AJAX Responsive Formatters

Some fields need to be responsive. For example, a user might select an analysis or organism to display data from. Drupal developers often use AJAX to rebuild the page based on user input.

Drupal and AJAX

Drupal has its own special way of doing AJAX! This is important to ensure that changes are executed in the correct order. You should read the documentation carefully! The Drupal AJAX API works best on forms, and field formatters are not forms. Instead, they are renderable arrays. As such, rather than accepting $form and &$form_state, they accept &$element, $entity_type, $entity, $langcode, $items, and `$display, where $element is the renderable array.

This means if you want to add an AJAX callback to a field formatter, you need a separate form function that gets added in using drupal_get_form(). If you do this, you can build the AJAX as Drupal expects it.

Example form and field

Here’s an example form file below: as you can see it’s a standard form following Drupal AJAX conventions. We provide a rendered_maps fieldset with the prefix defining the wrapper (examplemap-featuremap-organism-selector-wrapper). This is what we want to re-draw depending on what the user selects.

The selector has specified that wrapper, and the AJAX callback function examplemap_organism_featuremap_callback. We then define that function to simply return the piece of the form that should be rebuilt: the rendered_maps fieldset!

 * AJAX-enabled form for [field formatter name].
function tripal_example_map_organism_featuremap_selector_form($form, &$form_state, $select) {

  $selected = 0;

  // $form_state['values'] will be set if the form has been submitted via AJAX
  if (isset($form_state['values']['featuremap_select'])) {
    $selected = isset($form_state['values']['featuremap_select']);

  // We need to provide a container for Drupal AJAX to replace.
  // Here we use a fieldset with a set ID which we can refer to below.
  $form['rendered_maps'] = [
    '#type' => 'fieldset',
    '#collapsible' => FALSE,
    '#prefix' => '<div id="examplemap-featuremap-organism-selector-wrapper">',
    '#suffix' => '</div>',

  // This is the element which will trigger AJAX.
  $form['rendered_maps']['featuremap_select'] = [
    '#type' => 'select',
    '#options' => $select,
    '#title' => 'Please select a map to view',
    '#default_value' => $selected,
    '#ajax' => [
      // Your Drupal AJAX callback
      // which simply returns the form element to be re-rendered.
      'callback' => 'examplemap_organism_featuremap_callback',
      // This should be the ID you set above on your container to be replaced.
      'wrapper' => 'examplemap-featuremap-organism-selector-wrapper',
      'effect' => 'fade',

  // Check the AJAX submitted values...
  $chosen = 0;
  if (isset($form_state['values']['featuremap_select'])) {
    $chosen = $form_state['input']['featuremap_select'];

  // If the user chose an option (triggered AJAX).
  if ($chosen != 0) {
    // Then change the form accordingly...
    // Notice that you react to the AJAX change in the form
    // not in the AJAX callback.
    $mini_form = tripal_example_map_genetic_map_overview_form([], $form_state, $chosen);

    $form['rendered_maps']['map'] = $mini_form;

    return $form;

  return $form;

 * The callback will return the part of the form you want to re-draw.
function examplemap_organism_featuremap_callback($form, &$form_state) {

  return $form['rendered_maps'];

In the field formatter, we simply add this form and put the markup in the element:

 * In our Our__field_formatter.inc
public function view(&$element, $entity_type, $entity, $langcode, $items, $display) {

  // Select choices would be loaded in the base field's load method.
  $select = $items[0]['select_choices'];

  $form = drupal_get_form('tripal_example_map_organism_featuremap_selector_form', $select);
  $content = drupal_render($form);
  $element[] = [
      '#type' => 'markup',
      '#markup' => $content,
  return $element;