How do I efficiently highlight element under mouse cursor with an overlay?

Still trying to answer this question, and I think I finally found a solution, but it runs too slow.

var $div = $('<div>')
    .css({ 'border': '1px solid red', 'position': 'absolute', 'z-index': '65535' })
    .appendTo('body');

$('body *').live('mousemove', function(e) {
    var topElement = null;
    $('body *').each(function() {
        if(this == $div[0]) return true;
        var $elem = $(this);
        var pos = $elem.offset();
        var width = $elem.width();
        var height = $elem.height();
        if(e.pageX > pos.left && e.pageY > pos.top
            && e.pageX < (pos.left + width) && e.pageY < (pos.top + height)) {
            var zIndex = document.defaultView.getComputedStyle(this, null).getPropertyValue('z-index');
            if(zIndex == 'auto') zIndex = $elem.parents().length;
            if(topElement == null || zIndex > topElement.zIndex) {
                topElement = {
                    'node': $elem,
                    'zIndex': zIndex
                };
            }

        }
    });
    if(topElement != null ) {
        var $elem = topElement.node;
        $div.offset($elem.offset()).width($elem.width()).height($elem.height());
    }
});

It basically loops through all the elements on the page and finds the top-most element beneath the cursor.

Is there maybe some way I could use a quad-tree or something and segment the page so the loop runs faster?

Answers:

Answer

Is there maybe some way I could use a quad-tree or something and segment the page so the loop runs faster?

Just step back a bit, realize how small the problem is, and that the harder your try the more complicated answer you will use.

Now what you need to do is to create 4 elements for the highlighting. They will form an empty square, and so your mouse events are free to fire. This is similar to this overlay example I've made.

The difference is that you only need the four elements (no resize markers), and that the size and position of the 4 boxes are a bit different (to mimick the red border). Then you can use event.target in your event handler, because it gets the real topmost element by default.

Another approach is to hide the exra element, get elementFromPoint, calculate then put it back.

They're faster than light, I can tell you. Even Einstein would agree :)

1.) elementFromPoint overlay/borders - [Demo1] FF needs v3.0+

var box = $("<div class='outer' />").css({
  display: "none", position: "absolute", 
  zIndex: 65000, background:"rgba(255, 0, 0, .3)"
}).appendTo("body");

var mouseX, mouseY, target, lastTarget;

// in case you need to support older browsers use a requestAnimationFrame polyfill
// e.g: https://gist.github.com/paulirish/1579671
window.requestAnimationFrame(function frame() {
  window.requestAnimationFrame(frame);
    if (target && target.className === "outer") {
        box.hide();
        target = document.elementFromPoint(mouseX, mouseY);
    }
    box.show();   

    if (target === lastTarget) return;

    lastTarget = target;
    var $target = $(target);
    var offset = $target.offset();
    box.css({
        width:  $target.outerWidth()  - 1, 
        height: $target.outerHeight() - 1, 
        left:   offset.left, 
        top:    offset.top 
    });
});

$("body").mousemove(function (e) {
    mouseX = e.clientX;
    mouseY = e.clientY;
    target = e.target;
});

2.) mouseover borders - [Demo2]

var box = new Overlay();

$("body").mouseover(function(e){
  var el = $(e.target);
  var offset = el.offset();
  box.render(el.outerWidth(), el.outerHeight(), offset.left, offset.top);
});?

/**
 * This object encapsulates the elements and actions of the overlay.
 */
function Overlay(width, height, left, top) {

    this.width = this.height = this.left = this.top = 0;

    // outer parent
    var outer = $("<div class='outer' />").appendTo("body");

    // red lines (boxes)
    var topbox    = $("<div />").css("height", 1).appendTo(outer);
    var bottombox = $("<div />").css("height", 1).appendTo(outer);  
    var leftbox   = $("<div />").css("width",  1).appendTo(outer);
    var rightbox  = $("<div />").css("width",  1).appendTo(outer);

    // don't count it as a real element
    outer.mouseover(function(){ 
        outer.hide(); 
    });    

    /**
     * Public interface
     */

    this.resize = function resize(width, height, left, top) {
      if (width != null)
        this.width = width;
      if (height != null)
        this.height = height;
      if (left != null)
        this.left = left;
      if (top != null)
        this.top = top;      
    };

    this.show = function show() {
       outer.show();
    };

    this.hide = function hide() {
       outer.hide();
    };     

    this.render = function render(width, height, left, top) {

        this.resize(width, height, left, top);

        topbox.css({
          top:   this.top,
          left:  this.left,
          width: this.width
        });
        bottombox.css({
          top:   this.top + this.height - 1,
          left:  this.left,
          width: this.width
        });
        leftbox.css({
          top:    this.top, 
          left:   this.left, 
          height: this.height
        });
        rightbox.css({
          top:    this.top, 
          left:   this.left + this.width - 1, 
          height: this.height  
        });

        this.show();
    };      

    // initial rendering [optional]
    // this.render(width, height, left, top);
}
Answer

First off, i don't think doing $('body *').live is a very good idea, it seems very expensive (think about the kind of calculation the browser has to do every time you move your mouse)

That said, here is an optimized version that ignores that aspect

var $div = $('<div>')
    .css({ 'border': '1px solid red', 'position': 'absolute', 'z-index': '65535' })
    .appendTo('body');

$('body *').live('mousemove', function(e) {
    var topElement = null;
    var $bodyStar = $('body *');
    for(var i=0,elem;elem=$bodyStar[i];i++) {
        if(elem == $div[0]) continue;
        var $elem = $(elem);
        var pos = $elem.offset();
        var width = $elem.width();
        var height = $elem.height();
        if(e.pageX > pos.left && e.pageY > pos.top && e.pageX < (pos.left + width) && e.pageY < (pos.top + height)) {
            var zIndex = document.defaultView.getComputedStyle(this, null).getPropertyValue('z-index');
            if(zIndex == 'auto') zIndex = $elem.parents().length;
            if(topElement == null || zIndex > topElement.zIndex) {
                topElement = {
                    'node': $elem,
                    'zIndex': zIndex
                };
            }

        }
    }
    if(topElement != null) {
        var $elem = topElement.node;
        $div.offset($elem.offset()).width($elem.width()).height($elem.height());
    }
});

For future reference, never use jQuerys looping mechanisms if you need performance. They are all build around function calls for every iteration, which is very slow compared to a normal loop, since the call stack initiation that happens when you do a function call is a huge overhead for most iteration operations you need to do.

Code updated to fix errors, and allow for dynamically inserted elements.

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