Yet Another JQuery AutoComplete Helper

by Matt
I created this helper as an exercise to learn some more about JQuery and CakePHP. Although there is an AutoComplete available in CakePHP, it is in the Ajax helper which is deprecated. My version could use some cleanup still, but I would like to think someone may find it useful. Updated to handle multiple autocomplete's on one page. I had to change the javascript to iterate through the autocomplete items and then added a specific tag to the drop down list so they could find the correct text input. Also prevented the js from being sourced twice (maybe Cake does that internally?) and updated the CSS to attach to the class and not the id.
Create auto_complete.php in view/helpers directory.

 * Creates a text input field that triggers an autocomplete on keyup.
 * autocompleterequestitem = attribute equal to name of variable to send in ajax request
 *         retrieve with $this->params['url']['yourvariable']
 * autocompleteurl = request url to get the autocomplete terms via getJSON
 * autocompletetext = attribute to identify the text input in jquery
 * update = id of div to receive autocomplete terms
 * Example:
 * View file:
 *             echo $this->AutoComplete->input(
 *                '',
 *                array(
 *                    'autoCompleteUrl'=>$this->Html->url( 
 *                        array(
 *                            'controller'=>'terms',
 *                            'action'=>'auto_complete',
 *                        )
 *                    ),
 *                    'autoCompleteRequestItem'=>'autoCompleteText',
 *                )
 *            );
 * Controller:
 *     function auto_complete() {
 *        $terms = $this->Term->find('all', array(
 *            'conditions' => array(
 *                ' LIKE' => $this->params['url']['autoCompleteText'].'%'
 *            ),
 *            'fields' => array('name'),
 *            'limit' => 3,
 *            'recursive'=>-1,
 *        ));
 *        $terms = Set::Extract($terms,'{n}');
 *        $this->set('terms', $terms);
 *        $this->layout = 'ajax';    
 *    }
class AutoCompleteHelper extends AppHelper {
$helpers = array('Html','Form');
     * Makes an input field with a helper
     * @author cmwoody
public $update='autoCompleteDiv';
$scriptPath 'views/helpers/auto_complete.js';
$jsIncluded false;
input($name$options) {
#-- Identify the div to show the results
$baseOptions = array(
$options array_replace($baseOptions,$options);
$html '';
#-- Add the javascript
if(!$this->jsIncluded) {
$html .= $this->Html->script($this->scriptPath,array('inline'=>true));
#-- Return the html
$html .= $this->Form->input$name$options );
$html .= $this->Html->div('','',array('id'=>$options['update'],'class'=>'autoCompleteDiv'));
return $html;

Create webroot/js/views/helpers/auto_complete.js, or any other directory you would like but make sure to set the scriptPath in the helper so it can include it.


    // Get a ref to the update div, set minWidth to the text item
        var updateDiv = '#'+$(this).attr('update');
        var autoCompleteRequestItem = $(this).attr('autoCompleteRequestItem');
        // Add a function to key up
        $(this).bind('keyup', function(event){
            // On escape key, hide the suggestions
            if(event.keyCode==27) {
            }else if($(this).val().length>0) {
                // If a request is in process, return
                if ( $(this).data('autoCompleteBusy') ) {
                // Don't send a request if we just did it
                var lastVal = $(this).data('lastAutoComplete');
                if(lastVal!=$(this).val()) {
                    // Set busy flag
                    // Record the search term
                    // Call the function and get a JSON object
                        function(itemList) {
                          if(itemList !== null) {
                          } else {
                    // Remove busy flag
    function populateAutoComplete(itemList,updateDiv) {  
        var tag = updateDiv.substring(1);
        // Build a list of links from the terms, set href equal to the term
        var options = '';
        $.each(itemList, function(index, name) {
              options += '<a autoCompleteItem='+tag+' href="'+name+'" >' +  name + '</a>';
        // Show them or hide div if nothing to show
        } else {
        // Attach a function to click to transfer value to the text box
            $('input[update='+tag+']').val( $(this).attr('href'));
            return false;

Add some markup to your app css file

.autoCompleteDiv    {
     position: absolute;
     border: 1px solid #888;
     margin: 0px;
     padding: 2px;
     display: none;
     background: white;
.autoCompleteDiv a:hover {
    background: none;
    background-color: darkblue;
    color: white;
    font-weight: normal;
.autoCompleteDiv a {
    background: none;
    background-color: white;
    color: black;
    text-decoration: none;
    padding: 2px;
    margin: 0px;
    display: block;

Now in your view file where you want to have an auto complete text field, replace the call to the Html helper with the AutoComplete helper (make sure you add it to your $helpers array, along with JQuery)

echo $this->AutoComplete->input(

The option autoCompleteUrl is the action that will be requested to get the auto complete terms. The option autoCompleteRequestItem is the name of the variable that will be passed to that action in the ajax request. To process the request, add this to the appropriate controller:

    function auto_complete() {
        $terms = $this->Term->find('all', array(
            'conditions' => array(
                ' LIKE' => $this->params['url']['autoCompleteText'].'%'
            'fields' => array('name'),
            'limit' => 3,
        $terms = Set::Extract($terms,'{n}');
        $this->set('terms', $terms);
        $this->layout = 'ajax';    

This function receives the request and the partial text used in the search. The search is performed and then returned as a JSON object using a view. Create this view file to send the data, in this case 'auto_complete.ctp'

if(isset($terms)) {

Now you should have a text field and if you type a letter a div should appear with the results found by the action in your controller. If you select one, it will be copied to the text field and you may press enter to submit your form. If you press Escape, the div disappears.

On my to-do list would be to include the js and css in the same file, add some scroll bars to the div so there can be more items shown than selected.


More on Helpers



  • Kry posted on 02/13/12 04:35:31 AM
    Hi Matt,

    I followed your tutorial and it worked pretty well testing locally on wamp, but upon deployment to my unix platform webserver it fails. CakePHP only renders the page up to the input generated with the AutoComplete helper.

    Do you have any ideas on what might be responsible on a remote connection to block this?
  • salamebr posted on 08/10/11 07:27:18 PM
    Hi Matt,

    Thanks for the great tutorial. I coult get it working on my project.

    Now, I need 2 autocomplete input elements on the same page and this is not working. :(
    When I create the elements (A and B), the ajax response works, but when I click in the autocomplete options returned for the element A, the data goes in both elements A and B.

    I believe there is something to do with the auto_complete.js file.

    Please, any help?
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