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JavaScript and localStorage in a nutshell

Ben Long

February 6th, 2020

4 min read

Written by

Ben Long


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Sometimes you want to get something done in HTML without the added complexity of a backend database. In this case, you can use JavaScript to access localStorage.

But, first...

...we need to understand exactly what we're dealing with; for example, what is localStorage, when can you use it, and is it secure?

If you already know what you’re getting yourself into, you can skip ahead to:

Otherwise, read on...

What is localStorage?

localStorage allows web applications to store data locally within the user's browser with no expiration date. The data will not be deleted when the browser is closed, and will be available when the browser is opened again.

The good, the bad, and the ugly of localStorage

The good

  • It stores up to 5-10MB of data (depending on the browser).
  • Easy to use – no need for a web server or backend database.
  • Great for getting an idea up and running and for testing purposes.

The bad

  • It only stores up to 10MB of data (5MB in some browsers).
  • It can only store strings. This can restrict you from using it for more complex scenarios; although, HTML can be stored as a string – more on that later...
  • It’s local to the browser and specific to the origin (per domain and protocol), and there’s no guarantee that the data will persist even in that same context.

The ugly

  • It’s not secure. Don’t store any private or personal information in localStorage.

Okay. Now that we’ve got the housekeeping out of the way, let’s get into it!

JavaScript localStorage methods

There are four basic JavaScript methods you can use to access and work with localStorage:

  • setItem() - takes a key-value pair and adds it to localStorage
  • getItem() - takes a key and returns the corresponding value
  • removeItem() - takes a key and removes the corresponding key-value pair
  • clear() - clears localStorage (for the domain)

I always think the best way to really understand something is to try it out for yourself. So...

Open your browser console, for example, by opening Developer Tools in Google Chrome and clicking on the Console tab.

Enter localStorage and the current stored data will be returned. For example (assuming it’s empty to begin with):

> localStorage
< Storage {length: 0}

Enter localStorage.setItem('myKey', 'testValue') and the string testValue will be stored against the key myKey:

> localStorage.setItem('myKey', 'testValue')
< undefined

undefined just means that no value is returned from that method. Enter localStorage again to view the stored data.

> localStorage
< Storage {myKey: "testValue", length: 1}

Enter localStorage.getItem('myKey') and the corresponding string will be returned:

> localStorage.getItem('myKey')
< "testValue"

setItem() and getItem() are the two methods we’ll be using in our example. Feel free to try out the other methods too in a similar way.

TIP: Type localStorage. (with the ‘.’) into the console and a full list of relevant methods will appear.

JavaScript localStorage example

Let’s put these methods into practice.

Create a simple index.html file with a single textarea, and two buttons as follows. The textarea id can be anything – in this example, we’ve called it myTextArea.

<!DOCTYPE html>
<html lang="en">
    <h1>JavaScript localStorage demo</h1>
    <textarea id="myTextarea" rows="10" cols="80"></textarea>
    <button onclick="mySave()">Save</button>
    <button onclick="myLoad()">Load</button>
      function mySave() {
        var myContent = document.getElementById("myTextarea").value;
        localStorage.setItem("myContent", myContent);
      function myLoad() {
        var myContent = localStorage.getItem("myContent");
        document.getElementById("myTextarea").value = myContent;

We’ve defined two JavaScript functions, mySave() and myLoad(). The buttons are configured so that, when they are clicked, they each trigger the relevant JavaScript function. document.getElementById() is used to get/set the value of the element specified. In this case, we are accessing the textarea with id myTextArea. The mySave() function accesses the current value of the textarea and assigns it to a variable myContent. This variable is then used as the value associated with key myContent in localStorage. The myLoad() function operates in a similar way, only in reverse.

Once you’ve created the above HTML file, open it in a browser. What it looks like on your screen will depend on your CSS. (We inserted some custom CSS for the buttons in our example to make them look a little more interesting than the default.)

JavaScript localStorage example running in a browser.


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Test it

Type something in the textarea and click Save. (I pasted in a bit of prose from Frankenstein in the image above.) The content will be saved to localStorage. Then, refresh the page, and the content will disappear. Now, click Load and the content will be retrieved from localStorage and appear in the textarea as before.

TIP: While you’re on the page, you could try opening the browser console from within Developer Tools and executing some of the localStorage methods as shown in the previous section to confirm what’s happening behind the scenes.

That’s all there is to it!

What next?

Why not try taking this example one step further...

Check out our next article where we add a rich text editor to the JavaScript localStorage example (shown below).

JavaScript localStorage example with rich text editor.

If you’d like to know more about Tiny, follow us on Twitter or send us a message. You can also reach out to me on Twitter directly.

byBen Long

Computer scientist, storyteller, teacher, and an advocate of TinyMCE. Reminisces about programming on the MicroBee. Writes picture books for kids. Also the wearer of rad shoes. “Science isn’t finished until you share the story.”

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