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Basics of user interaction

Your application can create interactivity by using ActionScript 3.0 to respond to user activity. Note that this section assumes that you are already familiar with the ActionScript 3.0 event model. For more information, see Handling events.

Capturing user input

User interaction, whether by keyboard, mouse, camera, or a combination of these devices, is the foundation of interactivity. In ActionScript 3.0, identifying and responding to user interaction primarily involves listening to events.

The InteractiveObject class, a subclass of the DisplayObject class, provides the common structure of events and functionality necessary for handling user interaction. You do not directly create an instance of the InteractiveObject class. Instead, display objects such as SimpleButton, Sprite, TextField, and various Flash authoring tool and Flex components inherit their user interaction model from this class and therefore share a common structure. This means that the techniques you learn and the code you write to handle user interaction in an object derived from InteractiveObject are applicable to all the others.

Important concepts and terms

It's important to familiarize yourself with the following key user interaction terms before proceeding:

Character code
A numeric code representing a character in the current character set (associated with a key being pressed on the keyboard). For example, "D" and "d" have different character codes even though they're created by the same key on a U.S. English keyboard.

Context menu
The menu that appears when a user right-clicks or uses a particular keyboard-mouse combination. Context menu commands typically apply directly to what has been clicked. For example, a context menu for an image may contain a command to show the image in a separate window and a command to download it.

The indication that a selected element is active and that it is the target of keyboard or mouse interaction.

Key code
A numeric code corresponding to a physical key on the keyboard.

Managing focus

An interactive object can receive focus, either programmatically or through a user action. Additionally, if the tabEnabled property is set to true, the user can pass focus from one object to another by pressing the Tab key. Note that the tabEnabled value is false by default, except in the following cases:

  • For a SimpleButton object, the value is true.

  • For a input text field, the value is true.

  • For a Sprite or MovieClip object with buttonMode set to true, the value is true.

In each of these situations, you can add a listener for FocusEvent.FOCUS_IN or FocusEvent.FOCUS_OUT to provide additional behavior when focus changes. This is particularly useful for text fields and forms, but can also be used on sprites, movie clips, or any object that inherits from the InteractiveObject class. The following example shows how to enable focus cycling with the Tab key and how to respond to the subsequent focus event. In this case, each square changes color as it receives focus.

Note: Flash Professional uses keyboard shortcuts to manage focus; therefore, to properly simulate focus management, SWF files should be tested in a browser or AIR rather than within Flash.

var rows:uint = 10;
var cols:uint = 10;
var rowSpacing:uint = 25;
var colSpacing:uint = 25;
var i:uint;
var j:uint;
for (i = 0; i < rows; i++)
for (j = 0; j < cols; j++)
createSquare(j * colSpacing, i * rowSpacing, (i * cols) + j);

function createSquare(startX:Number, startY:Number, tabNumber:uint):void
var square:Sprite = new Sprite();;, 0, colSpacing, rowSpacing);;
square.x = startX;
square.y = startY;
square.tabEnabled = true;
square.tabIndex = tabNumber;
square.addEventListener(FocusEvent.FOCUS_IN, changeColor);
function changeColor(event:FocusEvent):void
{ = getRandomColor();
function getRandomColor():ColorTransform
// Generate random values for the red, green, and blue color channels.
var red:Number = (Math.random() * 512) - 255;
var green:Number = (Math.random() * 512) - 255;
var blue:Number = (Math.random() * 512) - 255;

// Create and return a ColorTransform object with the random colors.
return new ColorTransform(1, 1, 1, 1, red, green, blue, 0);

Discovering input types

The Flash Player 10.1 and Adobe AIR 2 releases introduced the ability to test the runtime environment for support of specific input types. You can use ActionScript to test if the device on which the runtime is currently deployed:

  • Supports stylus or finger input (or no touch input at all).

  • Has a virtual or physical keyboard for the user (or no keyboard at all).

  • Displays a cursor (if not, then features that are dependent upon having a cursor hover over an object do not work).

The input discovery ActionScript APIs include:

The input discovery APIs let you take advantage of a user's device capabilities, or provide alternatives when those capabilities are not present. These API are especially useful for developing mobile and touch-enabled applications. For example, if you have an interface for a mobile device that has small buttons for a stylus, you can provide an alternative interface with larger buttons for a user using finger touches for input. The following code is for an application that has a function called createStylusUI() that assigns one set of user interface elements appropriate for stylus interaction. Another function, called createTouchUI(), assigns another set of user interface elements appropriate for finger interaction:

if(Capabilities.touchscreenType == TouchscreenType.STYLUS ){
//Construct the user interface using small buttons for a stylus
//and allow more screen space for other visual content
} else if(Capabilities.touchscreenType = TouchscreenType.FINGER){
//Construct the user interface using larger buttons
//to capture a larger point of contact with the device

When developing applications for different input environments, consider the following compatibility chart:

EnvironmentsupportsCursortouchscreenType == FINGERtouchscreenType == STYLUStouchscreenType == NONE
Traditional Desktoptruefalsefalsetrue
Capacitive Touchscreen Devices (tablets, PDAs, and phones that detect subtle human touch, such as the Apple iPhone or Palm Pre)falsetruefalsefalse
Resistive Touchscreen devices (tablets, PDAs, and phones that detect precise, high-pressure contact, such as the HTC Fuze)falsefalsetruefalse
Non-Touchscreen devices (feature phones and devices that run applications but don't have screens that detect contact)falsefalsefalsetrue

Note: Different device platforms can support many combinations of input types. Use this chart as a general guide.

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