Jens Oliver Meiert

“Must Work Without JavaScript”

Post from September 5, 2019 (↻ September 16, 2019), filed under .

I’m currently busy with other things but reading CSS-Tricks discuss JavaScript support requirements I felt I could just release the draft that I had been working on. Apparently there are different views on the matter; whether different data have turned up I could not tell, but let’s see what conversations will yield.

That websites should work without JavaScript—display and function acceptably—has a long professional tradition, and for apps much the same has often been asked for. Yet with the success and ubiquity of script-based apps, where most if not everything important on the Web uses scripting (typically ECMAScript, JavaScript), how important is it to make sure sites and apps “work without JavaScript”?

It appears not important, for in times of JavaScript being used and supported everywhere the demand has nothing to do with accessibility and user (nor bot) needs anymore.

Yet, let’s look at some data. How often is JavaScript actually disabled by users, so to even consider a professional requirement of sites to work with no scripting?

Note that data are sparse, with MediaWiki and others also sporting the same stats, essentially. Owing to releasing this rather quickly, then, what will be useful to add is data on scripting support in major bots and scrapers—and yet the biggest one, Googlebot, does support scripting, and for the moment I don’t foresee surprises here.

To go deeper, are there user agents in which JavaScript is disabled by default, possibly forcing us to ensure no-script support? Where?

Nowhere it seems, apart from text browsers (quite evidently).

Are major search engines requiring no-script sites or apps?

The really big ones are arguably Google and Bing, and, notably in their countries, Baidu in China, and Yandex in Russia, and sites not depending on Baidu don’t appear to face any problems on this front, either. The Googlebot is evergreen since this year, Bingbot is generally capable of rendering JavaScript, and Yandex long started to handle JavaScript, too. Baidu, however, may rely on the only major bot that can’t deal with JavaScript (yet).

And, who actually says that sites or apps need to work without JavaScript (and when did they say that)?

The demand almost appears mythical by now, with only WebAIM sharing how and that “WCAG 1.0 from 1999 required that pages be functional and accessible with scripting disabled, WCAG 2.0 and all other modern guidelines allow you to require JavaScript.”

Although, as in other cases, we need more data, what we find paints a rather clear picture:

  1. Only text browsers would not support JavaScript, and no one who wouldn’t know the implications uses text browsers.
  2. Already half a decade ago, only every 400th–500th user would disable JavaScript—and though we don’t know what requests translate to users, nor what the intent was, we can suspect that these requests do not all mean different users with critical needs.
  3. No major western search engine can’t deal with JavaScript.
  4. No major standard requires to make sure sites and apps function without JavaScript being supported.

This is not all on the subject—I’m certain to have missed something—but what this suggests is one thing: With here unspecified exceptions proving the rule (likely web apps targeting China), “must work without JavaScript” is deprecated; “must work without JavaScript” is dead. Beginning with checklists, perhaps we should stop promoting and propagating it.

King Arthur and his staff, Lancelot, Bedivere, Mordred, and Gawain listen, as Val offers the services of his scouts.

Figure: Must work without JavaScript. (Copyright King Features Syndicate, Inc., distr. Bulls.)

About the Author

Jens Oliver Meiert, on April 19, 2019.

Jens Oliver Meiert is a technical lead and author (sum.cumo, W3C, O’Reilly). He loves trying things, including in the realms of philosophy, art, and adventure. Here on meiert.com he shares and generalizes and exaggerates some of his thoughts and experiences.

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Last update: September 16, 2019

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