Basics of handling events

Flash Player 9 and later, Adobe AIR 1.0 and later

You can think of events as occurrences of any kind in your SWF file that are of interest to you as a programmer. For example, most SWF files support user interaction of some sort—whether it's something as simple as responding to a mouse click or something more complex, such as accepting and processing data entered into a form. Any such user interaction with your SWF file is considered an event. Events can also occur without any direct user interaction, such as when data has finished loading from a server or when an attached camera has become active.

In ActionScript 3.0, each event is represented by an event object, which is an instance of the Event class or one of its subclasses. An event object not only stores information about a specific event, but also contains methods that facilitate manipulation of the event object. For example, when Flash Player or AIR detects a mouse click, it creates an event object (an instance of the MouseEvent class) to represent that particular mouse click event.

After creating an event object, Flash Player or AIR dispatches it, which means that the event object is passed to the object that is the target of the event. An object that serves as the destination for a dispatched event object is called an event target. For example, when an attached camera becomes active, Flash Player dispatches an event object directly to the event target, which in this case is the object that represents the camera. If the event target is on the display list, however, the event object is passed down through the display list hierarchy until it reaches the event target. In some cases, the event object then “bubbles” back up the display list hierarchy along the same route. This traversal of the display list hierarchy is called the event flow.

You can “listen” for event objects in your code using event listeners. Event listeners are the functions or methods that you write to respond to specific events. To ensure that your program responds to events, you must add event listeners either to the event target or to any display list object that is part of an event object’s event flow.

Any time you write event listener code, it follows this basic structure (elements in bold are placeholders you’d fill in for your specific case):

function eventResponse(eventObject:EventType):void 
    // Actions performed in response to the event go here. 
eventTarget.addEventListener(EventType.EVENT_NAME, eventResponse);

This code does two things. First, it defines a function, which is the way to specify the actions that will be performed in response to the event. Next, it calls the addEventListener() method of the source object, in essence “subscribing” the function to the specified event so that when the event happens, the function’s actions are carried out. When the event actually happens, the event target checks its list of all the functions and methods that are registered as event listeners. It then calls each one in turn, passing the event object as a parameter.

You need to alter four things in this code to create your own event listener. First, you must change the name of the function to the name you want to use (this must be changed in two places, where the code says eventResponse). Second, you must specify the appropriate class name of the event object that is dispatched by the event you want to listen for (EventType in the code), and you must specify the appropriate constant for the specific event (EVENT_NAME in the listing). Third, you must call the addEventListener() method on the object that will dispatch the event (eventTarget in this code). Optionally, you can change the name of the variable used as the function’s parameter (eventObject in this code).

Important concepts and terms

The following reference list contains important terms that you will encounter when writing event-handling routines:

Bubbling occurs for some events so that a parent display object can respond to events dispatched by its children.

Bubbling phase
The part of the event flow in which an event propagates up to parent display objects. The bubbling phase occurs after the capture and target phases.

Capture phase
The part of the event flow in which an event propagates down from the most general target to the most specific target object. The capture phase occurs before the target and bubbling phases.

Default behavior
Some events include a behavior that normally happens along with the event, known as the default behavior. For example, when a user types text in a text field, a text input event is raised. The default behavior for that event is to actually display the character that was typed into the text field—but you can override that default behavior (if for some reason you don’t want the typed character to be displayed).

To notify event listeners that an event has occurred.

Something that happens to an object that the object can tell other objects about.

Event flow
When events happen to an object on the display list (an object displayed on the screen), all the objects that contain the object are notified of the event and notify their event listeners in turn. This process starts with the Stage and proceeds through the display list to the actual object where the event occurred, and then proceeds back to the Stage again. This process is known as the event flow.

Event object
An object that contains information about a particular event’s occurrence, which is sent to all listeners when an event is dispatched.

Event target
The object that actually dispatches an event. For example, if the user clicks a button that is inside a Sprite that is in turn inside the Stage, all those objects dispatch events, but the event target is the one where the event actually happened—in this case, the clicked button.

An object or function that has registered itself with an object, to indicate that it should be notified when a specific event takes place.

Target phase
The point of the event flow at which an event has reached the most specific possible target. The target phase occurs between the capture and the bubbling phases.