Why is document.write considered a “bad practice”?

I know document.write is considered bad practice; and I'm hoping to compile a list of reasons to submit to a 3rd party vendor as to why they shouldn't use document.write in implementations of their analytics code.

Please include your reason for claiming document.write as a bad practice below.

Answers:

Answer

A few of the more serious problems:

  • document.write (henceforth DW) does not work in XHTML

  • DW does not directly modify the DOM, preventing further manipulation (trying to find evidence of this, but it's at best situational)

  • DW executed after the page has finished loading will overwrite the page, or write a new page, or not work

  • DW executes where encountered: it cannot inject at a given node point

  • DW is effectively writing serialised text which is not the way the DOM works conceptually, and is an easy way to create bugs (.innerHTML has the same problem)

Far better to use the safe and DOM friendly DOM manipulation methods

Answer

There's actually nothing wrong with document.write, per se. The problem is that it's really easy to misuse it. Grossly, even.

In terms of vendors supplying analytics code (like Google Analytics) it's actually the easiest way for them to distribute such snippets

  1. It keeps the scripts small
  2. They don't have to worry about overriding already established onload events or including the necessary abstraction to add onload events safely
  3. It's extremely compatible

As long as you don't try to use it after the document has loaded, document.write is not inherently evil, in my humble opinion.

Answer

Another legitimate use of document.write comes from the HTML5 Boilerplate index.html example.

<!-- Grab Google CDN's jQuery, with a protocol relative URL; fall back to local if offline -->
<script src="//ajax.googleapis.com/ajax/libs/jquery/1.6.3/jquery.min.js"></script>
<script>window.jQuery || document.write('<script src="js/libs/jquery-1.6.3.min.js"><\/script>')</script>

I've also seen the same technique for using the json2.js JSON parse/stringify polyfill (needed by IE7 and below).

<script>window.JSON || document.write('<script src="json2.js"><\/script>')</script>
Answer

It can block your page

document.write only works while the page is loading; If you call it after the page is done loading, it will overwrite the whole page.

This effectively means you have to call it from an inline script block - And that will prevent the browser from processing parts of the page that follow. Scripts and Images will not be downloaded until the writing block is finished.

Answer

Pro:

  • It's the easiest way to embed inline content from an external (to your host/domain) script.
  • You can overwrite the entire content in a frame/iframe. I used to use this technique a lot for menu/navigation pieces before more modern Ajax techniques were widely available (1998-2002).

Con:

  • It serializes the rendering engine to pause until said external script is loaded, which could take much longer than an internal script.
  • It is usually used in such a way that the script is placed within the content, which is considered bad-form.
Answer

Here's my twopence worth, in general you shouldn't use document.write for heavy lifting, but there is one instance where it is definitely useful:

http://www.quirksmode.org/blog/archives/2005/06/three_javascrip_1.html

I discovered this recently trying to create an AJAX slider gallery. I created two nested divs, and applied width/height and overflow: hidden to the outer <div> with JS. This was so that in the event that the browser had JS disabled, the div would float to accommodate the images in the gallery - some nice graceful degradation.

Thing is, as with the article above, this JS hijacking of the CSS didn't kick in until the page had loaded, causing a momentary flash as the div was loaded. So I needed to write a CSS rule, or include a sheet, as the page loaded.

Obviously, this won't work in XHTML, but since XHTML appears to be something of a dead duck (and renders as tag soup in IE) it might be worth re-evaluating your choice of DOCTYPE...

Answer

It breaks pages using XML rendering (like XHTML pages).

Best: some browser switch back to HTML rendering and everything works fine.

Probable: some browser disable the document.write() function in XML rendering mode.

Worst: some browser will fire an XML error whenever using the document.write() function.

Answer

It overwrites content on the page which is the most obvious reason but I wouldn't call it "bad".

It just doesn't have much use unless you're creating an entire document using JavaScript in which case you may start with document.write.

Even so, you aren't really leveraging the DOM when you use document.write--you are just dumping a blob of text into the document so I'd say it's bad form.

Answer

Off the top of my head:

  1. document.write needs to be used in the page load or body load. So if you want to use the script in any other time to update your page content document.write is pretty much useless.

  2. Technically document.write will only update HTML pages not XHTML/XML. IE seems to be pretty forgiving of this fact but other browsers will not be.

http://www.w3.org/MarkUp/2004/xhtml-faq#docwrite

Answer

Chrome may block document.write that inserts a script in certain cases. When this happens, it will display this warning in the console:

A Parser-blocking, cross-origin script, ..., is invoked via document.write. This may be blocked by the browser if the device has poor network connectivity.

References:

Answer

Based on analysis done by Google-Chrome Dev Tools' Lighthouse Audit,

For users on slow connections, external scripts dynamically injected via document.write() can delay page load by tens of seconds.

enter image description here

Answer

Browser Violation

.write is considered a browser violation as it halts the parser from rendering the page. The parser receives the message that the document is being modified; hence, it gets blocked until JS has completed its process. Only at this time will the parser resume.

Performance

The biggest consequence of employing such a method is lowered performance. The browser will take longer to load page content. The adverse reaction on load time depends on what is being written to the document. You won't see much of a difference if you are adding a <p> tag to the DOM as opposed to passing an array of 50-some references to JavaScript libraries (something which I have seen in working code and resulted in an 11 second delay - of course, this also depends on your hardware).

All in all, it's best to steer clear of this method if you can help it.

For more info see Intervening against document.write()

Answer

One can think of document.write() (and .innerHTML) as evaluating a source code string. This can be very handy for many applications. For example if you get HTML code as a string from some source, it is handy to just "evaluate" it.

In the context of Lisp, DOM manipulation would be like manipulating a list structure, e.g. create the list (orange) by doing:

(cons 'orange '())

And document.write() would be like evaluating a string, e.g. create a list by evaluating a source code string like this:

(eval-string "(cons 'orange '())")

Lisp also has the very useful ability to create code using list manipulation (like using the "DOM style" to create a JS parse tree). This means you can build up a list structure using the "DOM style", rather than the "string style", and then run that code, e.g. like this:

(eval '(cons 'orange '()))

If you implement coding tools, like simple live editors, it is very handy to have the ability to quickly evaluate a string, for example using document.write() or .innerHTML. Lisp is ideal in this sense, but you can do very cool stuff also in JS, and many people are doing that, like http://jsbin.com/

Answer
  • A simple reason why document.write is a bad practice is that you cannot come up with a scenario where you cannot find a better alternative.
  • Another reason is that you are dealing with strings instead of objects (it is very primitive).
  • It does only append to documents.
  • It has nothing of the beauty of for instance the MVC (Model-View-Controller) pattern.
  • It is a lot more powerful to present dynamic content with ajax+jQuery or angularJS.
Answer

The disadvantages of document.write mainly depends on these 3 factors:

a) Implementation

The document.write() is mostly used to write content to the screen as soon as that content is needed. This means it happens anywhere, either in a JavaScript file or inside a script tag within an HTML file. With the script tag being placed anywhere within such an HTML file, it is a bad idea to have document.write() statements inside script blocks that are intertwined with HTML inside a web page.

b) Rendering

Well designed code in general will take any dynamically generated content, store it in memory, keep manipulating it as it passes through the code before it finally gets spit out to the screen. So to reiterate the last point in the preceding section, rendering content in-place may render faster than other content that may be relied upon, but it may not be available to the other code that in turn requires the content to be rendered for processing. To solve this dilemma we need to get rid of the document.write() and implement it the right way.

c) Impossible Manipulation

Once it's written it's done and over with. We cannot go back to manipulate it without tapping into the DOM.

Answer

I don't think using document.write is a bad practice at all. In simple words it is like a high voltage for inexperienced people. If you use it the wrong way, you get cooked. There are many developers who have used this and other dangerous methods at least once, and they never really dig into their failures. Instead, when something goes wrong, they just bail out, and use something safer. Those are the ones who make such statements about what is considered a "Bad Practice".

It's like formatting a hard drive, when you need to delete only a few files and then saying "formatting drive is a bad practice".

Answer

I think the biggest problem is that any elements written via document.write are added to the end of the page's elements. That's rarely the desired effect with modern page layouts and AJAX. (you have to keep in mind that the elements in the DOM are temporal, and when the script runs may affect its behavior).

It's much better to set a placeholder element on the page, and then manipulate it's innerHTML.

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