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PersistJS is a JavaScript client-side persistent storage library

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README.md

PersistJS 0.3.1 README

Table of Contents

  1. Introduction
  2. Rationale
  3. Using PersistJS
  4. Size Limits
  5. Other Limits
  6. Extending PersistJS
  7. Where is it being used?
  8. About the Author

1. Introduction

PersistJS is a JavaScript client-side persistent storage library.

PersistJS features include:

  • Small (<10k minified, 3k gzipped)
  • Standalone: Does not need any additional browser plugins or JavaScript libraries to work on the vast majority of current browsers.
  • Consistent: Provides a consistent, opaque API, regardless of the browser.
  • Extensible: Custom backends can be added easily.
  • Backwards Compatible: Can fall back to flash or cookies if no client-side storage solution for the given browser is available.
  • Forwards Compatible: Supports the upcoming versions of Internet Explorer, Firefox, Chrome, and Safari (Opera too, if you have Flash).
  • Unobtrusive: Capability testing rather than browser detection, so newer standards-conformant browsers will automatically be supported.

The latest version of PersistJS is always available online at the following URL:

http://github.com/jeremydurham/persist-js

2. Rationale

Why use PersistJS? What's the problem with using cookies directly or simply requiring Flash?

Currently the only reliable cross-platform and cross-browser mechanism for storing data on the client side are cookies. Unfortunately, using cookies to store persistent data has several problems:

  • Size: Cookies are limited to about 4 kilobytes in size.
  • Bandwidth: Cookies are sent along with every HTTP transaction.
  • Complexity: Cookies are difficult to manipulate correctly.

Modern web browsers have addressed these issues by adding non-Cookie mechanisms for saving client-side persistent data. Each of these solutions are simpler to use than cookies, can store far more data, and are not transmitted along with HTTP requests. Unfortunately, each browser has addressed the problem in a different and incompatible way. There are currently 5 different client side persistent data solutions:

  • globalStorage: Firefox 2.0+, Internet Explorer 8
  • localStorage: development WebKit (Safari, iPhone, etc)
  • openDatabase: Safari 3.1+
  • userdata behavior: Internet Explorer 5.5+
  • Google Gears: Chrome

Some developers have attempted to address the client side storage issue with the following browser plugins:

  • Adobe Flash
  • Google Gears

The problem with relying on plugins, of course, is that users without the plugin installed miss out on the feature in question, and your application is dependent on software from a particular vendor. Google Gears, for example, is not widely deployed. Flash is, but it has problems of its own:

  • Many users block Flash or require a click in order to enable flash content; this makes Flash unsuitable as a transparent, client-side data store.
  • Flash is notoriously unreliable on newer 64-bit machines.
  • Some businesses block Flash content as a security measure.

Anyway, if we include Gears and Flash, that means there are no less than 6 incompatible solutions for storing client-side persistent data.

The most notable attempt at addressing this problem is probably Dojo Storage. Unfortunately, Dojo Storage does not support Internet Explorer without Flash, and it does not support Safari or other WebKit-based browsers at all (at least, not without Flash). Also, Dojo Storage is not standalone; it requires a several other Dojo components in order to operate.

PersistJS addresses all of the issues above. It currently supports persistent client-side storage through the following backends:

  • flash: Flash 8 persistent storage.
  • gears: Google Gears-based persistent storage.
  • localstorage: HTML5 draft storage.
  • globalstorage: HTML5 draft storage (old spec).
  • ie: Internet Explorer userdata behaviors.
  • cookie: Cookie-based persistent storage.

Each backend is wrapped by PersistJS and exploses the exact same interface, which means you don't have to know or care which backend is being used. The next section explains how to use the PersistJS API.

3. Using PersistJS

Using PersistJS is fairly straightforward. First, you include persist-min.js in your web site:

<head>
  <title>My Wonderful Page</title>
  <script type='text/javascript' src='persist-min.js'></script>
</head>

After the DOM has loaded, you create a persistent store object:

// create new store named "My Application"
var store = new Persist.Store('My Application');

The store constructor has one required parameter: a store name. You can create as many stores as you'd like, as long as they each have a unique name. Store names should begin with a letter, and can consist of upper and lower case letters, numbers, spaces, and dashes.

As I mentioned before, you shouldn't create a persistent store until after the DOM has loaded. The easiest browser-agnostic way to do this is to set an onload handler on the body element, like this:

<body onload='load_data();'>

And the JavaScript:

// global object
var store;

function load_data() {
  // load persistent store after the DOM has loaded
  store = new Persist.Store('My Application');
}

Most popular JavaScript libraries such have their own way of adding DOM ready handlers. Here's how you do it in jQuery:

$(function() {
  // load persistent store after the DOM has loaded
  store = new Persist.Store('My Application');
});

And in YUI:

function init() {
  store = new Persist.Store('My Application');
}

// call when the DOM has loaded
YAHOO.util.Event.onDOMReady(init);

Anyway, after you have created a persistent store, you save values to the it:

// save data in store
store.set('some_key', 'this is a bunch of persistent data');

Note that the value must be a string. If you want to save structured data like arrays or hashes, you should serialize it using Array.join or JSON.

Once you have saved a value to the store, you can read it back, like this:

// get value from store and prompt user
val = store.get('some_key')

Here's an example of removing a key:

// remove key from store and prompt user
store.remove('some_key') 
// prompt user
alert('some_key was removed');

If you're in a hurry, then you can stop reading right now, because that's all you need to know!

Still here? Okay, here are some additional details. When you create a new store, you can also pass a hash of optional parameters, like so:

// create a new deferred data store with a description
var store = new Persist.Store('My Data Store', {
  about: 'This is my data store.',
  defer: true
});

These parameters allow you to pass additional information or fine-tune the behavior of the data store. Here's a complete list of the available parameters:

  • defer: Defer saving until save() is called (used by ie). See below for additional details.
  • domain: Limit store to given domain or sub-domain (used by cookie and globalstore).
  • expires: Number of days before store expires (used by cookie).
    Defaults to 2 years (730 days).
  • path: Limit store to given path (used by cookie).
  • size: Estimated size of data set (used by whatwg_db).
  • swf_path: Path to file persist.swf (used by flash). Defaults to ./persist.swf if unspecified.

Notes: The defer option exists because there is no way to load and save individual keys in the ie backend. By default, the ie backend will load all data when getting a value, and save all data when setting a value. When the defer flag is set, the store data will only be loaded when the store is created or when the load() method is called.

More importantly, data will not be saved unless the save() method is called. If you choose to use the defer flag, the easiest way to make sure save() is called is to use an unload handler, like so:

<body unload='save_data();'>

And the JavaScript:

function save_data() {
  // save store data
  store.save();
}

It's probably best not to use this feature unless you really need it.

One final note about the Flash and Gears backends: They will be disabled unless you include swfobject.js and gears_init.js, respectively. These files are available in the extras/ directory.

If you'd rather include all of these in one combined file (to enable and check for all possible backends), you can use the file extras/persist-all-min.js in place of persist-min.js. persist-all-min.js is the the following files concatenated together and minified:

  • extras/gears_init.js
  • extras/swfobject.js
  • persist-min.js

Note that persist-all-min.js is roughly 60% larger than persist-min.js.

4. Size Limits

Each backend has a different data size limit. While you generally aren't concerned about which backend is being used, you may care about the amount of data you are able to store.

To deal with this, the attribute Persist.size is set to the approximate size limit, in bytes, of the active backend. For backends where the size limit is unlimited or unknown, Persist.size is set to -1. Here's a rough breakdown of the size limits for each backend:

  • cookie: 4 kilobytes
  • gears: unknown
  • flash: unknown (at least 100k)
  • globalstorage: 5 megabytes
  • ie: 64 kilobytes
  • localstorage: unknown

(Note that the key length is also included in the data size limit).

Rather than testing for a specific backend, it is probably better to calculate the approximate size of the data that you need to save, and then prompt the user if there is insufficient space. For example:

var lots_of_data = '...'; // value with lots of data

try {
  // check size of data
  if (Persist.size != -1 && Persist.size < lots_of_data.length)
    throw new Error('too much data');

  // try and save data
  store.set('some_key', lots_of_data);
} catch (err) {
  // display save error
  alert("Couldn't save data: " + err);
}

If you absolutely must know which backend is in use, you can do so by checking the Persist.type value. Also, if you'd like to disable a specific backend, use Persist.remove(), like this:

// disable "cookie" backend (will never be selected)
Persist.remove('cookie');

5. Other Limits

The cookie backend is limited by the number of maximum number of cookies that can be saved by the browser. Older browsers typically limited the number of cookies to 20 per domain, although newer browsers have increased this limit to 50 cookies per domain.

You can work around this limit by serializing your data as JSON or some other format.

The cookie backend is the only backend with any practical limit on the number of keys.

6. Extending PersistJS

PersistJS exposes one method -- Persist.add() -- for extending PersistJS and adding custom backends. This method is currently undocumented and may change in future versions.

PersistJS also includes a full copy of EasyCookie 0.2.1, which is exposed as Persist.Cookie. For documentation on the EasyCookie API, see the EasyCookie page at:

http://pablotron.org/software/easy_cookie/

7. Where is it being used?

8. About the Author

Paul Duncan (pabs@pablotron.org) - http://pablotron.org/

9. Contributors

Jeremy Durham (jeremydurham@gmail.com) - http://www.jeremydurham.com Marcus Spiegel (marcus.spiegel@gmail.com) - http://marcusspiegel.de Matt Pizzimenti (mjpizz+github@gmail.com) - http://mjpizz.com Mayank Sharma (mayanks@gmail.com) - http://mayanks.blogspot.com Maximilian Batz (m.batz@ideaday.de) - http://www.ideaday.de

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