Event Phases in Javascript

When a DOM event fires in your app, it doesn’t just fire once where the event originated; it embarks on a journey of three phases. In short, the event flows from the document’s root to the target (i.e. capture phase), then fires on the event target (target phase), then flows back to the document’s root (bubbling phase).


Demo: http://jsbin.com/exezex/4/edit


The first phase is the capture phase. The event starts its journey at the root of the document, working its way down through each layer of the DOM, firing on each node until it reaches the event target. The job of the capture phase is to build the propagation path, which the event will travel back through in the bubbling phase.

As mentioned, you can listen to events in the capture phase by setting the third argument of addEventListener to true. I have not found many use cases for capture phase listeners, but you could potentially prevent any clicks from firing in a certain element if the event is handled in the capture phase.

var form = document.querySelector('form');

form.addEventListener('click', function(event) {
}, true); // Note: 'true'

If you’re unsure, listen for events in the bubbling phase by setting theuseCapture flag to false or undefined.


An event reaching the target is known as the target phase. The event fires on the target node, before reversing and retracing its steps, propagating back to the outermost document level.

In the case of nested elements, mouse and pointer events are always targeted at the most deeply nested element. If you have listened for a click event on a<div> element, and the user actually clicks on a <p> element in the div, then the <p> element will become the event target. The fact that events “bubble” means that you are able to listen for clicks on the <div> (or any other ancestor node) and still receive a callback once the event passes through.


After an event has fired on the target, it doesn’t stop there. It bubbles up (or propagates) through the DOM until it reaches the document’s root. This means that the same event is fired on the target’s parent node, followed by the parent’s parent, continuing until there is no parent to pass the event onto.

Think of the DOM as an onion and the event target as the core of the onion. In the capture phase, the event drills into the onion through each layer. When the event reaches the core, it fires (the target phase), and then reverses, working its way back up through each layer (the propagation phase). Once the event has returned to the surface, its journey is over.

Bubbling is useful. It frees us from listening for an event on the exact element it came from; instead, we listen on an element further up the DOM tree, waiting for the event to reach us. If events didn’t bubble, we would have to, in some cases, listen for an event on many different elements to ensure that it is caught.


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