Andy Desmarais

A code ninja and all around tech geek

How to tell if an element is in the DOM (Including the Shadow DOM)

2019-08-24 Andy DesmaraisJavaScript

Cover photo credit: Sai Kiran Anagani

What element lurks in hearts of documents… The shadow DOM doesn’t know

So I ran into a scenario where I needed to know if a dom element was still attached to the DOM. This seems like a trivial problem at first, but then I needed it to be IE11 compatible AND handle elements in the shadow DOM (with the shady dom polyfill). EEEEEEEEEEEK!

TL;DR Iterate up the node tree!

The basic solution is to iterate up through each parentNode. The caveat is the shadow DOM. If we discover that a parent node is actually a DocumentFragment, then we’ll need to look to the host property to continue our traversal. The scary details are below if you’re interested!

function isInDocument(element) {
    var currentElement = element;
    while(currentElement && currentElement.parentNode) {
        if(currentElement.parentNode === document) {
            return true;
        } else if(currentElement.parentNode instanceof DocumentFragment) {
            currentElement =;
        } else {
            currentElement = currentElement.parentNode;
    return false;

Why not just use document.body.contains?

This is a great solution when you aren’t using elements with a shadow DOM. Unfortunately, the shadow DOM uses a DocumentFragment for the shadowRoot, and it is not technically contained in the DOM. This also means that trying to short circuit by using document.contains doesn’t gain us much in terms of performance.

parentNode not parentElement

This same technique can’t be accomplished with parentElement because the shadow DOM host is not an element, but it is a DocumentFragment. This means that we get a null if we attempt to traverse up using the parentElement property.

NOTE: IE11’s implementation of DocumentFragment does not include the parentNode property! This is why the shady DOM polyfill is required for this technique to work. That and the fact that IE11 doesn’t have a shadow DOM at all. 😊

What the heck is a DocumentFragment?

The shadowRoot host uses a DocumentFragment to hold its children. There are several reasons for this. Checkout the description from MDN:

The DocumentFragment interface represents a minimal document object that has no parent. It is used as a light-weight version of Document to store a segment of a document structure comprised of nodes just like a standard document. The key difference is that because the document fragment isn’t part of the actual DOM’s structure, changes made to the fragment don’t affect the document, cause reflow, or incur any performance impact that can occur when changes are made.

The shadowRoot takes advantage of the fact that it’s not actually in the DOM to completely encapsulate itself. This allows for scoping of style rules and events, but makes it a challenge when detecting whether an element is in the DOM!

Ok, but I can’t use this if it’s not fast…

You can check out the JS Perf I put together to validate this.

Even at its slowest (1,064,226 ops/sec) it’s only taking about .9µs (microseconds) to complete a run for a very shallow element. This performs plenty fast for my needs!