O'Reilly logo

ActionScript 3.0 Cookbook by Joey Lott, Darron Schall, Keith Peters

Stay ahead with the world's most comprehensive technology and business learning platform.

With Safari, you learn the way you learn best. Get unlimited access to videos, live online training, learning paths, books, tutorials, and more.

Start Free Trial

No credit card required

Where to Place ActionScript Code


You have a new ActionScript project and need to know where to put the code for it to execute properly.


Place ActionScript code in the constructor and additional methods of the class.


In ActionScript 1.0 and 2.0, you had many choices as to where to place your code: on the timeline, on buttons and movie clips, on the timeline of movie clips, in external .as files referenced with #include, or as external class files. ActionScript 3.0 is completely class-based, so all code must be placed in methods of your project’s classes.

When you create a new ActionScript project, the main class is automatically created, and opened in the Code view. It should look something like this:

package {
    import flash.display.Sprite;

    public class ExampleApplication extends Sprite
        public function ExampleApplication()


Even if you are familiar with classes in ActionScript 2.0, there are some new things here. There is a lot more information on this subject in Chapter 2, but let’s go through the basics here.

The first thing you’ll notice is the word package at the top of the code listing. Packages are used to group classes of associated functionality together. In ActionScript 2.0, packages were inferred through the directory structure used to hold the class files. In ActionScript 3.0, however, you must explicitly specify packages. For example, you could have a package of utility classes. This would be declared like so:

package com.as3cb.utils {


If you don’t specify a package name, your class is created in the default, top-level package. You should still include the package keyword and braces.

Next, place any import statements. Importing a class makes that class available to the code in the file and sets up a shortcut so you don’t have to type the full package name every time you want to refer to that class. For example, you can use the following import statement:

import com.as3cb.utils.StringUtils;

Thereafter you can refer to the StringUtils class directly without typing the rest of the path. As shown in the earlier example, you will need to import the Sprite class from the flash.display package, as the default class extends the Sprite class.

Next up is the main class, ExampleApplication. You might notice the keyword public in front of the class definition. Although you can’t have private classes within a package, you should label the class public. Note that the main class extends Sprite. Also, a .swf itself is a type of sprite or movie clip, which is why you can load a .swf into another .swf and largely treat it as if it were just another nested sprite or movie clip. This main class represents the .swf as a whole, so it should extend the Sprite class or any class that extends the Sprite class (such as MovieClip).

Finally, there is a public function (or method, in class terminology) with the same name as the class itself. This makes it a constructor. A class’s constructor is automatically run as soon as an instance of the class is created. In this case, it is executed as soon as the .swf is loaded into the Flash player. So where do you put your code to get it to execute? Generally, you start out by putting some code in the constructor method. Here’s a very simple example that just draws a bunch of random lines to the screen:

package {
    import flash.display.Sprite;
    public class ExampleApplication extends Sprite {
        public function ExampleApplication() {
            graphics.lineStyle(1, 0, 1);
            for(var i:int=0;i<100;i++) {
                graphics.lineTo(Math.random() * 400, Math.random() * 400);

Save and run the application. Your browser should open the resulting HTML file and display the .swf with 100 random lines in it. As you can see, the constructor was executed as soon as the file was loaded into the player.

In practice, you usually want to keep code in the constructor to a bare minimum. Ideally the constructor would just contain a call to another method that initializes the application. See Recipes 1.13 and 1.14 for more on methods.

For beginners, now that you know where to enter code, here is quick primer on terminology. These definitions are briefly stated and intended to orient people who have never programmed before. For more complete definitions, refer to the Flash help files.


Variables are convenient placeholders for data in your code, and you can name them anything you’d like, provided the name isn’t already reserved by ActionScript and the name starts with a letter, underscore, or dollar sign (but not a number). The help files installed with Flex Builder 2 contain a list of reserved words. Variables are convenient for holding interim information, such as a sum of numbers, or to refer to something, such as a text field or sprite. Variables are declared with the var keyword the first time they are used in a script. You can assign a value to a variable using an equal sign (=), which is also known as the assignment operator. If a variable is declared outside a class method, it is a class variable. Class variables, or properties, can have access modifiers, public, private, protected, or internal. A private variable can only be accessed from within the class itself, whereas public variables can be accessed by objects of another class. Protected variables can be accessed from an instance of the class or an instance of any subclass, and internal variables can be accessed by any class within the same package. If no access modifier is specified, it defaults to internal.


Functions are blocks of code that do something. You can call or invoke a function (that is, execute it) by using its name. When a function is part of a class, it is referred to as a method of the class. Methods can use all the same modifiers as properties.


A variable’s scope describes when and where the variable can be manipulated by the code in a movie. Scope defines a variable’s life span and its accessibility to other blocks of code in a script. Scope determines how long a variable exists and from where in the code you can set or retrieve the variable’s value. A function’s scope determines where and when the function is accessible to other blocks of code. Recipe 1.13 deals with issues of scope.

Event handler

A handler is a function or method that is executed in response to some event such as a mouseclick, a keystroke, or the movement of the playhead in the timeline.

Objects and classes

An object is something you can manipulate programmatically in ActionScript, such as a sprite. There are other types of objects, such as those used to manipulate colors, dates, and text fields. Objects are instances of classes, which means that a class is a template for creating objects and an object is a particular instance of that class. If you get confused, think of it in biological terms: you can consider yourself an object (instance) that belongs to the general class known as humans.


A method is a function associated with an object that operates on the object. For example, a text field object’s replaceSelectedText() method can be used to replace the selected text in the field.


A property is an attribute of an object, which can be read and/or set. For example, a sprite’s horizontal location is specified by its x property, which can be both tested and set. On the other hand, a text field’s length property, which indicates the number of characters in the field, can be tested but cannot be set directly (it can be affected indirectly, however, by adding or removing text from the field).


ActionScript commands are entered as a series of one or more statements. A statement might tell the playhead to jump to a particular frame, or it might change the size of a sprite. Most ActionScript statements are terminated with a semicolon (;). This book uses the terms statement and action interchangeably.


Comments are notes within code that are intended for other humans and ignored by Flash. In ActionScript, single-line comments begin with // and terminate automatically at the end of the current line. Multiline comments begin with /* and are terminated with */.


The ActionScript interpreter is that portion of the Flash Player that examines your code and attempts to understand and execute it. Following ActionScript’s strict rules of grammar ensures that the interpreter can easily understand your code. If the interpreter encounters an error, it often fails silently, simply refusing to execute the code rather than generating a specific error message.

Don’t worry if you don’t understand all the specifics. You can use each recipe’s solution without understanding the technical details, and this primer should help you understand the terminology.

See Also

Recipes 1.13 and 1.14

With Safari, you learn the way you learn best. Get unlimited access to videos, live online training, learning paths, books, interactive tutorials, and more.

Start Free Trial

No credit card required