Popup windows

  1. The modern use
  2. The syntax of window.open
  3. Example: a minimalistic window
  4. Accessing the new window
  5. Accessing the opener window
  6. Summary

A popup window is one of the oldest methods to show additional document to user.

Basically, you just run:


… And it will open a new window with given URL. Most modern browsers are configured to open new tabs instead of separate windows.

The modern use

Popups came to us from dark ages, where no AJAX existed. As of now, they are mostly out of use. Dynamic content is loaded into DIV elements or IFRAMEs.

Popups can be abused. A bad page may open tons of popup windows, so most browsers try to block popups and protect the user.

Most browsers block popups if they are called outside of user-triggered event handlers like onclick.

Despite of this problem, there are situations, when a popup works best.

For example, imagine a shop and online chat consulting service. The online chat service provides only a button to the shop. The chat service is completely independant.

A visitor browsers the shop site and clicks on the button which triggers window.open, the popup opens and loads the chat etc etc.

Why the popup is beneficial here?

  1. The popup is separate window with its own independent JavaScript environment. So the chat service doesn’t need to integrate with javascripts of the shop site. No security pitfalls too, because of same origin policy.
  2. The popup is very simple to add to site and needs no overhead. It’s only a small button, without additional javascripts to load.
  3. The popup may persist even if the user left the page. For example, a consult advices the user to navigate to a new “Super-Cooler”. The user goes there in the main window without breaking the chat.

The syntax of window.open

The syntax is: open(url, name, params), where:

an URL to load into the new window.
A name of the new window. It can be used as the target in a and form elements.

Also, if you call open later with the same name, the browser may replace the existing window by a new one. Some browsers (FF) do it, some browsers (IE) open new windows.

The configuration string for the new window. It contains settings, delimited by a comma. There must be no spaces in params.

The params settings are given below.

Position settings:

left/top (numeric)
Coordinates of the window top-left corner on the screen. There is a limitation: a new window cannot be positioned offscreen.
width/height (numeric)
Width and height of a new window. There is a limit on minimal width/height, so it’s impossible to create an invisible window.

Window features:

menubar (yes/no)
Shows or hides the browser menu on the new window.
toolbar (yes/no)
Shows or hides the browser navigation bar (back, forward, reload etc) on the new window.
location (yes/no)
Shows or hides the URL field in the new window. FF and IE don’t allow to hide it by default.
status (yes/no)
Shows or hides the status bar. Again, most browsers force it to show.
resizable (yes/no)
Allows to disable the resize for the new window. Not recommended.
scrollbars (yes/no)
Allows to disable the scrollbars for the new window. Not recommended.

There is also a number of less supported browser-specific features, which are usually not used. Check window.open in MDN for examples.

Example: a minimalistic window

Let’s open a window with minimal set of features just to see which of them browser allows to disable:

var p1 = 'scrollbars=no,resizable=no,status=no,location=no,toolbar=no,menubar=no'
var p2 = 'width=0,height=0,left=-1000,top=-1000'
open('/', 'test', p1+p2)

Here most parameters are disabled and window is positioned offscreen. Run it and see what really happens.

Let’s add normal positioning options, a reasonable width, height, left and top coordinates:

var p1 = 'scrollbars=no,resizable=no,status=no,location=no,toolbar=no,menubar=no'
var p2 = 'width=100,height=100,left=100,top=100'
open('/', 'test', p1+p2)

The browser shows the example above as it is meant.

If there is no 3rd argument in the open call or it is empty, then the default window parameters are used.

If there is a string of params, but some yes/no features are omitted, then the omitted features are disabled, if the browser allows that. So if you specify params, make sure you set all required features to yes.

If there is no left/top in params, then the browser tries to open a new window near the last opened window.

If there is no width/height, then the new window will be the same size as the last opened.

Accessing the new window

The open call returns a reference to the new window. It can be used to manipulate it’s properties, change location and even more.

In the example below, the contents of the new window is modified after loading.

var win = open('/', 'example', 'width=300,height=300')
win.onload = function() {
  var div = win.document.createElement('div') 
  div.innerHTML = 'Welcome into the future!'
  div.style.fontSize = '30px'
  win.document.body.insertBefore( div, win.document.body.firstChild ) 

Note that the document object of the new window is used. That won’t work otherwise.

It is always possible to change the location by assigning win.location=.... Most other actions, especially modifying or accessing the new window content are only available if the URL of new window comes from the same protocol://domain:port (or, shortly, from the same origin). More about it in the section The "Same Origin" security policy.

Accessing the opener window

There is a window.opener property which references the window which opened this one. It is null for all windows except popups.

So it is possible to manipulate the opener window, change it’s location etc. The popup can do with the opener window all that the window can do with it’s popup.


The popup is opened by the win = open(url, name, params) call. It returns the reference to the newly opened window.

The popup may access the opener window using the window.opener property.

Also, if you use a popup, inform the visitor about it. The same applies to opening a new window by a link or form with target="_blank".

An icon with the opening window can help the visitor to survive the focus shift and keep both windows in mind. That’s especially true if the new window opens in another tab.