DOM Selectors Explained

DOM Selectors Explained

DOM Selectors Explained

  • by admin
  • Web Development

If you are reading this article, then you must be familiar with DOM (Document Object Model). So let’s get started with DOM Selectors without wasting time explaining what a DOM is.

DOM Selectors, as the name suggests is used to selecting HTML elements within a document using JavaScript. There are 5 ways in which you can select elements in a DOM using selectors.

  • getElementsByTagName()
  • getElementsByClassName()
  • getElementById()
  • querySelector()
  • querySelectorAll()

All those methods are properties of the document object. So in order to use one, we should prefix those elements with the document object as,


Before we begin with those selectors, let’s first look into a sample HTML document so that all those selection operations can be done using this page.

<!-- Sample HTML Page -->
<!DOCTYPE html>
<html lang="en">
    <title>Document Object Model</title>
    <h1 class="heading">DOM Selectors</h1>
        <li id="item">getElementsByTagName</li>
        <li class="selectors">getElementsByClassName</li>
        <li class="selectors">getElementById</li>
        <li id="item">querySelector</li>
        <li id="item">querySelectorAll</li>

The above HTML document is self-explanatory as it’s very simple. And I will be using the web console to explain things better. Let’s get started.


This method returns all the elements that match the specified Tag name.

getElementsByTagName Example

  • document.getElementsByTagName('h1') returns a collection of items matching the tag name h1. And since we got only one h1 element, the list contains only one elements.
  • Using [0] as an index, we can access the first element in the list which is.<h1 class="heading">DOM Selectors</h1>
  • document.getElementsByTagName('li') returns a list of 5 elements as we have five li tags in our page.
  • And any individual element can be selected by using it’s index such as document.getElementsByTagName('li')[0].


This method returns all the elements that matches the specified Class name.

getElementsByClassName Example

  • This selector is very similar to getElementsByTagName except the selection is based on Class name and not Tag name. You can see some examples from the image above.


Here, the selection is based on the Id name. And this seems to be similar to Tag name & Class name selector but there’s a difference in how many elements this selector selects. In all the above selectors, a list of all matching elements is returned. But this selector returns only the first matched element while ignoring the remaining.

getElementById Example

  • As you can see, even though we got 3 li elements with the Id item, we got only the first li element within the Id item. Remaining all elements are ignored.
And this is where getElementById differs from getElementsByTagName and getElementsByClassNamegetElementById returns the element as soon as it gets a match. Also you can notice a difference in the name of the selector, the elementis singular in getElementById while it’s plural in other selectors getElementsByTagName & getElementsByClassName.


This one returns the first element that matches the specified CSS selectorin the document.

querySelector Example

  • document.querySelector('li') returns the first element that matches the CSS selector li. Remaining elements are ignored.
  • document.querySelector('.heading') returns the first element that matches the CSS selector .heading.
  • document.querySelector('#item') returns the first element that matches the CSS selector #heading.
  • As you can see, we can use all kinds of CSS selectors within the querySelector method that we will use in a normal CSS file.
Note that you have to use CSS selectors and not normal HTML selectors as a parameter. document.querySelector('.className') is valid while document.querySelector('className') is not valid. So you have to use the format used in CSS selectors.


This method returns all the elements that matches the specified CSS selector in the document.

querySelectorAll Example

  • document.querySelectorAll('.heading') returns a list of all elements that matches the specified CSS selector. Since we have only one element under the class name .heading, the list contains one element. And it can be accessed by it’s index.
  • Similarly, document.querySelectorAll('#item') returns a list of 3 items that match the CSS selector. Individual elements are accessed by its index.
Note that, no two elements should have the same Id as a way of good practice. And I used same Id for some elements to explain things better. So, you can follow the recommended way of not using the same Id for more than one element.

That’s all for DOM Selectors. We will talk about some other DOM methods in a later article. Thanks. Happy coding!

Tags: DOM