Element Wrappers in JavaScript

Element wrappers are coming. We are going to see more frameworks using wrappers for JavaScript DOM Elements.

Sam Stephenson created the Prototype JavaScript Framework and pioneered extending native DOM Elements. For browsers that support it, Prototype extends HTMLElement.prototype. But Prototype 2.0 will not extend DOM Elements any more.

Extending DOM Elements has many negative side effects and I would say is even considered harmful. In that Ajaxian article, you can find a link to Kangax’s post that explains what is wrong with extending the DOM.

So here’s some ideas for Element wrappers that I’ve toyed around with myself. I’ll call the Element wrapper class WrappedEl.

The $ type function

You can choose any name, but in Prototype and MooTools, the $ function takes an ID or element and returns an extended Element.

  • $ is a shortcut for WrappedEl.getInstance().
  • $ accepts string IDs, html strings, DOM Elements and WrappedEl instances.
  • $ should ensure that only one wrapper is created per Element. You can store a reference to the wrapper in an expando property or in a hash of id => WrappedEl pairs.

The WrappedEl Class

This is where the magic happens.

  • WrappedEl should provide functions to manipulate every native property or function. Some examples: WrappedEl#update() to set innerHTML, WrappedEl#getAttribute() to provide a cross-browser method that mirrors HTMLElement#getAttribute(), WrappedEl#setProperty() to set properties directly.
  • Should provide a way to add methods. Would be nice if it provides a way to add methods for a certain tag. In that case it is probably best to use subclasses; e.g. WrappedEl is a parent of WrappedElTextarea. It even makes sense to add new methods by default to some tags; e.g. add a WrappedElTextarea#value() to get and set the value property of a textarea.
  • Should feel the same as DOM Element extension. If current scripts avoid using properties such as value and innerHTML the WrappedEl could even be compatible with an API that extends DOM Elements.
  • It is nice if the WrappedEl class provides generics. In other words the ability to call all the instance methods statically by passing the element as the first argument.


Once your WrappedEl is ready, you are not many lines away from adding jQuery-like API. So you might as well code it!

  • Create a collection class–called, say, WrappedElList.
  • Define a method for every WrappedEl method.
  • Chainable methods like setters should return the WrappedElList object.
  • Methods that return an HTML NodeList should return a concatenated collection of WrappedEl objects in an Array–or even better–in a WrappedElList object.
  • Some methods such as getAttribute should return the result for the first WrappedElin the collection.
  • The method to add methods to WrappedEl may even be smart enough to automatically add methods to WrappedElList.
    • I’d love to hear your ideas or suggestions in the comment section!

      Happy Wrapping!