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Nathaniel
Nathaniel

Posted on • Updated on • Originally published at endtimes.dev

Why your website should work without JavaScript.

Recently I started a site of tools for boardgames players. Simple tools like dice and spinners.

I wanted the site to be as accessible as possible. So I challenged myself with some rules on how it would work.

One rule was that every tool must work without javascript.

I learned a lot by doing it, and started to write posts about building tools without js. But before I write any more I wanted to answer the question:

Why in 2021 would you bother making a website without js?

While researching this post I found two really great sources of information. So, most of this is going to be stolen from this article by Adam Silver and this post from gov.uk.

But I'm going to go a little deeper into why some people block js.

The obvious answer to why you should build a website that doesn't need js is… because some people don't use js. But how many?!


How many visitors don't use javascript?

The answer to this question is roughly 1%.

There's not a lot of information on this but here's what I found:

  • A 2010 study by yahoo suggests 1.3% – web.archive
  • A 2013 study by gov.uk suggests 1.1% — gov.uk
  • For buzzfeed in 2018 it was 1%youtube

1% sounds like a lot! is it really possible 1 in 100 people block javascript? well...no

The 1% from these studies is 1% of visits where javascript has failed for any reason.

According to gov.uk the number of people who actively block js (or use a really really old browser) is 0.2% — 1 in 500.

Those 0.2% have their reasons, but first let's look at the 0.8% of visits where the js fails.


Why does javascript fail?

There are lots of reasons your site's javascript might fail:

  • Your javascript is broken! It happens.
  • A feature you're using doesn't work on an older browser. e.g. ES6 on an old version of internet explorer.
  • Inteference from a browser extension. Some web-extensions alter your site's code - with negative effects.
  • Network Errors. Sometimes things just break.
  • Mobile users losing signal - e.g. from being in a rural area, going through a tunnel, falling down a manhole, etc
  • Some browsers block javsacript on slow connections. — Android does this
  • CDN going down. in 2017 AWS went down for 3 hours
  • Corporate or local blocking or stripping of Javascript. Sometimes organizations block javascript for security reasons.
  • ISPs accidentally blocking your CDNSky Broadband once blocked jQuery
  • mobile networks altering your content and breaking it — T-mobile and Orange also broke jQuery!

There's probably other reasons too.

That accounts for about 0.8% of visitors not using Javascript

But what about the 0.2% who block js?


Why do people block javascript?

Some people block javascript in their browser. Some people choose a browser that doesn't support javascript. There are a number of reasons why:

  • Accessibility
  • Security
  • Privacy
  • Cost
  • Bandwidth
  • CPU
  • Battery
  • are stuck with or prefer an very old or text-based browser
  • they just like the web without javascript.

Accessibility

Some people find it easier to navigate the web with javascript switched off. There's less distractions.

Others choose text-to-speech browsers that don't support js.

Text-to-speech can work fine with javascript. For instance voiceOver on MacOS works within any browser.


Security

Many people disable js for security reasons, both professional and personal. No javascript means no malicious javascript too.

Who does this?


Privacy

Lots of people don't like corporations collecting their personal data. You might block ads, and tracking scripts.

Some people take that a step further and block all javascript. Then, if they trust a site, they'll allow it to run.


Cost & Bandwidth

Blocking javascript can save a lot of money.

Downloading d3.js (a popular graphing library) costs 1 cent in Canada. In Mauritania it costs 0.06% of the average daily income.

That's may not seem like a lot. But d3.js is only 90kB — and only one of many scripts someone may have to download to use a site.

Then javascript can request all kinds of data, images, video, and it adds up fast. Once you've visited a few sites you may find yourself over budget.

The same logic applies for people with limited bandwidth.

dev.to costs 24 cents to visit on mobile in canada!


CPU and Battery

Some people switch off javascript to save CPU and Battery.

Users of low-powered devices — or one that's doing more important tasks in the background — may want to take pressure off their CPU.

People without easy access to a power supply may want to save battery.


Out-dated Browsers & Text-based browsers

Very old browsers like IE < 3, Netscape 1, Mosaic, and others don't support javascript. Almost nobody uses these browsers anymore — but you can bet somebody is.

Some text-based browsers like Lynx don't support js. Lynx is a browser that runs in terminal applications. So someone browsing the web on a computer without a GUI may well be using it.

Lynx has been around since 1992 and is still updated today. So people are definitely using it.


Some people just prefer the web without js.

Some people think the web is better browsed with javascript off. It's faster and reduces distractions. See I Turned Off JavaScript for a Whole Week and It Was Glorious - Wired 2015


Should you cater to 0.2%?

Yes and no. Personally, I enjoy going out of my way to make things work. I find all this stuff fascinating. But making sure a site works for the 0.2% of people who disable javascript isn't really the point.


The Curb Cut Effect

An analogy that comes up often when talking about web accessibility is curb cuts. Curb cuts are the small concrete ramps on the side of the road.

Curb cuts we're added to sidewalks after a long campaign from disability rights activists. Their purpose was to give wheel-chair users the same freedoms non-disabled people enjoy.

Now that curb cuts are everywhere — everyone benefits from them. People with strollers, skateboarders, people delvering packages, and more.

The point? Making the world more accessible for one group of people benefits everyone. That's the curb cut effect.

Here's a great episode of 99% invisible about curb cuts.

Building sites that function well without javascript doesn't just benefit the 0.2% of people who disable it.

It improves the 0.8% of vists where javascript fails too.

Building everything you can without js will make your site:

  • faster
  • smaller – (most of the time)
  • more reliable
  • more accessible
  • have smoother animations
  • easier to index by search engines
  • less vulnerable to hacks
  • easier to develop – personal opinion

I'd prefer to write js all day — but finding html and css only solutions has made me a better developer.

It's forced me to find creative ways of solving problems — and to learn new html and css features.

Then when I do add javascript, it's ends up being a lot smaller and easier to manage.


How to disable Javascript

If you're going to build sites without js you're going to need to test them.

Probably the most popular way of disabling javascript is with the browser extension NoScript — it's available on Google Chrome and Firefox and elsewhere too.

As of writing this noScript has:

  • 100,000+ users on Google Chrome
  • 404,376 users on Firefox

That's at least half a million people who use that specific app. There are many more apps and other methods of disabling js.


Anyway

Give browsing the web without js a try, or maybe even have a go at using Lynx. Let me know what you think.

Discussion (50)

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akashkava profile image
Akash Kava • Edited on

I don't think anybody is actively blocking the JavaScript anymore, those 1% would be some bots trying to browse using chrome/firefox user agents. And some developers trying to test the website for SEO. The cost of making application without JavaScript for 1% users is too high to consider any revenue from them. For such users you can always tell them to download Electron bundled website.

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pclundaahl profile image
Patrick Charles-Lundaahl

Jusr chiming in here: I am that 1%! I actively block JavaScript on plenty of sites. However, I'm probably not your target audience - specifically, I block JS on sites that use it to do annoying things (playing floating videos, popping up mailing list signup forms, powering floating chatbots that ping me constantly, or auto loading comments or images I don't care about). It lets me filter out the noise so I can focus on the content (I also heavily use Firefox's reader mode). If those things are core to your business model or marketing activities, then yeah, you probably don't want to cater to people like me.

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akashkava profile image
Akash Kava

Yes here is the difference, website is what people expect to read, reading and consuming content is one part of website which does not need JavaScript frameworks, but SASS or subscription based business applications where users pay for the service, disabling JavaScript does not work in user's favor. You are competing book with a interactive game.

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pclundaahl profile image
Patrick Charles-Lundaahl

Sure, no disagreements there - full-blown webapps requiring JavaScript is obviously reasonable, particularly if it's a paid service that isn't going to be needed in a personal emergency. However, if it's a critical service, I truly think it's only responsible to make sure the app works on low-end devices (insurance, medical, counselling, govt., or anything else that someone might need to access in an emergency).

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ziizium profile image
Habdul Hazeez

Yet another +1.

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ziizium profile image
Habdul Hazeez

+1

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shadowfaxrodeo profile image
Nathaniel Author

That's not the conclusion gov.uk came to. They came up with a way of tracking this number not including bot traffic.. Buzzfeed came to a similar conclusion and decided it was worth their time.

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konung profile image
konung

To be fair Buzzfeed’s 0.8% of traffic is bigger than most websites 100% of traffic, so it does make sense for them to invest significant resources to rebuild / cater to them . If your site gets 1000 visistors per week, and it’s not a pay-per-use, financially there is not incentives to spend 100s of hours to rebuild your website to cater to 10 people per week

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shadowfaxrodeo profile image
Nathaniel Author • Edited on

Once you add up all the 0.8% niches everyone belongs to you end up something closer to 100%.

Everyone belongs to a niche at least temporarily. One could argue that there's no point in catering to people on 2g connections, or feature phone users, or the visually or motor impaired. But when you do make your site welcoming to everybody you may find more visitors show up — and you've improved your site not just for those specific people but for everyone.

Honestly I don't think it's harder to build a site this way, we're all just so used to using javascript frameworks that we think in javascript. html and css are way easier.

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akashkava profile image
Akash Kava

Again, I think @konung made right point, you must calculate the money lost in such visitors, for BuzzFeed, Youtube and general social media, it makes sense because to offer server side rendering for 0.8% fits in their budget. For lot of small business applications, there is no enough returns to support SSR.

If user cannot even afford to upgrade from 2g to 3g, do you think they will pay for the services you will offer? The calculation is straight forward, for BuzzFeed and social media sites, even 2g user is a target audience because they sell ads and ads are generally targeted to all users for brand awareness.

But for SASS business services or any subscription based services where users will pay to business, non paying users are burden.

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andyharmon profile image
Andy Harmon

Additionally, the Government Digitial Service (and developers across government in the UK, at least) still design their services to be operable and usable without JavaScript. And rightly so - a choice a citizen makes, wether for good reason or not, shouldn't prevent them from accessing public services.

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unsungnovelty profile image
Nikhil • Edited on

I too am that 1%. We might be a minority but I hate it when the websites don't work without javascript. Especially if it is your personal website (this is a personal opinion and you can ignore :) ).

While I understand JavaScript have it's genuine use cases, dumping JS like we are doing now is not very great for privacy, security, accessibility and climate!

Every unnecessary computation is bad for climate. Performance not only equals better UX anymore, it means less emissions and better climate. websitecarbon.com is something I recently discovered which roughly calculates the carbon emission of a website.

While websitecarbon.com shouldn't be used as a strict benchmark, it definitely raises the question on how to create less emissions for websites? The answer most often than not is definitely using HTML and CSS without JS unless and until really necessary.

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williamhenderson profile image
William Henderson

Imagine just going onto some modern website from a really old or bad device and it's like "download this 150MB+ piece of software just to view the site"...

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moopet profile image
Ben Sinclair • Edited on

Re your accessibility point,

Some people find it easier to navigate the web with javascript switched off. There's less distractions.

for me is more like, this site could be ok, but someone's gone and replaced all the navigation with some custom scripted stuff that doesn't behave like I expect it to, my tab stops are all over the place, and half the links aren't... links. They're div elements someone's attached events to because they think it's clever. I see this a lot.

If you take the extra time to make your JS-powered site run as well as a generic HTML site, that's ok, I guess, but seems a bit pointless.

Say your bakery gets 250 visitors every day. You sell a lot of pies. Life is good. At the same rates we're talking here, you're turning away a wheelchair user three or four times a week. Or even a couple per day, depending which number I picked. But you're not just saying, "sorry, we can't fit your chair through the door, can I bring you something out?", you're blanking them and talking to other people in the queue. You're saying you don't want them in your shop.

The question I'd put to a lot of designers/developers is, "why did you design this to exclude people?"

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pclundaahl profile image
Patrick Charles-Lundaahl

100% all of this. Doubly so if your website offers a crucial service that could ever be important to anyone in a time of need who does not have access to high-powered devices (utilities, phone service providers, hospitals and clinics, emergency services, etc.)

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guitarino profile image
Kirill Shestakov

Seriously, amazing article.

I personally try to make websites work without JS for 2 reasons:

  1. Because, if you can, why not? Firstly, it's a fun challenge. Secondly, it's not necessarily challenging - but definitely requires you to engage at least a few grey cells.

  2. When you build something in an environment-independent or server-side-rendered way, it usually leads to a lot of benefits, such as testability and better architecture, and, hence, better overall development and maintenance experience.

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lifelongthinker profile image
Sebastian • Edited on

Very nice roundup!

Relying on JS for web development is both a business and technological decision, and one that has trade-off implications like anything else in IT.

There is nothing inherently good or bad about using/not using JS. In my experience, these decisions are often based on budget limitations, rather than immaterial considerations.

Of course, I think we as developers should never exclude anyone from using our products. But then, catering to 1% of your visitors might incur a substantial cost on development (say 20%, and that is not much). At this point most clients tend to say: No, thanks, ditch those 1%.

Do I like that? No, of course not. But those are the tradeoffs we sometimes have to deal with. It's a sad reality.

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lyrod profile image
Lyrod • Edited on

Probably the most popular way of disabling javascript is with the browser extension NoScript — it's available on Google Chrome and Firefox and elsewhere too.

Hum, browsers natively support disabling javascript 🤔

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shadowfaxrodeo profile image
Nathaniel Author • Edited on

Yes, but it’s much easier to use an extension that toggles it for you and remembers your preferences for different web sites. As far as I know Firefox and Safari only have on and off, and you have to navigate to the settings page to do that.

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lyrod profile image
Lyrod

Ah yes, indeed

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qm3ster profile image
Mihail Malo

"Make your site work without JS and use JS for progressive enhancement" sounds good on paper, but in real life, implemented perfectly, it just means "Make a worse site for 99% of your audience. Less dynamic, slower to react, not offline-first, not as flexibly executing the designer's vision." It might take equal effort to making a modern site. It might even take somewhat less effort. But to do it without harming the experience of 99% of your users, you'd have to make a whole separate NoJS site. Is that something you have the budget for?

You might say that there are frameworks, even React and Vue-based, that offer server side rendering. That you could offer the same site to be consumed in two ways, "isomorphically". That is, of course, a complete fabrication.

You don't just lose clientside navigation of the outermost pages, at the cost of "merely":

  1. doing the client-authenticated web requests for data from the frontend server
  2. storing client data by session
  3. storing "incomplete" data what would not have touched your infrastructure yet (think multipage "wizard"-style forms)

But you also lose anything that's not a standard HTML5 element. Right click(long press on mobile)? Gone. Draggable lists? Gone. Sortable tables? Gone. 3D object views for your shop? Gone.
Applications for the mobile/touch web hardly use any standard elements at all.

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shadowfaxrodeo profile image
Nathaniel Author • Edited on

I've only just started making things that work without javascript. I learned to code primarily with vue.js. So pretty much everything I've made up til now doesn't work for a lot of people.

What i've learned from building sites without js is that it's actually easier to build and use.

Some things you just can't work without javascript. Of course.

For things that can you should try and make it work. And if you've got something ike a sortable table, then just show a non-sortable table when js is turned off. That'd be the default behaviour of something like nuxt.js the SSR framework built on vue

Here's a site built with nuxt: sumcumo.com/en/path-next-generatio...
It works completely fine without js
Their contact form doesn't work — but it doesn't appear either, it shows their email and social media instead.

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qm3ster profile image
Mihail Malo

Yes, most of the stuff on this non-application purely "business card" website is still accessible without javascript (at a cursory glance, on sumcumo.com/en/company and sumcumo.com/en/products

We bring the Internet success story to the insurance and lottery industry.

and

Managing digital success in the insurance world with SCIP

never appears, and you are left with an almost blank above-the-fold)

But at what cost? On sumcumo.com/en/jobs try scrolling down (with JS on)
When you switch from "products" to "people", there's a strange flash of color.
When you switch from "people" to "jobs" the site jerks sideways (probably a vertical scrollbar issue)
Generally, there is quite a bit of jank. I am not a neurotypical, so I am not going to judge how this affects the usual visitor, but this is one of the sites where I wish less JS (and less CSS animations, if that's what some of them are) was used. It's very distracting from the content.

I understand that NoJS is important here, as this seems to be a B2B product for the financial industry, where security might be ridiculous? Good job addressing that then.

Anyway, for me, good JS is subtle. It replaces native HTML constructs to be more convenient and effective. Which is why it is a lot of extra work, if at all possible, to automatically generate fallbacks from it.
Most NoJS/CSS tour-de-force s aren't like that. They take mediocre documents, and make them "pop" (viciously attack your face).

There is a time and a place for NoJS. But let's not pretend it's a sensible default, or that there aren't serious costs and potentially insurmountable handicaps associated.

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stevewhitmore profile image
Steve Whitmore

Serious question: What do you recommend for js apps? Do you stick a bunch of stuff between noscript tags? Do you steer clear of js apps entirely and stick with server-side rendered content? With the prevelance of React, Angular, and Vue there doesn't seem to be a clean way to accommodate both users of "webapps" and those who choose to go without js completely. Is it all one way or the other?

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shadowfaxrodeo profile image
Nathaniel Author

Depending on the app, the first thing you can do is server-side render it with next.js and nuxt.js for vue. That way at least the static content of the pages is rendered and all the links still work. You can host a server-side only version of Next.js on Netlify (i think).

For dynamic content if it's not too complicated, you can stick all the inputs in a form. Then, if javascript isn't present, the user is redirected to a server-rendered version of the content. That's what i'm doing here. But that's very simple application that rolls dice. If javascript isn't present the dice are rolled on a server. It uses the same code on both the client and server side.

There are some things you just can't do without javascript — for those situations all you can do is leave a polite note in a <noscript> tag explaining what's happened.

But most of the web isn't or shouldn't be like that. It's weird that you can't use twitter without javascript — it's mostly just text.

That's my guess anyway, I'm only just starting to learn about this stuff.

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stevewhitmore profile image
Steve Whitmore

I appreciate your detailed response. It's clear from your article and your responses that you've put quite a bit of thought into this topic. I have mixed feelings about it to be honest. On one hand I love the power and capabilities of js and on the other I hate how reliant the web has become on it in recent years. Plus the potential for privacy violation it brings is a huge downside too. I get why many in the FOSS realm hate it.

I'm glad you brought this topic up. It's good to regularly question conventions and expectations otherwise we all fall into the trap of "we do things this way because this is how we do things". It's something I see a lot of in many aspects of life and I hate it.

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shadowfaxrodeo profile image
Nathaniel Author • Edited on

If you want to give Lynx a go, and you're on macOS head to your terminal (make sure you've already installed homebrew)

brew install lynx
Enter fullscreen mode Exit fullscreen mode

then

lynx https://missingdice.com/
Enter fullscreen mode Exit fullscreen mode

It's an interesting experience.

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alidhuniya profile image
Ali Hussain Dhuniya

well, how do you fetch data without js(fetch)?

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shadowfaxrodeo profile image
Nathaniel Author

Well you can still get data from the server, you just have to serve it in a new page. There's some things that will be a nightmare without js, but you can take it far — here's a chat app built with just css and html

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alidhuniya profile image
Ali Hussain Dhuniya

can you elaborate more on this statement(if possible refer me to some demo or articles) " you can still get data from the server, you just have to serve it in a new page" and in your chat app you have used HTML form with POST method not GET method. I don't know why chat app site keeps loading page infinity, the finish time on network tab is not stopping at all. site reload whole webpage whenever I hit submit post, unlike fetch/xmlhttprequest.

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shadowfaxrodeo profile image
Nathaniel Author

Sure, I just mean to say that if js isn't availble you can always use the native html forms to send and receive data. It just requires a page load.

There are other hacky ways of doing a fetch without a refresh or navigating to a new page. I actually sent you the wrong link before, I can't find a live version of the one I meant to send: Github - CSS only chat

...but that's a deliberately ridiculous example.

In reality there are times you just can't do without javascript. In those times, you should have a reasonable fallback. For example, Google Sheets, doesn't work without js. But, if you try to access a sheet with js switched off, you still get to see a static version of the document.

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alidhuniya profile image
Ali Hussain Dhuniya

thanks for the clarification

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ziizium profile image
Habdul Hazeez
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jh3y profile image
Jhey Tompkins

I guess there's a slight caveat here though.

In that, if JavaScript isn't available. I don't believe we should do anything to make things work. For example, using things like the "Checkbox Hack". I've fallen into that trap before 😅

But, I definitely agree with the sentiment. And it's often forgotten how far native controls and a bit of styling can take you 💯

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nicozerpa profile image
Nico Zerpa (he/him)

You convinced me. Fortunately, my personal website works almost fine without JS, there's still some work to do. Thank you for the article!

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hasnaindev profile image
Muhammad Hasnain

I think it is time to move on from supporting internet explorer 7 and people that aren't using JavaScript. Of course, it won't run if your JavaScript has issues but that is why we have tools like ESLint and TypeScript to make sure errors do not occur.

If people are still using internet explorer 7 and blocking JavaScript. Good luck to them, they should just leave the internet and start living in a cave for all I could care.

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nassirdreffy profile image
Nassir Amakran

Very nice article, thank you ! I made my thoughts aboute that.
Html is for semantic structuring data. Css for styling. Js for interactions...We could use html tricks instead js, but it would be broken some semantic rules of the tag in this context maybe.

What do you think?

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shadowfaxrodeo profile image
Nathaniel Author

Thanks. I think that’s generally a good idea. But not to be too strict with it.

Sometimes the end result is better when you use in built html functionality, or to style something with JS, or display content using css, e.g. background images.

Different if you’re working with a team. Which I don’t have a lot of experience with.

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mareksamec profile image
mareksamec

Thank you for this article! I have to admit, that when I see someone's personal website which has only two subpages and it loads 4MB of javascript I start to twitch :/

My brother is visually impaired and from my experience websites with massive javascript bloat usually produce many issues with accessibility and are rather hard to debug.

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devlorenzo profile image
DevLorenzo

Great article!

In Security a typo:

javscript --> Javascript

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shadowfaxrodeo profile image
Nathaniel Author

Thanks! Sorted.

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peerreynders profile image
peerreynders
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shadowfaxrodeo profile image
Nathaniel Author

Yes, I should have added that to the post. Also by the same guy: Why Availability Matters

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aalphaindia profile image
Pawan Pawar

Interesting thanks

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srslie profile image
Alice Ruppert

I like the accessibility points and I do actually know people who turn off their JS. How do you still make things interesting and what are those common workarounds you've used with HTML and CSS?

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shadowfaxrodeo profile image
Nathaniel Author • Edited on

You can do some really wild stuff just css — Stephanie Eckles site moderncss.dev blows my mind.

One workaround I did was a css+html dark mode toggle, i wrote a post on it

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pclundaahl profile image
Patrick Charles-Lundaahl

I would guess a lot of this depends on what kind of site/app you are building, and what the value is that it provides to your customers.

I don't know what percentage of people this applies to, but I don't visit websites (or webapps) for their interesting UIs - I visit them for content (in the case of websites), or some concrete value (in the case of apps - Evernote, Google Docs, etc.). In either case, I would prefer the UI do as little as possible. Things like fade-ins, slide-out sidebars and hover-cards are fun to build, but as a user, I would prefer you skip the animation and just show me the content (otherwise it's just increasing the time I have to wait before I can get to the value I'm trying to get to).

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johnnymccodes profile image
johnnymccodes

but if javascript is disabled, how can the user be blessed by my elite typescript functionality?

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heart profile image
Narongrit Kanhanoi

That's why i use typescript
.
.
.
.
Just kidding!

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detzam profile image
webstuff

Well basically you could do enough with css, but i hope you learned something out if this exercise.