JW. JW. - 4 months ago 150
HTTP Question

Detect when browser receives file download

I have a page that allows the user to download a dynamically-generated file. It takes a long time to generate, so I'd like to show a "waiting" indicator. The problem is, I can't figure out how to detect when the browser has received the file, so I can hide the indicator.

I'm making the request in a hidden form, which POSTs to the server, and targets a hidden iframe for its results. This is so I don't replace the entire browser window with the result. I listen for a "load" event on the iframe, in the hope that it will fire when the download is complete.

I return a "Content-Disposition: attachment" header with the file, which causes the browser to show the "Save" dialog. But the browser doesn't fire a "load" event in the iframe.

One approach I tried is using a multi-part response. So it would send an empty HTML file, as well as the attached downloadable file. For example:

Content-type: multipart/x-mixed-replace;boundary="abcde"

Content-type: text/html

Content-type: application/vnd.fdf
Content-Disposition: attachment; filename=foo.fdf


This works in Firefox; it receives the empty HTML file, fires the "load" event, then shows the "Save" dialog for the downloadable file. But it fails on IE and Safari; IE fires the "load" event but doesn't download the file, and Safari downloads the file (with the wrong name and content-type), and doesn't fire the "load" event.

A different approach might be to make a call to start the file creation, then poll the server until it's ready, then download the already-created file. But I'd rather avoid creating temporary files on the server.

Does anyone have a better idea?


One possible solution uses JavaScript on the client.

The client algorithm:

  1. Generate a random unique token.
  2. Submit the download request, and include the token in a GET/POST field.
  3. Show the "waiting" indicator.
  4. Start a timer, and every second or so, look for a cookie named "fileDownloadToken" (or whatever you decide).
  5. If the cookie exists, and its value matches the token, hide the "waiting" indicator.

The server algorithm:

  1. Look for the GET/POST field in the request.
  2. If it has a non-empty value, drop a cookie (e.g. "fileDownloadToken"), and set its value to the token's value.

Client source code (JavaScript):

function getCookie( name ) {
  var parts = document.cookie.split(name + "=");
  if (parts.length == 2) return parts.pop().split(";").shift();

function expireCookie( cName ) {
    document.cookie = 
        encodeURIComponent(cName + "=deleted; expires=" + new Date( 0 ).toUTCString();

function setCursor( docStyle, buttonStyle ) {
    document.getElementById( "doc" ).style.cursor = docStyle;
    document.getElementById( "button-id" ).style.cursor = buttonStyle;

function setFormToken() {
    var downloadToken = new Date().getTime();
    document.getElementById( "downloadToken" ).value = downloadToken;
    return downloadToken;

var downloadTimer;
var attempts = 30;

// Prevents double-submits by waiting for a cookie from the server.
function blockResubmit() {
    var downloadToken = setFormToken();
    setCursor( "wait", "wait" );

    downloadTimer = window.setInterval( function() {
        var token = getCookie( "downloadToken" );

        if( (token == downloadToken) || (attempts == 0) ) {

    }, 1000 );

function unblockSubmit() {
  setCursor( "auto", "pointer" );
  window.clearInterval( downloadTimer );
  expireCookie( "downloadToken" );

Example server code (PHP):

$TOKEN = "downloadToken";

// Sets a cookie so that when the download begins the browser can
// unblock the submit button (thus helping to prevent multiple clicks).
// The false parameter allows the cookie to be exposed to JavaScript.
$this->setCookieToken( $TOKEN, $_GET[ $TOKEN ], false );

$result = $this->sendFile();


public function setCookieToken(
    $cookieName, $cookieValue, $httpOnly = true, $secure = false ) {

    // See: http://stackoverflow.com/a/1459794/59087
    // See: http://shiflett.org/blog/2006/mar/server-name-versus-http-host
    // See: http://stackoverflow.com/a/3290474/59087
        2147483647,            // expires January 1, 2038
        "/",                   // your path
        $_SERVER["HTTP_HOST"], // your domain
        $secure,               // Use true over HTTPS
        $httpOnly              // Set true for $AUTH_COOKIE_NAME