Getting the Parent of an Element in JavaScript

Learn how to get the parent of a DOM element in JavaScript, and which unreliable methods to avoid.

Published Categorized as JavaScript

When you’re developing a website or setting up the tagging and analytics for it, you will face a number of challenges. One of those challenges is navigating the Document Object Model (DOM), the tree-like structure that represents the elements on a web page.

You can think of the DOM as the map of a web page, where each DOM element is a node on the map — and each node has its own set of properties that you can access, especially if you know your way around the methods in JavaScript.

Sometimes, navigating that map is a little trickier. Like when you need to get the parent element of an element and do something with it, which is what this tutorial will show you how to do.

How to Get the Parent of a DOM Element

To get the parent of a DOM element in JavaScript, you need to call the node.parentElement() Web API. If the said element has a parent element, the method will return it. If it doesn’t, it will be null.

Here’s an example:

// Get the parent of an element
const element = document.querySelector('#my-element');
const parentElement = element.parentElement;

In the code above, we start by selecting the element that we want to retrieve the parent node for using the querySelector() method. In this case, we’ve selected an element with an ID of my-element, but you could replace that with any valid CSS selector to select any element that you want.

Next, we use the parentElement property to get the element’s parent. The parentElement property returns the parent DOM element of the specified element, which can be any DOM element. Once we have the parent element, we can use it for whatever we need in our code, from manipulating it to extracting data from it.

It’s worth noting that there are other ways to retrieve the parent element of an element in JavaScript, such as using the parentNode property or the previousSibling property. However, the parentElement property is the most widely supported and most accurate approach.

The parentElement() vs. parentNode() Property

The parentElement and parentNode properties in JavaScript are both used to retrieve the parent nodes of an element, but there are a few important differences between them.

The main difference is that parentElement is a property that specifically returns the parent DOM element of an element, while parentNode is a property that returns the parent node of any node type — whether that’s an element, text, or even a comment node.

In practice, this means that parentElement is the most practical to use if you’re only interested in retrieving the parent element of an element node, as it will always return an element node (or null if the element has no parent element). However, if you’re working with a node that might not be an element node (e.g., a text node or a comment node), you would need to use parentNode instead.

By Dim Nikov

Editor of Maker's Aid. Part programmer, part marketer. Making things on the web and helping others do the same since the 2000s. Yes, I had Friendster and Myspace.

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