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Some More Backbone.js Basics

— 15 minute read
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Here are some quick Backbone snippets to help visualize concepts. I'll move around fairly quickly so if you're interested in going more in-depth then checkout the documentation.


Backbone events are pretty straightforward. To create a pub/sub relationship you use the on and off methods of Backbone.Events:

In the above example you could make dispatcher into an AMD module and load the dependency with Require.js, something I've covered in a previous post.

var dispatcher = {};
_.extend(dispatcher, Backbone.Events);

var receiver = {
initialize: function() {
// Start listening for the 'hello' event from the dispatcher.
// When we hear the 'hello' event we'll run a function
dispatcher.on('hello', this.sayHello, this);
sayHello: function() {
// Kill the listener so we only get called once'hello', this.sayHello, this);



Backbone models are interesting because they implement explicit get and set methods. When you change a property with the get and set methods it will fire off an event. Here's a fiddle showing how to model a Book. We'll change the author and the DOM will reflect this update.

If your model implements an initialize function it will be called as soon as the object is created. In other words, its a constructor. If you pass a hash to the model's constructor it will set those attributes on itself. The hash and any additional arguments will also be passed to initialize.

// Define an initialize function for our book
// Initialize will be called anytime we say new Book()
var Book = Backbone.Model.extend({
initialize: function(foo, bar) {

// You can pass in a hash to set initial values on the model
// The hash and any additional arguments will also be passed
// to the initialize function
book = new Book(
author: 'Hunter S. Thompson',
title: 'Fear and Loating in Las Vegas'
'hello world!'


Poor man's data-binding

Now that we have a basic understanding of models we can write our own simple binding setup. This example presumes we have an #author and a #title element somewhere on our page.

var Book = Backbone.Model.extend({});

book = new Book({
author: 'Hunter S. Thompson',
title: 'Fear and Loating in Las Vegas'

// Listen for any change event coming from the model.
// When any attribute changes we'll tell our elements to
// automatically update.
book.on('change', function() {

book.set('author', 'Mickey Mouse');
book.set('title', 'Everyone Poops');


To mess around with saving data we'll need to alter Backbone.sync.

Backbone.sync is the function that Backbone calls every time it attempts to read or save a model to the server. By default, it uses (jQuery/Zepto).ajax to make a RESTful JSON request and returns a jqXHR. You can override it in order to use a different persistence strategy, such as WebSockets, XML transport, or Local Storage.

Backbone will decide whether a save call should perform a create with HTTP POST or an update HTTP PUT based on whether or not our model has an id attribute already.

Here's an example from the Backbone docs which overrides the sync functionality and fakes a request to a server.

Backbone.sync = function(method, model) {
console.log(method + ': ' + JSON.stringify(model)); = 1; // This line is crucial!

var book = new Backbone.Model({
title: 'The Rough Riders',
author: 'Theodore Roosevelt'
// create: {"title":"The Rough Riders","author":"Theodore Roosevelt"}{author: 'Teddy'});
// update: {"title":"The Rough Riders","author":"Teddy"}

​If we don't give our model an id on line 3 then Backbone has no way of knowing if the model has been previously saved or not. It will keep doing create/POST until it receives that id.


If you don't want to setup a server but you do want to play around with saving models and collections you can use the Backbone LocalStorage adapter written by Jerome Gravel-Niquet. After you've included the js file in your code somewhere you can use it like so:

var Book = Backbone.Model.extend({});

var Books = Backbone.Collection.extend({
model: Book,
localStorage: new Backbone.LocalStorage('Books')

var library = new Books();
library.on('sync', function() {
console.log('sync succesful!');

var othello = library.create({
title: 'Othello',
author: 'William Shakespeare'

To fetch the models in the collection at a later point you can do the following:

var Book = Backbone.Model.extend({});

var Books = Backbone.Collection.extend({
model: Book,
localStorage: new Backbone.LocalStorage('Books')

var library = new Books();

The docs mention that you shouldn't use this to initialize your collections. Instead you should bootstrap your app at page load. Here's the passage:

Note that fetch should not be used to populate collections on page load — all models needed at load time should already be bootstrapped in to place. fetch is intended for lazily-loading models for interfaces that are not needed immediately: for example, documents with collections of notes that may be toggled open and closed.


Routers are used to map URLs to actions. If you're using the Backbone Boilerplate you should see this block of code in your main.js.

// Defining the application router, you can attach sub routers here.
var Router = Backbone.Router.extend({
routes: {
'': 'index',
':hash': 'index'

index: function(hash) {
var route = this;
var tutorial = new Example.Views.Tutorial();

// Attach the tutorial to the DOM
tutorial.render(function(el) {

// Fix for hashes in pushState and hash fragment
if (hash && !route._alreadyTriggered) {
// Reset to home, pushState support automatically converts hashes
Backbone.history.navigate('', false);

// Trigger the default browser behavior
location.hash = hash;

// Set an internal flag to stop recursive looping
route._alreadyTriggered = true;

One gotcha is that the definition of ":hash": "index" will send any route that follows the base domain to the index function. For instance if you did the following:

routes: {
"": "index",
":hash": "index"
"search": "search"


search: function() {
console.log('time to search!');

Instead of the search function running what will actually happen is will be converted into and the word search will be sent to the index function to supply the hash argument. To fix this you'll need to remove the ":hash": "index" route.


Views can either work with existing DOM elements or create new ones. Here's a very basic fiddle in which a BodyView is created to wrap our body tag and BoxView is appended to it. We add a little jQuery animation to show the process in action.

You'll often want to link a view's render method up to a model's change event so the two will stay in sync. Here's a quick and dirty example showing how to bind in this fashion.

var Book = Backbone.Model.extend({});

var BookView = Backbone.View.extend({
className: 'book-view',
initialize: function() {
this.model.on('change', this.render, this);
render: function() {
this.$el.html(this.model.get('title') + ' by ' + this.model.get('author'));

var outliers = new Book({
author: 'Malcolm Gladwell',
title: 'Outliers'

var bookView = new BookView({model: outliers});


outliers.set('author', 'Mickey Mouse');

Instead of throwing your HTML into the render method as a String it's advised that you use some kind of templating library. Underscore templates seem like a good place to start but Backbone is designed to be template agnostic so you could easily switch to Mustache/Handelbars or HAML if you want. Tomorrow I'll look into displaying some content using an Underscore template linked up to a model. Till then.. :D

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