Amal Murali Amal Murali - 9 months ago 62
Javascript Question

How to detect page title change in Google Chrome from an extension?

I'm creating a Google Chrome extension and I need to detect when a page's title changes. The page's title is changed like in Twitter:

(num) Twitter
(see the screenshot below) - when a new tweet is posted, the number increments. Example:

enter image description here

I'm trying to detect the title changes of a URL that's loaded in one of my tabs and play a beep sound whenever there's a difference. This check is to be done in a repeated interval and I think that can be accomplished using

I've created a
as follows:

"manifest_version": 2,

"name": "Detect Page Title Changes",
"description": "Blah",
"version": "1.0",

"browser_action": {
"default_icon": "icon.png",
"default_popup": "background.html"
"permissions": [

However, I'm clueless about the rest. I've searched through the docs
and tried the solutions on similar Stack Overflow threads such as this one I but couldn't find anything that suits my requirements.

Do you have any suggestions? Please include an example, if possible.

Xan Xan
Answer Source

Instead of arguing in comments that a certain approach is better, let me be more constructive and add an answer by showing a particular implementation I co-wrote myself, and explain some gotchas you may run into. Code snippets refer to a service different from Twitter, but the goal was the same. In fact, this code's goal is to report the exact number of unread messages, so yours might be simpler.

My approach is based on an answer here on SO, and instead of being polling-driven (check condition at fixed intervals) is event-driven (be notified of potential changes in condition).

Advantages include immediate detection of a change (which would otherwise not be detected until the next poll) and not wasting resources on polls while the condition does not change. Admittedly, the second argument hardly applies here, but the first one still stands.

Architecture at a glance:

  1. Inject a content script into the page in question.

  2. Analyze initial state of the title, report to background page via sendMessage.

  3. Register a handler for a title change event.

  4. Whenever the event fires and the handler is called, analyze the new state of the title, report to background page via sendMessage.

Already step 1 has a gotcha to it. Normal content script injection mechanism, when the content script is defined in the manifest, will inject it in pages upon navigation to a page that matches the URL.

"content_scripts": [
    "matches": [
    "js": ["observer.js"],
    "run_at": "document_idle"

This works pretty well, until your extension is reloaded. This can happen in development as you're applying changes you've made, or in deployed instances as it is auto-updated. What happens then is that content scripts are not re-injected in existing open pages (until navigation happens, like a reload). Therefore, if you rely on manifest-based injection, you should also consider including programmatic injection into already-open tabs when extension initializes:

function startupInject() {
    {url: "*://*"},
    function (tabs) {
      for (var i in tabs) {
        chrome.tabs.executeScript(tabs[i].id, {file: "observer.js"});

On the other end, content script instances that were active at the time of extension reload are not terminated, but are orphaned: any sendMessage or similar request will fail. It is, therefore, recommended to always check for exceptions when trying to communicate with the parent extension, and self-terminate (by removing handlers) if it fails:

try {
  chrome.runtime.sendMessage({'count' : count});
} catch(e) { // Happens when parent extension is no longer available or was reloaded
  console.warn("Could not communicate with parent extension, deregistering observer");

Step 2 also has a gotcha to it, though it depends on the specifics of the service you're watching. Some pages inside the scope of the content script will not show the number of unread items, but it does not mean that there are no new messages.

After observing how the web service works, I concluded that if the title changes to something without navigation, it's safe to assume the new value if correct, but for the initial title "no new items" should be ignored as unreliable.

So, the analysis code accounts for whether it's the initial reading or handling an update:

function notify(title, changed) {
  // ...
  var match = /^\((\d+)\)/.exec(title);
  var match_zero = /^The Old Reader$/.exec(title);

  if (match && match[1]) {
    count = match[1];
  } else if (match_zero && changed) {
    count = 0;
  // else, consider that we don't know the count

It is called with the initial title and changed = false in step 2.

Steps 3 & 4 are the main answer to "how to watch for title changes" (in an event-driven way).

var target = document.querySelector('head > title');

var observer = new window.MutationObserver(
  function(mutations) {
        notify(, true);

observer.observe(target, { subtree: true, characterData: true, childList: true });

For specifics as to why certain options of observer.observe are set, see the original answer.

Note that notify is called with changed = true, so going from "(1) The Old Reader" to "The Old Reader" without navigation is considered to be a "true" change to zero unread messages.