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IE TextRanges, Selections, and Carriage Returns

December 3, 2009

I spent several hours this week trying to track down a bug with programmatically selecting text via javascript.

if (textarea.setSelectionRange) {
// Set selection for Mozilla-ish browsers
    textarea.setSelectionRange(start, end);
else {
// Set selection for IE
    var range = textarea.createTextRange();
 range.moveEnd('character', start);
 range.moveStart('character', end);

Assuming that textarea is the element of the <textarea>, and start and end are Number values that indicate the start and end of the selection, respectively.

I was managing this in MarkEdit by keeping a state object that recorded the “Before Select” (everything before the selection), the selection text, and the “After Select” (everything after the selection).

So it seems easy to implement right?

start = beforeSelect.length;
end = start + select.length;

That doesn’t always work!

It works sometimes, but occasionally the selection will be the proper length, but randomly offset by 3-7 characters. It took quite a bit to figure out (that’s an understatement). Here’s what a lot of debugging and experimentation came up with:

When Internet Explorer creates a Range or a TextRange object, it converts all line returns to Carriage Return/Line Feed format; basically [0A] -> [0D 0A]. Easy to counter? Just determine all the instances of [0D] and [0A], subtract the two, then you have the offset? That’s what I thought too, but even with the offset, the discrepancy persisted.

So it was time for a new approach. What if we converted all of the [0A] characters in the textarea to [0D 0A]’s ? Again, the offset of the selection persisted.

Here’s what I finally narrowed it down to be: When you create a TextRange, IE doesn’t actually re-render the text internally, converting all [0A]’s. However, when you request the text (TextRange.text) it converts it at that time. This means if you were to get the length of the selected text, TextRange.text.length, it would be longer than what the TextRange is seeing internally! When using .moveEnd on the TextRange, the value counts the position from the internal text, not from the text it gives you.

That is reeeeeeediculously wrong. The final solution is to “sanitize” the text TextRange gives you by removing all [0D] characters from it. From there you can accurately calculate the selection position and give the TextRange the proper coordinates.

Whew… that was several hours needlessly wasted by IE (again).