Event target vs currentTarget in JavaScript: The Important Difference

Summary: target is the innermost element in the DOM that triggered the event, while currentTarget is the element that the event listener is attached to.

We use the HTML DOM Event object to get more information about an event and carry out certain actions related to it. Events like click, mousedown, and keyup all have different types of Events associated with them. Two key Event properties are target and currentTarget. These properties are somewhat similar and sometimes return the same object, but it’s important that we understand the difference between them so we know which one is better suited for different cases.

An event that occurs on a DOM element bubbles if it is triggered for every single ancestor of the element in the DOM tree up until the root element. When accessing an Event in an event listener, the target property returns the innermost element in the DOM that triggered the event (from which bubbling starts). The currentTarget property, however, will return the element to which the event listener is attached.

Let’s use a simple example to illustrate this. We’ll have three nested div elements that all listen for the click event with the same handler function.

<!DOCTYPE html>
<html>
  <head>
    <style>
      #div1 {
        height: 200px;
        width: 200px;
        background-color: red;
      }
      #div2 {
        height: 150px;
        width: 150px;
        background-color: green;
      }
      #div3 {
        height: 100px;
        width: 100px;
        background-color: blue;
      }
    </style>
  </head>
  <body>
    <div id="div1" onclick="handleClick(event)">
      <div id="div2" onclick="handleClick(event)">
        <div id="div3" onclick="handleClick(event)"></div>
      </div>
    </div>
    <script>
      function handleClick(event) {
        console.log(
          `target: ${event.target.id}, currentTarget: ${event.currentTarget.id}`
        );
      }
    </script>
  </body>
</html>
Nested HTML div elements.

Well, what happens when you click the blue and innermost div? You get this output in your console:

target: div3, currentTarget: div3
target: div3, currentTarget: div2
target: div3, currentTarget: div1

Clicking the div triggered the event which invoke the handler for div3. The click event bubbles, so it was propagated to the two outer divs. As expected, the target stayed the same in all the listeners but currentTarget was different in each listener as they were attached to elements at different levels of the DOM hierarchy.



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