JavaScript: how to load dynamic contents (HTML String, JSON) to iframe

The story

Although people are suggesting the replacement of <iframe> by <div> due to the poor usability of <iframe>,  there are still some cases that <iframe> is the only way to go.

Consider such case : you want to show a preview screen before the user hit “submit” button on a page with form (the data input page). When the preview button is hit, an ajax request is sent to the server asking a validation of the user input. Then the server either generates the preview page HTML code (if the input is valid) or error message (if the input is not valid), in JSON format. The client receives the JSON response. If the JSON is an error message, then the client alerts user the error, otherwise, presents the preview screen (the HTML codes in JSON).

All of these seem very straight forward, until the time that you are presenting the preview page HTML codes. As the preview page HTML is a full set of HTML code, including the <html>, <head> and <body>tags, and more importantly it includes a new set of CSS styles and JavaScript codes. If you present these codes inside a <div> tag, the new CSS styles and JavaScript codes will definitely interferer the CSS styles and JavaScript codes of the data input page, making the both preview screen and the data input page extremely awful.

In such case, the proper way is to present the preview screen as an independent section from the data input page. This is where <iframe> should be used instead of <div>. Everything in <iframe> is independent from its parent document, so the <iframe> can have its own <doctype>, <html>,<head>, <body>, and CSS styles and JavaScript.

The problem

However, according to the specification of <iframe>, the content of <iframe> is specified by the “src” attribute which accepts values in URL format, like “”. It cannot load dynamic HTML codes. Moreover, as <iframe> is treated like an independent section from the current page, JavaScript frameworks such as jQuery has limited ability to modify its contents: you can only select and modify the contents inside the <body> of the <iframe> contents, you can do nothing outside the <body>, not to mention the jQuery ready() function doesn’t even work properly for <iframe>.

The solution

However, after some studies on the relationship between <iframe> and its associated document contents and combined the discussion on the web, we successfully inject HTML codes into an <iframe>. Here is how we do that:

    <h1>Test iframe</h1>
    <iframe id="test_iframe" src="about:blank" width=400 height=400></iframe>

	<button onClick="javascript:injectHTML();">Inject HTML</button>

<script language="javascript">
function injectHTML(){

	//step 1: get the DOM object of the iframe.
	var iframe = document.getElementById('test_iframe');

	var html_string = '<html><head></head><body><p>iframe content injection</p></body></html>';

	/* if jQuery is available, you may use the get(0) function to obtain the DOM object like this:
	var iframe = $('iframe#target_iframe_id').get(0);

	//step 2: obtain the document associated with the iframe tag
	//most of the browser supports .document. Some supports (such as the NetScape series) .contentDocumet, while some (e.g. IE5/6) supports .contentWindow.document
	//we try to read whatever that exists.
	var iframedoc = iframe.document;
		if (iframe.contentDocument)
			iframedoc = iframe.contentDocument;
		else if (iframe.contentWindow)
			iframedoc = iframe.contentWindow.document;

	 if (iframedoc){
		 // Put the content in the iframe;
	 } else {
		//just in case of browsers that don't support the above 3 properties.
		//fortunately we don't come across such case so far.
		alert('Cannot inject dynamic contents into iframe.');



We have tested this code with Firefox 3.5 / 4 / 5, IE 6,7,8,9 and Chrome and fortunately all of them supports the dynamic HTML loading with this method.

Yet another Javascript Internationalization (i18n) module


Internationalize (a.k.a. i18n) is a very basic practice when working with multi-lingual websites. A simple i18n mechanism involves only a dictionary containing the pairs of strings, and a dictionary lookup function (e.g. the underscore magic function _() ). Once these two things are ready, the implementation is relatively simple. Major programming frameworks also provide their own i18n functionality, or if it doesn’t, there is also a mature module called “gettext” available to help.

Well, all these are true when talking about server-side programming.

What about client-side i18n?

For client-side it is unavoidable to use JavaScript. There are some very nice i18n modules available for different JS frameworks. However, after using some of them, I’m not satisfied, because of one or more of the following reasons:

  1. Work with string identifiers(i.e. __(‘this_is_my_string’); ), but doesn’t work with full sentences (i.e. __(‘this is my string!’); ).
  2. Heavy weighted, even excluding the dictionary file.
  3. Dictionary needs to be pre-compiled.
  4. Cannot work without the JS framework. (Framework is heavy!)

So at the end I wrote my own, and call it “jsIn” (javascript Internationalization).I also created a single page for this module for the documentation purpose. If you’re interested in this tiny (1KB) little toy, please visit here.

What makes jsIn different?

I’m not saying jsIn is totally different from some others, because I don’t have the time to test all the available i18n solutions to see the difference. The methodology in jsIn is very simple (as mentioned before, the most simple form of internationalization is just 2 things : a dictionary file and a lookup function.),  that some others may have already been using it. If this is the case what I can say is “coincidence”.

There are some features that I can’t find them all in any single solution but jsIn:

  1. Work with both string identifier and full sentence translation.(And string identifier gives extra performance boost.)
  2. Light weight, actually it’s tiny weight: just 1.3KB after minified, excluding the dictionary files.
  3. Standalone : no frameworks required. Actually you can even put the script in the header so that your strings can be translated before it shows to the visitors.
  4. Global magic function. Just call   __(‘string to translate’) anywhere you like, even inside a jQuery plugins!

It also passed our unit test page and is used in production server now.

PHP isset() and multi-dimentional array

** The issue discussed in this post has been fixed since PHP5.4.0, so the below discussion and solution are for PHP 5.3.x or lower. Thanks David for clarifying.

A few weeks ago I covered how to check the existence of an array element in PHP. In the post I explained why isset() is dangerous to check the existence of elements in an array. I also proposed a better solution (the isset()+array_key_exists() method) to do the checking.

Today I’m going to discuss another strange (and dangerous) behavior brought along with isset() function and multi-dimensional arrays.

The problem

Let’s consider this simple code:

<!--?php $a = array('test'=-->'ABC');
var_dump(isset($a['test']));                       //true
var_dump(isset($a['test']['non_exist']));          //true?!!
var_dump(isset($a['test']['non_exist']) || array_key_exists('non_exist', $a['test'])); //true again?!!!

Surprise, huh? Isset() returns true for a non-exist element!

What even worse is that the previous proposed method (the isset()+ array_key_exists() method) also gives a wrong result! This is because isset() returns true for the non_exist element so the overall OR operation will become “true”. The array_key_exists() is never implemented.

The reason

So why isset() returns true for a non-exist element? I’m not sure the exact reason but I have a guess:

PHP first look at $a[‘test’]. Since $a[‘test’] does exist, isset($a[‘test’]) returns true. Then PHP checks the 2nd dimension: the ‘non_exist’ element. As $a[‘test’] is a string, it is also considered as an array (In PHP, string is a sequential array by type-casting). When checking the sequential array where all index should be integers, the index [‘non_exist’] is **converted** to an integer which equals zero. So actually PHP is checking isset($a[‘test’][0]). Unfortunately $a[‘test’][0] does really exists (with value ‘A’). So the overall result of this checking is “true”.

To verify this guess, let’s run this code:

<!--?php $a = array(1=-->'', 2=>'ABC');
var_dump(isset($a[1])); //true
var_dump(isset($a[1]['t'])); //false => $a[1] is empty string, $a[1][0] doesn't exist
var_dump(isset($a[2])); //true
var_dump(isset($a[2]['t'])); //true => $a[2] is 'abc', so $a[2][0] exists and equals 'A'.

The result has shown that my guess is pretty reasonable.

The solution

You say: OK, I know your guess is somehow right, so how to fix it?

Usually when we check the existence of elements in multiple dimensional array, we use  something like

array_key_exists('non_exist', $a['test']); 

Yes. This is true…but if you really do so in our case, you will get this warning:

Warning: array_key_exists() expects parameter 2 to be array, string given 

Somehow for unknown reason array_key_exists() doesn’t consider string as array now and is complaining us.

So what’s the solution?

Complete array element existence checking function

Combined with what I proposed in the previous and this post, I have worked out a function that checks whether an element does exist in an array, regardless the array’s dimensions:

<!--?php function elementExists($key, $array){     if (is_array($key)) {         $curArray = $array; 		$lastKey = array_pop($key); 		foreach($key as $oneKey) { 			if (!elementExists($oneKey, $curArray)) return false; 			$curArray = $curArray[$oneKey]; 		} 		return is_array($curArray) && elementExists($lastKey, $curArray); 	} else { 		return isset($array[$key]) || array_key_exists($key, $array); 	} } $a=array(1,2,3,4, 'dim1'=-->array('dim2'=>array('dim3'=>null)));

//multi-dimension : check if $a['dim1']['dim2']['dim3']['dim4'] exists:
var_dump(elementExists(array('dim1', 'dim2', 'dim3', 'dim4'), $a)); //false

//multi-dimension : check if $a['dim1']['dim2']['dim3'] exists:
var_dump(elementExists(array('dim1', 'dim2', 'dim3'), $a)); //true

//single dimension : check if $a['dim1'] exists:
var_dump(elementExists('dim1', $a)); //true

This piece of codes looks quite awful and dirty, and its performance  is not evaluated. I think there are more elegant (and faster) codes to do the same thing. Since I’m in a hurry and got to complete my project ASAP, I prefer to leave it as it is now.

Comments are always welcomed!

Internet Explorer 8 background disappeared (or becomes white) bug with jQuery 1.6 (or 1.6.1)

Latest Update: This bug has been fixed by jQuery 1.6.2 released on 30/06/2011.

If your project has upgraded to jQuery version 1.6 or jQuery 1.6.1, then you should make sure it works fine with Internet Explorer 8 (IE8) before you hit the publish button. This is my two cents.

What’s wrong with jQuery 1.6+ and IE8?

If your website has used background image or color other than “white”, and if it is viewed by IE8, the website will be rendered just right…but only at the first sight…and then the background will goes plain WHITE soon after that, automatically. Only IE8 will show you this “magic”.

There is a bug in jQuery 1.6 and 1.6.1 and is reported here. Unfortunately we have suffered this strange behavior for several days before we realize that this “magic” is associated with jQuery.


There is also a solution suggested in the above mentioned bug report. To save your time, I quote it here with credit goes to the original author:

Same problem on version 1.6.1

The bug can be resolved on ligne 1288 from jquery-1.6.1.js.

Replace :

“documentElement.insertBefore( body, documentElement.firstChild );”


“documentElement.appendChild( body );”

Hope this post could save you a day or several hours. Happy coding!

Really simple CSS compression function in PHP

Thanks to the simple syntax of CSS, we can easily compress the CSS code with a PHP function of only 3 lines of codes.

Since the compression will remove all the code indention and comments so it should be apply to production codes only.

Here is the CSS compression that I used in my projects.

function CSS_Compress(&$css){
    //new lines, multiple spaces/tabs/newlines
    $css = preg_replace('/[\r\n\t\s]+/s', ' ', $css);
    //remove comments
    $css = preg_replace('#/\*.*?\*/#', '', $css);
    //remove extra single spaces
    $css = preg_replace('/[\s]*([\{\},;:])[\s]*/', '\1', $css);

Check if an array is associative or sequential(indexed) in PHP

In PHP, depending on the type of the keys in an array, the array can be identified as associative (if the key is a string like $arr[‘mykey’]) or sequential (some may call it indexed, i.e. if the key is an integer like $arr[1], $arr[2], etc.).

Although the internal representation of both associative and sequential arrays are the same in the PHP’s core (Both are ordered map), in some situations we still need to differentiate one from another. There is no built-in function to tell if an array is associative or sequential, so we have to write our own.

The most popular method to check this is to compare the keys of an array with the result of range(), like this, this and this:

function isAssoc($arr){
	return array_keys($arr) !== range(0, count($arr) - 1);

The problem of using range() is that it only works when the keys of the array are continuous integer numbers. That is, the keys of an array has to be {0,1,2,3,4,…..}. If the array’s smallest key is not 0 but 1, like {1,2,3….}, or there is a “hole” in between, like {1,2,4,5,8,…}. They will be treated as associative array.

Whether this method makes sense depends on how you define the term ”sequential array” and “associative array”. Unfortunately I didn’t find any “official” definition about them in PHP’s manual (as they doesn’t matter to PHP). My personal definition is that when there exist a non-integer key in an array, the array is not sequential. So for the arrays with keys like  {1,2,100, 1000, 1500}, it is still sequential. With this logic, my method to check associative / sequential arrays is this:

function is_asso($a) {
	foreach(array_keys($a) as $key)
		if (!is_int($key)) return TRUE;
	return FALSE;

This function will check every keys in the array until it find one that is not an integer, then it quit the loop and tell it is associative array. This function can handle sequential arrays with any starting index, and any hole in between.

PHP – isset() vs array_key_exists() : a better way to determine array element’s existence

The story

In the CourseYou project, we’re asked to check if an element is set in an array. That is,  we’re asked to determine whether $Arr[‘MyElement’] exists.

So we use the following code as a start.

if (isset($Arr['MyElement'])) { 
     ... do my stuff ... 
} ?> 

This code works fine, but, it works fine for most of cases only. In some other cases (and it’s quite often actually), using this code  to check the existence of an array element can be very DANGEROUS.

What’s wrong with isset()?

Perhaps isset() is one of the most frequently used function that do a very frequent task: determine if a variable has been set. It is simple, and more importantly is FAST, is very FAST. However, the returned result of isset() can be misleading sometimes.

According to the PHP’s manual: isset() — Determine if a variable is set AND is not NULL

So the case that the isset() cause you danger is: the element does exist in the array but it is set NULL. i.e. $Arr[‘MyElemenet’] =NULL; In this case, isset() always return FALSE.  Professional programmers should be aware of this.

The right solution: array_key_exists()

The right way to check  if an element exists in an array is to use array_key_exists(). The array_key_exists() will tell if the given key or index has been “created” in the array regardless the value of the element. So to tell if elements ‘MyElement’ exists in the array $Arr, we should use this:

<?php if (array_key_exists('MyElement', $Arr)) { ... do my stuff ... } ?> 

Why array_key_exists() still sucks?

However, array_key_exits() still sucks. Yes, it’s more reliable than isset(), but it’s SLOW.  We benchmarked the array_key_exists() and isset() methods as shown below and find that array_key_exists() is almost 5 times slower than isset().

To take the speed advantage of isset() while keeping the reliable result from array_key_exists(), we combined the both: Usually an element being set NULL is a rare case, so in most of the time, isset() is still reliable. When isset() fails, we should do an additional checking by array_key_exists() to double confirm that the key really doesn’t exist. It turns out that the below code works the best:

if (isset($Arr['MyElement']) || array_key_exists('MyElement', $Arr)) { 
      ... do my stuff ... 
} ?>

The beauty of PHP (also many other modem languages) is that it doesn’t require the whole conditional statement being fully parsed. So the PHP engine actually only evaluate the result of isset(). if isset() returns FALSE, it then evaluate array_key_exists(). If isset() returns TRUE, array_key_exists() is never evaluated. That’s saying the sequence of the two conditions cannot be reversed.


We did a simple benchmarking base on the isset(), array_key_exists() and the combined method, and the result of the combined method is very promising.

$a = array('a'=>1,'b'=>2,'c'=>3,'d'=>4, 'e'=>null); 
$s = microtime(true); 
for($i=0; $i<=100000; $i++) { 
     $t= array_key_exists('a', $a); //true 
     $t= array_key_exists('f', $a); //false
     $t= array_key_exists('e', $a); //true 

$e = microtime(true); 
echo 'array_key_exists : ', ($e-$s); 

$s = microtime(true); 
for($i=0; $i<=100000; $i++) { 
     $t = isset($a['a']); //true 
     $t = isset($a['f']); //false
     $t = isset($a['e']); //false 

$e = microtime(true); 
echo 'is_set : ' , ($e-$s); 

$s = microtime(true); 
for($i=0; $i<=100000; $i++) { 
     $t= (isset($a['a']) || array_key_exists('a', $a)); //true 
     $t= (isset($a['f']) || array_key_exists('f', $a)); //false
     $t= (isset($a['e']) || array_key_exists('e', $a)); //true 

$e = microtime(true); 
echo 'isset() + array_key_exists : ', ($e-$s); 

The benchmarking result (average):

  • array_key_exists() : 308 ms
  • is_set() : 4.7ms
  • isset() + array_key_exists() :217ms

Latest Update: I have packaged this method to a single function, and added the checking of element existence in multiple-dimension arrays. Please check my another post: A complete element existence checking function for PHP.

Equal (==), identical (===) and array comparison in PHP

Equal (==)

If you use equal (==), you are allowing type conversion which means PHP will try to convert the two sides into the same type and then do the comparison. So even if the two sides are NOT the same thing, they MAY still be treat as the SAME.

Consider this code:

$left = "C"; 
$right = 0; 
var_dump($left == $right); 



"C" equals to 0 ?? The logic behind is : $left is a String of "C", since it is compared to $right which is a number, PHP will first convert the String "C" to a number by parsing "C" as a numeric value which is unfortunately 0, then this 0 is compares to $right which is 0, so although strange the comparison result is logically "true".

Identical (===)

On the contrary, when identical (===) is used in the comparison, PHP will not do any type conversion. PHP firstly check if the both side is of the same type. If not, then just return false. If they are of the same type, it then compare the values to see if they are the same. So it should be no wonder that the output of the below codes is "false":

$left = "5"; 
$right = 5; 
var_dump($left === $right); 



What if they are Arrays?

Consider this code:

$a = array('a'=>1, 'b'=>2, 'c'=>3);                 //reference array 
$b = array('a'=>1, 'b'=>2, 'c'=>3);                //equal and identical 
$c = array('a'=>1, 'b'=>2);                                //one element less 
$d = array('a'=>1, 'b'=>100, 'c'=>3);          //one element has different value 
$e = array('a'=>1, 'c'=>3, 'b'=>2);               //same key-value pairs but different sequence 
echo '$a == $b is ', var_dump($a ==$b); 
echo '$a === $b is ', var_dump($a === $b); 
echo '$a == $c is ', var_dump($a ==$c); 
echo '$a === $c is ', var_dump($a === $c); 
echo '$a == $d is ', var_dump($a ==$d); 
echo '$a === $d is ', var_dump($a === $d); 
echo '$a == $e is', var_dump($a ==$e); 
echo '$a === $e is', var_dump($a === $e); 


$a == $b is bool(true) 
$a === $b is bool(true) 
$a == $c is bool(false) 
$a === $c is bool(false) 
$a == $d is bool(false) 
$a === $d is bool(false) 
$a == $e is bool(true) 
$a === $e is bool(false) 

So we conclude that:

  • When two arrays are same in each key/value pair, and they have the same amount of elements, and the elements are in the same sequence, they are equal (==) and identical (===),
  • If one array has less elements than another one, they are neither equal (==) nor identical (===).
  • If one of the elements in an array has different value, the two arrays are neither equal (==) nor identical (===)
  • If two arrays have the same element, but different sequence, they are equal (==) but NOT identical (===).


  1. Type conversion during comparison in PHP (they call it type juggling):
  2. Type comparisons in PHP: