TutorialWeb Development

How To Find The Caret Inside A Contenteditable Element

Get the cursor coordinates and index position to display interactive UI elements!

Konstantin Münster Avatar
Konstantin Münster
31 October 2020
6 min read
Read on Medium
How To Find The Caret Inside A Contenteditable Element
You can find this working example at the end of this article.

Yes, I know… there are certainly more exciting topics to write about than dealing with cursors on a web page. But since I struggled a lot with this issue in my latest project, I decided to share my approach — hoping that it might help one or the other.

In this article, we are going to create two methods for locating the caret: One to get the X/Y coordinates and another to get the index position within the content.

The Problem

Recently, I built a text-editor where users could edit HTML content inside a contenteditable element. To adjust the styling of the content, I wanted to display a context menu right above the cursor.

To do that, we need to know the exact position of the caret. But how do we get to know that?

If you use an input or textarea element, it is relatively easy to get that information because you have a selectionStart and selectionEnd attribute available on the form element itself.

But for contenteditable elements you do not have these attributes. Besides, editable elements can have nested HTML elements inside (e.g. a strong tag inside a div). That makes it even harder.

Fortunately, we can solve both issues easily.

The Solution(s)

Get The Caret Coordinates

In the mentioned example, I wanted to show a context menu right above the caret. Therefore, we need to know the X and Y coordinates of it. If we have those, we can display a div that has a position: absolute; attribute and a proper top and left positioning.

function getCaretCoordinates() {
  let x = 0,
    y = 0;
  const isSupported = typeof window.getSelection !== 'undefined';
  if (isSupported) {
    const selection = window.getSelection();
    if (selection.rangeCount !== 0) {
      const range = selection.getRangeAt(0).cloneRange();
      const rect = range.getClientRects()[0];
      if (rect) {
        x = rect.left;
        y = rect.top;
  return { x, y };

To get the caret coordinates, we, first of all, get the selection from the window object. The selection contains information about the cursor: If it is placed, where it is placed, and how much content is selected on the screen.

We use this information to check if there is a cursor set (line 7). If this is true, we clone the current range. A Range is the basic concept of selections. Each Range represents a pair of boundary points — the start and end of the selection.

In case we have a range across multiple characters in our text editor, we collapse the range to the start (line 9). Finally, we can call getClientRects to get all the positioning data we need for our context menu (lines 10–13). This method works similar to getBoundingClientRect. It returns the coordinates of an element relative to its viewport.

Then, we can return x and y that define the top left corner of our caret.

Get The Caret Index Position

Besides the context menu example, there might be use cases where you do not need the X and Y coordinates but rather the caret’s index position. As input.selectionStart returns the caret position inside an input element, you may want to have an equivalent method for a contenteditable element.

That is also possible with a few lines of code:

function getCaretIndex(element) {
  let position = 0;
  const isSupported = typeof window.getSelection !== 'undefined';
  if (isSupported) {
    const selection = window.getSelection();
    if (selection.rangeCount !== 0) {
      const range = window.getSelection().getRangeAt(0);
      const preCaretRange = range.cloneRange();
      preCaretRange.setEnd(range.endContainer, range.endOffset);
      position = preCaretRange.toString().length;
  return position;

We start with a similar approach as we did before. Get the selection, check if a cursor is in place, and clone the range. Now in the next step, we select all the textual content of our contenteditable node.

Imagine you would press cmd + a / ctrl + a on your keyboard inside the editable element. That’s exactly what we do here internally. Then, we change the end boundary point of the selection to the index position of our set caret.

Lastly, we can return the caret index position by checking the length of the selected content.


As you have seen, locating the cursor inside a contenteditable element is only slightly harder than with regular form elements. If you want to learn more about selections and ranges inside the browser, I really recommend reading this article. It helped me a lot! Selection and Range on javascript.info

An additional note on browser support: Both approaches work only if the browser supports window.getSelection. You can check browser support on Caniuse.com. I hope this is all fine for your project.

Working Example

You can find a working example on CodeSandbox. Feel free to use it for your own projects. It uses the exact same approaches I showed you.

As always, thanks for reading! If you know better approaches to find carets and cursors inside the browser, let me know!