Photograph of green and orange vines in fall clambering against the stone wall of a church

As I demonstrated in the previous article, it’s common to create HTML elements with JavaScript and add them to the page. The issue then becomes how to add elements where you want them.


The simplest and most straightforward technique is to

  1. Identify the element you want to put your element inside of.
  2. Use appendChild to add it.

Let’s say we have a <div> element on the page with an id of rootdown. We’ll create a variable of the same name in JavaScript as a reference:

var rootdown = document.getElementById("rootdown");

rootdown will have some CSS applied to it in a stylesheet:

body {
	font-family: Source Serif Pro, serif;
#rootdown {
	color: #333;
	background: rgba(0,0,0,0.15);
	border: 1px solid #fefacc;
	padding: 1rem;

rootdown doesn’t have any content, yet. Let’s create some: a <p> element. This is unusual, since paragraph content should be visible to users with or without JavaScript, but we’ll use it to illustrate this example:

var para = document.createElement("p");
para.innerHTML = "Everybody knows I’m known for dropping science.";

To place the para element inside of rootdown, we use appendChild. Think of a birth shot in reverse: we’re inserting an element back inside its parent.


Note that if #rootdown had content, para would be inserted at the end of it. For example, if the <div> has this preexisting content:

<div id="rootdown">
	<p>Like Sweetie Pie by The Stone Alliance.</p>

Running the JavaScript code above would result in:

Like Sweetie Pie by The Stone Alliance.

Everybody knows I’m known for dropping science.

Note that paragraph content appended with JavaScript inside the <div> inherits the same presentation rules from the CSS.


What if we want to insert the paragraph before something? First, let’s change the value of para:

para.innerHTML = "Never let you down with the stereo sound.";

For insertBefore we need two pieces of information: the parent element, and the element we want the insert to be in front of. There’s many ways to identify the second: if it had an id, we could use that. In this case, I’ll use getElementsByTagName:

var rootdown = document.getElementById("rootdown");
var firstpara = rootdown.getElementsByTagName("p")[0];

Because there could be many paragraph elements inside of rootdown, I have to reference the very first slot in the array that holds all of them to locate the first paragraph. With that information, I can insert my new paragraph in the location I wish:

rootdown.insertBefore(para, firstpara);

In case that’s unclear, it could be translated as:

parentElement.insertBefore(insertedElement, referenceElement);

Inserts At The Start of an Element

If you want to insert an element at the very start of an element, and not simply before a reference, use the firstChild property:

var start = rootdown.firstChild;
rootdown.insertBefore(para, start);

Note that this still works even if rootdown has no content at all.

Inserting After an Element

JavaScript doesn't yet have an explicit insertAfter, but it can be created easily enough using existing methods:

referenceNode.parentNode.insertBefore(newNode, referenceNode.nextSibling);

Using our example above, if we wanted to insert this new content:

var newLyric = document.createElement("p");
newLyric.innerHTML = "I'm electric like Dick Hyman";

…after #rootdown, rather than simply at the end of the element, we could use:

rootdown.parentNode.insertBefore(newLyric, rootdown.nextSibling)

This can (and probably should) be abstracted into a function:

function insertAfter(newNode, referenceNode) {
    referenceNode.parentNode.insertBefore(newNode, referenceNode.nextSibling);

Which could be called with:

insertAfter(newLyric, rootdown);

Next, I’ll look at the reverse: removing elements. This is a little trickier, as you’ll see in a moment.

Photograph by Bill Couch, shared under a Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic Creative Commons license

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