How to create a custom context menu for your web application.

Published Feb 21, 2018
How to create a custom context menu for your web application.

Before we begin, here's a preview of what we'll be creating.

Context menu preview

Let's discuss a few use cases of a custom context menu.
  1. You wish to display a custom context menu in an area of your web app rather than the default one.

I've exhausted my use case examples, but I'm sure you can think up a few other ones.

Let's code!

First, we'll create a list of items that will represent our custom context menu using HTML.

    <div class="menu">
      <ul class="menu-options">
        <li class="menu-option">Back</li>
        <li class="menu-option">Reload</li>
        <li class="menu-option">Save</li>
        <li class="menu-option">Save As</li>
        <li class="menu-option">Inspect</li>
      </ul>
    </div>

Then, we'll add a few lines of SCSS to freshen up our custom menu. Make it look nice and clean.

.menu {
  width: 120px;
  box-shadow: 0 4px 5px 3px rgba(0, 0, 0, 0.2);
  position: relative;
  display: none;

  .menu-options {
    list-style: none;
    padding: 10px 0;

    .menu-option {
      font-weight: 500;
      font-size: 14px;
      padding: 10px 40px 10px 20px;
      cursor: pointer;

      &:hover {
        background: rgba(0, 0, 0, 0.2);
      }
    }
  }
}

To the main course

Whenever we right click to view a context menu on our page, an event is triggered. The event name is (you guessed it right) contextmenu.

Crazy, right? Not so much.

The first thing we'll do is to listen for this event, then prevent the default behavior from triggering.

window.addEventListener("contextmenu", e => {
  e.preventDefault();
});

Here we are listening for a contextmenu event on the whole window, but you can always specify a specific area rather than the whole window.

Now that we've cleared that up, we'll set up the display of our custom context menu right there in the event callback. We are going to be making use of two properties on the event object to determine where we'll display our menu. It's going to be the area where the user's click originated.

Event screenshoot

The pageX and pageY property of the event callback describes the position of the mouse when the request for a context menu was triggered. You'll want to place your context menu at that point. Let's update our JS code to reflect these changes.

const toggleMenu = command => {
  menu.style.display = command === "show" ? "block" : "none";
};

const setPosition = ({ top, left }) => {
  menu.style.left = `${left}px`;
  menu.style.top = `${top}px`;
  toggleMenu('show');
};


window.addEventListener("contextmenu", e => {
  e.preventDefault();
  const origin = {
    left: e.pageX,
    top: e.pageY
  };
  setPosition(origin);
  return false;
});

The toggleMenu function toggles the display of the menu and the setPosition function sets the position of the menu. The function names are really self-explanatory.

By now we should have a fully functional context menu but there's the issue of our menu not going away. It's just there. So we'll have to set up another event listener to hide our context menu if it is visible. To do this, we'll listen for a click event on the window or area where you've set up your custom context menu.

const menu = document.querySelector(".menu");
let menuVisible = false;

const toggleMenu = command => {
  menu.style.display = command === "show" ? "block" : "none";
  menuVisible = !menuVisible;
};

const setPosition = ({ top, left }) => {
  menu.style.left = `${left}px`;
  menu.style.top = `${top}px`;
  toggleMenu("show");
};

window.addEventListener("click", e => {
  if(menuVisible)toggleMenu("hide");
});

window.addEventListener("contextmenu", e => {
  e.preventDefault();
  const origin = {
    left: e.pageX,
    top: e.pageY
  };
  setPosition(origin);
  return false;
});

There's the final look of our JS file. We have a working context menu but, as usual, there are still a few enhancements we'll need for our context menu to be real classy.

  1. How to position the menu when the click is very close to the bottom or top of the window.
  2. Adding a few animations to smoothen the entry and exit of our menu.

It'll take just a few lines of code to achieve this. I believe you can figure it out.

Check out the codepen for the full code base. Hit me up on Twitter for any suggestions and issues @iamAfro

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