Constraint validation

The creation of web forms has always been a complex task. While marking up the form itself is easy, checking whether each field has a valid and coherent value is more difficult, and informing the user about the problem may become a headache. HTML5 introduced new mechanisms for forms: it added new semantic types for the <input> element and constraint validation to ease the work of checking the form content on the client side. Basic, usual constraints can be checked, without the need for JavaScript, by setting new attributes; more complex constraints can be tested using the Constraint Validation API.

For a basic introduction to these concepts, with examples, see the Form validation tutorial.

Note: HTML Constraint validation doesn't remove the need for validation on the server side. Even though far fewer invalid form requests are to be expected, invalid ones can still be sent such as by bad people trying to trick your web application. Therefore, you need to always also validate input constraints on the server side, in a way that is consistent with what is done on the client side.

Intrinsic and basic constraints

In HTML, basic constraints are declared in two ways:

  • By choosing the most semantically appropriate value for the type attribute of the <input> element, e.g., choosing the email type automatically creates a constraint that checks whether the value is a valid email address.
  • By setting values on validation-related attributes, allowing basic constraints to be described in a simple way, without the need for JavaScript.

Semantic input types

The intrinsic constraints for the type attribute are:

Input type Constraint description Associated violation
<input type="URL"> The value must be an absolute URL, as defined in the URL Living Standard. TypeMismatch constraint violation
<input type="email"> The value must be a syntactically valid email address, which generally has the format [email protected] but can also be local such as username@hostname. TypeMismatch constraint violation

For both of these input types, if the multiple attribute is set, several values can be set, as a comma-separated list. If any of these do not satisfy the condition described here, the Type mismatch constraint violation is triggered.

Note that most input types don't have intrinsic constraints, as some are barred from constraint validation or have a sanitization algorithm transforming incorrect values to a correct default.

In addition to the type attribute described above, the following attributes are used to describe basic constraints:

Attribute Input types supporting the attribute Possible values Constraint description Associated violation
pattern text, search, url, tel, email, password A JavaScript regular expression (compiled with the global, ignoreCase, and multiline flags disabled) The value must match the pattern. patternMismatch constraint violation
min range, number A valid number The value must be greater than or equal to the value. rangeUnderflow constraint violation
date, month, week A valid date
datetime-local, time A valid date and time
max range, number A valid number The value must be less than or equal to the value rangeOverflow constraint violation
date, month, week A valid date
datetime-local, time A valid date and time
required text, search, url, tel, email, password, date, datetime-local, month, week, time, number, checkbox, radio, file; also on the <select> and <textarea> elements none as it is a Boolean attribute: its presence means true, its absence means false There must be a value (if set). valueMissing constraint violation
step date An integer number of days Unless the step is set to the any literal, the value must be min + an integral multiple of the step. stepMismatch constraint violation
month An integer number of months
week An integer number of weeks
datetime-local, time An integer number of seconds
range, number An integer
minlength text, search, url, tel, email, password; also on the <textarea> element An integer length The number of characters (code points) must not be less than the value of the attribute, if non-empty. All newlines are normalized to a single character (as opposed to CRLF pairs) for <textarea>. tooShort constraint violation
maxlength text, search, url, tel, email, password; also on the <textarea> element An integer length The number of characters (code points) must not exceed the value of the attribute. tooLong constraint violation

Constraint validation process

Constraint validation is done through the Constraint Validation API either on a single form element or at the form level, on the <form> element itself. The constraint validation is done in the following ways:

  • By a call to the checkValidity() or reportValidity() method of a form-associated DOM interface, (HTMLInputElement, HTMLSelectElement, HTMLButtonElement, HTMLOutputElement or HTMLTextAreaElement), which evaluates the constraints only on this element, allowing a script to get this information. The checkValidity() method returns a Boolean indicating whether the element's value passes its constraints. (This is typically done by the user-agent when determining which of the CSS pseudo-classes, :valid or :invalid, applies.) In contrast, the reportValidity() method reports any constraint failures to the user.
  • By a call to the checkValidity() or reportValidity() method on the HTMLFormElement interface.
  • By submitting the form itself.

Calling checkValidity() is called statically validating the constraints, while calling reportValidity() or submitting the form is called interactively validating the constraints.


  • If the novalidate attribute is set on the <form> element, interactive validation of the constraints doesn't happen.
  • Calling the submit() method on the HTMLFormElement interface doesn't trigger a constraint validation. In other words, this method sends the form data to the server even if it doesn't satisfy the constraints. Call the click() method on a submit button instead.

Complex constraints using the Constraint Validation API

Using JavaScript and the Constraint API, it is possible to implement more complex constraints, for example, constraints combining several fields, or constraints involving complex calculations.

Basically, the idea is to trigger JavaScript on some form field event (like onchange) to calculate whether the constraint is violated, and then to use the method field.setCustomValidity() to set the result of the validation: an empty string means the constraint is satisfied, and any other string means there is an error and this string is the error message to display to the user.

Constraint combining several fields: Postal code validation

The postal code format varies from one country to another. Not only do most countries allow an optional prefix with the country code (like D- in Germany, F- in France or Switzerland), but some countries have postal codes with only a fixed number of digits; others, like the UK, have more complex structures, allowing letters at some specific positions.

Note: This is not a comprehensive postal code validation library, but rather a demonstration of the key concepts.

As an example, we will add a script checking the constraint validation for this simple form:


  <label for="ZIP">ZIP : </label>
  <input type="text" id="ZIP" />
  <label for="Country">Country : </label>
  <select id="Country">
    <option value="ch">Switzerland</option>
    <option value="fr">France</option>
    <option value="de">Germany</option>
    <option value="nl">The Netherlands</option>
  <input type="submit" value="Validate" />

This displays the following form:

First, we write a function checking the constraint itself:


function checkZIP() {
  // For each country, defines the pattern that the ZIP has to follow
  const constraints = {
    ch: [
      "Switzerland ZIPs must have exactly 4 digits: e.g. CH-1950 or 1950",
    fr: [
      "France ZIPs must have exactly 5 digits: e.g. F-75012 or 75012",
    de: [
      "Germany ZIPs must have exactly 5 digits: e.g. D-12345 or 12345",
    nl: [
      "Netherland ZIPs must have exactly 4 digits, followed by 2 letters except SA, SD and SS",

  // Read the country id
  const country = document.getElementById("Country").value;

  // Get the NPA field
  const ZIPField = document.getElementById("ZIP");

  // Build the constraint checker
  const constraint = new RegExp(constraints[country][0], "");

  // Check it!
  if (constraint.test(ZIPField.value)) {
    // The ZIP follows the constraint, we use the ConstraintAPI to tell it
  } else {
    // The ZIP doesn't follow the constraint, we use the ConstraintAPI to
    // give a message about the format required for this country

Then we link it to the onchange event for the <select> and the oninput event for the <input>:


window.onload = () => {
  document.getElementById("Country").onchange = checkZIP;
  document.getElementById("ZIP").oninput = checkZIP;

Limiting the size of a file before its upload

Another common constraint is to limit the size of a file to be uploaded. Checking this on the client side before the file is transmitted to the server requires combining the Constraint Validation API, and especially the field.setCustomValidity() method, with another JavaScript API, here the File API.

Here is the HTML part:


<label for="FS">Select a file smaller than 75 kB : </label>
<input type="file" id="FS" />

This displays:

The JavaScript reads the file selected, uses the File.size() method to get its size, compares it to the (hard coded) limit, and calls the Constraint API to inform the browser if there is a violation:


function checkFileSize() {
  const FS = document.getElementById("FS");
  const files = FS.files;

  // If there is (at least) one file selected
  if (files.length > 0) {
    if (files[0].size > 75 * 1024) {
      // Check the constraint
      FS.setCustomValidity("The selected file must not be larger than 75 kB");
  // No custom constraint violation

Finally, we hook the method with the correct event:


window.onload = () => {
  document.getElementById("FS").onchange = checkFileSize;

Visual styling of constraint validation

Apart from setting constraints, web developers want to control what messages are displayed to the users and how they are styled.

Controlling the look of elements

The look of elements can be controlled via CSS pseudo-classes.

:required and :optional CSS pseudo-classes

The :required and :optional pseudo-classes allow writing selectors that match form elements that have the required attribute, or that don't have it.

:placeholder-shown CSS pseudo-class

See :placeholder-shown.

:valid :invalid CSS pseudo-classes

The :valid and :invalid pseudo-classes are used to represent <input> elements whose content validates and fails to validate respectively according to the input's type setting. These classes allow the user to style valid or invalid form elements to make it easier to identify elements that are either formatted correctly or incorrectly.

Controlling the text of constraint violation

The following items can help with controlling the text of a constraint violation:

  • The setCustomValidity(message) method on the following elements:
    • <fieldset>. Note: Setting a custom validity message on fieldset elements will not prevent form submission in most browsers.
    • <input>
    • <output>
    • <select>
    • Submit buttons (created with either a <button> element with the submit type, or an input element with the submit type. Other types of buttons do not participate in constraint validation.
    • <textarea>
  • The ValidityState interface describes the object returned by the validity property of the element types listed above. It represents various ways that an entered value can be invalid. Together, they help explain why an element's value fails to validate, if it's not valid.

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