Unsafe Names for HTML Form Controls

by Garrett Smith (dhtmlkitchen.com), edited by Frank Manno (frankmanno.com) with comments from David Mark, Richard Cornford, RobG, and Juriy Zaytsev.

Rich, Featureful Forms

An HTML FORM element, in most modern browsers, implements many interfaces and has a rich set of features. These features are exposed as properties of the form, such as addEventListener, parentNode, and submit. Browsers also add their own non-standard features such as all, contentEditable, or spellcheck.


Browsers add names and ids of form controls as properties to the FORM. This results in the properties of the form being replaced.

Browsers also may add names and id's of other elements as properties to document, and sometimes to the global object (or an object above the global object in scope). This non-standard behavior can result in replacement of properties on other objects. The problems it causes are discussed in detail.

A problem occurs when a form control's name conflicts with the a property name of the FORM object. For example:

Simple Unsafe Name Example

<form action="">
  <input type="text" name="name">
  <input type="submit" name="submit">

The element with name="name" replaces the value of the FORM's name property. A similar type of conflict happens with the FORM's submit method and the element with name="submit'. Which will win?

In most cases, the form control wins and the FORM's property is replaced to have the value of the form control, or, if more than one form control has that name, the FORM's property is replaced with a NodeList containing those form controls.

However, in some cases, the FORM's property is not replaced to have the value of the form control with the same name. The examples in this page show that the result depends on the browser, the property, and how the control is added.

How is a Form Like a Collection?

The DOM 1 specification states:

The FORM element encompasses behavior similar to a collection and an element. It provides direct access to the contained input elements as well as the attributes of the FORM element. [DOM1]

"Similar to a collection?" What collection? Similar in what way? The only standardized feature that is "similar to a collection" is the length property.

In most browsers, a form has direct access to all named form controls, (except for input type="image"), not just input elements.

Accessing controls as named or indexed properties is not standardized by the w3c DOM specification. It is a holdover feature from Netscape Navigator that was copied by Internet Explorer and since copied by every other major browser vendor.

How the Nonstandard Form-as-a-Collection Really Works

Controls may be accessed directly off the form.

Given the following form:

<form action="">
  <input type="text" name="a">

The input name="a" may be retrieved in one of two ways, from the form or from the elements collection.

The elements Collection (standard)
	// Standard.

The control may be accessed directly off the form:

Directly from the Form (nonstandard)
    // non-standard.

Side Effects

Accessing a named control directly off the form can have undesirable results.

In a few browsers, removing a named control from the form will leave the named control as a property of the form.

Form-as-a-Collection Leak Example

This Simple leak example shows that accessing a named element property directly from the form may cause the property to remain on the form, even after the element has been removed from the DOM.

Firefox 3, Safari 3
foo:          [object HTMLInputElement]
bar:          undefined
elements.foo: undefined
Opera 9.5, IE 6, Safari 2
foo:          undefined
bar:          undefined
elements.foo: undefined

Similarly, when a named FORM element is removed from the document some browsers will keep that form name as a property of the document. Accessing named FORM controls as properties of the document is also nonstandard.


A form's indexed form control properties may also appear out of order. This behavior would not be compliant for the elements collection, it does not violate any standard for the form-as-a-collection (because there is no standard).

Form-as-a-collection is unreliable and therefore should never be used.

The elements Collection

The form.elements collection provides programmers a safe place to access form controls.

The elements collection contains the following properties: length, item, namedItem, plus an ordinal index property for each form control (excepting input type="image" controls). Some browsers also have a tags property on the elements collection.

The elements Collection is Live

When a form control is removed from the DOM, the elements collection is updated; however, the property will still remain on the form in some browsers (Mozilla bug 307415).

Element Removal Example

element removal example

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