Can I load an entire HTML document into a document fragment in Internet Explorer?

Here's something I've been having a little bit of difficulty with. I have a local client-side script that needs to allow a user to fetch a remote web page and search that resulting page for forms. In order to do this (without regex), I need to parse the document into a fully traversable DOM object.

Some limitations I'd like to stress:

  • I don't want to use libraries (like jQuery). There's too much bloat for what I need to do here.
  • Under no circumstances should scripts from the remote page be executed (for security reasons).
  • DOM APIs, such as getElementsByTagName, need to be available.
  • It only needs to work in Internet Explorer, but in 7 at the very least.
  • Let's pretend I don't have access to a server. I do, but I can't use it for this.

What I've tried

Assuming I have a complete HTML document string (including DOCTYPE declaration) in the variable html, here's what I've tried so far:

var frag = document.createDocumentFragment(),
div  = frag.appendChild(document.createElement("div"));

div.outerHTML = html;
//-> results in an empty fragment

div.insertAdjacentHTML("afterEnd", html);
//-> HTML is not added to the fragment

div.innerHTML = html;
//-> Error (expected, but I tried it anyway)

var doc = new ActiveXObject("htmlfile");
//-> JavaScript executes

I've also tried extracting the <head> and <body>nodes from the HTML and adding them to a <HTML> element inside the fragment, still no luck.

Does anyone have any ideas?




DocumentFragment doesn't implement DOM methods. Using document.createElement in conjunction with innerHTML removes the <head> and <body> tags (even when the created element is a root element, <html>). Therefore, the solution should be sought elsewhere. I have created a cross-browser string-to-DOM function, which makes use of an invisible inline-frame.

All external resources and scripts will be disabled. See Explanation of the code for more information.


 @param String html    The string with HTML which has be converted to a DOM object
 @param func callback  (optional) Callback(HTMLDocument doc, function destroy)
 @returns              undefined if callback exists, else: Object
                        HTMLDocument doc  DOM fetched from Parameter:html
                        function destroy  Removes HTMLDocument doc.         */
function string2dom(html, callback){
    /* Sanitise the string */
    html = sanitiseHTML(html); /*Defined at the bottom of the answer*/

    /* Create an IFrame */
    var iframe = document.createElement("iframe"); = "none";

    var doc = iframe.contentDocument || iframe.contentWindow.document;;

    function destroy(){
    if(callback) callback(doc, destroy);
    else return {"doc": doc, "destroy": destroy};

/* @name sanitiseHTML
   @param String html  A string representing HTML code
   @return String      A new string, fully stripped of external resources.
                       All "external" attributes (href, src) are prefixed by data- */

function sanitiseHTML(html){
    /* Adds a <!-\"'--> before every matched tag, so that unterminated quotes
        aren't preventing the browser from splitting a tag. Test case:
       '<input style="foo;b:url(0);><input onclick="<input type=button onclick="too() href=;>">' */
    var prefix = "<!--\"'-->";
    /*Attributes should not be prefixed by these characters. This list is not
     complete, but will be sufficient for this function.
      (see */
    var att = "[^-a-z0-9:._]";
    var tag = "<[a-z]";
    var any = "(?:[^<>\"']*(?:\"[^\"]*\"|'[^']*'))*?[^<>]*";
    var etag = "(?:>|(?=<))";

      @name ae
      @description          Converts a given string in a sequence of the
                             original input and the HTML entity
      @param String string  String to convert
    var entityEnd = "(?:;|(?!\\d))";
    var ents = {" ":"(?:\\s|&nbsp;?|&#0*32"+entityEnd+"|&#x0*20"+entityEnd+")",
                /*Placeholder to avoid tricky filter-circumventing methods*/
    var charMap = {};
    var s = ents[" "]+"*"; /* Short-hand space */
    /* Important: Must be pre- and postfixed by < and >. RE matches a whole tag! */
    function ae(string){
        var all_chars_lowercase = string.toLowerCase();
        if(ents[string]) return ents[string];
        var all_chars_uppercase = string.toUpperCase();
        var RE_res = "";
        for(var i=0; i<string.length; i++){
            var char_lowercase = all_chars_lowercase.charAt(i);
                RE_res += charMap[char_lowercase];
            var char_uppercase = all_chars_uppercase.charAt(i);
            var RE_sub = [char_lowercase];
            RE_sub.push("&#0*" + char_lowercase.charCodeAt(0) + entityEnd);
            RE_sub.push("&#x0*" + char_lowercase.charCodeAt(0).toString(16) + entityEnd);
            if(char_lowercase != char_uppercase){
                RE_sub.push("&#0*" + char_uppercase.charCodeAt(0) + entityEnd);   
                RE_sub.push("&#x0*" + char_uppercase.charCodeAt(0).toString(16) + entityEnd);
            RE_sub = "(?:" + RE_sub.join("|") + ")";
            RE_res += (charMap[char_lowercase] = RE_sub);
        return(ents[string] = RE_res);
      @name by
      @description  second argument for the replace function.
    function by(match, group1, group2){
        /* Adds a data-prefix before every external pointer */
        return group1 + "data-" + group2 
      @name cr
      @description            Selects a HTML element and performs a
                                  search-and-replace on attributes
      @param String selector  HTML substring to match
      @param String attribute RegExp-escaped; HTML element attribute to match
      @param String marker    Optional RegExp-escaped; marks the prefix
      @param String delimiter Optional RegExp escaped; non-quote delimiters
      @param String end       Optional RegExp-escaped; forces the match to
                                  end before an occurence of <end> when 
                                  quotes are missing
    function cr(selector, attribute, marker, delimiter, end){
        if(typeof selector == "string") selector = new RegExp(selector, "gi");
        marker = typeof marker == "string" ? marker : "\\s*=";
        delimiter = typeof delimiter == "string" ? delimiter : "";
        end = typeof end == "string" ? end : "";
        var is_end = end && "?";
        var re1 = new RegExp("("+att+")("+attribute+marker+"(?:\\s*\"[^\""+delimiter+"]*\"|\\s*'[^'"+delimiter+"]*'|[^\\s"+delimiter+"]+"+is_end+")"+end+")", "gi");
        html = html.replace(selector, function(match){
            return prefix + match.replace(re1, by);
      @name cri
      @description            Selects an attribute of a HTML element, and
                               performs a search-and-replace on certain values
      @param String selector  HTML element to match
      @param String attribute RegExp-escaped; HTML element attribute to match
      @param String front     RegExp-escaped; attribute value, prefix to match
      @param String flags     Optional RegExp flags, default "gi"
      @param String delimiter Optional RegExp-escaped; non-quote delimiters
      @param String end       Optional RegExp-escaped; forces the match to
                                  end before an occurence of <end> when 
                                  quotes are missing
    function cri(selector, attribute, front, flags, delimiter, end){
        if(typeof selector == "string") selector = new RegExp(selector, "gi");
        flags = typeof flags == "string" ? flags : "gi";
         var re1 = new RegExp("("+att+attribute+"\\s*=)((?:\\s*\"[^\"]*\"|\\s*'[^']*'|[^\\s>]+))", "gi");

        end = typeof end == "string" ? end + ")" : ")";
        var at1 = new RegExp('(")('+front+'[^"]+")', flags);
        var at2 = new RegExp("(')("+front+"[^']+')", flags);
        var at3 = new RegExp("()("+front+'(?:"[^"]+"|\'[^\']+\'|(?:(?!'+delimiter+').)+)'+end, flags);

        var handleAttr = function(match, g1, g2){
            if(g2.charAt(0) == '"') return g1+g2.replace(at1, by);
            if(g2.charAt(0) == "'") return g1+g2.replace(at2, by);
            return g1+g2.replace(at3, by);
        html = html.replace(selector, function(match){
             return prefix + match.replace(re1, handleAttr);

    /* <meta http-equiv=refresh content="  ; url= " > */
    html = html.replace(new RegExp("<meta"+any+att+"http-equiv\\s*=\\s*(?:\""+ae("refresh")+"\""+any+etag+"|'"+ae("refresh")+"'"+any+etag+"|"+ae("refresh")+"(?:"+ae(" ")+any+etag+"|"+etag+"))", "gi"), "<!-- meta http-equiv=refresh stripped-->");

    /* Stripping all scripts */
    html = html.replace(new RegExp("<script"+any+">\\s*//\\s*<\\[CDATA\\[[\\S\\s]*?]]>\\s*</script[^>]*>", "gi"), "<!--CDATA script-->");
    html = html.replace(/<script[\S\s]+?<\/script\s*>/gi, "<!--Non-CDATA script-->");
    cr(tag+any+att+"on[-a-z0-9:_.]+="+any+etag, "on[-a-z0-9:_.]+"); /* Event listeners */

    cr(tag+any+att+"href\\s*="+any+etag, "href"); /* Linked elements */
    cr(tag+any+att+"src\\s*="+any+etag, "src"); /* Embedded elements */

    cr("<object"+any+att+"data\\s*="+any+etag, "data"); /* <object data= > */
    cr("<applet"+any+att+"codebase\\s*="+any+etag, "codebase"); /* <applet codebase= > */

    /* <param name=movie value= >*/
    cr("<param"+any+att+"name\\s*=\\s*(?:\""+ae("movie")+"\""+any+etag+"|'"+ae("movie")+"'"+any+etag+"|"+ae("movie")+"(?:"+ae(" ")+any+etag+"|"+etag+"))", "value");

    /* <style> and < style=  > url()*/
    cr(/<style[^>]*>(?:[^"']*(?:"[^"]*"|'[^']*'))*?[^'"]*(?:<\/style|$)/gi, "url", "\\s*\\(\\s*", "", "\\s*\\)");
    cri(tag+any+att+"style\\s*="+any+etag, "style", ae("url")+s+ae("(")+s, 0, s+ae(")"), ae(")"));

    /* IE7- CSS expression() */
    cr(/<style[^>]*>(?:[^"']*(?:"[^"]*"|'[^']*'))*?[^'"]*(?:<\/style|$)/gi, "expression", "\\s*\\(\\s*", "", "\\s*\\)");
    cri(tag+any+att+"style\\s*="+any+etag, "style", ae("expression")+s+ae("(")+s, 0, s+ae(")"), ae(")"));
    return html.replace(new RegExp("(?:"+prefix+")+", "g"), prefix);

Explanation of the code

The sanitiseHTML function is based on my replace_all_rel_by_abs function (see this answer). The sanitiseHTML function is completely rewritten though, in order to achieve maximum efficiency and reliability.

Additionally, a new set of RegExps are added to remove all scripts and event handlers (including CSS expression(), IE7-). To make sure that all tags are parsed as expected, the adjusted tags are prefixed by <!--'"-->. This prefix is necessary to correctly parse nested "event handlers" in conjunction with unterminated quotes: <a id="><input onclick="<div onmousemove=evil()>">.

These RegExps are dynamically created using an internal function cr/cri (Create Replace [Inline]). These functions accept a list of arguments, and create and execute an advanced RE replacement. To make sure that HTML entities aren't breaking a RegExp (refresh in <meta http-equiv=refresh> could be written in various ways), the dynamically created RegExps are partially constructed by function ae (Any Entity).
The actual replacements are done by function by (replace by). In this implementation, by adds data- before all matched attributes.

  1. All <script>//<[CDATA[ .. //]]></script> occurrences are striped. This step is necessary, because CDATA sections allow </script> strings inside the code. After this replacement has been executed, it's safe to go to the next replacement:
  2. The remaining <script>...</script> tags are removed.
  3. The <meta http-equiv=refresh .. > tag is removed
  4. All event listeners and external pointers/attributes (href, src, url()) are prefixed by data-, as described previously.

  5. An IFrame object is created. IFrames are less likely to leak memory (contrary to the htmlfile ActiveXObject). The IFrame becomes invisible, and is appended to the document, so that the DOM can be accessed. document.write() are used to write HTML to the IFrame. and document.close() are used to empty the previous contents of the document, so that the generated document is an exact copy of the given html string.

  6. If a callback function has been specified, the function will be called with two arguments. The first argument is a reference to the generated document object. The second argument is a function, which destroys the generated DOM tree when called. This function should be called when you don't need the tree any more.
    If the callback function isn't specified, the function returns an object consisting of two properties (doc and destroy), which behave the same as the previously mentioned arguments.

Additional notes

  • Setting the designMode property to "On" will stop a frame from executing scripts (not supported in Chrome). If you have to preserve the <script> tags for a specific reason, you can use iframe.designMode = "On" instead of the script stripping feature.
  • I wasn't able to find a reliable source for the htmlfile activeXObject. According to this source, htmlfile is slower than IFrames, and more susceptible to memory leaks.

  • All affected attributes (href, src, ...) are prefixed by data-. An example of getting/changing these attributes is shown for data-href:
    elem.getAttribute("data-href") and elem.setAttribute("data-href", "...")
    elem.dataset.href and elem.dataset.href = "...".
  • External resources have been disabled. As a result, the page may look completely different:
    <link rel="stylesheet" href="main.css" /> No external styles
    <script>document.body.bgColor="red";</script> No scripted styles
    <img src="128x128.png" /> No images: the size of the element may be completely different.


Paste this bookmarklet in the location's bar. It will offer an option to inject a textarea, showing the sanitised HTML string.

javascript:void(function(){var s=document.createElement("script");s.src="";document.body.appendChild(s)})();

Code examples - string2dom(html):

string2dom("<html><head><title>Test</title></head></html>", function(doc, destroy){
    alert(doc.title); /* Alert: "Test" */

var test = string2dom("<div id='secret'></div>");
alert(test.doc.getElementById("secret").tagName); /* Alert: "DIV" */

Notable references


Not sure why you're messing with documentFragments, you can just set the HTML text as the innerHTML of a new div element. Then you can use that div element for getElementsByTagName etc without adding the div to DOM:

var htmlText= '<html><head><title>Test</title></head><body><div id="test_ele1">this is test_ele1 content</div><div id="test_ele2">this is test_ele content2</div></body></html>';

var d = document.createElement('div');
d.innerHTML = htmlText;


If you're really married to the idea of a documentFragment, you can use this code, but you'll still have to wrap it in a div to get the DOM functions you're after:

function makeDocumentFragment(htmlText) {
    var range = document.createRange();
    var frag = range.createContextualFragment(htmlText);
    var d = document.createElement('div');
    return d;

Assuming the HTML is valid XML too, you may use loadXML()


DocumentFragment doesn't support getElementsByTagName -- that's only supported by Document.

You may need to use a library like jsdom, which provides an implementation of the DOM and through which you can search using getElementsByTagName and other DOM APIs. And you can set it to not execute scripts. Yes, it's 'heavy' and I don't know if it works in IE 7.


Just wandered across this page, am a bit late to be of any use :) but the following should help anyone with a similar problem in future... however IE7/8 should really be ignored by now and there are much better methods supported by the more modern browsers.

The following works across nearly eveything I've tested - the only two down sides are:

  1. I've added bespoke getElementById and getElementsByName functions to the root div element, so these wont appear as expected futher down the tree (unless the code is modified to cater for this).

  2. The doctype will be ignored - however I don't think this will make much difference as my experience is that the doctype wont effect how the dom is structured, just how it is rendered (which obviously wont happen with this method).

Basically the system relies on the fact that <tag> and <namespace:tag> are treated differently by the useragents. As has been found certain special tags can not exist within a div element, and so therefore they are removed. Namespaced elements can be placed anywhere (unless there is a DTD stating otherwise). Whilst these namespace tags wont actually behave as the real tags in question, considering we are only really using them for their structural position in the document it doesn't really cause a problem.

markup and code are as follows:

<!DOCTYPE html>

  /// function for parsing HTML source to a dom structure
  /// Tested in Mac OSX, Win 7, Win XP with FF, IE 7/8/9, 
  /// Chrome, Safari & Opera.
  function parseHTML(src){

    /// create a random div, this will be our root
    var div = document.createElement('div'),
        /// specificy our namespace prefix
        ns = 'faux:',
        /// state which tags we will treat as "special"
        stn = ['html','head','body','title'];
        /// the reg exp for replacing the special tags
        re = new RegExp('<(/?)('+stn.join('|')+')([^>]*)?>','gi'),
        /// remember the getElementsByTagName function before we override it
        gtn = div.getElementsByTagName;

    /// a quick function to namespace certain tag names
    var nspace = function(tn){
      if ( stn.indexOf ) {
        return stn.indexOf(tn) != -1 ? ns + tn : tn;
      else {
        return ('|'+stn.join('|')+'|').indexOf(tn) != -1 ? ns + tn : tn;

    /// search and replace our source so that special tags are namespaced
    /// &nbsp; required for IE7/8 to render tags before first text found
    /// <faux:check /> tag added so we can test how namespaces work
    src = '&nbsp;<'+ns+'check />' + src.replace(re,'<$1'+ns+'$2$3>');
    /// inject to the div
    div.innerHTML = src;
    /// quick test to see how we support namespaces in TagName searches
    if ( !div.getElementsByTagName(ns+'check').length ) {
      ns = '';

    /// create our replacement getByName and getById functions
    var createGetElementByAttr = function(attr, collect){
      var func = function(a,w){
        var i,c,e,f,l,o; w = w||[];
        if ( this.nodeType == 1 ) {
          if ( this.getAttribute(attr) == a ) {
            if ( collect ) {
            else {
              return this;
        else {
          return false;
        if ( (c = this.childNodes) && (l = c.length) ) {
          for( i=0; i<l; i++ ){
            if( (e = c[i]) && (e.nodeType == 1) ) {
              if ( (f = e, a, w )) && !collect ) {
                return f;
        return (w.length?w:false);
      return func;

    /// apply these replacement functions to the div container, obviously 
    /// you could add these to prototypes for browsers the support element 
    /// constructors. For other browsers you could step each element and 
    /// apply the functions through-out the node tree... however this would  
    /// be quite messy, far better just to always call from the root node - 
    /// or use localElement, 'tag' );
    div.getElementsByTagName = function(t){return,nspace(t));}
    div.getElementsByName    = createGetElementByAttr('name', true);
    div.getElementById       = createGetElementByAttr('id', false);

    /// return the final element
    return div;

  window.onload = function(){

    /// parse the HTML source into a node tree
    var dom = parseHTML( document.getElementById('source').innerHTML );

    /// test some look ups :)
    var a = dom.getElementsByTagName('head'),
        b = dom.getElementsByTagName('title'),
        c = dom.getElementsByTagName('script'),
        d = dom.getElementById('body');

    /// alert the result

  <xmp id="source">
    <!DOCTYPE html>
      <!-- Comment //-->
      <meta charset="utf-8">
      <meta name="robots" content="index, follow">
      <title>An example</title>
      <link href="test.css" />
      <script>alert('of parsing..');</script>
    <body id="body">
      <b>in a similar way to createDocumentFragment</b>

To use full HTML DOM abilities without triggering requests, without having to deal with incompatibilities:

var doc = document.cloneNode();
if (!doc.documentElement) {

All set ! doc is an html document, but it is not online.


I'm not sure if IE supports document.implementation.createHTMLDocument, but if it does, use this algorithm (adapted from my DOMParser HTML extension). Note that the DOCTYPE will not be preserved.:

      doc = document.implementation.createHTMLDocument("")
    , doc_elt = doc.documentElement
    , first_elt
doc_elt.innerHTML = your_html_here;
first_elt = doc_elt.firstElementChild;
if ( // are we dealing with an entire document or a fragment?
       doc_elt.childElementCount === 1
    && first_elt.tagName.toLowerCase() === "html"
) {
    doc.replaceChild(first_elt, doc_elt);

// doc is an HTML document
// you can now reference stuff like doc.title, etc.


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