AJAX Tabs in Bootstrap 2.1

Note: When this article was written, the code was tested against Bootstrap v2.1.1 and jQuery v1.8.1 although as it is very simple it should work on the latest versions.

I'm using Twitter Bootstrap in a new project and want to have the content of tabs dynamically loaded via AJAX.  Although in previous projects I have used  jQueryUI to achieve this I wanted to keep the look of all the user interface elements consistent throughout. As a result, I whipped up a simple piece of jQuery to do this and thought I'd share it in case it's useful to others.

First, we need to output the HTML markup to get Twitter Bootstrap to display the tabs correctly on the page. We do this with a simple <ul> construct, shown below:

<ul id="MainTabs" class="nav nav-tabs">
  <li><a data-target="#apple" data-toggle="tab" href="/apple.html">apple</a></li>
  <li><a data-target="#banana" data-toggle="tab" href="/banana.html">banana</a></li>
  <li><a data-target="#cherry" data-toggle="tab" href="/cherry.html">cherry</a></li>

<div class="tab-content">
  <div class="tab-pane" id="apple">Loading...</div>
  <div class="tab-pane" id="banana">Loading...</div>
  <div class="tab-pane" id="cherry">Loading...</div>

Things to note:

  • We have given our <ul> construct an id of MainTabs. If you want to change this, make sure you also change the references to it in the jQuery code below.
  • Each <li> item contains a data-target attribute which corresponds to a <div> in the second section of code (which is where the content loaded via AJAX will be placed).
  • Each <li> item contains an href attribute which specifies the URL the AJAX call will use to fetch the content. This can be any URL (such as a PHP script) and can contain parameters as normal.

Now all we need to do is output some jQuery code to ensure that the content is loaded whenever the user clicks on a tab:

$(function() {
  $("#MainTabs").bind("show", function(e) {    
    var contentID  = $(e.target).attr("data-target");
    var contentURL = $(e.target).attr("href");
    if (typeof(contentURL) != 'undefined')
      $(contentID).load(contentURL, function(){ $("#MainTabs").tab(); });
  $('#MainTabs a:first').tab("show");

We check to see if the "data-target" attribute is set before loading the content. This allows us to mix pre-populated tabs (specified in-line in the page HTML) with dynamic tabs which are loaded via AJAX.

Line 11 uses a:first to ensure that the first tab is selected when the page is initially loaded. If you need to select a different tab on page load (perhaps you are generating the markup from within a PHP script) then you can replace a:first with a[data-target="#apple"] where apple is the id of the tab you want selected.


  • Rohan

    Awesome post! was exactly what i needed in my current project. Quick question, is there a way to set focus to a specific tab based on tab id or something similar? eg. something like $(‘#MainTabs #apple’).tab(“show”);

    • rztaylor

      Yes, you can pro grammatically change focus using the following command:
      $('#MainTabs a[data-target="#apple"]').tab('show');

  • Joel Ransom

    >>Each li item contains a data-toggle attribute
    I think you meant “data-target” there not “data-toggle”?

    • rztaylor

      Thanks Joel, you’re correct.
      I’ve updated the article.

  • Joel Ransom

    This worked great–just curious why you used the data-target to store the id, instead of just using an id tag?

    • rztaylor

      IDs should be unique within the page, so I couldn’t use the same iD for both the list item and the div.

      In addition, the code gives you the ability to have a mixture of static and dynamic content. If you omit the href attribute in the tab definition, and put content within the div associated to that tab then it is displayed when the tab is selected by the user.

  • Giacomo

    I think I find a bug with Chrome.
    When I load the page, the tab show correctly the first content but always set active the second tab.
    I’m developing with ubuntu and I have no problem with Firefox and Opera but I sow the same problem with firefox (and chrome, of course) on Windows.

  • chander

    Thanks for this. Would be helpful if you mentioned what version of jquery you used. Also, should the function be ‘.tabs();’ instead of ‘.tab();’ ?

    • rztaylor

      At the time the article was writtem, I was using Bootstrap v2.1.1 with jQuery v1.8.1 although the code is very simple and should work correctly with the latest versions.

      The use of .tab(); is correct in this context because we are using the Bootstrap UI component to render the tabs. The confusion may be because jQueryUI uses a function called .tabs().

      I’m using the Bootstrap tabs in preference to the jQueryUI ones because I wanted all the UI elements to have a consistent look and feel.

  • Carlos

    I have problem, the code works fine. I need load a form with vars of query in php, so each time that I click in tab erase new data that I add in each form.

    Understand me?

    How can fix this?

  • Hemant Sarraf

    Thanks for this piece of code..