← 6.5 System state and capabilitiesTable of contents7.6.4 Editing APIs →
  1. 7 User interaction
    1. 7.1 The hidden attribute
    2. 7.2 Inert subtrees
    3. 7.3 Activation
    4. 7.4 Focus
      1. 7.4.1 Sequential focus navigation and the tabindex attribute
      2. 7.4.2 Focus management
      3. 7.4.3 Document-level focus APIs
      4. 7.4.4 Element-level focus APIs
    5. 7.5 Assigning keyboard shortcuts
      1. 7.5.1 Introduction
      2. 7.5.2 The accesskey attribute
      3. 7.5.3 Processing model
    6. 7.6 Editing
      1. 7.6.1 Making document regions editable: The contenteditable content attribute
      2. 7.6.2 Making entire documents editable: The designMode IDL attribute
      3. 7.6.3 Best practices for in-page editors

7 User interaction

7.1 The hidden attribute

All HTML elements may have the hidden content attribute set. The hidden attribute is a boolean attribute. When specified on an element, it indicates that the element is not yet, or is no longer, relevant. User agents should not render elements that have the hidden attribute specified.

In the following skeletal example, the attribute is used to hide the Web game's main screen until the user logs in:

  <h1>The Example Game</h1>
  <section id="login">
   <h2>Login</h2>
   <form>
    ...
    <!-- calls login() once the user's credentials have been checked -->
   </form>
   <script>
    function login() {
      // switch screens
      document.getElementById('login').hidden = true;
      document.getElementById('game').hidden = false;
    }
   </script>
  </section>
  <section id="game" hidden>
   ...
  </section>

The hidden attribute must not be used to hide content that could legitimately be shown in another presentation. For example, it is incorrect to use hidden to hide panels in a tabbed dialog, because the tabbed interface is merely a kind of overflow presentation — one could equally well just show all the form controls in one big page with a scrollbar. It is similarly incorrect to use this attribute to hide content just from one presentation — if something is marked hidden, it is hidden from all presentations, including, for instance, screen readers.

Elements that are not hidden should not link to or refer to elements that are hidden.

For example, it would be incorrect to use the href attribute to link to a section marked with the hidden attribute. If the content is not applicable or relevant, then there is no reason to link to it.

It would similarly be incorrect to use the ARIA aria-describedby attribute to refer to descriptions that are themselves hidden. Hiding a section means that it is not applicable or relevant to anyone at the current time, so clearly it cannot be a valid description of content the user can interact with.

Elements in a section hidden by the hidden attribute are still active, e.g. scripts and form controls in such sections still execute and submit respectively. Only their presentation to the user changes.

The hidden IDL attribute must reflect the content attribute of the same name.

7.2 Inert subtrees

A subtree of a Document can be marked as inert. When a node or one of its ancestors is inert, then the user agent must act as if the element was absent for the purposes of targetting user interaction events, may ignore the node for the purposes of text search user interfaces (commonly known as "find in page"), and may prevent the user from selecting text in that node. User agents should allow the user to override the restrictions on search and text selection, however.

For example, consider a page that consists of just a single inert paragraph positioned in the middle of a body. If a user moves their pointing device from the body over to the inert paragraph and clicks on the paragraph, no mouseover event would be fired, and the mousemove and click events would be fired on the body element rather than the paragraph.

When a node or one of its ancestors is inert, it also can't be focused (see the focusing steps), and it is disabled if it is a command.

An entire Document can be marked as blocked by a modal dialog dialog. While a Document is so marked, every node that is in the Document, with the exception of the dialog element, its ancestors, and its descendants, must be marked inert. (The elements excepted by this paragraph can additionally be marked inert through other means; being part of a modal dialog does not "protect" a node from being marked inert.)

Only one element at a time can mark a Document as being blocked by a modal dialog. When a new dialog is made to block a Document, the previous element, if any, stops blocking the Document.

The dialog element's showModal() method makes use of this mechanism.

7.3 Activation

element . click()

Acts as if the element was clicked.

The click() method must run synthetic click activation steps on the element.

7.4 Focus

When an element is focused, key events received by the document must be targeted at that element. There may be no element focused; when no element is focused, key events received by the document must be targeted at the body element, if there is one, or else at the Document's root element, if there is one. If there is no root element, key events must not be fired.

User agents may track focus for each browsing context or Document individually, or may support only one focused element per top-level browsing context — user agents should follow platform conventions in this regard.

Which elements within a top-level browsing context currently have focus must be independent of whether or not the top-level browsing context itself has the system focus.

When a child browsing context is focused, its browsing context container must also have focus.

When an element is focused, the element matches the CSS :focus pseudo-class.

7.4.1 Sequential focus navigation and the tabindex attribute

The tabindex content attribute allows authors to control whether an element is supposed to be focusable, whether it is supposed to be reachable using sequential focus navigation, and what is to be the relative order of the element for the purposes of sequential focus navigation. The name "tab index" comes from the common use of the "tab" key to navigate through the focusable elements. The term "tabbing" refers to moving forward through the focusable elements that can be reached using sequential focus navigation.

The tabindex attribute, if specified, must have a value that is a valid integer.

Each element has a tabindex focus flag. This flag is a factor that contributes towards determining whether an element is focusable, as described in the next section.

If the attribute is specified, it must be parsed using the rules for parsing integers. The attribute's values have the following meanings:

If the attribute is omitted or parsing the value returns an error

The user agent should follow platform conventions to determine if the element's tabindex focus flag is set and, if so, whether the element can be reached using sequential focus navigation, and if so, what its relative order should be.

One valid reason to ignore the platform conventions and always allow an element to be focused (by setting its tabindex focus flag) would be if the user's only mechanism for activating an element is through a keyboard action that triggers the focused element.

If the value is a negative integer

The user agent must set the element's tabindex focus flag, but should not allow the element to be reached using sequential focus navigation.

One valid reason to ignore the requirement that sequential focus navigation not allow the author to lead to the element would be if the user's only mechanism for moving the focus is sequential focus navigation. For instance, a keyboard-only user would be unable to click on a text field with a negative tabindex, so that user's user agent would be well justified in allowing the user to tab to the control regardless.

If the value is a zero

The user agent must set the element's tabindex focus flag, should allow the element to be reached using sequential focus navigation, and should follow platform conventions to determine the element's relative order.

If the value is greater than zero

The user agent must set the element's tabindex focus flag, should allow the element to be reached using sequential focus navigation, and should place the element in the sequential focus navigation order so that it is:

  • before any focusable element whose tabindex attribute has been omitted or whose value, when parsed, returns an error,
  • before any focusable element whose tabindex attribute has a value equal to or less than zero,
  • after any element whose tabindex attribute has a value greater than zero but less than the value of the tabindex attribute on the element,
  • after any element whose tabindex attribute has a value equal to the value of the tabindex attribute on the element but that is earlier in the document in tree order than the element,
  • before any element whose tabindex attribute has a value equal to the value of the tabindex attribute on the element but that is later in the document in tree order than the element, and
  • before any element whose tabindex attribute has a value greater than the value of the tabindex attribute on the element.

An element that has its tabindex focus flag set but does not otherwise have an activation behavior defined has an activation behavior that does nothing.

This means that an element that is only focusable because of its tabindex attribute will fire a click event in response to a non-mouse activation (e.g. hitting the "enter" key while the element is focused).

The tabIndex IDL attribute must reflect the value of the tabindex content attribute. Its default value is 0 for elements that are focusable and −1 for elements that are not focusable.

7.4.2 Focus management

An element is focusable if the user agent's default behavior allows it to be focusable or if the element has its tabindex focus flag set, but only if the element is either being rendered or is a descendant of a canvas element that represents embedded content.

User agents should make the following elements focusable as part of their default behavior, unless platform conventions dictate otherwise:

In addition, each shape that is generated for an area element should be focusable, unless platform conventions dictate otherwise. (A single area element can correspond to multiple shapes, since image maps can be reused with multiple images on a page.)

The user agent may also make part of a details element's rendering focusable, to enable the element to be opened or closed using keyboard input. However, this is distinct from the details or summary element being focusable.


The focusing steps are as follows:

  1. If the element is not in a Document, or if the element's Document has no browsing context, or if the element's Document's browsing context has no top-level browsing context, or if the element is not focusable, or if the element or one of its ancestors is inert, then abort these steps.

  2. If focusing the element will remove the focus from another element, then run the unfocusing steps for that element.

  3. Make the element the currently focused element in its top-level browsing context.

    Some elements, most notably area, can correspond to more than one distinct focusable area. If a particular area was indicated when the element was focused, then that is the area that must get focus; otherwise, e.g. when using the focus() method, the first such region in tree order is the one that must be focused.

  4. The user agent may apply relevant platform-specific conventions for focusing widgets.

    For example, some platforms select the contents of a text field when that field is focused.

  5. Fire a simple event named focus at the element.

User agents must synchronously run the focusing steps for an element whenever the user moves the focus to a focusable element.

The unfocusing steps are as follows:

  1. If the element is an input element, and the change event applies to the element, and the element does not have a defined activation behavior, and the user has changed the element's value or its list of selected files while the control was focused without committing that change, then fire a simple event that bubbles named change at the element.

  2. Unfocus the element.

  3. Fire a simple event named blur at the element.

When an element that is focused stops being a focusable element, or stops being focused without another element being explicitly focused in its stead, the user agent should synchronously run the focusing steps for the body element, if there is one; if there is not, then the user agent should synchronously run the unfocusing steps for the affected element only.

For example, this might happen because the element is removed from its Document, or has a hidden attribute added. It would also happen to an input element when the element gets disabled.

7.4.3 Document-level focus APIs

document . activeElement

Returns the currently focused element.

document . hasFocus()

Returns true if the document has focus; otherwise, returns false.

window . focus()

Focuses the window. Use of this method is discouraged. Allow the user to control window focus instead.

window . blur()

Unfocuses the window. Use of this method is discouraged. Allow the user to control window focus instead.

The activeElement attribute on Document objects must return the element in the document that is focused. If no element in the Document is focused, this must return the body element.

When a child browsing context is focused, its browsing context container is also focused, by definition. For example, if the user moves the focus to a text field in an iframe, the iframe is the element with focus in the parent browsing context.

The hasFocus() method on Document objects must return true if the Document's browsing context is focused, and all its ancestor browsing contexts are also focused, and the top-level browsing context has the system focus. If the Document has no browsing context or if its browsing context has no top-level browsing context, then the method will always return false.

The focus() method on the Window object, when invoked, provides a hint to the user agent that the script believes the user might be interested in the contents of the browsing context of the Window object on which the method was invoked.

User agents are encouraged to have this focus() method trigger some kind of notification.

The blur() method on the Window object, when invoked, provides a hint to the user agent that the script believes the user probably is not currently interested in the contents of the browsing context of the Window object on which the method was invoked, but that the contents might become interesting again in the future.

User agents are encouraged to ignore calls to this blur() method entirely.

Historically the focus() and blur() methods actually affected the system focus, but hostile sites widely abuse this behavior to the user's detriment.

7.4.4 Element-level focus APIs

element . focus()

Focuses the element.

element . blur()

Unfocuses the element. Use of this method is discouraged. Focus another element instead.

Do not use this method to hide the focus ring. Do not use any other method that hides the focus ring from keyboard users,in particluar do not use a CSS rule to override the 'outline' property. Removal of the focus ring leads to serious accessibility issues for users who navigate and interact with interactive content using the keyboard.

The focus() method, when invoked, must run the following algorithm:

  1. If the element is marked as locked for focus, then abort these steps.

  2. If the element is not focusable, then abort these steps.

  3. Mark the element as locked for focus.

  4. If the element is not already focused, run the focusing steps for the element.

  5. Unmark the element as locked for focus.

The blur() method, when invoked, should run the focusing steps for the body element, if there is one; if there is not, then it should run the unfocusing steps for the element on which the method was called instead. User agents may selectively or uniformly ignore calls to this method for usability reasons.

For example, if the blur() method is unwisely being used to remove the focus ring for aesthetics reasons, the page would become unusable by keyboard users. Ignoring calls to this method would thus allow keyboard users to interact with the page.

7.5 Assigning keyboard shortcuts

7.5.1 Introduction

This section is non-normative.

Each element that can be activated or focused can be assigned a single key combination to activate it, using the accesskey attribute.

The exact shortcut is determined by the user agent, based on information about the user's keyboard, what keyboard shortcuts already exist on the platform, and what other shortcuts have been specified on the page, using the information provided in the accesskey attribute as a guide.

In order to ensure that a relevant keyboard shortcut is available on a wide variety of input devices, the author can provide a number of alternatives in the accesskey attribute.

Each alternative consists of a single character, such as a letter or digit.

User agents can provide users with a list of the keyboard shortcuts, but authors are encouraged to do so also. The accessKeyLabel IDL attribute returns a string representing the actual key combination assigned by the user agent.

In this example, an author has provided a button that can be invoked using a shortcut key. To support full keyboards, the author has provided "C" as a possible key. To support devices equipped only with numeric keypads, the author has provided "1" as another possibly key.

<input type=button value=Collect onclick="collect()"
       accesskey="C 1" id=c>

To tell the user what the shortcut key is, the author has this script here opted to explicitly add the key combination to the button's label:

function addShortcutKeyLabel(button) {
  if (button.accessKeyLabel != '')
    button.value += ' (' + button.accessKeyLabel + ')';
}
addShortcutKeyLabel(document.getElementById('c'));

Browsers on different platforms will show different labels, even for the same key combination, based on the convention prevalent on that platform. For example, if the key combination is the Control key, the Shift key, and the letter C, a Windows browser might display "Ctrl+Shift+C", whereas a Mac browser might display "^⇧C", while an Emacs browser might just display "C-C". Similarly, if the key combination is the Alt key and the Escape key, Windows might use "Alt+Esc", Mac might use "⌥⎋", and an Emacs browser might use "M-ESC" or "ESC ESC".

In general, therefore, it is unwise to attempt to parse the value returned from the accessKeyLabel IDL attribute.

7.5.2 The accesskey attribute

All HTML elements may have the accesskey content attribute set. The accesskey attribute's value is used by the user agent as a guide for creating a keyboard shortcut that activates or focuses the element.

If specified, the value must be an ordered set of unique space-separated tokens that are case-sensitive, each of which must be exactly one Unicode code point in length.

In the following example, a variety of links are given with access keys so that keyboard users familiar with the site can more quickly navigate to the relevant pages:

<nav>
 <p>
  <a title="Consortium Activities" accesskey="A" href="/Consortium/activities">Activities</a> |
  <a title="Technical Reports and Recommendations" accesskey="T" href="/TR/">Technical Reports</a> |
  <a title="Alphabetical Site Index" accesskey="S" href="/Consortium/siteindex">Site Index</a> |
  <a title="About This Site" accesskey="B" href="/Consortium/">About Consortium</a> |
  <a title="Contact Consortium" accesskey="C" href="/Consortium/contact">Contact</a>
 </p>
</nav>

In the following example, the search field is given two possible access keys, "s" and "0" (in that order). A user agent on a device with a full keyboard might pick Ctrl+Alt+S as the shortcut key, while a user agent on a small device with just a numeric keypad might pick just the plain unadorned key 0:

<form action="/search">
 <label>Search: <input type="search" name="q" accesskey="s 0"></label>
 <input type="submit">
</form>

In the following example, a button has possible access keys described. A script then tries to update the button's label to advertise the key combination the user agent selected.

<input type=submit accesskey="N @ 1" value="Compose">
...
<script>
 function labelButton(button) {
   if (button.accessKeyLabel)
     button.value += ' (' + button.accessKeyLabel + ')';
 }
 var inputs = document.getElementsByTagName('input');
 for (var i = 0; i < inputs.length; i += 1) {
   if (inputs[i].type == "submit")
     labelButton(inputs[i]);
 }
</script>

On one user agent, the button's label might become "Compose (⌘N)". On another, it might become "Compose (Alt+⇧+1)". If the user agent doesn't assign a key, it will be just "Compose". The exact string depends on what the assigned access key is, and on how the user agent represents that key combination.

7.5.3 Processing model

An element's assigned access key is a key combination derived from the element's accesskey content attribute. Initially, an element must not have an assigned access key.

Whenever an element's accesskey attribute is set, changed, or removed, the user agent must update the element's assigned access key by running the following steps:

  1. If the element has no accesskey attribute, then skip to the fallback step below.

  2. Otherwise, split the attribute's value on spaces, and let keys be the resulting tokens.

  3. For each value in keys in turn, in the order the tokens appeared in the attribute's value, run the following substeps:

    1. If the value is not a string exactly one Unicode code point in length, then skip the remainder of these steps for this value.

    2. If the value does not correspond to a key on the system's keyboard, then skip the remainder of these steps for this value.

    3. If the user agent can find a mix of zero or more modifier keys that, combined with the key that corresponds to the value given in the attribute, can be used as the access key, then the user agent may assign that combination of keys as the element's assigned access key and abort these steps.

  4. Fallback: Optionally, the user agent may assign a key combination of its choosing as the element's assigned access key and then abort these steps.

  5. If this step is reached, the element has no assigned access key.

Once a user agent has selected and assigned an access key for an element, the user agent should not change the element's assigned access key unless the accesskey content attribute is changed or the element is moved to another Document.

When the user presses the key combination corresponding to the assigned access key for an element, if the element defines a command, the command's Hidden State facet is false (visible), the command's Disabled State facet is also false (enabled), and the element is in a Document, then the user agent must trigger the Action of the command.

User agents might expose elements that have an accesskey attribute in other ways as well, e.g. in a menu displayed in response to a specific key combination.


The accessKey IDL attribute must reflect the accesskey content attribute.

The accessKeyLabel IDL attribute must return a string that represents the element's assigned access key, if any. If the element does not have one, then the IDL attribute must return the empty string.

7.6 Editing

7.6.1 Making document regions editable: The contenteditable content attribute

The contenteditable attribute is an enumerated attribute whose keywords are the empty string, true, and false. The empty string and the true keyword map to the true state. The false keyword maps to the false state. In addition, there is a third state, the inherit state, which is the missing value default (and the invalid value default).

The true state indicates that the element is editable. The inherit state indicates that the element is editable if its parent is. The false state indicates that the element is not editable.

element . contentEditable [ = value ]

Returns "true", "false", or "inherit", based on the state of the contenteditable attribute.

Can be set, to change that state.

Throws a SyntaxError exception if the new value isn't one of those strings.

element . isContentEditable

Returns true if the element is editable; otherwise, returns false.

The contentEditable IDL attribute, on getting, must return the string "true" if the content attribute is set to the true state, "false" if the content attribute is set to the false state, and "inherit" otherwise. On setting, if the new value is an ASCII case-insensitive match for the string "inherit" then the content attribute must be removed, if the new value is an ASCII case-insensitive match for the string "true" then the content attribute must be set to the string "true", if the new value is an ASCII case-insensitive match for the string "false" then the content attribute must be set to the string "false", and otherwise the attribute setter must throw a SyntaxError exception.

The isContentEditable IDL attribute, on getting, must return true if the element is either an editing host or editable, and false otherwise.

7.6.2 Making entire documents editable: The designMode IDL attribute

Documents have a designMode, which can be either enabled or disabled.

document . designMode [ = value ]

Returns "on" if the document is editable, and "off" if it isn't.

Can be set, to change the document's current state.

The designMode IDL attribute on the Document object takes two values, "on" and "off". When it is set, the new value must be compared in an ASCII case-insensitive manner to these two values. If it matches the "on" value, then designMode must be enabled, and if it matches the "off" value, then designMode must be disabled. Other values must be ignored.

When designMode is enabled, the IDL attribute must return the value "on", and when it is disabled, it must return the value "off".

The last state set must persist until the document is destroyed or the state is changed. Initially, documents must have their designMode disabled.

7.6.3 Best practices for in-page editors

Authors are encouraged to set the 'white-space' property on editing hosts and on markup that was originally created through these editing mechanisms to the value 'pre-wrap'. Default HTML whitespace handling is not well suited to WYSIWYG editing, and line wrapping will not work correctly in some corner cases if 'white-space' is left at its default value.

As an example of problems that occur if the default 'normal' value is used instead, consider the case of the user typing "yellow␣␣ball", with two spaces (here represented by "␣") between the words. With the editing rules in place for the default value of 'white-space' ('normal'), the resulting markup will either consist of "yellow&nbsp; ball" or "yellow &nbsp;ball"; i.e., there will be a non-breaking space between the two words in addition to the regular space. This is necessary because the 'normal' value for 'white-space' requires adjacent regular spaces to be collapsed together.

In the former case, "yellow⍽" might wrap to the next line ("⍽" being used here to represent a non-breaking space) even though "yellow" alone might fit at the end of the line; in the latter case, "⍽ball", if wrapped to the start of the line, would have visible indentation from the non-breaking space.

When 'white-space' is set to 'pre-wrap', however, the editing rules will instead simply put two regular spaces between the words, and should the two words be split at the end of a line, the spaces would be neatly removed from the rendering.