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What is that third argument on the vanilla JS addEventListener() method and when do you need it?

You may sometimes see a third argument on the addEventListener() method.

document.addEventListener('focus', function (event) {
	console.log('something came into focus: ' +;
}, true);

That third argument, true? That’s called useCapture.

I’m a big fan of event delegation. But certain events, like focus, don’t bubble.

If you wrote your event listener like this, the event would never fire.

document.addEventListener('focus', function (event) {
	console.log('something came into focus: ' +;

Here’s a demo. Try to click on or tab through the buttons with the console open.

So, what exactly does useCapture do?

The useCapture argument, when set to true, tells the addEventListener() method to capture events that happen in the parent.

Instead of the event bubbling from the originating element up to each parent, the event listener starts at the parent and works its way down. This allows you to use event delegation on non-bubbling events.

Here’s another demo with useCapture enabled.

When do you need useCapture?

While newer browsers use false as a default if no value is provided, older browsers would fail without the third argument.

However, useCapture has been optional since IE9, so I think you can safely omit it unless the event you’re using doesn’t bubble and you’re trying to use event delegation.

Note: this is a deviation from what I used to recommend a few years ago.

You can tell if you need to set useCapture to true by checking the MDN Event Reference.

Click into your event, and then look at the event details table at the top of the page. One of the properties is Bubbles. If the answer is “No,” set useCapture to true. Otherwise, leave it off.