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    0.3.0 • Public • Published

    Optional querySelector

    A querySelector function returning an Option type rather than null.


    import {querySelector} from 'query-selectors'
    // Our favorite robot.
    const url = ''
    // This querySelector returns an Option<T>, never null.
    const avatar = querySelector(document, '.avatar', HTMLImageElement)
    // Test and unwrap the Option<HTMLImageElement>.
    if (avatar.isSome()) {
      avatar.unwrap().src = url
    // Or operate on the element only if it was found as a Some<HTMLImageElement>.
      Some: (el) => el.src = url,
      None: () => console.log('not found')

    Standard element queries

    Finding an individual element in the document tree and operating on it can lead to null pointer exceptions.

    const el = document.querySelector('.expected-element')
    // el may be null!
    el.setAttribute('title', 'hello')

    A safer alternative is to guard against null values with a conditional statement.

    const el = document.querySelector('.expected-element')
    if (el) {
      el.setAttribute('title', 'hello')

    Because querySelector is so frequently used in web applications, and it's tedious to guard every element query with null checks, these tests are most often omitted and replaced with the hope that the element will exist on the page.


    Adding Flow type annotations improves the reliability of our code at compile time by forcing these null checks. When checked by Flow, the above example raises an error.

    const el = document.querySelector('.expected-element')
    // Error: property `classList` Property cannot be accessed on possibly null value

    So we'll have to test every query for a possible null result to satisfy the type system.

    Additionally, the document.querySelector() function returns an HTMLElement base class, which means we cannot access subclass properties with a type cast.

    If we want to access a method or attribute defined on an element subclass, like HTMLImageElement's src or HTMLInputElement's value, Flow requires another conditional test to assert that the element is actually an <img> or <input>.

    const el = document.querySelector('.expected-element')
    if (el) {
      el.value = 'hello'
      // Error: property `value` Property not found in HTMLElement

    Adding an instanceof test passes the Flow type checker.

    const el = document.querySelector('.expected-element')
    if (el instanceof HTMLInputElement) {
      el.value = 'hello'

    The combination of null tests and subclass type refinements feels like we're working against the type system, rather than with it, and like there's a missing abstraction that could simplify things.

    One solution is to combine Flow's type system with an option type.

    Option type

    Several languages replace the concept of a null value with an option type. An Option is either a Some or a None, but either way, it's an object with methods and never null.

    import {Some} from 'option-type'
    const option = Some(42)
    option.isSome() // => true
    option.isNone() // => false
    option.unwrap() === 42 // => true

    An Option is just a wrapper for a value with some interesting methods on it. And when applied to selector queries, it prevents a null value from ever entering our code.

    import {querySelector} from 'query-selectors'
    const option = querySelector(document, '.expected-element')
    if (option.isSome()) {
      const el = option.unwrap()
      el.setAttribute('title', 'hello')
    if (option.isNone()) {
      console.log('element not found')

    In this example, we still have conditional tests for the presence and absence of the element in the tree, simply trading null tests for options.

    Where Option gets more compelling is the ability to chain function calls onto it. The functions evaluate only if the value is Some. When a None appears, the function chain stops naturally without requiring any conditionals.

    import {querySelector} from 'query-selectors'
    querySelector(document, '.expected-element')
      .andThen(setAttribute('title', 'hello')

    Element type filters

    Returning to the instanceof type refinements required in the <img> and <input> example, what we really want is a set of two filter criteria when querying the document tree:

    1. The selectors to find the element, as usual
    2. An additional type filter to assert the element is an <input>

    This is where the optional third argument to querySelector can be used.

    const option = querySelector(document, '.expected-element', HTMLInputElement)
    if (option.isSome())
      option.unwrap().value = 'hello'

    Both criteria must pass for a Some to be returned. The element must exist in the page with the expected-element class name and it must be an HTMLInputElement so that we can address the value property.

    Query functions

    This library has two sets of functions: those that query the element tree and those that operate on the returned Option<Element> values.

    • query(context, selector, klass)
    • querySelector(context, selector, klass)
    • querySelectorAll(context, selector, klass)
    • closest(element, selector, klass)

    The query function is an easy way to begin using the library. It returns an Element, rather than an Option<Element>, throwing an exception if it's not found.

    This can be used in place of the invariant assertion function commonly used in Flow projects.

    import {query} from 'query-selectors'
    import invariant from 'invariant'
    const el = query(document, '.selected', HTMLImageElement)
    // is equivalent to
    const el = document.querySelector('.selected')
    invariant(el instanceof HTMLImageElement)

    DOM functions

    Once we have an Option<Element> from a query, these functions can be chained onto it with a call to andThen.

    querySelector(document, '.selected')
      .andThen(removeClass('selected', 'active'))
      .andThen(addClass('hidden', 'inactive'))
      .andThen(after('A text node'))


    Traverse up and down the tree from a root element.

    • find(selectors, klass)
    • parent(selectors, klass)
    • prev(selectors, klass)
    • next(selectors, klass)


    Add, remove, and change nodes in the tree.

    • addClass(names)
    • removeClass(names)
    • toggleClass(name, force)
    • getAttribute(name)
    • setAttribute(name, value)
    • getValue()
    • setValue(value)
    • setText(value)
    • append(nodes)
    • prepend(nodes)
    • after(nodes)
    • before(nodes)
    • replaceWith(nodes)
    • remove()
    • namedItem(name, klass)

    Better with match syntax

    The option type isn't without its drawbacks. After we query the tree and have an Option, we need to extract its value with a match function to operate on it.

    querySelector(document, '.expected-element').match({
      Some: (el) => {
        el.innerHTML = '<p>hello there</p>'
      None: () => {
        console.log('not found')

    This uses two function closures which is slower to create and invoke than an if or switch statement. It also precludes using early return statements because they're wrapped in their own functions.

    Languages with a native option type pair it with pattern matching—a control flow construct, like if and switch, but with the ability to destructure a value into its constituent parts.

    The Pattern Matching Syntax proposal for JavaScript would make working with option types even better.

    The match function invocation above would become something like this.

    match querySelector(document, '.expected-element') {
      Some(el): {
        el.innerHTML = '<p>hello there</p>'
      None: {
        console.log('not found')

    The proposed match keyword avoids the closures and function calls required today.


    The Optional Chaining Operator proposal is another way to improve null checks. It's an addition to JavaScript's syntax that would alleviate the need for many of the conditional tests resulting from document.querySelector().

    const el = document.querySelector('.expected-element')
    el?.setAttribute('title', 'hello')


    npm install
    npm test


    Distributed under the MIT license. See LICENSE for details.


    npm i query-selectors

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