The following is a guest post by Henri Sivonen:
In Firefox 8, we’ve added support for
insertAdjacentHTML(). It’s an ancient feature of Internet Explorer that has recently been formalized in HTML5 and then spun out into the DOM Parsing specification. The bad news is that Firefox is the last major browser to implement this feature. The good news is that since other major browsers implement it already, you can start using it unconditionally as soon as the Firefox 8 update has been rolled out to users.
insertAdjacentHTML(position, markup) is a method on
HTMLElement DOM nodes. It takes two string arguments. The first argument is one of
"afterend" and gives the insertion point relative to the node that
insertAdjacentHTML() is invoked on. The second argument is a string containing HTML markup that gets parsed as an HTML fragment (similar to a string assigned to
innerHTML) and inserted to the position given by the first argument.
If the node that
insertAdjacentHTML() is invoked on is a
with the text content “foo”, the insertion points would be where the comments are in the following snippet:
"afterend" positions work only if
the node is in a tree and has an element parent.
For example, consider the following code:
This code produces this log output:
Well, that does not look particularly special. In fact, it looks like something that could have been done using plain old
innerHTML. So why bother with
element.innerHTML += "markup"; already works?
There are two reasons.
insertAdjacentHTML()doesn’t corrupt what’s already in the DOM.
Avoiding DOM corruption
Let’s consider the DOM corruption issue first. When you do
element.innerHTML += "markup";, the browser does the following:
- It gets the value of
innerHTMLby serializing the descendants of
- It appends the right hand side of
+=to the string.
- It removes the children of
- It parses the new string that contains the serialization of the old descendants followed by some new markup.
The old descendants might have been script-inserted to form a subtree that doesn’t round-trip when serialized as HTML and reparsed. In that case, after the operation, the tree would have a different shape even for the “old” parts. (For example, if
element had a
p child which in turn had a
div child, the subtree wouldn’t round-trip.) Furthermore, even if serializing and reparsing resulted in a same-looking tree, the nodes created by the parser would be different nodes than the nodes that were children of
element.innerHTML += "markup"; had been executed, those references would point to detached nodes and
element would have new similar but different descendants.
When additional content is inserted using
insertAdjacentHTML(), the existing nodes stay in place.
Serializing and reparsing is also what leads to performance problems with the
element.innerHTML += "markup"; pattern. Each time some more content is appended, all the existing content in
element gets serialized and reparsed. This means that appending gets slower and slower, because each time there more and more previous content to serialize and reparse.
insertAdjacentHTML() can make a big difference. For testing purposes, I started with an empty
div and ran a loop that tried to append as many tweets as possible to the
div in five seconds. A tweet is actually rather large when you count all the mark-up that implements @mention linkification, the name of the tweeter, retweet and favoriting UI, etc. It weighs about 1600 characters of HTML source—most of it mark-up.
On the computer that I used for testing, the
innerHTML way of appending managed to append only slightly over 200 tweets in five full seconds. In contrast, the
insertAdjacentHTML("beforeend", ...) way of appending managed to append almost 30,000 tweets in 5 seconds. (Yes, that’s hundreds versus tens of thousands.) Obviously, real Web apps should never block the event loop for five seconds—this is just for benchmark purposes. However, this illustrates how the
innerHTML way of appending becomes notably slower as more and more content accumulates to be serialized and reparsed each time.
At this point, some readers might wonder if
insertAdjacentHTML() offers any benefit over
createContextualFragment(). After all, conceptually
insertAdjacentHTML() creates a fragment and inserts it.
createContextualFragment(), my test manages only slightly over 25,000 tweets in five seconds, while using
insertAdjacentHTML() manages slightly under 30,000. This is because Gecko accelerates
insertAdjacentHTML() when the insertion point has no next sibling (only for HTML though—not for XML so far). The
"beforeend" insertion point never has a next sibling and is always accelerated (for HTML). The
"beforebegin" insertion point always has a next sibling (the node that
insertAdjacentHTML() was invoked on) and is never accelerated. For
"afterend", whether the operation is accelerated depends on the situation.
In conclusion, you can make your Web app perform better by using
element.insertAdjacentHTML("beforeend", "markup"); where you currently use
element.innerHTML += "markup";.
About Janet Swisher
Janet is the Community Lead and Project Manager for MDN Web Docs. She joined Mozilla in 2010, and has been involved in open source software since 2004 and in technical communication since the 20th century. She lives in Austin, Texas, with her husband and a standard poodle.