utility $

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$(id) → Element
$(id...) → [Element…]
  • id (String | Element) – A DOM node or a string that references a node's ID.

If provided with a string, returns the element in the document with matching ID; otherwise returns the passed element.

Takes in an arbitrary number of arguments. Returns one Element if given one argument; otherwise returns an Array of Elements.

All elements returned by the function are "extended" with Element instance methods.

More Information

The $ function is the cornerstone of Prototype. Not only does it provide a handy alias for document.getElementById, it also lets you pass indifferently IDs (strings) or DOM node references to your functions:

function foo(element) {
    element = $(element);
    //  rest of the function...

Code written this way is flexible - you can pass it the ID of the element or the element itself without any type sniffing.

Invoking it with only one argument returns the Element, while invoking it with multiple arguments returns an Array of Elements (and this works recursively: if you're twisted, you could pass it an array containing some arrays, and so forth). As this is dependent on getElementById, W3C specs apply: nonexistent IDs will yield null and IDs present multiple times in the DOM will yield erratic results. If you're assigning the same ID to multiple elements, you're doing it wrong!

The function also extends every returned element with Element.extend so you can use Prototype's DOM extensions on it. In the following code, the two lines are equivalent. However, the second one feels significantly more object-oriented:

// Note quite OOP-like...
// A cleaner feel, thanks to guaranted extension

However, when using iterators, leveraging the $ function makes for more elegant, more concise, and also more efficient code:

['item1', 'item2', 'item3'].each(Element.hide);
// The better way:
$('item1', 'item2', 'item3').invoke('hide');

See How Prototype extends the DOM for more info.