Lesson 9 - DOM manipulation in JavaScript

JavaScript Basics DOM manipulation in JavaScript

In the previous lesson, Introduction to DOM and events in JavaScript, we started with the most used DOM method - getElementById() and we also talked about events. This JavaScript tutorial will be more theoretical. We're going to learn what we can do with DOM, and in the next lesson, we'll create a larger web application using the knowledge we gained in this lesson.

Selecting elements

Before we can manipulate with elements, we must find them somehow. The getElementById() method is very efficient (and fast) but is not always ideal. Sometimes we need to select multiple elements, and sometimes we need to select elements which have no id. We won't always select elements from a document to which we have access so we can't ensure the presence of ids.

Selecting by class

We use the getElementsByClassName() method to select elements by their class. When writing it, keep in mind that the word "elements" is a plural, and that every first letter of each word (except for the first word) is in upper case. If you make a mistake, you'll cause an error (but you won't see it). The method returns an array of all the elements that have a given class. If there is no element with this class, the method returns an empty array. (More accurately, the method returns an empty HTMLCollection, which is a more primitive array for storing HTML elements).


Selecting by tag

Every element has its tag (its markup). The getElementsByTagName() method returns all the elements that have a given tag. In this way, we can select all paragraphs, for example. If no element has such a tag, it returns an empty HTMLCollection.


There are also selection methods based on the tag and its namespace (getElementsByTagNameNS()). These will be appreciated especially by XML fans. And we can search by the name attribute (getElementsByName()), which we use to look for elements in forms where the name attribute is assigned. Both methods return an empty HTMLCollection if nothing meets the specified conditions.

document.getElementsByTagNameNS("tag", "NS");

Selecting by CSS selector

In HTML document, we can search even more comfortably using CSS selectors as we are used to from webdesign. There are two methods to make this possible. The querySelector() method returns the first element that the selector meets, and the querySelectorAll() method returns an array of all the elements for which the selector is valid. We'll show it straight on the example.


This selector returns an input element which type attribute is set to text, which has the .pretty class and the #introduction id. You may have noticed that if we search by id, we could theoretically use only the following selector (since ids must be unique).


It's going to be a little more interesting with the querySelectorAll() method, which in many cases may be the only way to select something.


The selector returns all the elements that have the data-countdown attribute assigned.

Since we're able to select any element in DOM, we can start editing them.

Editing DOM contents


First, let's look at the contents of elements. One of the most basic properties of DOM elements is the innerHTML property that carries the element's contents. Consider the following element:


If we access its innerHTML property:


it'll return <span>Hello</span>world. We can change the contents using the property as well. Just remember that the nested HTML tags are processed.


Similarly as innerHTML, there's also the innerText property. The only difference is that innerText doesn't contain nested HTML elements, but only their text content. If we used the same content as the example above, p.innerText would return Hello world. The property was previously non-standard, but all browsers support it today.


textContent does almost the same as innerText. The difference between the properties is that innerText returns only visible text, while textContent also returns text hidden through CSS.

Now we already know how to read/change the contents of elements. Now let's look at their attributes.

Editing DOM attributes

Has attribute?

The basic question is whether an element has the attribute we're looking for at all. We can determine this by the hasAttribute() method, which takes the name of the attribute as parameter and returns a boolean value. There's also the hasAttributes() method (plural), which returns whether an element has any attributes. If there is none, it returns false, if there's at least one, it returns true. The method doesn't take any parameters. The method also has a namespace variant and can return the attribute's Node with the namespace optionally.


Element's children

An element may or may not have child elements. These are all the elements that are nested in it. Let's show a form as an example:

        <input type="text" />

The <input> and <button> elements are the child elements of the <form> element. In other words, the <input> and <button> elements are descendants of the <form> element.

Selecting child elements

The list of all the child elements of an element is in its childNodes property (it works as an array but it's represented by the NodeList collection).


Child elements are, of course, sorted. It's from the oldest to the youngest one depending on how long they're present in the parent element. Simply put, they're in the order in which the browser read them (we know it's from top to bottom). The firstChild property contains the first one of them.


On the contrary, the lastChild property contains the last child element.

We should mention that the firstChild and lastChild properties do not necessarily contain only physical elements, but also HTML comments, texts (typically <p> elements has a child which holds its text), and many other things we do not usually care about (we do care about these nodes when parsing XML documents which we'll learn while working with AJAX in advanced courses). To keep things simple, there are also the firstElementChild and lastElementChild properties which omit all the non-element nodes around (especially whitespaces can be nasty :) ) and return only HTML elements.

Creating new elements

The createElement() method creates a new element. The tag is specified as string as the first parameter. The method returns a new element, we can work with it straight away, but we must keep in mind that this element is not in the document yet. We can create and attach other elements into it, but we will not see them until we put the element somewhere in the document. There is also a variant that creates an element and assigns a namespace to it - createElementNS().

let span = document.createElement("span");
let svg = document.createElementNS("http://www.w3.org/2000/svg", "svg");

Appending and moving elements

We append an element into another element using the appendChild() method. The method appends the new element after the last child. If we pass an element which is already somewhere in the document, the element will be moved from its original location.


Inserting before elements

Sometimes, appending an element as the new last child using the appendChild() method is not what we need. There is the insertBefore() method, which accepts a new element as the first parameter and the child element before which it should be inserted/moved as the second parameter.

document.body.insertBefore(span, p);

Replacing child elements

We can replace an element's child elements. It can be done using the replaceChild() method, which accepts a new child as the first parameter and the original child as the second parameter.

svg.replaceChild(arc, rect);

Removing child elements

We can remove the element's child by the removeChild() method, which takes the child as its parameter:


The element's parent

Each element has its parent (the element to which it belongs). There's only one element with no parent - the root <html> element. We get the parent of an element using the parentElement property (parentNode also works but may contain non-element document nodes). The method returns null if called on the <html> element. The <html> element is sometimes omitted in documents since it's not required.

Well, in the end, we've listed pretty much all the methods and properties (maybe I omitted some NS variants) which return another element/attriĀ­bute/content by some way and we demonstrated how to modify contents and element attributes. To put it in mind, we'll try it all in the next lesson, Table editor in JavaScript. Finally, we'll create a real web application which would be hard to confuse with a website :)



Article has been written for you by Michal Zurek
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