google-chrome-extension detect - Is there a JavaScript/jQuery DOM change listener?

event style (5)

Essentially I want to have a script execute when the contents of a DIV change. Since the scripts are separate (content script in chrome extension & webpage script), I need a way simply observe changes in DOM state. I could set up polling but that seems sloppy.


Several years later, there is now officially a better solution. DOM4 Mutation Observers are the replacement for deprecated DOM3 mutation events. They are currently implemented in modern browsers as MutationObserver (or as the vendor-prefixed WebKitMutationObserver in old versions of Chrome):

MutationObserver = window.MutationObserver || window.WebKitMutationObserver;

var observer = new MutationObserver(function(mutations, observer) {
    // fired when a mutation occurs
    console.log(mutations, observer);
    // ...

// define what element should be observed by the observer
// and what types of mutations trigger the callback
observer.observe(document, {
  subtree: true,
  attributes: true

This example listens for DOM changes on document and its entire subtree, and it will fire on changes to element attributes as well as structural changes. The draft spec has a full list of valid mutation listener properties:


  • Set to true if mutations to target's children are to be observed.


  • Set to true if mutations to target's attributes are to be observed.


  • Set to true if mutations to target's data are to be observed.


  • Set to true if mutations to not just target, but also target's descendants are to be observed.


  • Set to true if attributes is set to true and target's attribute value before the mutation needs to be recorded.


  • Set to true if characterData is set to true and target's data before the mutation needs to be recorded.


  • Set to a list of attribute local names (without namespace) if not all attribute mutations need to be observed.

(This list is current as of April 2014; you may check the specification for any changes.)

Many sites use AJAX to add/show/change content dynamically. Sometimes it's used instead of in-site navigation, so current URL is changed programmatically and content scripts aren't automatically executed by browser in this case since the page isn't fetched from remote server entirely.

Usual JS methods of detecting page changes available in a content script.

  • MutationObserver (docs) to literally detect DOM changes:

    • How to change the HTML content as it's loading on the page
    • Performance of MutationObserver to detect nodes in entire DOM.
  • Event listener for sites that signal content change by sending a DOM event:

    • pjax:end on document used by many pjax-based sites e.g. GitHub,
      see How to run jQuery before and after a pjax load?
    • message on window used by e.g. Google search in Chrome browser,
      see Chrome extension detect Google search refresh
    • spfdone on document used by Youtube,
      see How to detect page navigation on Youtube and modify HTML before page is rendered?
  • Periodic checking of DOM via setInterval:
    Obviously this will work only in cases when you wait for a specific element identified by its id/selector to appear, and it won't let you universally detect new dynamically added content unless you invent some kind of fingerprinting the existing contents.

  • Cloaking History API inside an injected DOM script:

    document.head.appendChild(document.createElement('script')).text = '(' +
        function() {
            // injected DOM script is not a content script anymore, 
            // it can modify objects and functions of the page
            var _pushState = history.pushState;
            history.pushState = function(state, title, url) {
      , state, title, url);
                window.dispatchEvent(new CustomEvent('state-changed', {detail: state}));
            // repeat the above for replaceState too
        } + ')(); this.remove();'; // remove the DOM script element
    // And here content script listens to our DOM script custom events
    window.addEventListener('state-changed', function(e) {
        console.log('History state changed', e.detail, location.hash);
  • Listening to hashchange, popstate events:

    window.addEventListener('hashchange', function(e) {
        console.log('URL hash changed', e);
    window.addEventListener('popstate', function(e) {
        console.log('State changed', e);

Extensions-specific: detect URL changes in a background / event page.

There are advanced API to work with navigation: webNavigation, webRequest, but we'll use simple chrome.tabs.onUpdated event listener that sends a message to the content script:

  • manifest.json:
    declare background/event page
    declare content script
    add "tabs" permission.

  • background.js

    var rxLookfor = /^https?:\/\/(www\.)?google\.(com|\w\w(\.\w\w)?)\/.*?[?#&]q=/;
    chrome.tabs.onUpdated.addListener(function(tabId, changeInfo, tab) {
        if (rxLookfor.test(changeInfo.url)) {
            chrome.tabs.sendMessage(tabId, 'url-update');
  • content.js

    chrome.runtime.onMessage.addListener(function(msg, sender, sendResponse) {
        if (msg === 'url-update') {

In addition to the "raw" tools provided by MutationObserver API, there exist "convenience" libraries to work with DOM mutations.

Consider: MutationObserver represents each DOM change in terms of subtrees. So if you're, for instance, waiting for a certain element to be inserted, it may be deep inside the children of mutations.mutation[i].addedNodes[j].

Another problem is when your own code, in reaction to mutations, changes DOM - you often want to filter it out.

A good convenience library that solves such problems is mutation-summary (disclaimer: I'm not the author, just a satisfied user), which enables you to specify queries of what you're interested in, and get exactly that.

Basic usage example from the docs:

var observer = new MutationSummary({
  callback: updateWidgets,
  queries: [{
    element: '[data-widget]'

function updateWidgets(summaries) {
  var widgetSummary = summaries[0];

Another approach depending on how you are changing the div. If you are using JQuery to change a div's contents with its html() method, you can extend that method and call a registration function each time you put html into a div.

(function( $, oldHtmlMethod ){
    // Override the core html method in the jQuery object.
    $.fn.html = function(){
        // Execute the original HTML method using the
        // augmented arguments collection.

        var results = oldHtmlMethod.apply( this, arguments );
        return results;

})( jQuery, jQuery.fn.html );

We just intercept the calls to html(), call a registration function with this, which in the context refers to the target element getting new content, then we pass on the call to the original jquery.html() function. Remember to return the results of the original html() method, because JQuery expects it for method chaining.

For more info on method overriding and extension, check out, which is where I cribbed the closure function. Also check out the plugins tutorial at JQuery's site.

In case you are using Web Workers and want to include additional scripts in the scope of the worker, the other answers provided about adding scripts to the head tag, etc. will not work for you.

Fortunately, Web Workers have their own importScripts function which is a global function in the scope of the Web Worker, native to the browser itself as it is part of the specification.

Alternatively, as the second highest voted answer to your question highlights, RequireJS can also handle including scripts inside a Web Worker (likely calling importScripts itself, but with a few other useful features).

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