Muhammad Irfan Muhammad Irfan - 26 days ago 11
Javascript Question

Warn user before leaving web page with unsaved changes

I have some pages with forms in my application.

How can I secure the form in such a way that if someone navigates away or closes the browser tab, they should be prompted to to confirm they really want to leave the form with unsaved data?

Answer

Short, wrong answer:

You can do this by handling the beforeunload event and returning a non-null string:

window.addEventListener("beforeunload", function (e) {
    var confirmationMessage = 'It looks like you have been editing something. '
                            + 'If you leave before saving, your changes will be lost.';

    (e || window.event).returnValue = confirmationMessage; //Gecko + IE
    return confirmationMessage; //Gecko + Webkit, Safari, Chrome etc.
});

The problem with this approach is that submitting a form is also firing the unload event. This is fixed easily by adding the a flag that you're submitting a form:

var formSubmitting = false;
var setFormSubmitting = function() { formSubmitting = true; };

window.onload = function() {
    window.addEventListener("beforeunload", function (e) {
        if (formSubmitting) {
            return undefined;
        }

        var confirmationMessage = 'It looks like you have been editing something. '
                                + 'If you leave before saving, your changes will be lost.';

        (e || window.event).returnValue = confirmationMessage; //Gecko + IE
        return confirmationMessage; //Gecko + Webkit, Safari, Chrome etc.
    });
};

Then calling the setter when submitting:

<form method="post" onsubmit="setFormSubmitting()">     
    <input type="submit" />
</form>

But read on...

Long, correct answer:

You also don't want to show this message when the user hasn't changed anything on your forms. One solution is to use the beforeunload event in combination with a "dirty" flag, which only triggers the prompt if it's really relevant.

var isDirty = function() { return false; }

window.onload = function() {
    window.addEventListener("beforeunload", function (e) {
        if (formSubmitting || !isDirty()) {
            return undefined;
        }

        var confirmationMessage = 'It looks like you have been editing something. '
                                + 'If you leave before saving, your changes will be lost.';

        (e || window.event).returnValue = confirmationMessage; //Gecko + IE
        return confirmationMessage; //Gecko + Webkit, Safari, Chrome etc.
    });
};

Now to implement the isDirty method, there are various approaches.

You can use jQuery and form serialization, but this approach has some flaws. First you have to alter the code to work on any form ($("form").each() will do), but the greatest problem is that jQuery's serialize() will only work on named, non-disabled elements, so changing any disabled or unnamed element will not trigger the dirty flag. There are workarounds for that, like making controls readonly instead of enabling, serializing and then disabling the controls again.

So events seem the way to go. You can try listening for keypresses. This event has a few issues:

  • Won't trigger on checkboxes, radio buttons, or other elements that are being altered through mouse input.
  • Will trigger for irrelevant keypresses like the Ctrl key.
  • Won't trigger on values set through JavaScript code.
  • Won't trigger on cutting or pasting text through context menus.
  • Won't work for virtual inputs like datepickers or checkbox/radiobutton beautifiers which save their value in a hidden input through JavaScript.

The change event also doesn't trigger on values set from JavaScript code, so also won't work for virtual inputs.

Binding the input event to all inputs (and textareas and selects) on your page won't work on older browsers and, like all event handling solutions mentioned above, doesn't support undo. When a user changes a textbox and then undoes that, or checks and unchecks a checkbox, the form is still considered dirty.

And when you want to implement more behavior, like ignoring certain elements, you'll have even more work to do.

Don't reinvent the wheel:

So before you think about implementing those solutions and all required workarounds, realize you're reinventing the wheel and you're prone to running into problems others have already solved for you.

If your application already uses jQuery, you may as well use tested, maintained code instead of rolling your own, and use a third-part library for all of this. jQuery's Are You Sure? plugin works great, see their demo page. It's as simple as this:

<script src="jquery.are-you-sure.js"></script>

<script>
  $(function() {
    $('#myForm').areYouSure(
      {
        message: 'It looks like you have been editing something. '
               + 'If you leave before saving, your changes will be lost.'
      }
    );
  });

</script>

Custom messages not supported everywhere

Do note that since 2011 already, Firefox 4 didn't support custom messages in this dialog. As of last month, Chrome 51 is being rolled out in which custom messages are also being removed.

Some alternatives exist elsewhere on this site, but I think a dialog like this is clear enough:

Do you want to leave this site?

Changes you made may not be saved.

Leave Stay

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