bp

Let's Build a Colour Picker Web Component

screenshot of JavaScript code for colour picker element with demo of element  running

Let's build a colour picker web component using HTML, CSS, and a little bit of JavaScript. In the end, we'll have a custom element that:

Prerequisites

To get the most out of this article, you should have a comfortable understanding of HTML, CSS, and JavaScript; including:

You don't need to be an expert, but you should have the basics covered. You should also be familiar with the concept of component-based UI design and have an idea of what a web component is. If you've ever written a component with one of the popular JS frameworks, you're good to go. To catch up on what web components are, check out my blog series:

Let's Build Web Components! Part 1: The Standards

Setting Up

Before we define our component, let's set up a project folder to work in and spin up a quick dev server to reload the page when we save a file. Paste the following script into a BASH terminal on a computer that has nodejs and npm installed:

mkdir ~/color-picker
cd ~/color-picker
touch index.html
touch style.css
touch mouse-controller.js
touch color-picker.js
touch color-picker.css
npx @web/dev-server --open --watch

These commands create a working directory in your HOME folder with some empty files, then start an auto-reloading development server. Next, open the newly created folder in your text editor of choice and edit the index.html file, adding this snippet:

<!doctype html>
<head>
<link rel="stylesheet" href="style.css"/>
<script type="module" src="color-picker.js"></script>
</head>
<body>
<color-picker></color-picker>
</body>

And let's put some initial styles in style.css

color-picker {
width: 400px;
height: 400px;
}

We don't see anything on screen yet, since we haven't defined the <color-picker> element. Let's do that now.

Defining our Element

Web components (or custom elements) are HTML elements that we the users define. Let's define the <color-picker> element by extending from the HTMLElement class. Open color-picker.js and add this code:

const template = document.createElement('template');
template.innerHTML = `
<link rel="stylesheet" href="color-picker.css">
<div id="loupe"></div>
`
;

class ColorPicker extends HTMLElement {
constructor() {
super()
this
.attachShadow({ mode: 'open' })
.append(template.content.cloneNode(true));
}
}

customElements.define('color-picker', ColorPicker);

Let's take that file block-by-block.

We start by declaring a <template> element to hold our element's HTML. We'll add a link to our component's private CSS and two nested <div> elements that we'll use later on to enhance our component. By using a <template>, we make sure the browser does the work of parsing our HTML only one time, when the page loads. From then on, we can create as many <color-picker> elements as we want, but each one will stamp a clone of the existing HTML, which is much faster than parsing it again.

Next we declare our custom element class. In the constructor, we attach a ShadowRoot to our element, then stamp the contents of the template we created into it.

Last, we call customElements.define(), which assigns the HTML tag name <color-picker> to custom element class, and instructs the browser to upgrade the <color-picker> elements already present in the document.

If you save the file, the dev server will reload the page, but we still won't see any changes because our element's content is invisible. Let's change that by applying some good-old CSS.

Styling our Element

Open up color-picker.css and paste in the following.

:host {
display: block;
min-height: 100px;
min-width: 100px;
cursor: crosshair;
background:
linear-gradient(to bottom, transparent, hsl(0 0% 50%)),
linear-gradient(
to right,
hsl(0 100% 50%) 0%,
hsl(0.2turn 100% 50%) 20%,
hsl(0.3turn 100% 50%) 30%,
hsl(0.4turn 100% 50%) 40%,
hsl(0.5turn 100% 50%) 50%,
hsl(0.6turn 100% 50%) 60%,
hsl(0.7turn 100% 50%) 70%,
hsl(0.8turn 100% 50%) 80%,
hsl(0.9turn 100% 50%) 90%,
hsl(1turn 100% 50%) 100%
);
}

#loupe {
display: block;
height: 40px;
width: 40px;
border: 3px solid black;
border-radius: 100%;
background: hsl(var(--hue, 0) var(--saturation, 100%) 50%);
transform: translate(var(--x, 0), var(--y, 0));
will-change: background, transform;
}

We'll get into the details of our CSS rules shortly (skip ahead). For now, save the file to see our changes on the page. That's more like it. Now our element looks like a colour picker!

Shadow CSS Q-and-A

If you're unfamiliar with web components, you might be asking yourself some questions at this point:

:host

What the heck is :host

The :host CSS selector gets the element that hosts the root containing the stylesheet. If that doesn't make any sense to you, don't worry, we'll explain more shortly. For now, all you need to know is that in this context, :host is synonymous with the color-picker element itself.

ID Selectors (e.g. #loupe)

ID selectors!? Aren't they a huge CSS no-no?

In the cascade, ID selectors have an extremely high specificity, which means they'll override rules with a lower specificity like classes or element selectors. In traditional (global) CSS, this can very quickly lead to unintended consequences.

https://stackoverflow.com/questions/8279132/why-shouldnt-i-use-id-selectors-in-css

Our stylesheet isn't global though, since we <link> to it from within a ShadowRoot instead of from the document, the styles are strongly scoped to that root. The browser itself enforces that scoping, not some JavaScript library. All that means the styles we define in color-picker.css can't 'leak out' and affect styles elsewhere on the page, so the selectors we use can be very simple. We could even replace that #loupe selector with a bare div selector and it would work just the same.

The shadow root encapsulation also means that the element IDs we're using in our template HTML are private. Go ahead and try this in the browser console:

document.getElementById('loupe');

Without shadow DOM, we should see our <div id="loupe"></div> element in the console, but we don't. Shadow DOM puts us in complete* control of our component's HTML and CSS, letting us put whatever HTML and CSS we want inside it without worrying about how they affect the rest of the page.

CSS-in-JS, BEM, etc.

If this is supposed to be a reusable component, won't those styles and IDs affect the page? Shouldn't we use BEM, or add JavaScript or a command-line tool to transform those IDs into unique random class names?

Now that we've learned a little more about Shadow DOM works, we can answer that question for ourselves: The Shadow DOM (supported in all browsers) removes the need for complicated css-in-js tooling or class naming conventions like BEM. We can finally write simple, à la carte selectors in CSS, scoping our work to the task at hand.

Color Picker Styles

Equipped with our knowledge of the Shadow DOM, let's dive into our element's styles.

The business-end of our element's :host styles is a pair of linear-gradient() calls, one which fades from transparent to grey, the other which turns 360 degrees around the colour wheel in 10% increments as it moves from the far left of our element to the far right. We also threw in a cross-hair cursor and some default dimensions for good measure.

Our #loupe rule gives our colour-picking loupe a pleasing circular shape, but - crucially - defines its background-color and position in terms of CSS Custom Properties also called CSS Variables. This is going to come in handy in the next step when we use JavaScript to animate the loupe element. We also nod to the browser, letting it know that the background and transform properties are likely to change.

Tracking the Mouse with a Reactive Controller

Every component needs HTML, CSS, and JavaScript to handle properties, events, and reactivity. We covered HTML and CSS with <template>, ShadowRoot, and :host. Now let's move on to reactivity, meaning to update our element's state-of-affairs in reaction to some input like user actions or changing properties.

Reusable, Composable Controllers

Oftentimes when writing components, we come across a bit of logic or behaviour that repeats itself in multiple places. Things like handling user input, or asynchronously fetching data over the network can end up in most if not all of the components in a given project. Instead of copy-pasting snippets into our element definitions, there are better ways to share code across elements.

JavaScript class mixins are a time-tested way to share code between components. For example you might have a component which fetches a file based on it's src attribute. A FetchSrcMixin would let you write that code in one place, then reuse it anywhere.

class JSONFetcher extends FetchSrcMixin(HTMLElement) {/*...*/}
class TextFetcher extends FetchSrcMixins(HTMLElement) {/*...*/}
<json-fetcher src="lemurs.json"></json-fetcher>
<text-fetcher src="othello.txt"></text-fetcher>

But mixins have a limitation - they have an 'is-a-*' relationship to their element class. Adding a mixin to a class means that the result is the combination of the base class and the mixin class. Since mixins are functions, we can compose them with function composition, but if one of the composed mixins overrides a class member (e.g. field, method, accessor), there could be trouble.

To solve this problem, the Lit team recently released a new "composition primitive" called Reactive Controllers, which represent a 'has-a-*' relationship. A controller is a JavaScript class that contains a reference to the host element, which must implement a certain set of methods called the ReactiveControllerHost interface.

In plain terms, that means you can write a controller class and add it to any element class that meets certain criteria. A controller host can have multiple independent or interdependent controllers, a controller instance can have one host, controllers can independently reference shared state.

If you're familiar with React hooks, you might recognize the pattern that controllers fit. The downside to hooks though is that you can only use them with React.

Similarly, the downside to controllers vs mixins is that they require their host element class to fulfill certain criteria, namely: the class must implement the ReactiveControllerHost interface.

Composable Reusable Stackable Independent
Mixins ⚠️
Controllers

Unlike React, though, controllers can be made to work with components from different frameworks or custom element classes other than LitElement. Controllers can work with React, Angular, Vue, Haunted, and others by virtue of some clever glue-code.

In my Apollo Elements project, I wrote some reactive controllers that do GraphQL operations like queries and mutations. I wanted to use those controllers in any custom element, so I decided to solve that problem with a class mixin called ControllerHostMixin. By applying it to an element's base class, it adds the bare-minimum required to host a reactive controller. If you apply it to a base class that already implements the ReactiveControllerHost interface, it defers to the superclass, so you could safely (if pointlessly) apply it to LitElement.

Adding Controller Support to our Element

Let's update (controller pun!) our element to accept controllers. Open color-picker.js and replace the contents with the following:

import { ControllerHostMixin } from 'https://unpkg.com/@apollo-elements/mixins@next/controller-host-mixin.js?module';

const template = document.createElement('template');
template.innerHTML = `
<link rel="stylesheet" href="color-picker.css">
<div id="loupe"></div>
`
;

class ColorPicker extends ControllerHostMixin(HTMLElement) {
constructor() {
super()
this
.attachShadow({ mode: 'open' })
.append(template.content.cloneNode(true));
}

update() {
super.update();
}
}

customElements.define('color-picker', ColorPicker);

Whoa what's that? We're loading the ControllerHostMixin over the internet from a CDN, no npm required!

This time, when you save the file and the page reloads, it will take a moment before you see the colour picker, while the page loads the necessary files from unpkg. Subsequent reloads should be faster, thanks to the browser cache. Go ahead and save colour-picker.js again to see what I mean.

Now that we're set up to host reactive controllers, let's add one which tracks the position and state of the mouse. Open mouse-controller.js and add the following content:

export class MouseController {
down = false;

pos = { x: 0, y: 0 };

onMousemove = e => {
this.pos = { x: e.clientX, y: e.clientY };
this.host.requestUpdate();
};

onMousedown = e => {
this.down = true;
this.host.requestUpdate();
};

onMouseup = e => {
this.down = false;
this.host.requestUpdate();
};

constructor(host) {
this.host = host;
host.addController(this);
}

hostConnected() {
window.addEventListener('mousemove', this.onMousemove);
window.addEventListener('mousedown', this.onMousedown);
window.addEventListener('mouseup', this.onMouseup);
}

hostDisconnected() {
window.removeEventListener('mousemove', this.onMousemove);
window.removeEventListener('mousedown', this.onMousedown);
window.removeEventListener('mouseup', this.onMouseup);
}
}

Notice how this module has no imports of its own. Controllers don't have to bundle any dependencies, they can be as simple as a single class in a single module, like we have here. Notice also where we reference the host element:

That host.requestUpdate() call is especially important, it's how reactive controllers inform their hosts that they should re-render. Calling it kicks off an asynchronous pipeline which includes a call to the host's update() method. Read @thepassle 's formidable deep dive into the LitElement lifecycle for more details.

Let's add the MouseController to our element and use console.log to observe updates. in color-picker.js, import the controller:

import { MouseController } from './mouse-controller.js';

Then add it to the element's class:

mouse = new MouseController(this);

update() {
console.log(this.mouse.pos);
super.update();
}
Full source
import { ControllerHostMixin } from 'https://unpkg.com/@apollo-elements/mixins@next/controller-host-mixin.js?module';

import { MouseController } from './mouse-controller.js';

const template = document.createElement('template');
template.innerHTML = `
<link rel="stylesheet" href="color-picker.css">
<div id="loupe"></div>
`
;

class ColorPicker extends ControllerHostMixin(HTMLElement) {
mouse = new MouseController(this);

constructor() {
super()
this
.attachShadow({ mode: 'open' })
.append(template.content.cloneNode(true));
}

update() {
console.log(this.mouse.pos);
super.update();
}
}

customElements.define('color-picker', ColorPicker);

After saving, when you move the mouse around the screen, you'll see the mouse' position logged to the console. We're now ready to integrate the MouseController's reactive properties into our host element.

Hooking up the Cursor

We'd like our #loupe element to move with the mouse cursor, and for it's background color to reflect the colour under the cursor. Edit the update() method of our element like so, making sure not to forget the super.update() call:

update() {
const x = this.mouse.pos.x - this.clientLeft;
const y = this.mouse.pos.y - this.clientTop;
if (x > this.clientWidth || y > this.clientHeight) return;
const hue = Math.floor((x / this.clientWidth) * 360);
const saturation = 100 - Math.floor((y / this.clientHeight) * 100);
this.style.setProperty('--x', `${x}px`);
this.style.setProperty('--y', `${y}px`);
this.style.setProperty('--hue', hue);
this.style.setProperty('--saturation', `${saturation}%`);
super.update();
}

In short, we get the mouse position from the controller, compare it to the element's bounding rectangle, and if the one is within the other, we set the --x, --y, --hue, and --saturation CSS custom properties, which if you recall, control the transform and background properties on our #loupe element. Save the file and enjoy the show.

Firing Events

Ok, we've done the lion's share of the work, all we have left to do is communicate with the outside world. We're going to use the browser's built-in message channel to do that. Let's start by defining a private #pick() method that fires a custom pick event, and we'll add a color property to our element to hold the most recently selected colour.

color = '';

#pick() {
this.color = getComputedStyle(this.loupe).getPropertyValue('background-color');
this.dispatchEvent(new CustomEvent('pick'));
}

Let's listen for click events in our element, and fire our pick event.

constructor() {
super()
this
.attachShadow({ mode: 'open' })
.append(template.content.cloneNode(true));
this.addEventListener('click', () => this.#pick());
}

Add some user feedback by changing the loupe's border colour:

#loupe {
/* ... */
transition: border-color 0.1s ease-in-out;
}

Let's also let the user scrub around the picker with the mouse down, we'll add some conditions to our update function, right before the super call:

this.style.setProperty('--loupe-border-color', this.mouse.down ? 'white' : 'black');
if (this.mouse.down)
this.#pick();
Full source
import { ControllerHostMixin } from 'https://unpkg.com/@apollo-elements/mixins@next/controller-host-mixin.js?module';

import { MouseController } from './mouse-controller.js';

const template = document.createElement('template');
template.innerHTML = `
<link rel="stylesheet" href="color-picker.css">
<div id="loupe"></div>
`
;

class ColorPicker extends ControllerHostMixin(HTMLElement) {
mouse = new MouseController(this);

constructor() {
super()
this
.attachShadow({ mode: 'open' })
.append(template.content.cloneNode(true));
this.addEventListener('click', () => this.#pick());
}

update() {
const x = this.mouse.pos.x - this.clientLeft;
const y = this.mouse.pos.y - this.clientTop;
if (x > this.clientWidth || y > this.clientHeight) return;
const hue = Math.floor((x / this.clientWidth) * 360);
const saturation = 100 - Math.floor((y / this.clientHeight) * 100);
this.style.setProperty('--x', `${x}px`);
this.style.setProperty('--y', `${y}px`);
this.style.setProperty('--hue', hue);
this.style.setProperty('--saturation', `${saturation}%`);
this.style.setProperty('--loupe-border-color', this.mouse.down ? 'white' : 'black');
if (this.mouse.down)
this.#pick();
super.update();
}

#pick() {
this.color = getComputedStyle(this.loupe).getPropertyValue('background-color');
this.dispatchEvent(new CustomEvent('pick'));
}
}

customElements.define('color-picker', ColorPicker);

Accessibility

We should take our social responsibility as engineers seriously. I'm ashamed to admit that I treated accessibility as an afterthought when originally drafting this post, but hopefully this section can do something to make it better.

Let's add screen reader accessibility to our element. We'll start by giving our loupe div a button role and an aria-label. We could use a <button> as well with visually hidden text content, but since we've already styled things the way we want, I think this is an acceptable use of role="button".

Let's also add a <div role="alert"> which we'll use to announce our chosen colour.

<link rel="stylesheet" href="color-picker.css">
<div id="loupe" role="button" aria-label="color picker"></div>
<div id="alert" role="alert" aria-hidden="true"></div>

Give the alert 'visually hidden' styles, since we'll be setting it's text content to announce our colour.

#alert {
clip: rect(0 0 0 0);
clip-path: inset(50%);
height: 1px;
overflow: hidden;
position: absolute;
white-space: nowrap;
width: 1px;
}

Last thing we need to do is set the alert's text when we pick the colour.

constructor() {
// ...
this.alert = this.shadowRoot.getElementById('alert');
}

#pick() {
this.color = getComputedStyle(this.loupe).getPropertyValue('background-color');
this.alert.textContent = this.color;
this.alert.setAttribute("aria-hidden", "false");
this.dispatchEvent(new CustomEvent('pick'));
}

And we're good, screen readers will now announce the chosen colour.

Using our Colour Picker

With our custom element finished, let's hook it up to the document by listening for the pick event. Edit index.html and add an <output> element to display our picked colour and an inline script to listen for the pick event. Let's also add some global styles in style.css:

<color-picker></color-picker>
<output></output>
<script>
document
.querySelector('color-picker')
.addEventListener('pick', event => {
document
.querySelector('output')
.style
.setProperty('background-color', event.target.color);
});
</script>
output {
display: block;
width: 400px;
height: 120px;
margin-top: 12px;
}

Next Steps

Well we're done! We've met all our goals from above with a few extras laid on top. You can play with a live example on Glitch:

You can also follow along with the steps by tracing the commit history on GitHub:

Can you improve on the design? Here are some ideas to get your gears turning:

Show us what you come up with in the comments. If you're looking for a production-ready colour picker element, check out @webpadawan's <vanilla-colorful>.

Footnotes

Inherited Styles

While Shadow DOM does provide strong encapsulation, inherited CSS properties are able to 'pierce' the shadow boundary, so things like color, font-family, and any CSS custom properties can reach down into our shadow roots and style our private shadow DOM.

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