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What's the difference between JavaScript event delegation, bubbling, and capturing?

Yesterday, I wrote about why event delegation is better than attaching events to specific elements. In response, my buddy Andrew Borstein asked:

What’s the difference between event delegation/bubbling/capturing?

This is a great question that I get fairly often. The terms are often used interchangeably (sometimes by me, oops!), which can cause some confusion.

So let’s clear that up today.

tl;dr: event delegation is the technique, bubbling is what the event itself does, and capturing is a way of using event delgation on events that don’t bubble.

Event Delegation

Event delegation is a technique for listening to events where you delegate a parent element as the listener for all of the events that happen inside it.

I often use listening to all clicks in the document as an example, but it can be any element on the page.

For example, if you wanted to detect any time any field changed in value inside a specific form, you could do this:

var form = document.querySelector('#hogwarts-application');

// Listen for changes to fields inside the form
form.addEventListener('input', function (event) {

	// Log the field that was changed

}, false);

Event Bubbling

Bubbling is what the event itself does.

If you’ve ever watched the bubbles in a glass of soda, you’ll understand how event bubbling works.

The event starts are the element that triggered it (saying, changing the #email field in our example above). Then, it bubbles up to each of it’s parent elements until it reaches the html element.

Using a form field as an example, the event would bubble up to the parent form, then any containers or divs the form was in, then the body, then the html element, then the document, then the window.

Any listeners on any of those parent elements would get triggered as it bubbles up.

Here’s a demo.

Event Capturing

Most events bubble. But some, like the focus event, do not.

Here’s an example.

document.addEventListener('focus', function (event) {
}, false);

You can focus on things over and over again, but the event callback will never run.

There’s a trick you can use to capture the event, though. The last argument in addEventListener() is called useCapture. We almost always set it to false.

For events that don’t bubble, set it to true to capture the event anyways.

Here’s an updated example.

document.addEventListener('focus', function (event) {
}, true);

And here’s more detail on when and how to use it.

A quick recap

Just to review: event delegation is the technique, bubbling is what the event itself does, and capturing is a way of using event delegation on events that don’t bubble.

Hope that clears things up!