Farzad Yousefzadeh
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A simpler approach to registering and clearing DOM event handlers

December 27, 2021
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DOM event handlers work with a strange interface if you ask me. The fact that you need to keep the reference to the event handler to be able to clear it is not practical, especially if you're trying to handle more than a single event handler. Imagine building a command palette or keyboard shortcuts into your application and having to keep a reference to a ton of handler variables. This is a recipe for uncontrolled growth. Sure, you can keep a key-value pair of events to their respective handlers, but that feels like reinventing browser internals.

When you get to clearing event handlers, it gets event better! You'll have to pass the same exact arguments, only this time to removeEventListener to clean the handler. Take a look at this example:

const clickHandler = () => {
element.addEventListener("click", clickHandler);
// You MUST pass the same reference to the handler because the event registry saves them by reference
// If you lose the reference or pass the handler function directly to `addEventListener`, there would be no way to clear it
element.removeEventListener("click", clickHandler);

It could be a tedious process to have to keep a reference to a handler function just to be able to clear it later on in the code, especially considering that subscriptions are usually a part of a bigger code. It's a path towards declaring too many variables or spamming a larger object.

But how can we make this simpler?

A common pattern to make subscription clearance simpler is to return a function that, once called, clears the subscription automatically. This is a well known pattern used by many libraries. You've already seen this in React's useEffect where useEffect expects you to return a function for clearing subscriptions inside the effect. Or how XState expects you to return a clearance function from invocations.

To make clearing easier, we can write a tiny handy function that follows the same pattern.

Let's start with DOM event listeners.

// ...args: [event, handler, capture]
function onEvent(element, ...args) {
  return () => {

Here is how you can use the code above:

    <label for="name">Name</label>
    <input id="name" name="name" />

  const $form = document.querySelector("form");
  const onSubmit = (e) => {
    // post to server
  const clearSubmit = onEvent($form, "submit", submitForm);

  // When needed to clear it
  // as apposed to $form.removeEventListener('form', submitForm)

Make it type-safe

To use a type-safe version of our utility from above, we can borrow most of the typing from Typescript's DOM types.

function onEvent<E extends HTMLElement>(
  element: E,
  ...args: Parameters<HTMLElement["addEventListener"]>
) {
  return () => {

We use a generic type to keep our element type flexible as we don't know for sure what element it's going to be, but we limit to an element that extends HTMLELement.

To make the rest of arguments type-safe, we can basically get the definition from element.addEventListener already, since we're just passing the arguments through.

How is this useful?

First, it spares you a few lines of code for having to keep a reference to handlers. Secondly, you no longer need to know what event it was, what element it's attached to or how the event was registered (other arguments). All you care about is calling a function that clears hanging subscriptions.

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