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3rd Party JavaScript Widgets

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In a perfect world, all your JavaScript would be written in Stimulus and you would have zero script elements in your body tag. With that ideal setup, your JavaScript would always work - regardless of how or when new HTML was loaded - and it would only be parsed and executed one time, on initial page load.

But what about externally-hosted JavaScript? I'm talking about a third party service that you sign up for... then you're supposed to copy some JavaScript from their site, paste it onto your site... and suddenly you get a "feedback" button or a "share on Twitter" button... or maybe it's analytics JavaScript. These bits of JavaScript will definitely not be written in Stimulus and, often, funny things start to happen when you use them. Not, like "funny haha", more funny weird...

Adding an External Weather Widget

Let's see an example. Let's integrate a third-party weather widget onto our site. Head over to weatherwidget.io, which, as its name suggests, allows us to embed a handy weather widget onto our site.

Click this "get code" button. So this is pretty common: you sign up for some service and then they give you some JavaScript that you're supposed to paste onto your site.

Let's do it: copy this... then go open templates/base.html.twig. Head to the bottom and paste this in the footer: right before the closing body tag... though you could put this anywhere.

90 lines | templates/base.html.twig
// ... lines 1 - 75
{% block body %}{% endblock %}
class="footer mb-0"
{{ stimulus_controller('made-with-love') }}
<a class="weatherwidget-io" href="https://forecast7.com/en/40d71n74d01/new-york/" data-label_1="NEW YORK" data-label_2="WEATHER" data-theme="original" >NEW YORK WEATHER</a>
!function(d,s,id){var js,fjs=d.getElementsByTagName(s)[0];if(!d.getElementById(id)){js=d.createElement(s);js.id=id;js.src='https://weatherwidget.io/js/widget.min.js';fjs.parentNode.insertBefore(js,fjs);}}(document,'script','weatherwidget-io-js');

Cool: this gives us an a tag... which just says "New York weather". Then, my guess is that this JavaScript will execute and transform that a tag into the cool weather widget that you see down here.

Let's find out! Do a whole page refresh, scroll all the way down and yes! We have a weather widget! Now, navigate to another page and... it's broken! It's just the original anchor tag. Where did our cool little widget go?

What Happens When External JavaScript Executes

The JavaScript code that we pasted is pretty impossible to read. To help, select it and then go to Code -> Reformat code. There we go! It's still a little hard to read, but it's doable.

98 lines | templates/base.html.twig
// ... lines 1 - 83
<a class="weatherwidget-io" href="https://forecast7.com/en/40d71n74d01/new-york/" data-label_1="NEW YORK" data-label_2="WEATHER" data-theme="original" >NEW YORK WEATHER</a>
!function (d, s, id) {
var js, fjs = d.getElementsByTagName(s)[0];
if (!d.getElementById(id)) {
js = d.createElement(s);
js.id = id;
js.src = 'https://weatherwidget.io/js/widget.min.js';
fjs.parentNode.insertBefore(js, fjs);
}(document, 'script', 'weatherwidget-io-js');
// ... lines 96 - 98

This is a function that calls itself and passes in these three arguments. Basically, when this JavaScript is executed, it adds a new script tag to the head element of our page that points to this widget.min.js script on their site. But this function is smart: it gives the script tag an id set to weatherwidget-io-js. And before it adds the script tag, it checks to see if it's already on the page. If the script tag does already exist, it avoids adding it twice.

Back over at our browser, find and expand the head tag. Yup! There's the script tag with id="weatherwidget-io-js that points to widget.min.js.

So here's what's going wrong in our case. When the page first loads, like right now, this JavaScript function executes and the new widget.min.js script tag is added to our page. Our browser downloads that file and then, my guess is that, when that JavaScript executes, it looks for elements with a weatherwidget-io class on it and transforms them into the fancy weather widget.

Inspect element on this. Yup! There's the anchor tag... but now with a big iframe inside.

But then, when we navigate to another page, the entire body tag is replaced by a new body tag. The weather widget that lives inside the original anchor tag is now gone from the page, replaced by a new anchor tag that's just the original boring one that says "New York weather".

However, Turbo does see the script tag that's inside of the new body - the script tag that we have down at the bottom of base.html.twig - and it does re-execute these lines. But this time, since the script with id weatherwidget-io-js already exists up here in the head tag, it does not re-add it to our page. And so, no JavaScript ever runs that re-initializes the widget into our new anchor tag.

Add the script Element on Each Visit?

Okay, so now that we understand what's going on, shouldn't we just, you know, tweak the JavaScript so that it always inserts the script tag? Let's try it. I'll cheat and temporarily add || true to the if statement so that it always executes and adds that element.

All right. Refresh. On page one, the weather widget works. Click over to the cart and... yea! The weather widget still works! Problem solved! And don't worry, the script tag isn't downloaded multiple times: your browser is smart enough to pull it from cache after it downloads it the first time.

Having Many Duplicate script Tags on your Page

But... this might not be the best solution for two reasons. Look at the head element of our page. Woh! We have two script tag!. And each time we navigate, we would get yet another one.

That... might be ok? But it seems a bit crazy: eventually a user might have 50 identical script elements on their page.

And actually, that's precisely how some external JavaScript works. Some external JavaScript snippets do not have this if statement here. And so, one of the problems is that it does add more and more and more script tags when you using Turbo.

The second problem is that... whether or not executing this script file over and over again is a good idea... sort of depends on what that script tag does! If it simply reinitialize the weather widget, cool! That sounds safe. But if it, for example, adds an event listener to the document each time it's executed, then each time we load that script tag, we're going to add a second, third, fourth, or fifth listener. Then, suddenly when you, for example, click the page, that JavaScript widget's listener will execute 5 times and... do whatever it normally does way more times than normal.

My point is: you need to be careful with third-party JavaScript. Let's put back the if statement the way we found it.

So in this case, re-executing the widget.min.js script tag after each visit is probably okay: it does seem to simply reinitialize the weather widget on this element. But I would love to do that without duplicating the script tag and ending up with 50 of them in my head. How can we do that? By removing the previous script tag right before the page renders. And how can we do that? Via a new event listener. Let's talk about that next and discuss the proper way to handle analytics code so that you don't under-count or over count your visits.