Categories
forms javascript

Warn user before leaving web page with unsaved changes

445

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?

3

679

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-party library for all of this.

jquery.dirty (suggested by @troseman in the comments) provides functions for properly detecting whether a form has been changed or not, and preventing the user from leaving the page while displaying a prompt. It also has other useful functions like resetting the form, and setting the current state of the form as the “clean” state. Example usage:

$("#myForm").dirty({preventLeaving: true});

An older, currently abandoned project, is jQuery’s Are You Sure? plugin, which also works great; see their demo page. Example usage:

<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 april 2016, 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

9

  • 13

    Note that using custom strings doesn’t work anymore in Chrome; chromestatus.com/feature/5349061406228480

    – amann

    May 4, 2017 at 12:58

  • 8

    Yes, that’s described in the last section of my answer.

    May 4, 2017 at 13:00


  • 2

    @Chris that’ll be because Angular is manipulating the DOM to change the page, while not navigating away from the current document.

    May 4, 2017 at 18:07

  • 26

    Be warned jQuery areYouSure has been abandoned since 2014 (57 open issues on Github) , it’s full of bugs from my experience, it may seem like it works at first but after some quick tests I realised it doesn’t always work. Would Not recommend this at all

    – Mark

    Jan 10, 2018 at 21:38


  • 6

    @JacopoStanchi I unfortunately didn’t find any. And I mean I looked quite a lot – but this was back in Jan 10 so someone may have written something but I doubt it. Your best bet is to implement it yourself – it’s not what you want to hear tho so sorry. ( But at least you won’t get any surprises like I did using jQuery areYouSure.) Plus who knows maybe you could even make it open source and your implementation would be shared with others 😉

    – Mark

    Jul 6, 2018 at 14:38


79

Check out the JavaScript onbeforeunload event. It’s non-standard JavaScript introduced by Microsoft, however it works in most browsers and their onbeforeunload documentation has more information and examples.

1

  • 4

    I think it is become standards now. >> The event was originally introduced by Microsoft in Internet Explorer 4 and standardized in the HTML5 specification.

    – vee

    Jul 9, 2018 at 16:06

40

via jquery

$('#form').data('serialize',$('#form').serialize()); // On load save form current state

$(window).bind('beforeunload', function(e){
    if($('#form').serialize()!=$('#form').data('serialize'))return true;
    else e=null; // i.e; if form state change show warning box, else don't show it.
});

You can Google JQuery Form Serialize function, this will collect all form inputs and save it in array. I guess this explain is enough 🙂

2