March 3, 2011

Using innerHTML

innerHTML is a read/write property of a DOM element that gets/sets the HTML contained in the element.

It's fast
This might vary between browsers but, it's almost a fact that creating and inserting elements using innerHTML instead of DOM methods is faster, not only at execution time, it'll also make the script size lighter because less code is needed.

It's clean & readable
Although the name, innerHTML, might seem confusing at first, it comes as the better choice in terms of code readability because DOM methods are very verbose and can consume a lot of lines of code.

It's supported
It was first introduced by Microsoft as proprietary to IE and there's no spec that defines the behavior of innerHTML but it has been adopted by all major browsers because of its usefulness and it pretty much works the same in all of them.

Creating and inserting using DOM methods:
var newDiv = document.createElement('div');
newDiv.setAttribute('id', 'new-div');
newDiv.setAttribute('class', 'big-div');
var text = document.createTextNode('Some text here');

document.body.appendChild(newDiv); // div is inserted in the tree

Creating and inserting using innerHTML:
var newDiv = '<div id=\'new-div\' class=\'big-div\'>Some text here</div>';
document.body.innerHTML = newDiv; // div is inserted in the tree

Reasons not to use it

  • Not standard. Although it's fast and it works, the bottom line is that it is not part of any W3C or DOM standard. However, there are plans of adding it to the HTML5 specification.
  • XSS unsafe. You have to know when to use it, otherwise you are exposing your application to XSS attacks, choose DOM methods until you're familiar with the subject.
  • Not implemented everywhere. There are some table related elements, in IE, that can't be modified with it. The implementation and behavior might vary from browser to browser.
  • Destroys the children. Setting a value to innerHTML will destroy every descendant to that element, if any of those descendants had event handlers, that could potentially create a memory leak in some browsers.
Thanks for reading and let me know your comments.

innerHTML (Mozilla Developer Network)
innerHTML (Microsoft Developer Network)

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