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Loading Icons for HTML Anchor Tags
01 August 2012

At the time of writing this article I have not seen websites with completely successful attempts at loading icons which appear when html anchor tags are clicked. I therefore decided to find my own solution.

By completely successful I mean the website continues to function as if the icons where not there at all. For example pressing 'Ctrl' and left clicking the link of an anchor tag a new tab should appear within the user's browser. The original tab from which the click was initiated should remain the same.

At no time should the loading icons prevent the default behaviour of the browser. Not when it is a link away from the page either internally or externally relative to the website. The reason being: You do not want to upset search engine spiders, accessibility etc.. Remember we are trying to enhance the website's usability without taking anything away.

The CSS Problem with Anchor Tags Loading Icons

The main problem I had to overcome first was: Browsers, with the exception of Firefox, just do not request images from the server once a page has received an anchor click that goes to a new page. So how do we solve a problem like this? The solution is to already have the requested loading icon image before the anchor tag is clicked.

So now the question becomes: Where to hide the loading icon ready for the click of the anchor tag? I admit I got very inventive whilst experimenting with this problem. However, the solution I found and settled on was simple. That is to simply hide the loading icon on the anchor itself. In other words the icon is always there with a negative 100% on the x-axes. Then all that needs to be done is shift the position of the loading icon image into view once you need it. So now the CSS class called 'loading' is put into the stylesheet ready for action.

.menu a {
    background: url("../images/loading.gif") no-repeat scroll -100% 50% transparent;
.menu a.loading {
    background-position: 100% 50%;

Solved! Or is it? That at least solves the CSS part of the loading icons on the anchor tag problem.

JavaScript for Anchor Tags Loading Icons

Now all we need to do is to shift the x-axes of the loading icon image by adding the class named 'loading' to the anchor when clicked. This of course, is easier said than done.

Sticking to the discipline that HTML provides structure, CSS provides presentation and JavaScript provides behaviour all the JavaScript in the solution I found loads from a JS file.

The first thing the solution needs to do is to wait for the DOM to be loaded. It then needs to find all the anchor tags that are going to have loading icons. Once it has found the anchor tags, it needs to add a click event. As this is pretty standard functionality given by JavaScript abstraction layers, I made my life easier by using Mootools. However, there is nothing library specific in the solution that I am giving here. Prototype JS, jQuery, etc. will work just fine.

So the click event! This is the tricky part that can stop the user's browser working as it should. When the anchor is clicked, we add the class named 'loading' to the anchor tag. However, the 'Ctrl' click, 'Alt' click and 'shift' click need to not have an effect when the event is fired. So an if not statement needs to wrap around the event to stop the class 'loading' being added.

For example:

if(!event.control && !event.alt && !event.shift){

That is all there is to it! It was easy once I solved it.

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