Client-side Templating with Handlebars.js

Last reviewed on January 21, 2020

There are a few ways to write HTML and create DOM in JavaScript:

String Concatenation

One approach is to use string concatenation and insert the string of HTML into the DOM using innerHTML or .html() in jQuery. You can create strings of HTML in your JavaScript and concatenate your dynamic data.

element.innerHTML = '<div class="cat-count">' + cats.length + "</div>";

However, with complicated HTML, this can become quite messy and difficult to maintain.

Native DOM Methods

Alternatively, we can generate DOM using native DOM methods / properties like:

  • document.createElement()
  • element.appendChild(node)
  • document.removeElement()
  • element.innerHTML
var div = document.createElement("div");
var count = document.createTextNode(cats.length);

This can be a lot of code and also difficult to maintain with complicated HTML. It is also hard to see what the HTML fragment looks like at a quick glance.

Client-side Templating

Another approach is to use client-side templating. Client-side templating libraries allow you to create HTML with placeholders for your dynamic data. These libraries allow you to pass data to a template which will replace all instances of the placeholders in a template with the actual data. There are a few templating libraries out there including:

Client side templates can be created by placing HTML fragments within the template tag. Let's look at a few examples using Handlebars.

Example 1 - Rendering An Object

Say we want to render the following object:

var fiona = {
  name: "Fiona",
  age: 4,

Let's define our template:

<template id="cat-template">
  <div class="cat">
    <p>Age: {{age}}</p>

To render this to div#cat on the page:

var template = document.getElementById("cat-template").innerHTML;
var renderCat = Handlebars.compile(template);
document.getElementById("cat").innerHTML = renderCat(fiona);

Example 2 - Rendering An Array

Say we want to render the following array:

var myCats = [
  { name: "Fiona", age: 4 },
  { name: "Spot", age: 12 },
  { name: "Chestnut", age: 4 },
  { name: "Frisky", age: false },
  { name: "Biscuit", age: 4 },

Let's define a template, this time using the Handlebars each helper, which allows you to loop over arrays in your template:

<template id="cat-list-template">
  {{#each cats}}
    <div class="cat">
      <p>Age: {{age}}</p>

To render the array using this template into div#cat-list:

var template = document.getElementById("cat-list-template").innerHTML;
var renderCats = Handlebars.compile(template);
document.getElementById("cat-list").innerHTML = renderCats({
  cats: myCats,

Handlebars is really powerful and offers other helpers like if that allow us to use simple if statements in our template. For example:

<template id="cat-list-template">
  {{#each cats}}
    <div class="cat">
      {{#if age}}
        <p>Age: {{age}}</p>
        <p>Deceased 😭</p>

Check out the Handlebars documentation for more examples.