March 26, 2016

JavaScript: External Links in New Tabs


I’ve written before about my not so mild hatred for the request to open all external links in new tabs. For those who don’t know, this is done by adding target="_blank" to the anchor tag. I don’t like doing this for so many reasons, but I’ll save that rant for another blog post.

Now, I’ve been asked to do this so often that automating this process was long overdue. I spent a few minutes and wrote some JavaScript that programmatically looks for external links and adds target="_blank" to them if necessary.

Now, the defining characteristic of an externally pointing link is that it has to be an absolute path and thus start with “http”. We can use this to target only those links. Here’s how:

function setTargetBlankOnExternalLinks() {
  const links = document.getElementsByTagName('a')

  for (var i = 0; i < links.length; i++) {
    if (/^http/.test(links[i].getAttribute('href'))) {
      const link = links[i]
      link.setAttribute('target', '_blank')
      link.setAttribute('rel', 'noopener noreferrer')

setTargetBlankOnExternalLinks() // call this after the DOM is ready

This is pretty straightforward. Find all the links, loop through them and check if they begin with “http” (The use of test() instead of match() here is important since test() returns a boolean while match() returns an array or null). This means that relative links are given a pass, and links that happen to have “http” in them elsewhere, such as “/link-to-blog-about-http” don’t get mistakenly modified.

I hope this helps and saves you some time.

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Kyle Shevlin is the founder & lead software engineer of Agathist, a software development firm with a mission to build good software with good people.

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