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);
      element.name = 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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48 comments

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  1. Well, thank you. Even though I wrote this 2 years ago, it’s still relevant today. Last week at work we had a mysterious problem with our web application failing on IE. I pointed the developer at this page and 10 minutes later he had fixed it!

  2. It has just occurred to me that the function as written may not work if your page is served as application/xhtml+xml. I haven’t tested it, but it seems to me that if your page is served as application/xhtml+xml then you should remove the “.toUpperCase()” from the function.

    If you try this, please let me know how it turns out.

  3. Bless you for this article! and Thanks a ton!

  4. It works…! I was having trouble accessing the dynamically created form elements…Well,it’s solved now..Thanks!

  5. /*
    This seems to work to create new input elements across browsers, but I welcome your opinions.
    parameters: (pa) a reference to the parent node of the new input, and (attr) an attributes object.
    */

    function Fieldname(pa,attr){
    var el= document.createElement(‘input’);
    for(var p in attr) el[p]= attr[p];
    pa.appendChild(el);
    if(el.name) return el;

    //if the ‘name’ was not set, as in IE:
    var el2= document.createElement(‘span’);
    var str= ”;
    pa.replaceChild(el2,el);
    return el2.firstChild;
    }
    //test case
    var el= new Fieldname(document.body,
    {type:’text’, name:’newInput’, size:’10′,
    onchange:function(){alert(this.name)}})

    //In practice, the first parameter would refer to a label or fieldset or form element

  6. //if the ‘error’ was not set, as in IE:
    var el2= document.createElement(’span’);
    var str= ”;
    pa.replaceChild(el2,el);
    return el2.firstChild;
    }

  7. I think I may have found another way around this bug.

    I posted the solution I found on my web development blog here:
    http://matts411.com/webdev/cre…..javascript

    Let me know what you guys think.

    Matt

  8. @Pablo

    You can not set an onclick on an element in IE as an attribute. This is because IE does not see it as an attribute, but as an object. Try e.g.:
    eval(“elem.onclick=’myScript()’”)

  9. Although still far from perfect, this would be a better solution, only applying the hack to IE, and letting the other browsers work as designed:

    var isOpera, isIE = false;
    if(typeof(window.opera) != ‘undefined’){isOpera = true;}
    if(!isOpera && navigator.userAgent.indexOf(‘Internet Explorer’)){isIE = true);

    function createNamedElement(type, name, checked){
    var element = document.createElement(type);
    if(name){
    element.setAttribute(‘name’, name);
    }
    if(checked){
    element.setAttribute(‘checked’, ‘checked’);
    }
    return element;
    }

    //fix IE
    if(isIE){
    function createNamedElement(type, name, checked){
    var elemStr = ”;
    return document.createElement(elemStr);
    }
    }

    With this, the function is redefined if IE, to handle its broken DOM.

  10. To set an attribute
    I use getAttribute(“XXX”).value.

    ex:
    var pass = document.getElementById(‘txtPassword’); pass.getAttribute(“onfocus”).value = “javascript:blabla()”;

    Tested and worked on FF, IE7, IE6, IE5.5 ….

  11. Thanks a million for this, I was pulling my hair out trying to get a image slide show to work in IE 7. Turns out it was because of this stupid createElement bug!

  12. Welcome to the painful world of IE development!

    This is just one of the dozens of attributes you CANT set in IE.

    See here for complete details.
    http://webbugtrack.blogspot.com/2007/08/bug-242-setattribute-doesnt-always-work.html

    There’s actually a lot of good info on this site. I highly recommend an extensive read.

  13. Thanks a lot for the explanation. You may have to update the link to MSDN. They take to content not found page.

  14. Thanks for that! I have updated the links. Every so often Microsoft reorganise MSDN and break all their “perma”links.

  15. Hi,

    After few hours of banging the head against wall, i manage to find this solution and was really helpful. Thanks a bunch.

    Kuppusamy

  16. 5 years later and this code is still saving lives. THANK YOU!!!

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

  18. 7 years and counting. Thanks.

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