As a developer, you often need to query like elements using a class or an attribute as a selector. Luckily JavaScript has several methods built in such as getElementById(), getElementByClassName(), or querySelector(). Working with these methods you will likely encounter a NodeList or an HTMLCollection and need to know the difference and the properties available on each. I know I often get confused and need to consult documentation when I try to run a forEach on an HTMLCollection (you can't) and get an error. Let's take a look at both of these array-like collections.

What is a NodeList?

A NodeList is a collection of document nodes, these can include element nodes, text nodes, and attribute nodes. NodeLists can be static or live but are typically static. If a NodeList is static that means that the nodes that are returned are the nodes you will end with. Using querySelectorAll() returns a static node list. If another element matching that selector is added to the DOM, the node list will not be updated. If you want to get a live NodeList you would need to use something like getElementById and then access the childNodes property on the node that is returned.

NodeList properties

While a NodeList seems like an Array and is it is not an Array and you cannot use normal Array methods such as .push() or .shift(). You can however use the following properties:

  • forEach()
  • entries()
  • item()
  • keys()
  • length
  • values()

More information on NodeLists

What is an HTMLCollection?

An HTMLCollection is a live collection of HTML Elements that is returned by methods such as getElementsByTagName() or getElementsByClassName. Since this is a live list, if more elements matching your query are added to the DOM it will automatically reflect those elements. The biggest difference between an HTMLCollection and a NodeList is the properties available.

HTMLCollection properties

  • item()
  • length
  • namedItem()

Notice how we don't have any iterable properties that are native to the HTMLCollection. Before using standard Array properties you must first convert to an Array using Array.from() method or using a spread operator.

More information on HTMLCollections


NodeLists and HTMLCollections share a lot of similarities but are just different enough that it is beneficial to understand the differences. I hope this article helped to outline the differences between the two array-like objects and gave you a better understanding of the properties available for each.

Happy Coding!