Using Twitter Bootstrap Typeahead to select a key/value pair, not a string

Twitter Bootstrap comes with a UI widget called Typeahead — an auto-complete textbox. Problem is, it works only with strings — you type a string, it searches a list of strings, when you choose one, it tells you you selected a string.

This is fine in some cases, but it’s not much cop if you want to select, say, a primary key field.

I’ve found an approach for this that lets you select in a more traditional manner — search names, return a different, unique value. It uses the ‘highlighter’ function and a little bit of JSON. Highlighter is a bit of a misnomer — it’s actually an arbitrary function for re-writing the text that appears in the dropdown.

So when you invoke, say, $(‘#mysearchbox’).typeahead(), you pass a set of options. Here’s what you need to do for each option;

source: Set the source option to a function returning an array of JSON-serialized name/value pairs;

return [
JSON.stringify({ name:”one”, value: 1 }},

    JSON.stringify({ name:”two”, value: 2 }},

    JSON.stringify({ name:”three”, value: 3 }},

    JSON.stringify({ name:”four”, value: 4 }},

    JSON.stringify({ name:”five”, value: 5 }}


highlighter: Set the highlighter to return just the name, not the value;

highlighter: function(item) {
return JSON.parse(item).name;

matcher: Set the matcher to return things that match the right name;

matcher: function (item) {


      .indexOf(this.query.toLocaleLowerCase()) != -1;

updater: Use the updater to catch the selected item;

updater: function (item) {
return JSON.parse(item).name;

This pattern lets you search for text but return a corresponding key.