).

Custom Events

It happens very often that you need add new events, for example you create Employee class and Organization Chart class and you implement drag&drop assignment/dismissal of employee to/from a position. I would come handy to fire event assigned and dismissed, wouldn’t it?

We could listen to these events and the listeners could send e-mails to the employee informing him that he has been assigned to a position or dismissed from it.

We do it this way:

In the initComponent function we inform Observable class that we are going to fire our new events so it can do all necessary setup.

Note: We do not extend Observable directly here but Panel, what we extend, does. Panel’s inheritance chain is: Observable -> Component -> BoxComponent -> Container -> Panel.

And in assign and dismiss functions we fire our events after all assign/dismiss job has been done with signature (arguments) of our choice.

When we fireEvent, Observable looks if there are some listeners to this event and calls all listeners with arguments we supplied in fireEvent call. If there is no listener it just does nothing.


  • event is a message sent (fired) by an event source to inform listeners that something happened
  • event source is an object that can fire events
  • event listener is a function that is called when event source fires an event
  • to listen to events we use on function to install an event listener
  • to create an event source we extend Observable class, addEvents and fireEvent

Enjoy firing your events and listening to them!

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I'm a well seasoned developer, consultant and educator of web applications based mainly on Sencha libraries, PHP, MySQL and Node.js. Besides (Apple) computers, I love photography and mountain biking.
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  1. Siddharth says

    Hi Saki,

    Thanks for this article. It is really helpful. However, I have one query. From example given here it looks like we are firing event manually using “this.fireEvent(‘assigned’, this, employee, position);”. If we are firing event manually then why can’t we simply call a normal function here. Please correct me if I am missing anything.

    Siddharth Jain

  2. Radha Krishna says

    If you have multiple components in your application like grid panel,form etc. when you select something in grid . you will throw an user defined event. you have listeners in panel and from that will update their status according to the event. ‘Event’ is like broadcasting, listeners are like the people who are interested in event. It is like television broadcasting . there can be many channels available to you but you are interested in channel ‘abc’ and someone might be interested in ‘TNT’ etc.

  3. Siddharth says

    When we are throwing a user defined event we are throwing it for only one component. If we want many components to listen the event, then we have to fire events for each components. Something like this.

    component1.fireEvent(‘assigned’, this, employee, position);
    component2.fireEvent(‘assigned’, this, employee, position);
    component3.fireEvent(‘assigned’, this, employee, position);

    This is similar to call any normal function. It looks like custom events are not solving any technical challenge but they are providing a better design approach.

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