Saptak's Blog Posts

Progressive Enhancement is not anti-JavaScript

Posted: 2022-05-21T02:18:32+05:30

Yesterday, I came across a tweet by Sara Soueidan, which resonated with me. Mostly because I have had this discussion (or heated arguments) quite a few times with many folks. Please go and read her tweet thread since she mentions some really great points about why progressive enhancement is not anti-js. As someone who cares about security, privacy, and accessibility, I have always been an advocate of progressive enhancement. I always believe that a website (or any web-based solution) should be accessible even without JavaScript in the browser. And more often than not, people take me as someone who is anti-JavaScript. Well, let me explain with the help (a lot of help) of resources already created by other brilliant folks.

What is Progressive Enhancement?

Progressive enhancement is the idea of making a very simple, baseline foundation for a website that is accessible and usable by all users irrespective of their input/output devices, browsers (or user-agents), or the technology they are using. Then, once you have done that, you sprinkle more fancy animations and custom UI on top that might make it look more beautiful for users with the ideal devices.

I know I probably didn't do a perfect job explaining the idea of progressive enhancement. So honestly, just go and watch this video on progressive enhancement by Heydon Pickering.

So how to do this Progressive Enhancement?

If you saw the video by Heydon, I am sure you are starting to get some idea. Here I am going to reference another video titled Visual Styling vs. Semantic Meaning, which was created by Manuel Matuzović. I love how, in this video Manuel shares the idea of building first semantically and then visually styling it.

So I think a good way to do progressive enhancement according to me is:

  1. Start with HTML - This is a very good place to start, because not only does this ensure that almost all browsers and user devices can render this, but also it helps you think semantically instead of based on the visual design. That already starts making your website not only good for different browsers, but also for screen reader and assistive technology users.

  2. Add basic layout CSS progressively - This is the step where you start applying visual designs. But only the basic layouts. This progressively enhances the visual look of the website, and also you can add things like better focus styles, etc. Be careful and check to add CSS features that are well supported across most browsers in different versions. Remember what Heydon said? "A basic Layout is not a broken layout".

  3. Add fancy CSS progressively - Add more recent CSS features for layouting and to progressively enhance the visual styling of your website. Here you can add much more newer features that make the design look even more perfect.

  4. Add fancy JavaScript sparkles progressively - If there are animations, and interactions that you would like the user to have that is not possible by HTML & CSS, then start adding your JavaScript at this stage. JavaScript is often necessary for creating accessible custom UIs. So absolutely use when necessary to progressively enhance the experience of your users based on the user-agents they have.

SEE! I told you to add JavaScript! So no, progressive enhancement is not about being anti-JavaScript. It's about progressively adding JavaScript wherever necessary to enhance the features of the website, without blocking the basic content, layout and interactions for non-JavaScript users.

Well, why should I not write everything in JavaScript?

I know it's trendy these days to learn fancy new JavaScript frameworks and write fancy new interactive websites. So many of you at this point must be like, "Why won't we write everything in JavaScript? Maybe you hate JavaScript, that's why you are talking about these random HTML & CSS things. What are those? Is HTML even a programming language?"

Well firstly, I love JavaScript. I have contributed to many JavaScript projects, including jQuery. So no I don't hate JavaScript. But I love to use JavaScript for what JavaScript is supposed to be used for. And in most cases, layouting or loading basic content isn't one of them.

But who are these people who need websites to work without JavaScript?

  • People who have devices with only older browsers. Remember, buying a new device isn't so easy in every part of the world and sometimes some devices may have user-agents that don't support fancy JavaScript. But they still have the right to read the content of the website.
  • People who care about their security and privacy. A lot of security and privacy focused people prefer using a browser like Tor Browser with JavaScript disabled to avoid any kind of malicious JavaScript or JavaScript based tracking. Some users even use extensions like NoScript with common browsers (firefox, chrome, etc.) for similar reasons. But just because they care about their security and privacy doesn't mean they shouldn't have access to wesite content.
  • People with not so great internet. Many parts of the world still don't have access to great internet and rely on 2G connections. Often loading a huge bundled JavaScript framework with all it's sparkles and features takes unrealistically long time. But they should still be able to access content from a website article.

So, yes. It's not about not using JavaScript. It's more about starting without JavaScript, and then adding your bells and whistles with JavaScript. That way people who don't use JavaScript can still access atleast the basic content.

See this amazing example of progressive enhancement using JavaScript by Adrian Roselli:

Here is another really great talk by Max Böck in id24:

There is a lot more to autocomplete than you think

Posted: 2022-05-08T16:00:45+05:30

Anyone who has dealt with <form> tag in HTML might have come across the autocomplete attribute. Most developers just put autocomplete="on" or autocomplete="off" based on whether they want users to be able to autocomplete the form fields or not. But there's much more in the autocomplete attribute than many folks may know.

Browser settings

Most widely used browsers (Firefox, Chrome, Safari, etc.), by default, remember information that is submitted using a form. When the user later tries to fill another form, browsers look at the name or type attribute of the form field, and then offer to autocomplete or autofill based on the saved information from previous form submissions. I am assuming many of you might have experienced these autocompletion suggestions while filling up forms. Some browsers, like Firefox, look at the id attribute and sometimes even the value of the <label> associated with the input field.

Autofill detail tokens

For a long time, the only valid values for the autocomplete attribute were "on" or "off" based on whether the website developer wanted to allow the browser to automatically complete the input. However, in the case of "on", it was left entirely to the browser how they determine which value is expected by the input form. Now, for some time, the autocomplete tag allows for some other values, which are collectively as a group called autofill detail tokens.

  <label for="organization">Enter your credit card number</label>
  <input name="organization" id="organization" autocomplete="organization">

These values help tell the browser exactly what the input field expects without needing the browser to guess it. There is a big list of autofill detail tokens. Some of the common ones are "name", "email", "username", "organizations", "country", "cc-number", and so on. Check the WHATWG Standard for autofill detail tokens to understand what are the valid values, and how they are determined.

There are two different autofill detail tokens associated with passwords which have some interesting features apart from the autocompletion:

  • "new-password" - This is supposed to be used for "new password field"s or for "confirm new password field"s. This helps separate a current password field from a new password field. Most browsers and most password managers, when they see this in autocomplete attribute, will avoid accidentaly filling existing passwords. Some even suggest a new randomly generated password for the field if autocomplete has "new-password" value.
  • "current-password" - This is used by browsers and password managers to autofill or suggest autocompletion with the current saved password for that email/username for that website.

The above two tokens really help in intentionally separating new password fields from login password fields. Otherwise, the browsers and password managers don't have much to separate between the two different fields and may guess it wrong.

Privacy concerns

Now, all of the above points might already be giving privacy and security nightmares to many of you. Firstly, the above scenario works only if you are on the same computer, using the same accounts, and the same browsers. But there are a few things you can do to avoid autocompletion, or saving of the data when filling up the form.

  • Use the browser in privacy/incognito mode. Most browsers will not save the form data submitted to a website when opened in incognito mode. They will, however still suggest autocompletion, based on the saved information from normal mode.
  • If you already have autocomplete information saved from before, but want to remove now, you can. Most browsers allow you to clear form and search history from the browser.
  • If you want to disable autofill and autocomplete, you can do that as well from browser settings. This will also tell the browsers to never remember the values entered into the form fields.

You can find the related information for different browsers here:

Now, if you are a privacy-focused developer like me, you might be wondering, "Can't I as a developer help protect privacy?". Yes, we can! That's exactly what autocomplete="off" is still there for. We can still add that attribute to an entire <form> which will disable both remembering and autocompletion of all form data in that form. We can also add autocomplete="off" individually to specific <input>, <textarea>, <select> to disabled the remembering and autocompletion of specific fields instead of the entire form.

PS: Even with autocomplete="off", most browsers still offer to remember username and password. This is actually done for the same reason digital security trainers ask to use password managers: so that users don't use the same simple passwords everywhere because they have to remember. As a digital security trainer, I would still recommend not using your browser's save password feature, and instead using a password manager. The password managers actually follow the same rule of remembering and auto-filling even with autocomplete="off" for username and password fields.


So, as a privacy-focused developer, you might be wondering, "Well, I should just use autocomplete="off" in every <form> I write from today". Well, that raises some huge accessibility concerns. If you love standards, then look specifically at Understanding Success Criterion 1.3.5: Identify Input Purpose.

There are folks with different disabilities who really benefit from the autocomplete tag, which makes it super important for accessibility:

  • People with disabilities related to memory, language or decision-making benefit immensely from the auto-filling of data and not need to remember every time to fill up a form
  • People with disabilities who prefer images/icons for communication can use assistive technology to add icons associated with various different input fields. A lot of them can benefit from proper autocomplete values, if the name attribute is not eligible.
  • People with motor disabilities benefit from not needing to manually input forms every time.

So, given that almost all browsers have settings to disable these features, it might be okay to not always use autocomplete="off". But, if there are fields that are essentially super sensitive, that you would never want the browser to save information about (e.g., government id, one time pin, credit card security code, etc.), you should use autocomplete="off" on the individual fields instead of the entire <form>. Even if you really really think that the entire form is super sensitive and you need to apply autocomplete="off" on the entire <form> element to protect your user's privacy, you should still at least use autofill detail tokens for the individual fields. This will ensure that the browser doesn't remember the data entered or suggest autofills, but will still help assistive technologies to programmatically determine the purpose of the fields.

Recommended further readings: