Make your HTML canvas Interactive

Stefan Gössner1,

1Dortmund University of Applied Sciences. Department of Mechanical Engineering
April 2022
Keywords: canvasInteractor, canvas, javascript, events, requestAnimationFrame, throttling, event loop

1. What is It ?

canvasInteractor is a JavaScript micro-library (4.7 kB compressed) used to handle pointer events for simple geometry editing together with one or more HTML canvases [1]. It implements a global event loop based on requestAnimationFrame and supports throttling of pointermove and wheel events via its custom tick event for efficient animation [2]. Cartesian coordinates for scientific and engineering applications are supported. Pan, drag and zoom operations based on an user defined origin can be done.

It was primarily implemented for use in engineering education and conference presentations.

canvasInteractor is the modern and more minimal successor of deprecated canvas-area [3].

2. How to Initialize ?

For each HTML canvas in an HTML document an instance via canvasInteractor.create is required.

<canvas id="c" width="601" height="401"></canvas> <script src=""></script> <script> const ctx = document.getElementById('c').getContext('2d'); const interactor = canvasInteractor.create(ctx, {x: 300, // view ... y: 200, // ... properties cartesian: true}); // ... </script>
Listing 1: Constructor – cartesian coordinates with origin centered.

View coordinates provided by events can be controlled in the constructor by an additional view argument {x=0,y=0,scl=1,cartesian=false} beside the canvas RenderingContext2D object.

3. Handling Events

Each canvasInteractor instance handles DOM pointer events and some custom events.

Table 1: Supported Events
Event Comment
pointermove Pointer moved.
pointerdown Pointer device button pressed.
pointerup Pointer device button released.
pointerenter Pointer enters canvas.
pointerleave Pointer leaves canvas.
pointercancel DOM event forwarded.
click Pointer device button pressed and released at the same location.
wheel Pointer device wheel event.
tick Throttled timer event. At most every 60 milliseconds.
pan Pan by pointer device. Occuring only with (left) button pressed.
drag Drag by pointer device. Occuring only with (left) button pressed and something was signalled as 'hit'.

Instead of registering events via well known addEventListener, an application registers events to a canvasInteractor instance using thats on method.

// ... interactor.on('pointermove', (e) => { /* do stuff */ }) .on('tick', (e) => { /* do other stuff */ }) .on('pan', (e) => { /* do yet other stuff */ }) .startTimer();
Listing 2: Registering events and starting tick timer.

The pointermove event in combination with (left) pointer device button pressed also notifies the application of a drag or pan event, whether an underlying element is hit or not. See the example how to control that behavior.

Callback functions registered via on recieve an extended event object e.

Table 2: Event object properties
Property Type Comment
type string Event type.
x, y number Canvas coordinates with respect to upper left or lower left (cartesian) corner.
dx, dy number Pointer location displacement from previous position.
xusr, yusr number Coordinates with respect to user defined view origin and scaling.
dxusr, dyusr number Pointer location displacement with respect to user defined view scaling.
btn number Pointer device button identifier on button press
(left: 1, right: 2, middle: 4).
dbtn number Pointer device button difference on button release
(left: -1, right: -2, middle: -4).
eps number Some pixel tolerance for selecting/hitting
(default = 5).
inside boolean Is pointer currently inside canvas.
delta number Wheel delta.
hit boolean Needs to be set by application within pointermove event. Can be treated then within tick event.

4. Example

The example shows how to use canvasInteractor. Rectangles can be dragged, whereas the origin symbol can not, which induces the pan event. zooming is done by the pointer device' wheel operation.

fps: - | | zoom-scale: 1 | pos: ./. | state: - |

Example Code

<!doctype html> <html> <head> <title>canvasInteractor example</title> </head> <body> <h1>canvasInteractor example</h1> <canvas id="c" width="601" height="301" style="border:1px solid black;background-color:snow"></canvas> <script src=""></script> <script> const ctx = document.getElementById('c').getContext('2d'); const interactor = canvasInteractor.create(ctx, {x:200, y:100, scl:1, cartesian:true}); const rec1 = {x:50,y:50,b:80,h:60,fs:'orange',lw:4}; const rec2 = {x:150,y:50,b:100,h:40,fs:'cyan',lw:4}; function render() { // ... } function hitRec(x,y,rec) { return (x > rec.x && x < rec.x + rec.b && y > rec.y && y < rec.y + rec.h); } interactor .on('tick', (e) => { render(); }) .on('pointermove', (e) => { rec1.sel = hitRec(e.xusr,e.yusr,rec1) ? true : false; rec2.sel = hitRec(e.xusr,e.yusr,rec2) ? true : false; e.hit = rec1.sel || rec2.sel; }) .on('wheel', (e) => { // zooming about pointer location ... interactor.view.x = e.x + e.dscl*(interactor.view.x - e.x); interactor.view.y = e.y + e.dscl*(interactor.view.y - e.y); interactor.view.scl *= e.dscl; }) .on('pan', (e) => { interactor.view.x += e.dx; interactor.view.y += e.dy; }) .on('drag', (e) => { if (rec1.sel) { rec1.x += e.dxusr; rec1.y += e.dyusr; } if (rec2.sel) { rec2.x += e.dxusr; rec2.y += e.dyusr; } }) .startTimer(); </script> </body> </html>
Listing 3: canvasInteractor example.

5. Conclusion

canvasInteractor is a tiny JavaScript library enhancing and extending HTML canvas' event handling for performant animation and geometrical interaction.

A global event loop (singleton) based on requestAnimationFrame provides assistance with event throttling via its custom tick event. Cartesian coordinates preferred in scientific and engineering applications are supported. Pan, drag and zoom based on user defined origins can be done.


[1] Canvas API,
[2] D. Corbacho, Debouncing and Throttling Explained Through Examples

[3] S. Goessner, canvas-area,
[4] S. Goessner, canvasInteractor,