Javascript - Caret Position

The caret is where text goes when typing into a text block. Most programming languages provide proper support for this critical feature - however, this appears to have been intentionally omitted from javascript before it was added in HTML5. (This opinion is supported by the large number of search hits where developers are looking for a method to read the current position.)

I have 2 applications where I need this info

To be clear, Using the HTML5 syntax, the text field testcases below work with Chrome 47 (Windows XP) and all 4 test browsers on Windows 10 - Chrome, Firefox, Edge, IE. The number field test only works with Firefox on Windows 10. (Edge and IE on Windows 10 have no idea what a number field is and just treat it as a regular text field.) The one special case was IE8 (which is obsolete) and the two special testcases work with that.

HTML5 solution - setSelectionRange() | Cross Browser Support | Reading the caret position | Notes

HTML5 solution

Among other properties, the following are part of the HTML5 recommendation for <input type=text> and <textarea> components. Both values are zero-based (the first position is zero). When both values are the same, nothing is selected and they indicate the caret position.


The following quotes are from - HTMLInputElement.setSelectionRange().


(According to this reference, setSelectionRange failed with number fields in Chrome 33, but was fixed in 2013 (This link is dead and without a backup as of 09-10-2019). My testing is with Chrome 49 and later where it fails.)

The following sets the carets to position 3. They both fail in IE8 - no surprise, it does not support HTML5.

The text field works with Chrome 49 (XP) and my 4 test browsers on Windows 10.


It isn't clearly documented, but ctrl.focus() is required before some of these commands work, but not for others.

Cross Browser Support

For my current application - If it works in Chrome, the code is fine.

However, at some point I might care about cross browser support. The following approach (edited for clarity) is from Using setSelectionRange and createTextRange

The first works in all my test browsers, including IE8 - it sets the caret to position 3. As expected, the second (number) test still fails in both versions of Chrome, but works in Firefox on Windows 10.

Reading the caret position

Reading the caret position from a multi-line textarea component is a bit trickier because I don't care about the number of characters from the beginning - instead I want to know the row and column! I tried many methods to make this work with IE8. The main problem is that I never found useful documentation on createTextRange. The next big problem was that the technique used in some examples ignored the fact that IE treats CRLF as a single character in some cases, and as 2 characters in others. As a result, the returned values would not sync up.

After several hours, I found one that worked! (attached to the IE test button above).


The IE8 technique to work with a caret uses the range functions (which are not documented via w3schools .. or anywhere else that I could find).

Of course, this is all confused by the HTML5 range control which provides a slider (in those browsers that support it).

The following is the total caret related help provided via w3schools

One of the common irritations is that the browser spellchecks data files in textarea components - just set the global spellcheck attribute to false.

In order to highlight more than one discontinuous line of text, and to keep those highlights visible when focus is removed from the control, the text can not be placed in a textarea control. This code works with a div - it is far more complicated than the code above.

Author: Robert Clemenzi
URL: http:// / Languages / Javascript / Caret_Position.html