.prop() vs .attr()

So jQuery 1.6 has the new function prop().

or in this case do they do the same thing?

And if I do have to switch to using prop(), all the old attr() calls will break if i switch to 1.6?


(see also this fiddle: http://jsfiddle.net/maniator/JpUF2/)

The console logs the getAttribute as a string, and the attr as a string, but the prop as a CSSStyleDeclaration, Why? And how does that affect my coding in the future?

Update 1 November 2012

My original answer applies specifically to jQuery 1.6. My advice remains the same but jQuery 1.6.1 changed things slightly: in the face of the predicted pile of broken websites, the jQuery team reverted attr() to something close to (but not exactly the same as) its old behaviour for Boolean attributes. John Resig also blogged about it. I can see the difficulty they were in but still disagree with the recommendation to prefer attr().

Original answer

If you’ve only ever used jQuery and not the DOM directly, this could be a confusing change, although it is definitely an improvement conceptually. Not so good for the bazillions of sites using jQuery that will break as a result of this change though.

I’ll summarize the main issues:

  • You usually want prop() rather than attr().
  • In the majority of cases, prop() does what attr() used to do. Replacing calls to attr() with prop() in your code will generally work.
  • Properties are generally simpler to deal with than attributes. An attribute value may only be a string whereas a property can be of any type. For example, the checked property is a Boolean, the style property is an object with individual properties for each style, the size property is a number.
  • Where both a property and an attribute with the same name exists, usually updating one will update the other, but this is not the case for certain attributes of inputs, such as value and checked: for these attributes, the property always represents the current state while the attribute (except in old versions of IE) corresponds to the default value/checkedness of the input (reflected in the defaultValue / defaultChecked property).
  • This change removes some of the layer of magic jQuery stuck in front of attributes and properties, meaning jQuery developers will have to learn a bit about the difference between properties and attributes. This is a good thing.

If you’re a jQuery developer and are confused by this whole business about properties and attributes, you need to take a step back and learn a little about it, since jQuery is no longer trying so hard to shield you from this stuff. For the authoritative but somewhat dry word on the subject, there’s the specs: DOM4, HTML DOM, DOM Level 2, DOM Level 3. Mozilla’s DOM documentation is valid for most modern browsers and is easier to read than the specs, so you may find their DOM reference helpful. There’s a section on element properties.

As an example of how properties are simpler to deal with than attributes, consider a checkbox that is initially checked. Here are two possible pieces of valid HTML to do this:

So, how do you find out if the checkbox is checked with jQuery? Look on Stack Overflow and you’ll commonly find the following suggestions:

  • if ( $("#cb").attr("checked") === true ) {...}
  • if ( $("#cb").attr("checked") == "checked" ) {...}
  • if ( $("#cb").is(":checked") ) {...}

This is actually the simplest thing in the world to do with the checked Boolean property, which has existed and worked flawlessly in every major scriptable browser since 1995:

if (document.getElementById("cb").checked) {...}

The property also makes checking or unchecking the checkbox trivial:

document.getElementById("cb").checked = false

In jQuery 1.6, this unambiguously becomes

$("#cb").prop("checked", false)

The idea of using the checked attribute for scripting a checkbox is unhelpful and unnecessary. The property is what you need.

  • It’s not obvious what the correct way to check or uncheck the checkbox is using the checked attribute
  • The attribute value reflects the default rather than the current visible state (except in some older versions of IE, thus making things still harder). The attribute tells you nothing about the whether the checkbox on the page is checked. See http://jsfiddle.net/VktA6/49/.