Lightweight Autocomplete Controls with the HTML5 Datalist

Lightweight Autocomplete Controls with the HTML5 Datalist

In this tutorial, we’ll take a deep-dive into the little-used HTML5 <datalist> element. Learn how to work with this lightweight, accessible, cross-browser autocomplete form control.

Too many options in your HTML Select list? Try a Datalist! Learn how to work with this lightweight, accessible, cross-browser autocomplete form control.

In this tutorial, we’ll take a deep-dive into the little-used HTML5 <datalist> element. It can implement a lightweight, accessible, cross-browser autocomplete form control that doesn’t require JavaScript.

What’s Wrong with <select>?

HTML5 <select> controls are ideal when you want the user to choose from a small range of options. They’re less practical when:

  • there are lots of options, such as countries or job titles
  • the user wants to enter their own option which is not on the list

The obvious solution is an autocomplete control. This allows the user to enter a few characters, which limits the options available for quicker selection.

<select> will jump to the right location as you start typing, but that’s not always obvious. It won’t work on all devices (such as touchscreens), and it resets within a second or two.

Developers often turn to one of the many JavaScript-powered solutions, but a custom autocomplete control is not always necessary. The HTML5 <datalist> element is lightweight, accessible, and has no JavaScript dependencies. You may have heard it’s buggy or lacks support. That’s not true in 2021, but there are browser inconsistencies and caveats.

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