Creating popup Chrome extensions that interact with the DOMby@dvidsilva
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Creating popup Chrome extensions that interact with the DOM

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Dvid Silva
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Chrome extensions can be very useful for your projects, it can let your users interact with other sites and improve their experience. There are some really cool ones, that you might be familiar with, they provide the users with everything from ad-blocking, to saving content from a website on Evernote.

Creating Chrome extensions is not very complicated, unfortunately the documentation is not very clear with some of the details, there are many options and possibilities, and reading through them can be overwhelming; in this post I will explain the structure of a popup exension that changes the text of every link on a page with a given string.

Download the sample extension from github, as zip clone.

First thing, to load an extension that you created or downloaded outside the chrome web store, go to chrome://extensions/ and make sure developer mode is activated. This will enable new options, choose Load unpacked extension... and select the folder where the extension is located.

The new extension will appear on the list of extensions, when you make changes and want to have the browser recognize them, reload that page, or click on the reload option under the extension name.


The main file in the extension is called manifest.json, it tells chrome what files it needs to load and what do they do, plus some information about the extension.

The descriptive properties are pretty self-descriptive, so I’m going to explain the others.

"browser_action": {        "default_icon": "favicon.png",        "default_popup": "popup.html",        "default_title": "ChromiePop"    }

When browser action is present, the extension will add a button to the browser, close to the omnibar. default_iconis the icon that will be used to show in the bar. default_popup is the HTML file that will be loaded when the button is pressed. default_title is the title element the icon will have, help text that will be displayed when hovering over the button.

"content_scripts": [{        "matches": ["<all_urls>"],        "all_frames": true,        "js":      ["scripts/content.js"]    }]

Content scripts are the javascript files that can interact with the active page. [matches]( is an array of strings, on what urls the content scripts can run, they're match patterns. all_frames means that the content scripts can run in the iframes inside the pages too. js references the scripts, and an additional property css will inject stylesheets too.

"permissions": [    "activeTab"]

Permissions, is an array of strings with the permissions that the extension will have access to.


The HTML and scripts in the extension should be pretty self explanatory, there’s an input, a button and event listeners to use that information, there are two chrome specific things on the files that I’ll talk about here.

In extension.js:

chrome.tabs.query({active: true, currentWindow: true}, function(tabs) {        chrome.tabs.sendMessage(tabs[0].id, {data: text}, function(response) {            $('#status').html('changed data in page');            console.log('success');        });    });});

[chrome.tabs.query]( allows you to find a tab in the browser, like every chrome extension API method, it works asynchronically, it receives a function that will be called with the list of tabs retrieved. With the activeTabpermission that was requested in the manifest you'll only have access ot the current active tab the user is at.

Extension.js will execute every time the user clicks on the button, so every time that you want to interact with the tab you have to request the tab id.

[chrome.tabs.sendMessage]( will allow you to pass some data from the popup script to the content scripts.

It takes the following params integer tabId, any message, object options, function responseCallback. The message can be any value, in this case we're passing an object with a data property that has the string the links will be changed to.

chrome.runtime.onMessage.addListener( function(request, sender, sendResponse) {    console.log("something happening from the extension");    var data = || {};    var linksList = document.querySelectorAll('a');    [], function(header) {        header.innerHTML =;    });    sendResponse({data: data, success: true});});

[onMessage]( allows you to add an event listener to react to the messages send by the popup.

The request is the message data sent by the popup, sender has some information about the extension and the origin of the message, and sendResponse is the callback that was passed.


Creating a chrome popup extension to interact with the DOM is quite easy once you get a hold of it, remember to declare everything correctly in the manifest.json and practice with small incremental changes when passing messages to communicate from the popupt to the content scripts.


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