• Selecting Single Elements Readme



Learn how to:

  • Use the developer tools to identify a particular element
  • Use Javascript's selector methods to select particular pieces of the DOM
  • Learn about CSS selectors to select elements by id, class or HTML Tag.


For this lesson we want to look a little deeper at how to retrieve information about a webpage by using JavaScript's document object model api. By working with JavaScript's DOM API, we will be able to select and manipulate any content on the browser.

Get Started

Let's work with the Ada Lovelace Wikipedia entry. We have copied the HTML from a page on Ada Lovelace from Wikipedia and simplified it a bit. You can view it in the file lovelace.html.

First things first, let's try to read the title of the webpage. The title is usually just the first header in the web page. In HTML, headers are called h1 tags and look like this: <h1>This Is My Title</h1>. In our Ada Lovelace page, it looks like the title is "Ada Lovelace".

Let's confirm the HTML in the Wikipedia page wraps the big Ada Lovelace with h1 tags.

Identify the correct piece of HTML in the console

You can view the HTML content in the browser, either by clicking here or by opening the lovelace.html page included in this reading. Then, from the browser, right click (or two fingers click) on the Ada Lovelace title, and then click on inspect from the dropdown menu. Your Inspector may come up on the right or the bottom. Select the icon two icons to the left of the "Elements" Header. It should look like this: element inspector icon. This is the Element Selector. Once you click that, select the "Ada Lovelace" title of the Wikipedia page. Then click on the id attribute, you should see the id is equal to header. Press command+c on Mac or Ctrl+c on Windows to copy the id attribute. Ultimately, we'll use that id attribute with our query selector to select the correct element from our document.

Select the title with the querySelector method

Now that we have the identifier for the title, we can place that into our query selector method.

Now, from the Console, type in document.querySelector('h1'), and you'll see that this selects the appropriate element.

// <h1 id="firstHeading" class="firstHeading" lang="en">Ada Lovelace</h1>

So h1 is called the tag name of the element. And to select something by the tag name we simply pass through the name of the tag.

Other CSS Selectors

Now that we have covered that the CSS selector for selecting by tag is to simply pass through the name of the tag. Let's see some other ways to select elements. Below is some HTML content, and afterward is a table displaying different ways to select the paragraph element.

    <p id="content" class="red"> Select this content!</p>
    <li>Don't </li>
    <li>Select </li>
    <li>This </li>
Attribute CSS Selector querySelector Code
id # document.querySelector('#content')
class . document.querySelector('.red')
html tag document.querySelector('p')

So you can see that we prepend the # sign to the id attribute name to select an item by its id. We prepend the . to the class attribute name to select an item by its class name. And we prepend nothing when selecting by tag name.

We can also select elements using other methods. Let's add in those other methods to our chart.

Attribute CSS Selector querySelector Code Alternative Method
id # document.querySelector('#content') document.getElementById('content')
class . document.querySelector('.red') document.getElementsByClassName('red')
html tag document.querySelector('p') document.getElementsByTagName('p')

Notice that when we use a method like getElementById we do not need to start with a # sign. This is because Javascript already knows that we are selecting by the id attribute by virtue of using a method that only accepts an id. Query selectors take different types of attributes, so there we do need to specify the type of attribute we are selecting by.

Selecting by ancestry - and solving a problem

Moving back to our Ada Lovelace Wikipedia page, let's see if we can select some more content: links.

Links are defined in HTML with an a tag. Go ahead and use your inspecting elements skills from above, and select the link in the gray box that says "Charles Babbage". You'll see it has no id or class attribute. To select it we need to use the HTML tag style of selecting the infobox, and then selecting the first link inside of the element with a class of birthplace: document.querySelector('.infobox').querySelector('a').

Retrieving Attributes

Now that we have selected the proper HTML element, let's see what we have on our hands.

let londonAnchor = document.querySelector('.birthplace').querySelector('a')
// ƒ HTMLAnchorElement() { [native code] }

By calling the selected element's constructor method, we can see that we lovelaceAnchor is an instance of an HTMLAnchorElement. Many of methods on this instance correspond to the potential attributes of an HTML anchor. For example, londonAnchor.href returns "/wiki/London", londonAnchor.text returns "London".

The magic of guessing:
Programmers guess a lot more than you might think. The reason why is because the consequences guessing incorrectly are really low, and you can often quickly find out if you are right or wrong. So if you're unsure if some code will work, just guess and try it. The consequence of guessing incorrectly is that you learn something new about the language.

The methods we explored thusfar like like href and text make a lot of sense when we have an instance of an HTMLAnchorElement. There are other methods you can reliably call on any instance of an element (or any HTML DOM node, to be technical) that you select. We already saw a couple of them when exploring the DOM in previous lessons. These methods can allow us to find information about other related nodes, like children, or nextSibling. Some tell us attributes of element, like attributes to see attributes of the element, classList to see a list of classes associated with the element, and style which returns the associated CSS styles of a selected element.


In this section, we learned how to use Javascript and our developer console to ask questions about our HTML. Here is our process:

  1. From the browser, click inspect element on the HTML element you are interested in to find an identifying attribute to select the HTML.
  2. Depending on the type of attribute, you can then use document.querySelector() method, and in the parentheses pass through the proper CSS selector in combination with the attribute name to select that element.

    Or you can use a different Javascript method like document.getElementsByClassName() to select the correct element.

  3. Once you have properly targeted the element, you can then call other methods to identify attributes of that element. Eg.document.querySelector('a').text


MDN Element

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