Dynamic select box with CakePHP 2.0

I wanted some auto populating Select boxes in a site I was creating so that when I changed a Category the Subcategories would automatically update. CakePHP can do this pretty easily but it is let down by the documentation as there are no examples.

Initially I came up with a version that wrote JSON into a JavaScript variable in the page and then used jQuery to achieve the updating of select elements but I wanted to do this the Cake way which uses AJAX and as little code as possible.

Here is a simplified solution to demonstrate how it can be done.

This assumes a new CakePHP site already configured with a database connection. I used CakePHP 2.0.3 but this may also work with 1.3 (?)

1. Models

We need 3 associated tables

CREATE TABLE `categories` (
  PRIMARY KEY (`id`)
INSERT INTO `categories` (`id`, `name`)
CREATE TABLE `posts` (
  `subcategory_id` INT(10) UNSIGNED DEFAULT NULL,
  PRIMARY KEY (`id`)
INSERT INTO `posts` (`id`, `title`, `subcategory_id`)
	(1,'The title',1),
	(2,'A title once again',4),
	(3,'Title strikes back',7);
CREATE TABLE `subcategories` (
  `category_id` INT(10) UNSIGNED DEFAULT NULL,
  PRIMARY KEY (`id`)
INSERT INTO `subcategories` (`id`, `category_id`, `name`)

Bake the 3 Models for these and allow CakePHP to define model associations for you.

2. Controllers

Bake a Controller for the Post Model with the default CRUD actions.

While you are at it you will also need to bake the CRUD Views for the Post Controller.

If you browse to the posts index page now you can view the data.
In this example I will add the Category and Subcategory select lists to the Add view, so now we need to change this so that the selection in the second list changes according to the selection in the first list.
This will be done via the Js Helper so make it available at the top of the Posts controller (after the Class declaration) with:

public $helpers = array('Js');

You need a Subcategories Controller with a single action to provide the data via AJAX:

App::uses('AppController', 'Controller');
class SubcategoriesController extends AppController {
	public function getByCategory() {
		$category_id = $this->request->data['Post']['category_id'];
		$subcategories = $this->Subcategory->find('list', array(
			'conditions' => array('Subcategory.category_id' => $category_id),
			'recursive' => -1
		$this->layout = 'ajax';


The view is a very simple AJAX view that renders the option tags that go within the select tag.

<!-- file path View/Subcategories/get_by_category.ctp -->
<?php foreach ($subcategories as $key => $value): ?>
<option value="<?php echo $key; ?>"><?php echo $value; ?></option>
<?php endforeach; ?>

4. Putting it all together

In the Post Add view, file path: View/Posts/add.ctp we can finally add the Js methods that make the dynamic updating happen. This is the cryptic bit that I struggled with for a few hours as although the CakePHP documentation outlines all the options there are not any complete examples.
Firstly add a categories select element to the form (and change the order of the elements):

	echo $this->Form->input('category_id');
	echo $this->Form->input('subcategory_id');
	echo $this->Form->input('title');

Add the following code to the bottom of the view, this uses the Js Helper to create the necessary jQuery to perform the updating:

		), array(
		'async' => true,
		'method' => 'post',
		'data'=> $this->Js->serializeForm(array(
			'isForm' => true,
			'inline' => true

This is saying – watch the HTML element with Id PostCategoryId for a change. When it changes update the HTML element with Id PostSubcategoryId with the response from subcategories/GetByCategory, the data option is used to send the current value from the initial select element.

Before you leap to test this you need to make changes to the default layout to include jQuery and provide a place for your scripts to be written out.

// file path View/Layouts/default.ctp
<!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD XHTML 1.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/xhtml1/DTD/xhtml1-transitional.dtd">
<html xmlns="http://www.w3.org/1999/xhtml">
	<?php echo $this->Html->charset(); ?>
		<?php echo $title_for_layout; ?>
		echo $this->Html->meta('icon');
		echo $this->Html->css('cake.generic');
	<div id="container">
		<div id="header">
			<h1>Dynamic Select Box Demonstration</h1>
		<div id="content">
			<?php echo $this->Session->flash(); ?>
			<?php echo $content_for_layout; ?>
		<div id="footer">
	<?php echo $this->element('sql_dump'); ?>
	<script type="text/javascript" src="http://ajax.googleapis.com/ajax/libs/jquery/1.6.4/jquery.min.js"></script>
	<!-- scripts_for_layout -->
	<?php echo $scripts_for_layout; ?>
	<!-- Js writeBuffer -->
	if (class_exists('JsHelper') && method_exists($this->Js, 'writeBuffer')) echo $this->Js->writeBuffer();
	// Writes cached scripts

Now you can test the application. On changing the category select list, the subcategory one will automatically update to show the relevant options.

84 Replies to “Dynamic select box with CakePHP 2.0”

  1. Im new to this Cakephp and currently im using cakephp 1.3.
    My Question is is cakephp1.3 compatible with your tutorial because i follow the the step but it seem it cant populate the 2nd select list.
    Please help me ^_^

  2. This is what I’m looking for! Since it’s my first CakePhp project I have lots of doubts, for example, what do you mean by “Bake the 3 Models for these and allow CakePHP to define model associations for you. “.
    Does it means to create the CRUD model, view, controller files for each table through console?

  3. Well, it finally worked!!! I did all the baking for my models through the command prompt, had to do it twice, but it’s all worth it
    I’m using CakePHP 2.0 and now I have to a second level, hopefully I’ll have this done this year!

  4. Great post, you saved my job hahaha. I spend almost 2 days to find this. Good job ^^

    And, it works in 1.3, just remove the line “App::uses(‘AppController’, ‘Controller’);”
    and change “$this->request->data[‘Post’][‘category_id’];” to “$this->data[‘Post’][‘category_id’];” in in SubcategoriesController.

  5. Seriously thank you for this tutorial. Works great.

    Bonus thanks to that Vinicius dude for the help with getting it working on 1.3

  6. If you are having trouble getting this to work, as I was, pay mind to your layout file. If you are using a default layout for all pages you have to add $this->layout = false to the getByCategory function.

  7. I tested this example on the version of CakePHP 2.1.
    And I have not earned a conclusion without the inclusion of the following categories of code in the controller entry PostsController.php:

    $ categories = $ this-> Post-> Subcategory-> Category-> find ('list');
    $ subcategories = $ this-> Post-> Subcategory-> find ('list');
    $ this-> set (compact ('categories', 'subcategories'));

    After that, everything worked fine, just need to add code to initialize the list of subcategories when displaying the page “Add Post”.

      1. Yes,otherwise category not displayed,please add these thing in article otherwise nice article to start with JSON Onject in cakephp.


    1. Hey, I’ve been struggling to add these lines of code in order to get it to work for the newest versions of cake.

      Where exactly do I implement this? what line round about in the PostController?

      I’m still using the exact data from the tutorial for reference, everything is working 100% besides the list for category not loading, thus making the functionality pointless! I’ve tried on top, in the add function, and just randomly but cant manage to get it to work. Please advise!

    2. THANK YOU!!! finally got it working after weeks of trying! replace:

      $subcategories = $this->Post->Subcategory->find(‘list’);


      $ categories = $ this-> Post-> Subcategory-> Category-> find (‘list’);
      $ subcategories = $ this-> Post-> Subcategory-> find (‘list’);
      $ this-> set (compact (‘categories’, ‘subcategories’));

  8. Hi Guys, I am new with CakePhp and trying to implement this features on Cake 2.06. I tried the code, somehow it’s not working.
    I have some question:
    the View/Subcategories/get_by_category.ctp -> shouldn’t this be name as getByCategory.ctp?

    Next is on the add.ctp page
    Js->get(‘#PostCategoryId’)->event(‘change’, -> shouldn’t the #PostCategoryID be name as #category_id instead?
    ‘update’=>’#PostSubcategoryId’, -> shouldn’t the #PostSubcategoryId as subcategory_id?

    Please do advice, thank you in advance.

    1. Hi,
      I checked the CakePHP view naming conventions which look like they have been updated recently and it says The basic pattern is /app/View/Controller/underscored_function_name.ctp.
      As for #PostCategoryID – I suggest you take a look at the HTML that CakePHP is generating for the form element for category_id and see what id it has been assigned. In my version as the form was created with the Post model, that was prefixed on all form elements, if you are using a different model then your id’s will be different.

  9. Thanks for the tutorial, it works well (better when man do’nt forget to authorise the getBy function), but I run into performance issues.

    In France we have departments (about 100), and in each department communes, there are 39 000 communes in all. I want to select a department, and then have the list of the communes for that department to pick one. It works, but I must wait very long for the response, the javascript script seems not responding, hitting continue several times, at the end it works.

    Have you got an idea ?

    1. This issue is resolved : there was an error in the model, in the description of the belongsto join, the foreign key was missing, letting cake to do the cartesian product of the two tables…
      Nothing related with javascript.

  10. Thanks, this page was a huge help.

    Question: I want my subcategory select to appear correct when the page loads. Currently my page loads listing all categories and all subcategories; the subcategory select doesn’t refresh until the user clicks into categories (because it’s listening for the change event).

    Would I use an event other than “change”? Or is some other workaround to execute getByCategory (with whatever default category ID shows up in the category select) when the page loads?

    Thanks in advance.

    1. Hi Adam,
      I wouldn’t use JavaScript to change this when the page loads.
      The initial contents from the list are coming from the database in the add action of the posts controller. You should be able to add in a database select there to populate the lists with whatever contents you want to display.

  11. Richard,

    Thanks, yes – that makes sense. I modified the query for subcategory such the default contents of the Subcategory select match the default Category select. Cool!

    One more question: Any thoughts on a 3-way relationship? e.g. Category/Subcategory/Sub-subcategory.

    At present, when Category changes the Subcategory updates OK, and when Subcategory changes Sub-subcategory updates OK. Is there any way I can force the Sub-subcategory (which is listening for a click event on Subcategory) to update when the Category changes? Can Sub-subcategory listen for click events on multiple items? In pseudo-code for Sub-subcategory, something like:

    $this->Js->get(‘#PostCategoryId’ || ‘#