Organic Tabs

Organic Tabs

This article was original published on October 27, 2009 and is now being updated to 1) be turned into a jQuery plugin 2) have multiple demos on one page 3) utilize jQuery event delegation and 4) prevent animation queuing. Have you ever seen a tabbed content area in a sidebar that was a little “jerky”? […]

This article was original published on October 27, 2009 and is now being updated to 1) be turned into a jQuery plugin 2) have multiple demos on one page 3) utilize jQuery event delegation and 4) prevent animation queuing.

Have you ever seen a tabbed content area in a sidebar that was a little “jerky”? The jerkiness can be caused by a bunch of things, like the content in the tabbed areas are of different heights, or maybe the way the switch happens the current one is hidden for a brief second before the new one shows up and the content below it jumps up and back down quickly. For lack of a better term, I’m calling tabs that behave more smoothly organic tabs .


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The Plan

The plan is to build a tabbed area, something pretty simple to do from scratch with jQuery, and then make it behave better. Of course, we’ll keep it simple, and keep the markup clean and semantic. The guts of the functionality will be based on calculating heights and animating between those heights on the fly.

Since it’s conceivable that one could want multiple tabbed areas on a page, we’ll make this a jQuery plugin so it can easily be called upon multiple elements.


First we will have a wrapper element that will contain the entire tabbed content area. This nicely contains everything, as well as provides a nice target for the jQuery plugin. Inside we will have one unordered list for the tabs (navigation) themselves. These tabs have rel attributes equal to the ID’s of the unordered lists below that they relate to. The content of the tabs is another wrapper div with a class of “list-wrap”. Each of the “panels” is an unordered list. They key here is really the “list-wrap”, which will ultimately provide us a good target for setting and animating the height of the content.

<div id="example-one" class="organicTabs">

    <ul class="nav">
        <li class="nav-one"><a rel="featured" href="#" class="current">Featured</a></li>
        <li class="nav-two"><a rel="core" href="#">Core</a></li>
        <li class="nav-three"><a rel="jquerytuts" href="#">jQuery</a></li>
        <li class="nav-four last"><a rel="classics" href="#">Classics</a></li>

    <div class="list-wrap">

		<ul class="featured">
			<li>Stuff in here!</li>

		 <ul class="core hide">
			<li>Stuff in here!</li>

		 <ul class="jquerytuts hide">
			<li>Stuff in here!</li>

		 <ul class="classics hide">
			<li>Stuff in here!</li>

    </div> <!-- END List Wrap -->

 </div> <!-- END Organic Tabs (Example One) -->


There isn’t much trickery here, just setting things up to look right. Very little of this is “required” for the plugin/technique to work, so feel free to rock your own styling here. My first demo is just a horizontal row of tabs, each of which has it’s own special rollover color.

/* Specific to example one */

#example-one { background: #eee; padding: 10px; margin: 0 0 15px 0; -moz-box-shadow: 0 0 5px #666; -webkit-box-shadow: 0 0 5px #666; }

#example-one .nav { overflow: hidden; margin: 0 0 10px 0; }
#example-one .nav li { width: 97px; float: left; margin: 0 10px 0 0; }
#example-one .nav li.last { margin-right: 0; }
#example-one .nav li a { display: block; padding: 5px; background: #959290; color: white; font-size: 10px; text-align: center; border: 0; }
#example-one .nav li a:hover { background-color: #111; }

#example-one ul { list-style: none; }
#example-one ul li a { display: block; border-bottom: 1px solid #666; padding: 4px; color: #666; }
#example-one ul li a:hover, #example-one ul li a:focus { background: #fe4902; color: white; }
#example-one ul li:last-child a { border: none; }

#example-one li.nav-one a.current, ul.featured li a:hover { background-color: #0575f4; color: white; }
#example-one li.nav-two a.current, ul.core li a:hover { background-color: #d30000; color: white; }
#example-one li.nav-three a.current, ul.jquerytuts li a:hover { background-color: #8d01b0; color: white; }
#example-one li.nav-four a.current, ul.classics li a:hover { background-color: #FE4902; color: white; }

There is one generically useful technique we are employing though. We need to hide all the content panels except the default one. There are many ways we could go about it. We could use display: none on them in the CSS. We could use the .hide() function in the JavaScript. Both of those ways have shortcomings. Hiding in the CSS means accessibility problems. Hiding in the JavaScript means the panels could potentially be briefly shown when the page loads and then disappear awkwardly. Instead, we can use a combination of both.

/* Generic Utility */
.hide { position: absolute; top: -9999px; left: -9999px; }

Then check in the jQuery plugin code below, we’ll reset these values back to “normal” and hide them with JavaScript, so they are ready to be displayed when needed (not kicked way off the page).

The jQuery

This is the plan in plain English for our plugin:

  1. When the plugin in called on an element…
  2. Move the hidden content back to their normal locations
  3. When a “tab” is clicked…
  4. If it’s not already the current tab…
  5. … and nothing is currently being animated…
  6. Set the outer wrapper to a set height of the current content
  7. Set highlighting of tab to correct tab
  8. Fade out current content
  9. Fade in current content
  10. Animate height of outer wrapper to height of new content
(function($) {

    $.organicTabs = function(el, options) {

        var base = this;
        base.$el = $(el);
        base.$nav = base.$el.find(".nav");

        base.init = function() {

            base.options = $.extend({},$.organicTabs.defaultOptions, options);

            // Accessible hiding fix
                "position": "relative",
                "top": 0,
                "left": 0,
                "display": "none"

            base.$nav.delegate("li > a", "click", function() {

                // Figure out current list via CSS class
                var curList = base.$el.find("a.current").attr("rel"),

                // List moving to
                    $newList = $(this),

                // Figure out ID of new list
                    listID = $newList.attr("rel"),

                // Set outer wrapper height to (static) height of current inner list
                    $allListWrap = base.$el.find(".list-wrap"),
                    curListHeight = $allListWrap.height();

                if ((listID != curList) && ( base.$el.find(":animated").length == 0)) {

                    // Fade out current list
                    base.$el.find("."+curList).fadeOut(300, function() {

                        // Fade in new list on callback

                        // Adjust outer wrapper to fit new list snuggly
                        var newHeight = base.$el.find("."+listID).height();
                            height: newHeight

                        // Remove highlighting - Add to just-clicked tab
                        base.$el.find(".nav li a").removeClass("current");



                // Don't behave like a regular link
                // Stop propagation and bubbling
                return false;


    $.organicTabs.defaultOptions = {

    $.fn.organicTabs = function(options) {
        return this.each(function() {
            (new $.organicTabs(this, options));


Using the plugin

Like any other plugin, you’ll need to load the jQuery library first, then the plugin file, then call the plugin.

<script type='text/javascript' src=''></script>
<script type="text/javascript" src="js/organictabs.jquery.js"></script>
<script type='text/javascript'>
    $(function() {

        $("#example-one, #example-two").organicTabs();


Enjoy! And remember, the idea is that you can take this, hack it to pieces, do whatever you want with it, preferably become rich and famous.


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