Basics of touch input

Flash Player 10.1 and later, Adobe AIR 2 and later

When the Flash Platform is running in an environment that supports touch input, InteractiveObject instances can listen for touch events and call handlers. Generally, you handle touch, multitouch, and gesture events as you would other events in ActionScript (see Handling events for basic information about event handling with ActionScript).

However, for the Flash runtime to interpret a touch or gesture, the runtime must be running in a hardware and software environment that supports touch or multitouch input. See Discovering input types for a chart comparing different touch screen types. Additionally, if the runtime is running within a container application (such as a browser), then that container passes the input to the runtime. In some cases, the current hardware and operating system environment support multitouch, but the browser containing the Flash runtime interprets the input and does not pass it on to the runtime. Or, it can simply ignore the input altogether.

The following diagram shows the flow of input from user to runtime:

View full size graphic
Flow of input from user to the Flash Platform runtime

Fortunately, the ActionScript API for developing touch applications includes classes, methods, and properties to determine the support for touch or multitouch input in the runtime environment. The API you use to determine support for touch input are the “discovery API” for touch event handling.

Important concepts and terms

The following reference list contains important terms for writing touch event-handling applications:

Discovery API
The methods and properties used to test the runtime environment for support of touch events and different modes of input.

Touch event
An input action performed on a touch-enabled device using a single point of contact.

Touch point
The point of contact for a single touch event. Even if a device does not support gesture input, it might support multiple simultaneous touch points.

Touch sequence
The series of events representing the lifespan of a single touch. These events include one beginning, zero or more moves, and one end.

Multitouch event
An input action performed on a touch-enabled device using several points of contact (such as more than one finger).

Gesture event
An input action performed on a touch-enabled device tracing some complex movement. For example, one gesture is touching a screen with two fingers and moving them simultaneously around the perimeter of an abstract circle to indicate rotation.

Distinct points of time in the event flow (such as begin and end).

An instrument for interacting with a touch-enabled screen. A stylus can provide more precision than the human finger. Some devices recognize only input from a specific type of stylus. Devices that do recognize stylus input might not recognize multiple, simultaneous points of contact or finger contact.

A specific type of multitouch input gesture where the user pushes a finger against a touch-enabled device and then taps with another finger or pointing device. This gesture is often used to simulate a mouse right-click in multitouch applications.

The touch input API structure

The ActionScript touch input API is designed to address the fact that touch input handling depends on the hardware and software environment of the Flash runtime. The touch input API primarily addresses three needs of touch application development: discovery, events, and phases. Coordinate these API to produce a predictable and responsive experience for the user; even if the target device is unknown as you develop an application.


The discovery API provides the ability to test the hardware and software environment at runtime. The values populated by the runtime determine the touch input available to the Flash runtime in its current context. Also, use the collection of discovery properties and methods to set your application to react to mouse events (instead of touch events in case some touch input is not supported by the environment). For more information, see Touch support discovery .


ActionScript manages touch input events with event listeners and event handlers as it does other events. However, touch input event handling also must take into account:
  • A touch can be interpreted in several ways by the device or operating system, either as a sequence of touches or, collectively, as a gesture.

  • A single touch to a touch-enabled device (by a finger, stylus or pointing device) always dispatches a mouse event, too. You can handle the mouse event with the event types in the MouseEvent class. Or, you can design your application only to respond to touch events. Or, you can design an application that responds to both.

  • An application can respond to multiple, simultaneous touch events, and handle each one separately.

Typically, use the discovery API to conditionally handle the events your application handles, and how they are handled. Once the application knows the runtime environment, it can call the appropriate handler or establish the correct event object when the user interacts with the application. Or, the application can indicate that specific input cannot be handled in the current environment and provide the user with an alternative or information. For more information, see Touch event handling and Gesture event handling .


For touch and multitouch applications, touch event objects contain properties to track the phases of user interaction. Write ActionScript to handle phases like the begin, update, or end phase of user input to provide the user with feedback. Respond to event phases so visual objects change as the user touch and moves the point of touch on a screen. Or, use the phases to track specific properties of a gesture, as the gesture evolves.

For touch point events, track how long the user rests on a specific interactive object. An application can track multiple, simultaneous touch points’ phases individually, and handle each accordingly.

For a gesture, interpret specific information about the transformation of the gesture as it occurs. Track the coordinates of the point of contact (or several) as they move across the screen.

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