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jQuery provides a way to trigger the event handlers bound to an element without any user interaction via the .trigger() method.

What handlers can be .trigger()'d?

jQuery's event handling system is a layer on top of native browser events. When an event handler is added using .on( "click", function() {...} ), it can be triggered using jQuery's .trigger( "click" ) because jQuery stores a reference to that handler when it is originally added. Additionally, it will trigger the JavaScript inside the onclick attribute. The .trigger() function cannot be used to mimic native browser events, such as clicking on a file input box or an anchor tag. This is because, there is no event handler attached using jQuery's event system that corresponds to these events.

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// This will not change the current page
$( "a" ).trigger( "click" );

How can I mimic a native browser event, if not .trigger()?

In order to trigger a native browser event, you have to use document.createEventObject for < IE9 and document.createEvent for all other browsers. Using these two APIs, you can programmatically create an event that behaves exactly as if someone has actually clicked on a file input box. The default action will happen, and the browse file dialog will display.

The jQuery UI Team created jquery.simulate.js in order to simplify triggering a native browser event for use in their automated testing. Its usage is modeled after jQuery's trigger.

// Triggering a native browser event using the simulate plugin
$( "a" ).simulate( "click" );

This will not only trigger the jQuery event handlers, but also follow the link and change the current page.

.trigger() vs .triggerHandler()

There are four differences between .trigger() and .triggerHandler()

  1. .triggerHandler() only triggers the event on the first element of a jQuery object.
  2. .triggerHandler() cannot be chained. It returns the value that is returned by the last handler, not a jQuery object.
  3. .triggerHandler() will not cause the default behavior of the event (such as a form submission).
  4. Events triggered by .triggerHandler(), will not bubble up the DOM hierarchy. Only the handlers on the single element will fire.

For more information see the triggerHandler documentation

Don't use .trigger() simply to execute specific functions

While this method has its uses, it should not be used simply to call a function that was bound as a click handler. Instead, you should store the function you want to call in a variable, and pass the variable name when you do your binding. Then, you can call the function itself whenever you want, without the need for .trigger().

// Triggering an event handler the right way
var foo = function( event ) {
    if ( event ) {
        console.log( event );
    } else {
        console.log( "this didn't come from an event!" );

$( "p" ).on( "click", foo );

foo(); // instead of $( "p" ).trigger( "click" )

A more complex architecture can be built on top of trigger using the publish-subscribe pattern using jQuery plugins. With this technique, .trigger() can be used to notify other sections of code that an application specific event has happened.