How the dialog element and the popover attribute interact


This post is the result of Cory LaViska nerd sniping me at 11pm on the last day of my mini-vacation. (Thanks Cory)


A quick overview of how the <dialog> element and the popover attribute interact and what happens when used together.

This post is largely just a reference for future me to remember how this stuff works.

For more in-depth accessibility and knowledge about these APIs, I recommend the checking out these 2 blog posts:

Popover Accessibility

Popover Semantics

Let’s get started

If you’ve been following along with the latest HTML developments, you’ll find we’ve gotten 2 awesome new features for building “popup” interfaces.

We have the <dialog> element and the popover attribute. For a little history, the <dialog> element seemed to have landed first (no I didn’t fact check it, but <dialog> has more support at the time of this writing).

Skipping over a lot of details, the <dialog> element shipped with 2 main functions for showing it. - Shows the dialog as “non-modal” meaning you can still interact with the content behind it. It is closable by clicking outside of it does not support light dismiss, via ESC key, button, or dialog.close(), and DOES NOT set other elements to inert or “focus trap”. Dialogs shown this way WILL NOT appear in the top layer.

dialogElement.showModal() - Shows the dialog as “modal”, meaning it will set all other elements outside of the dialog to inert, “focus trap” for you, and is only closable via a <button>, calling dialog.close(), or hitting the ESC key. Dialogs shown this way WILL appear in the top layer.

As for popover, according to MDN:

Popovers created using the Popover API are always non-modal.

So, to sum it up a <dialog popover> is a “light-dismissable non-modal dialog”.

“What the heck is a “light-dismissable non-modal dialog?!”

Well, it means you can close the <dialog> element by clicking outside of it and can interact with content outside of the dialog. In addition, by using the popover attribute, you get closure of other popovers, additional accessibility properties, and it will appear in the top layer. (Thank you Hidde )

Currently, there is no declarative equivalent for modal dialogs. But there is an issue open about it:


Closing thoughts

When talking about popover, we specifically were talking about popover="auto". popover="manual" will not give you the light dismiss functionality or closure of other popovers.


Here’s a fun little example of the differences between the two types of dialogs:

Additional Reading