jNotify – A Light-weight Notification System for jQuery

Posted by Dan on Oct 1, 2010 @ 1:04 PM

One thing that's essential for any web application to be successful, is to implement a method for providing users with feedback based on their input. People want feedback based on their actions in real time. Users want to know that their actions had the intended consequence and if not, why it failed.

In the golden age of web applications, most applications solved this problem by returning a completely new page to the user any time they took an action on your website. If a user filled out a form on your website, the form's data would be sent to the server and the server would then generate a completely new page that either told the user that their action was successful or would show them the errors that occurred.

As web applications began to advance, more applications began to rely on JavaScript to provide more instantaneous feedback to users. If a user would leave a required field empty, developers would use a JavaScript alert() functions to notify users that they left the field incomplete. Over time, more and more applications have come to rely on JavaScript to provide users with a better user experience. The problem is that while the browsers have made many great strides over the years, we're still left with these very rudimentary UI controls for providing native feedback with users.

The alert(), prompt() and confirm() functions basically haven't changed at all since they were introduced. They offer essentially no control over the presentation and they're completely obtrusive to the user's experience. They all halt execution and force user action before any more processing occurs. While there are certain times this behavior is desired, there are many times when it's less than ideal.

For example, let's say you have you have a page that allows users to update bulk records in real time. On each row there is an "Update" button that allows a user to save updates back to the server. You obviously want to provide users with feedback after each update operation has completed. A quick solution is to use the alert() function when the update is successful.

The problems with this method are:

  • It's obtrusive—every time I display the "success" message to the user, I'm required to interact w/the alert box. This can really slow down the user's workflow.
  • No design control—I have no control over how the alert() dialog looks to the user. There's no difference between a successful message and an error message.
  • Only one message at at a time—I can never display multiple alerts to the user at the same time.
  • The alert() halts all activity—including any background tasks.

What we need is a better notification system that's just as easy to use, but allows us greater control over how the messages are display. This is where the jNotify Plug-in comes in. At just about 3KB, it's a very light-weight solution that gives us lots of flexibility over how we display notifications to the user. It allows us:

  • To display multiple messages to the user at one time
  • Use an HTML in the notification
  • Specify whether a notification is "sticky" or not (sticky messages require the user's interaction to close them)
  • Displays notifications in an unobtrusive manor—messages appear on the screen for short time, then fade away
  • Complete control over the positioning and appearance of the notification

I put together a short little video that illustrates some of the typical UI problems that the use of the alert() function introduces and show how jNotify can be used to solve those problems.

The jNotify Plug-in for jQuery

Implementing jNotify on your site is extremely easy. Just include the jquery.jnotify.js and jquery.notify.css files on your page, then substitute your use of alert() with $.jnotify().

So, instead of:
alert("An e-mail notification has been sent!");

You'd use:
$.jnotify("An e-mail notification has been sent!");

We've been using this plug-in in our own applications for over a year and we've had great success with it—especially when used with conjunction of providing feedback to users when AJAX operations complete.

You can see a live example on the jNotify jQuery Plug-in page.

Categories: HTML/ColdFusion, jQuery, JavaScript

3 Comments

  • Thanks!
  • The plugin is nice. Where do I request a feature?
    Like how to give different effects instead of default? like blind...
  • @om:

    You can use the "transition" option if you want experiment w/changing the transitions. However, in my testing using other transitions did not prove to be a better UI experience.

    In order to keep the plug-in lightweight, there are no plans for adding other transitions--so it'll be up to you to use the transition option to code your own effects.

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