17th July 2020

LocalStorage, sessionStorage

Web storage objects localStorage and sessionStorage allow to save key/value pairs in the browser.

What’s interesting about them is that the data survives a page refresh (for sessionStorage) and even a full browser restart (for localStorage). We’ll see that very soon.

We already have cookies. Why additional objects?

  • Unlike cookies, web storage objects are not sent to server with each request. Because of that, we can store much more. Most browsers allow at least 2 megabytes of data (or more) and have settings to configure that.
  • Also unlike cookies, the server can’t manipulate storage objects via HTTP headers. Everything’s done in JavaScript.
  • The storage is bound to the origin (domain/protocol/port triplet). That is, different protocols or subdomains infer different storage objects, they can’t access data from each other.

Both storage objects provide same methods and properties:

  • setItem(key, value) – store key/value pair.
  • getItem(key) – get the value by key.
  • removeItem(key) – remove the key with its value.
  • clear() – delete everything.
  • key(index) – get the key on a given position.
  • length – the number of stored items.

As you can see, it’s like a Map collection (setItem/getItem/removeItem), but also allows access by index with key(index).

Let’s see how it works.

localStorage demo

The main features of localStorage are:

  • Shared between all tabs and windows from the same origin.
  • The data does not expire. It remains after the browser restart and even OS reboot.

For instance, if you run this code…

localStorage.setItem('test', 1);

…And close/open the browser or just open the same page in a different window, then you can get it like this:

alert( localStorage.getItem('test') ); // 1

We only have to be on the same origin (domain/port/protocol), the url path can be different.

The localStorage is shared between all windows with the same origin, so if we set the data in one window, the change becomes visible in another one.

Object-like access

We can also use a plain object way of getting/setting keys, like this:

// set key
localStorage.test = 2;

// get key
alert( localStorage.test ); // 2

// remove key
delete localStorage.test;

That’s allowed for historical reasons, and mostly works, but generally not recommended, because:

  1. If the key is user-generated, it can be anything, like length or toString, or another built-in method of localStorage. In that case getItem/setItem work fine, while object-like access fails:

    let key = 'length';
    localStorage[key] = 5; // Error, can't assign length
  2. There’s a storage event, it triggers when we modify the data. That event does not happen for object-like access. We’ll see that later in this chapter.

Looping over keys

As we’ve seen, the methods provide “get/set/remove by key” functionality. But how to get all saved values or keys?

Unfortunately, storage objects are not iterable.

One way is to loop over them as over an array:

for(let i=0; i<localStorage.length; i++) {
  let key = localStorage.key(i);
  alert(`${key}: ${localStorage.getItem(key)}`);

Another way is to use for key in localStorage loop, just as we do with regular objects.

It iterates over keys, but also outputs few built-in fields that we don’t need:

// bad try
for(let key in localStorage) {
  alert(key); // shows getItem, setItem and other built-in stuff

…So we need either to filter fields from the prototype with hasOwnProperty check:

for(let key in localStorage) {
  if (!localStorage.hasOwnProperty(key)) {
    continue; // skip keys like "setItem", "getItem" etc
  alert(`${key}: ${localStorage.getItem(key)}`);

…Or just get the “own” keys with Object.keys and then loop over them if needed:

let keys = Object.keys(localStorage);
for(let key of keys) {
  alert(`${key}: ${localStorage.getItem(key)}`);

The latter works, because Object.keys only returns the keys that belong to the object, ignoring the prototype.

Strings only

Please note that both key and value must be strings.

If were any other type, like a number, or an object, it gets converted to string automatically:

sessionStorage.user = {name: "John"};
alert(sessionStorage.user); // [object Object]

We can use JSON to store objects though:

sessionStorage.user = JSON.stringify({name: "John"});

// sometime later
let user = JSON.parse( sessionStorage.user );
alert( user.name ); // John

Also it is possible to stringify the whole storage object, e.g. for debugging purposes:

// added formatting options to JSON.stringify to make the object look nicer
alert( JSON.stringify(localStorage, null, 2) );


The sessionStorage object is used much less often than localStorage.

Properties and methods are the same, but it’s much more limited:

  • The sessionStorage exists only within the current browser tab.
    • Another tab with the same page will have a different storage.
    • But it is shared between iframes in the same tab (assuming they come from the same origin).
  • The data survives page refresh, but not closing/opening the tab.

Let’s see that in action.

Run this code…

sessionStorage.setItem('test', 1);

…Then refresh the page. Now you can still get the data:

alert( sessionStorage.getItem('test') ); // after refresh: 1

…But if you open the same page in another tab, and try again there, the code above returns null, meaning “nothing found”.

That’s exactly because sessionStorage is bound not only to the origin, but also to the browser tab. For that reason, sessionStorage is used sparingly.

Storage event

When the data gets updated in localStorage or sessionStorage, storage event triggers, with properties:

  • key – the key that was changed (null if .clear() is called).
  • oldValue – the old value (null if the key is newly added).
  • newValue – the new value (null if the key is removed).
  • url – the url of the document where the update happened.
  • storageArea – either localStorage or sessionStorage object where the update happened.

The important thing is: the event triggers on all window objects where the storage is accessible, except the one that caused it.

Let’s elaborate.

Imagine, you have two windows with the same site in each. So localStorage is shared between them.

You might want to open this page in two browser windows to test the code below.

If both windows are listening for window.onstorage, then each one will react on updates that happened in the other one.

// triggers on updates made to the same storage from other documents
window.onstorage = event => { // same as window.addEventListener('storage', () => {
  if (event.key != 'now') return;
  alert(event.key + ':' + event.newValue + " at " + event.url);

localStorage.setItem('now', Date.now());

Please note that the event also contains: event.url – the url of the document where the data was updated.

Also, event.storageArea contains the storage object – the event is the same for both sessionStorage and localStorage, so event.storageArea references the one that was modified. We may even want to set something back in it, to “respond” to a change.

That allows different windows from the same origin to exchange messages.

Modern browsers also support Broadcast channel API, the special API for same-origin inter-window communication, it’s more full featured, but less supported. There are libraries that polyfill that API, based on localStorage, that make it available everywhere.


Web storage objects localStorage and sessionStorage allow to store key/value in the browser.

  • Both key and value must be strings.
  • The limit is 5mb+, depends on the browser.
  • They do not expire.
  • The data is bound to the origin (domain/port/protocol).
localStorage sessionStorage
Shared between all tabs and windows with the same origin Visible within a browser tab, including iframes from the same origin
Survives browser restart Survives page refresh (but not tab close)


  • setItem(key, value) – store key/value pair.
  • getItem(key) – get the value by key.
  • removeItem(key) – remove the key with its value.
  • clear() – delete everything.
  • key(index) – get the key number index.
  • length – the number of stored items.
  • Use Object.keys to get all keys.
  • We access keys as object properties, in that case storage event isn’t triggered.

Storage event:

  • Triggers on setItem, removeItem, clear calls.
  • Contains all the data about the operation (key/oldValue/newValue), the document url and the storage object storageArea.
  • Triggers on all window objects that have access to the storage except the one that generated it (within a tab for sessionStorage, globally for localStorage).


Create a textarea field that “autosaves” its value on every change.

So, if the user accidentally closes the page, and opens it again, he’ll find his unfinished input at place.

Like this:

Open a sandbox for the task.

Tutorial map


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