Structured Editing: Cross-browser javascript text editor


I've written a proof-of-concept rich text editor using cross-browser javascript which just modifies the DOM. It doesn't need any special editing support from the browser, just a decent implementation of javascript and working DOM manipulation.

Because I'm not a javascript expert, and this is my first 'advanced' use of it, I'm hoping that some javascript gurus will know how to finish it.

All the code is licensed under the BSD license. My email address is [email protected], but do avoid HTML email if you want to get past my spam filters.


I'm writing a web app which really needs some nice rich text editing, but in a structured way. A load of random tags which apply visual style isn't really good enough. I looked at contentEditable and designMode, but both seemed rather nasty with annoying APIs and horrendous markup to tidy. It sounded like it would be less effort to write my own text editor.

That gave me an idea.

It turns out it's possible to write a text editor with nothing more than a spot of javascript making extensive modifcations to the DOM tree. Here's my proof-of-concept editor. Click in it to edit.

An example editor

It doesn't use contentEditable or designMode, just a bit of javascript which modifies the web page. But because it's just a proof of concept, it has some limitations. The most annoying is that you can only the left and right arrows for now.

Type and the text is inserted, and the box will expand. You can even paste text in.

When inserting new paragraphs, HTML elements like bold and italic are handled correctly, even when nested, but the UI can only set paragraph level styles for now.

This seems to work well enough to show what's possible. And it works with the same code in Firefox, Safari, Opera and Internet Explorer (at least). IE does have the odd quirk which needs sorting out, but it's very close.

Show HTML output from the editor above.

Currently the editor implements:

but it does support all the CSS styles you can throw at it. Note that clicks can sometimes be a bit hit and miss, especially with Safari.

To use the editor, include the javascript and css files. It's based on Prototype, so you'll need that too. Then, to make a DIV editable, just give it a class="editable" attribute.

To retrieve the HTML from the editor, use StructuredEditing.getHTMLFromEditor('editor'); where 'editor' is the id attribute of the parent DIV.

Editor requirements

When it's finished it should provide...

I'd image it'd be a nightmare to do that with contentEditable or designMode, needing two completely different bits of complicated code, and a set of random workarounds for each browser.

I was expecting browser hell in doing this, but it was surprisingly pleasant. The odd bit of fun and games, but nothing too much. There's no testing of functionality and checking for different features, just the odd 'unnecessary' bit of code to make Safari behave.

Speaking of multiple editors on a page, here's another to play with.

Another editor

This is a second editor. Go on, edit the text!

How it works

It's not too scary. To find the mouse click and to insert text nicely, all the text is split into lots of spans. It uses a sort of binary search algorithm to minimise the number used, so it's not as bad as it sounds. Later I'll add code to go through things in the background and remove unnecessary spans.

A hidden TEXTAREA to the left of the page border is used to collect the text input. This simplifies working out which character should be inserted, and gives us pasting support for free. To avoid the page scrolling randomly, it's is moved to same vertical position as text being edited.

There are some nasty little edge cases which have to be handled. Having the ability to have the caret positioned right at the left of the paragraph is surprisingly involved. And because top level elements aren't displayed without content, you've got to put something in them and then pretend it isn't there.

But that's basically it.


There's quite a bit to be done. And already, I have some questions for the experts.

Important things needing doing

There's quite a way to go.

Bugs so far

Feedback please!

Please send me feedback about this editor.

But of course, the most important thing is whether or not you'd be interested in helping me out with it!

Send me email at [email protected], but do avoid HTML email if you want to get past my spam filters.

Related projects

None of these support "all" browsers, and all use the built in editing features of those browser they do support.

widgEditor A nice try, but it doesn't work on all browsers, particularly falling foul of some Safari bugs. Oh well. Interesting how much code there is to clean up mess, which can't be future proof. This was the project which suggested there could be a better way.

FCKeditor Woo! Features!

Dojo Editor Good project goals, apart from the bit about not being a structured editor.