Setting the “name” attribute in Internet Explorer

Monday, 23 May 2005

I have recently needed to write code that uses JavaScript to add elements dynamically to a web page on the client. I read the relevant W3C documents and wrote the code, and it seemed to work fine. Until I tried it on Internet Explorer. After some digging, I found an explanation in the MSDN DHTML reference, on the page describing the NAME Attribute.

The NAME attribute cannot be set at run time on elements dynamically created with the createElement method. To create an element with a name attribute, include the attribute and value when using the createElement method.

The trouble is that including attributes in calls to createElement is a Microsoft-only extension. If you try to do this (e.g. document.createElement("<input name='brian'>")), there are at least three possible outcomes:

  • The browser throws an exception because “<input name=’brian’>” is not a valid element type. This is the correct behaviour.
  • The browser creates an element with type = “input” and name = “brian”. This is what IE 6 does.
  • The browser creates an element with the invalid type = “<input name=’brian’>”. This is what Netscape 7.1 and Opera 8.5 do. Thanks to Kristof for pointing this out.

So if you want to create named elements dynamically, you have to be a bit crafty. It’s no good trying the correct approach first, because this will fail on IE6 with no way for your code to check. Therefore, I first attempt to create the element by including the name attribute in the call to createElement, and check the result. If it checks out OK, then I’m probably running on IE6 and all is well. Otherwise, I just try again using the correct method of creating the element and then setting the name.

Here’s the function I came up with that allows you to create named elements on any browser. Pass it the name and type of the element you want to create. I have tested this on various Windows browsers: IE5, 5.5 and 6; Firefox 1 and 1.5; Mozilla 1.7; Netscape 7.1 and 8; and Opera 7.23 and 8.5. Please let me know if you notice problems on these or any other browser.

function createNamedElement(type, name) {
   var element = null;
   // Try the IE way; this fails on standards-compliant browsers
   try {
      element = document.createElement('<'+type+' name="'+name+'">');
   } catch (e) {
   if (!element || element.nodeName != type.toUpperCase()) {
      // Non-IE browser; use canonical method to create named element
      element = document.createElement(type); = name;
   return element;

This code doesn’t use browser-sniffing techniques. Instead it simply tries to create the element using the Internet Explorer method first; if this fails it uses the standard method.

Note also that there are problems setting the name attribute even on static elements:

Microsoft JScript allows the name to be changed at run time. This does not cause the name in the programming model to change in the collection of elements, but it does change the name used for submitting elements.

Be sure to test thoroughly — don’t just assume it will work (as I did).

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  1. 5 years later and this code is still saving lives. THANK YOU!!!

  2. setAttribute() method helps i guess.. correct me if i am wrong

  3. 7 years and counting. Thanks.

  4. var table = document.getElementById(“Table”);
    var newRow = table .insertRow(0); = “Test”; = “Test”;
    var newCell = newRow.insertCell();
    newCell.innerHTML = “Welcome”;

    If you create an element from JS like above, the name attribute doesn’t display in IE11.

    Every body is welcome to share their knowledge on this.

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