Web components using Vanilla JS: Part 3

Published Nov 13, 2017Last updated Nov 18, 2017
Web components using Vanilla JS: Part 3

This is the third part of the web components tutorial series I'm writing. In this part, we're gonna have a look at attributes, how and when to use them, and the parts of the custom elements specs that deal with them. Check out Part 1 and Part 2 of this series first.

Quoting from MDN:

Elements in HTML have attributes; these are additional values that configure the elements or adjust their behavior in various ways to meet the criteria the users want.

What we'll build?

We'll create a component UserCard with the attributes: username, address and is-admin(Boolean that tells us whether the user is admin or not). We'll watch these attributes for changes and update the component accordingly.

Getting and Setting attributes

We can easily define attributes in our HTML code like:

<user-card username="Ayush" address="Indore, India" is-admin></user-card>

We can use the DOM API in JavaScript to get and set attributes using the getAttribute(attrName) and setAttribute(attrName, newVal) methods. For example,

let myUserCard = document.querySelector('user-card')
myUserCard.getAttribute('username') // Ayush
myUserCard.setAttribute('username', 'Ayush Gupta') 
myUserCard.getAttribute('username') // Ayush Gupta

Watching for attribute changes

The Custom Elements specs v1 defines an easy way to observe attribute changes and take action on these changes. When creating our component, we need to define two things:

  1. Observed Attributes: To be notified when attributes change, a list of observed attributes must be defined when initializing the element, by placing a static observedAttributes getter on the element's class that returns an array of attribute names.

  2. attributeChangedCallback(attributeName, oldValue, newValue, namespace): A lifecycle method that is called when an attribute is changed, appended, removed, or replaced on the element. It is only called for observed attributes.

Creating UserCard Component

Let's build our UserCard component that'll be initialized using attributes and any changes made to its attributes will be observed by our component. We'll organize this project in the same way as part 1 of this series.

Create an index.html file in the project directory. Also create a UserCard directory with files: UserCard.html, UserCard.css and UserCard.js.

Open the UserCard.js file and enter the following code:

(async () => {
  const res = await fetch('/UserCard/UserCard.html');
  const textTemplate = await res.text();
  const HTMLTemplate = new DOMParser().parseFromString(textTemplate, 'text/html')

  class UserCard extends HTMLElement {
    constructor() { ... }
    connectedCallback() { ... }
    // Getter to let component know what attributes
    // to watch for mutation
    static get observedAttributes() {
      return ['username', 'address', 'is-admin']; 

    attributeChangedCallback(attr, oldValue, newValue) {
      console.log(`${attr} was changed from ${oldValue} to ${newValue}!`)

  customElements.define('user-card', UserCard);

Now that we have a basic framework ready, let's build this component.

Initializing using attributes

When we create the component in our markup (aka HTML), we'll provide it with some starting values that it'll use to initialize the component. For example,

<user-card username="Ayush" address="Indore, India" is-admin="true"></user-card>

Now in the connectedCallback, we'll take these attributes and define a variable corresponding to each of them.

connectedCallback() {
  const shadowRoot = this.attachShadow({ mode: 'open' });
  const instance = HTMLTemplate.content.cloneNode(true);

  // You can also put checks to see if attr is present or not
  // and throw errors to make some attributes mandatory
  // Also default values for these variables can be defined here
  this.username = this.getAttribute('username');
  this.address = this.getAttribute('address');
  this.isAdmin = this.getAttribute('is-admin');

// Define setters to update the DOM whenever these values are set
set username(value) {
  this._username = value;
  if (this.shadowRoot)
    this.shadowRoot.querySelector('#card__username').innerHTML = value;

get username() {
  return this._username;

set address(value) {
  this._address = value;
  if (this.shadowRoot)
    this.shadowRoot.querySelector('#card__address').innerHTML = value;

get address() {
  return this._address;

set isAdmin(value) {
  this._isAdmin = value;
  if (this.shadowRoot)
    this.shadowRoot.querySelector('#card__admin-flag').style.display = value == true ? "block" : "none";

get isAdmin() {
  return this._isAdmin;

Watching for attribute changes

The attributeChangedCallback is called when an observed attribute is changed. So we'll need to define what happens when any of these attributes change. Rewrite the function to contain the following:

attributeChangedCallback(attr, oldVal, newVal) {
  const attribute = attr.toLowerCase()
  if (attribute === 'username') {
    this.username = newVal != '' ? newVal : "Not Provided!"
  } else if (attribute === 'address') {
    this.address = newVal !== '' ? newVal : "Not Provided!"
  } else if (attribute === 'is-admin') {
    this.isAdmin = newVal == 'true';

Now create the template that our component will be using to complete setting up the component.


<template id="user-card-template">
  <h3 id="card__username"></h3>
  <p id="card__address"></p>
  <p id="card__admin-flag">I'm an admin</p>

Using our component

Create index.html file with two input elements and a checkbox and define onchange methods for all of these to update our component's attributes. As soon as attributes are updated, the change will also be reflected in the DOM.


  <title>Web Component</title>

  <input type="text" onchange="updateName(this)" placeholder="Name">
  <input type="text" onchange="updateAddress(this)" placeholder="Address">
  <input type="checkbox" onchange="toggleAdminStatus(this)" placeholder="Name">
  <user-card username="Ayush" address="Indore, India" is-admin></user-card>
  <script src="https://cdnjs.cloudflare.com/ajax/libs/webcomponentsjs/1.0.14/webcomponents-hi.js"></script>
  <script src="/UserCard/UserCard.js"></script>
    function updateAddress(elem) {
      document.querySelector('user-card').setAttribute('address', elem.value);

    function updateName(elem) {
      document.querySelector('user-card').setAttribute('username', elem.value);

    function toggleAdminStatus(elem) {
      document.querySelector('user-card').setAttribute('is-admin', elem.checked);


We need to add the webcomponents.js file, as not all browsers support Web Components. Note that we're using the HTML import statement to import our component from the directory.

To run this code, you'll need to create a static file server. If you don't know how to do that, you can use a simple static server like static-server or json-server. For this tutorial, install static-server using:

$ npm install -g static-server

Now, navigate to your folder containing the index.html file using cd and run the server using:

$ static-server

Open your browser and go to localhost:9080, and you should see the component we just created.


When to use attributes

In the previous post, we had created an API for both our child components so that the parent component could initialize and interact with them using this API. In that case, if we already have some config we wish to provide directly without using a parent/other function call, we couldn't do it.

With attributes, we can provide that initial config very easily. This config can then be extracted in either constructor or connectedCallback to initilize the component. Changing attributes to interact with components can get a bit tedious though. Suppose you want to pass large amounts of JSON data to the component. Doing that would require the JSON to be represented as a string attribute and to be parsed when being used by the component.

We have three ways in which we can create interactive web components:

  1. Using only attributes: This is the approach we saw in this post. We used attributes for initializing the components as well as interacting with them from the outside world.

  2. Using only created functions: This is the approach we saw in part 2 of the series where we initialized and interacted with the components using only the functions we created for them.

  3. Using a mixed approach: IMO this should be used. In this approach, we initialize the components using attributes and for all later interactions we just use calls to its API.

Let me know which approach would you prefer and why in the comments below! Read the Part 1 and Part 2 of this series if you haven't already.

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