Attributes and properties

When the browser loads the page, it “reads” (another word: “parses”) HTML text and generates DOM objects from it. For element nodes most standard HTML attributes automatically become properties of DOM objects.

For instance, if the tag is <body id="page">, then the DOM object will have body.id="page".

But the mapping is not one-to-one! In this chapter we’ll see that DOM properties and attributes are linked, but they may be different.

DOM properties

We’ve already seen built-in DOM properties. There’s a lot. But technically no one limits us, and if it’s not enough – we can add own own.

DOM nodes are regular JavaScript objects. We can alter them.

For instance, let’s create a new property in document.body:

document.body.myData = {
  name: 'Caesar',
  title: 'Imperator'
};

alert(document.body.myData.title); // Imperator

We can add a method as well:

document.body.sayHi = function() {
  alert(this.tagName);
};

document.body.sayHi(); // BODY (the value of "this" in the method is document.body)

We can also modify built-in prototypes like Element.prototype and add new methods to all elements:

Element.prototype.sayHi = function() {
  alert(`Hello, I'm ${this.tagName}`);
};

document.documentElement.sayHi(); // Hello, I'm HTML
document.body.sayHi(); // Hello, I'm BODY

So, DOM properties and methods behave just like those of regular JavaScript objects:

  • They can have any value.
  • They are case-sensitive (write elem.nodeType, not elem.NoDeTyPe).

HTML attributes

In HTML language, tags may have attributes. When the browser reads HTML text and creates DOM objects for tags, it recognizes standard attributes and creates DOM properties from them.

So when an element has id or another standard attribute, the corresponding property gets created. But that doesn’t happen if the attribute is non-standard.

For instance:

<body id="test" something="non-standard">
  <script>
    alert(document.body.id); // test
    // non-standard attribute does not yield a property
    alert(document.body.something); // undefined
  </script>
</body>

Please note that a standard attribute for one element can be unknown for another one. For instance, "type" is standard for <input> (HTMLInputElement), but not for <body> (HTMLBodyElement). Standard attributes are described in the specification for the corresponding class.

Here we can see it:

<body id="body" type="...">
  <input id="input" type="text">
  <script>
    alert(input.type); // text
    alert(body.type); // undefined: DOM property not created, because it's non-standard
  </script>
</body>

So, if an attribute is non-standard, there won’t be DOM-property for it. Is there a way to access such attributes?

Sure. All attributes are accessible using following methods:

  • elem.hasAttribute(name) – checks for existance.
  • elem.getAttribute(name) – gets the value.
  • elem.setAttribute(name, value) – sets the value.
  • elem.removeAttribute(name) – removes the attribute.

These methods operate exactly with what’s written in HTML.

Also one can read all attributes using elem.attributes: a collection of objects that belong to a built-in Attr class. It’s enough to know that each of them has name and value properties.

Here’s a demo of reading a non-standard property:

<body something="non-standard">
  <script>
    alert(document.body.getAttribute('something')); // non-standard
  </script>
</body>

HTML attributes have following features:

  • Their name is case-insensitive (that’s HTML: id is same as ID).
  • They are always strings.

Here’s an extended demo of working with attributes:

<body>
  <div id="elem" about="Elephant"></div>

  <script>
    alert( elem.getAttribute('About') ); // (1) 'Elephant', reading

    elem.setAttribute('Test', 123); // (2), writing

    alert( elem.outerHTML ); // (3), see it's there

    for (let attr of elem.attributes) { // (4) list all
      alert( attr.name + " = " + attr.value );
    }
  </script>
</body>

Please note:

  1. getAttribute('About') – the first letter is uppercase here, and in HTML it’s all lowercase. But that doesn’t matter: attribute names are case-insensitive.
  2. We can assign anything to an attribute, but that becomes a string. So here we have "123" as the value.
  3. All attributes including ones that we set are visible in outerHTML.
  4. The attributes collection is iterable and has all attributes with name and value.

Property-attribute synchronization

When a standard attribute changes, the corresponding property is auto-updated, and (with some exceptions) vise-versa.

In the example below id is modified as an attribute, and we can see the property change too. And then the same backwards:

<input>

<script>
  let input = document.querySelector('input');

  // attribute => property
  input.setAttribute('id', 'id');
  alert(input.id); // id (updated)

  // property => attribute
  input.id = 'newId';
  alert(input.getAttribute('id')); // newId (updated)
</script>

But there are exclusions, for instance input.value synchronizes only from attribute to property:

<input>

<script>
  let input = document.querySelector('input');

  // attribute => property
  input.setAttribute('value', 'text');
  alert(input.value); // text

  // NOT property => attribute
  input.value = 'newValue';
  alert(input.getAttribute('value')); // text (not updated!)
</script>

In the example above:

  • Changing the attribute value updates the property.
  • But the property change does not affect the attribute.

That actually can come in handy, because the user may modify value, then, if we want to recover the “original” value from HTML, it’s in the attribute.

DOM properties are typed

DOM properties are not always strings. For instance, input.checked property (for checkboxes) and other similar properties are boolean:

<input id="input" type="checkbox" checked> checkbox

<script>
  alert(input.getAttribute('checked')); // the attribute value is: empty string
  alert(input.checked); // the property value is: true
</script>

There are other examples. The style attribute is a string, but style property is an object:

<div id="div" style="color:red;font-size:120%">Hello</div>

<script>
  // string
  alert(div.getAttribute('style')); // color:red;font-size:120%

  // object
  alert(div.style); // [object CSSStyleDeclaration]
  alert(div.style.color); // red
</script>

But even if a DOM property type is a string, it may differ from the attribute.

For instance, the href DOM property is always a full URL (by the standard), even if the attribute has a relative URL or just a #hash.

Here’s an example:

<a id="a" href="#hello">link</a>
<script>
  // attribute
  alert(a.getAttribute('href')); // #hello

  // property
  alert(a.href ); // full URL in the form http://site.com/page#hello
</script>

If we need the value of href or anything else exactly as written in the HTML, we need to use getAttribute.

Non-standard attributes, dataset

When writing HTML, we use a lot of standard attributes. But what about non-standard, custom ones? First, let’s see whether they are useful or not? What for?

Sometimes non-standard attributes are used to pass custom data from HTML to JavaScript, or “mark” elements.

Like this:

<!-- mark the div to show "name" here -->
<div show-info="name"></div>
<!-- and age here -->
<div show-info="age"></div>

<script>
  // the code finds an element with the mark and shows what's requested
  let user = {
    name: "Pete",
    age: 25
  };

  for(let div of document.querySelectorAll('[show-info]')) {
    // insert the corresponding info into the field
    let field = div.getAttribute('show-info');
    div.innerHTML = user[field]; // Pete, then age
  }
</script>

Also they can be used to style an element.

For instance, here for the order state the attribute order-state is used:

<style>
  /* styles rely on the custom attribute "order-state" */
  .order[order-state="new"] {
    color: green;
  }

  .order[order-state="pending"] {
    color: blue;
  }

  .order[order-state="canceled"] {
    color: red;
  }
</style>

<div class="order" order-state="new">
  A new order.
</div>

<div class="order" order-state="pending">
  A pending order.
</div>

<div class="order" order-state="canceled">
  A canceled order.
</div>

Why the attribute was chosen in the example above, not classes like .order-state-new, .order-state-pending, order-state-canceled?

That’s because an attribute is more convenient to manage. The state can be changed as easy as:

div.setAttribute('order-state', 'canceled');

But there may be a possible problem. What if we use a non-standard attribute for our purposes and later the standard introduces it and makes it do something? The HTML language is alive, it grows, more attributes appear to suit the needs of developers. There may be unexpected side-effects in case of such conflict.

To evade conflicts, there exist data-* attributes.

All attributes starting with “data-” are reserved for programmers’ use. They are available in dataset property.

For instance, if an elem has an attribute named "data-about", it’s available as elem.dataset.about.

Like this:

<body data-about="Elephants">
<script>
  alert(document.body.dataset.about); // Elephants
</script>

Multiword attributes like data-order-state become camel-cased: dataset.orderState.

Here’s a rewritten “order state” example:

<style>
  .order[data-order-state="new"] {
    color: green;
  }

  .order[data-order-state="pending"] {
    color: blue;
  }

  .order[data-order-state="canceled"] {
    color: red;
  }
</style>

<div id="order" class="order" data-order-state="new">
  A new order.
</div>

<script>
  // read
  alert(order.dataset.orderState); // new

  // modify
  order.dataset.orderState = "pending";
</script>

Using data-* attributes is a valid, safe way to pass custom data.

Please note that we can not only read, but also modify data-attributes. Then CSS updates the view accordingly: in the example above the last line changes the color to blue.

Summary

  • Attributes – is what’s written in HTML.
  • Properties – is what’s in DOM objects.

A small comparison:

Properties Attributes
Type Any value, standard properties have types described in the spec A string
Name Name is case-sensitive Name is case-insensitive

Methods to work with attributes are:

  • elem.hasAttribute(name) – to check for existance.
  • elem.getAttribute(name) – to get the value.
  • elem.setAttribute(name, value) – to set the value.
  • elem.removeAttribute(name) – to remove the attribute.
  • elem.attributes is a collection of all attributes.

We use attributes when DOM properties do not suit us and we need exactly attributes for some reasons, for instance:

  • We need a non-standard attribute. But if it starts with data-, then we should use dataset.
  • We want to read the value “as written” in HTML. The value of the DOM property may be different, for instance href property is always a full URL, and we may want to get the “original” value.

Tasks

importance: 5

Write the code to select the element with data-widget-name attribute from the document and to read its value.

<!DOCTYLE HTML>
<html>
<body>

  <div data-widget-name="menu">Choose the genre</div>

  <script>
    /* your code */
  </script>
</body>
</html>
<!DOCTYLE HTML>
<html>
<body>

  <div data-widget-name="menu">Choose the genre</div>

  <script>
    // getting it
    let elem = document.querySelector('[data-widget-name]');

    // reading the value
    alert(elem.dataset.widgetName);
    // or
    alert(elem.getAttribute('data-widget-name'));
  </script>
</body>
</html>

Open the solution in a sandbox.

importance: 3

Make all external links orange by altering their style property.

A link is external if:

  • It’s href has :// in it
  • But doesn’t start with http://internal.com.

Example:

<a name="list">the list</a>
<ul>
  <li><a href="http://google.com">http://google.com</a></li>
  <li><a href="/tutorial">/tutorial.html</a></li>
  <li><a href="local/path">local/path</a></li>
  <li><a href="ftp://ftp.com/my.zip">ftp://ftp.com/my.zip</a></li>
  <li><a href="http://nodejs.org">http://nodejs.org</a></li>
  <li><a href="http://internal.com/test">http://internal.com/test</a></li>
</ul>

<script>
  // setting style for a single link
  let link = document.querySelector('a');
  link.style.color = 'orange';
</script>

The result should be:

Open a sandbox for the task.

First, we need to find all external references.

There are two ways.

The first is to find all links using document.querySelectorAll('a') and then filter out what we need:

let links = document.querySelectorAll('a');

for (let link of links) {
  let href = link.getAttribute('href');
  if (!href) continue; // no attribute

  if (!href.includes('://')) continue; // no protocol

  if (href.startsWith('http://internal.com')) continue; // internal

  link.style.color = 'orange';
}

Please note: we use link.getAttribute('href'). Not link.href, because we need the value from HTML.

…Another, simpler way would be to add the checks to CSS selector:

// look for all links that have :// in href
// but href doesn't start with http://internal.com
let selector = 'a[href*="://"]:not([href^="http://internal.com"])';
let links = document.querySelectorAll(selector);

links.forEach(link => link.style.color = 'orange');

Open the solution in a sandbox.

Tutorial map

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