jQuery Auto Suggest with MySQL

September 28, 2009

design / javascript / php

Recently, I was building a site at work that benefited from an auto suggest feature in some of the form fields. This, of course, is the kind of thing that you see when you do Google searches. I’ve done some similar things in the past, but I’ve never had a solid, consistent solution that I could use for this kind of thing.

In knowing this, I spent some time looking at a large number of jQuery plugins that do this. For some time, I couldn’t find any that fit the specific need I had. There was one plugin that I thought would work, but I couldn’t get it to work with a MySQL database, as it was designed to work with plain text lists in PHP. It may seem pathetic, but I couldn’t translate it.

So finally, I found the specific solution I wanted, and also manipulated the code examples enough to get it to work with MySQL. In light of this, and in light of my difficulty finding good examples for this, I want to give an example here, for myself and any others with the issue.


  1. Download the latest jQuery.
  2. Download the latest Autocomplete Plugin from bassistance.de.
  3. Include the bgiframe plugin for the sake of Internet Explorer users, in case this appears within a larger form. You can include this with a conditional comment if you wish.
  4. Create a MySQL database that contains the items from which you’ll be suggesting. There are many great tutorials out there for this kind of thing.
  5. Include your JavaScript files in a page with the following HTML, additional JavaScript, PHP, and CSS.

HTML form markup

So let’s say we have the following XHTML. I’m not concerned with specific areas of content at the moment, just a basic auto-suggest form that does not submit to anything in particular.

[prism key=”markup” language=”markup”]

jQuery Auto Suggest code

The jQuery plugin for this technique works in such a way that it examines the contents of the text field as users type in it, and as it does this it sends requests to PHP to see what contents in the database (or other PHP content) match what is being typed. Each time a letter is pressed or deleted, this occurs again. jQuery then creates HTML that displays the results to the user.

After the plugin is loaded, the following JavaScript is loaded. For myself, I normally put this into a main.js file, though for the purposes of this example I have kept it inside the source, and you can view it there if you wish.

[prism key=”javascript” language=”javascript”]

PHP search code (suggestions.php)

In this particular example, we’ll use PHP to connect to a MySQL database and get search results. I have a specific test database here, with keywords that are used in this blog. Obviously, you’ll need to modify the code for your own purposes, and there is no reason to use suggestions.php; you’ll just need to take note of the filename in order to include it in the JavaScript code above.

[prism key=”php” language=”php”]

CSS example

There is also some CSS that needs to be present to account for the default behavior of the plugin. The JavaScript, as I said, creates HTML on the fly, and this HTML can be styled very easily. Here is an example of what I have used. You can also see this in the source, if you view it, though again it would normally be inside a CSS file.

[prism key=”css” language=”css”]

Put it all together

I have created a file at http://design.jonathanstegall.com/jquery/autosuggest/ that demonstrates the jQuery auto suggest technique that I have discussed. This is a very foundational concept, and the plugin does come with some configuration options, but I feel that this is important since most of us will be using this plugin with a database of some kind.

Feel free to leave any additional thoughts or questions in the comments.