Black and white photograph of a string of paper dolls

There are two methods of removing elements from web pages with JavaScript: the traditional, counter-intuitive way, and the new direct DOM4 method.

The traditional method is rather round-about: you cannot simply remove an element, but must do so via a reference to its parent. Given the following markup:

<div id="leftcol">
	<h1>Yggdrasil Explorer</h1>
	<nav>  </nav>
	<p id="description"> Yggdrasil is the "WorldTree" of Norse mythology, a cosmos-spanning ash that connects the nine worlds.
<div id="norsemap"> </div>

If I wanted to remove description from the DOM, I could do the following.

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

This method is bizarrely self-reflective, but it has the advantage of working in every browser. Visually, it has the same effect as setting description to display: none in CSS, but of course the element is completely removed from the DOM, not merely hidden.

The removed element remains as a reference in JavaScript, floating in memory: if I wanted to attach the removed description to the norsemap element, I could do the following:

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

An upcoming article will explore more possibilities of this “cut and paste” ability of JavaScript, particularly in how it can be used in responsive design.


DOM4 provides a far more direct method. Returning to the original code, we can simply use:

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

Great, right? There’s just one problem: the method only works on recent browsers (Chrome & Firefox 23+, Opera 10+, and Safari 7+), and not at all in Internet Explorer… not even IE11, at least as of this writing. However, polyfills exist, such as DOM4 & DOMShim.

Photograph by Nomadic Lass, licensed under Creative Commons.