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DOM2 Events are badly broken

From: Raph Levien <raph@acm.org>
Date: Thu, 2 Sep 1999 05:34:42 -0400 (EDT)
Message-ID: <37CE44E8.D2648420@acm.org>
To: www-dom@w3c.org
I wrote about this issue before and got no response, and this irritates
me quite a bit. I'm still very much concerned with the technical issues,
so this time I will use stronger language. Basically, the current draft
of the DOM2 Event model sucks pretty badly for the specific context of
using it as the core interface for a Model/View DOM application.

Some context: I'm principal author of Gill, the Gnome SVG editor. SVG is
one of the more exciting XML/DOM applications out there, and one of the
first substantial such to be designed with DOM in mind from the
beginning, rather than patched on later. I am doing my best to structure
Gill so that it follows spirit and letter of the relevant standards,
including the DOM. In particular, I'm trying to do the rendering using
the Model/View pattern, and using the DOM2 Event API to connect the
Model (the DOM) with the View (my renderers). But I find that it's
simply not meeting my requirements.

The main issue is event propagation with multiple listeners. One of the
great strengths of the Model/View pattern is that a single Model can
have multiple Views. The DOM2 obviously makes at least a gesture in this
direction (earlier DOM's had listeners as properties of nodes, so you
could really only have on). In any case, the ability to support multiple
Views is one of my requirements.

Another requirement is that there be some event propagation mechanism.
In particular, I would like to make listeners on individual nodes
optional. If a renderer chooses to listen to events and incrementally
re-render itself, fine. If not, events should propagate up the tree
until they reach a generic container, which can simply re-render the
entire child subtree from scratch. Because the alternative is basically
to connect a listener to each node in the tree, event propagation of
this type is also a requirement.

Now, looking at these requirements, and also at the DOM2 draft, it's
pretty easy to see that it just doesn't work. Basically, while you can
register multiple event listeners, when you stop the propagation, it
affects _all_ the listeners. Thus, if two of my Views need to stop the
propagation at two different points (which is quite likely), then the
earlier one wins, and the other never recieves the event.

So the techical issue here is fairly simple. On we go to procedural
issues, which is where my stronger language is going to come into play.

Using the W3C standard DOM to implement the Model/View pattern is
stretching the original scope quite considerably. In the original
context of providing scripting for HTML document elements, the renderer
is just assumed to be an implicit part of the browser. It is expected to
magically cause the correct rendering to appear on the screen whenever
the script changes the document through the DOM interface. Theres'
nothing fundamentally wrong with this design, it's just not what I'm
trying to do, which is Model/View.

It looks like supporting true Model/View is a goal (while not explicitly
stated, it does seem to be implicit in the requirement that the spec
support multiple listeners at a single Node). Since I'm actually
implementing this, when I brought up my concerns (on 24 Jun 1999), I
thought the working group would listen. I was under the impression that
this mailing list existed in large part so that the W3C could hear
concerns of people who will be using the spec, especially early
implementors, who might have _some_ early insight into potential
problems. However, more than two months have passed with no response of
any kind.

It would seem, then, that in trying to make DOM a general foundation for
XML applications, rather than just a formalized compilation of the
various DHTML hacks perpetrated during the bad old days of the browser
wars, this working group is overreaching its abilities, most likely both
in technical competence and procedural agility. If this is the case (and
I seriously hope it's not), the rest of the world should find out sooner
rather than later. In particular, other working groups like the SVG one
should be aware of the fact that they're basing their work on a
foundation that is likely to turn out fundamentally broken.

In the meantime, as far as moving the implementation of Gill forwards, I
have several choices, none of them particularly appealing.

One of my choices is to attach a listener to each node. This implies
that I have to attach lots of new listeners in response to an "insert"
event. The memory consumption and speed overhead are enough to make this
approach unacceptable, but I'm also concerned about the added code
complexity. I have to make sure that every single node has a listener,
which is then responsible for routing the event to the appropriate

Note that with this architecture, I'm deriving none of the benefits of
the event propagation model. In fact, I'm faced with implementing a
rather complex and large API just to obtain the functionality of "tell
me when _this_ node gets an event." Thus, it seems more appealing to
implement a very simple event model in my DOM engine, use that for all
the Views that I implement, and if I need to implement DOM2 compatible
events for scripting, I just simulate those by attaching listeners to
the entire tree and doing the DOM2 event propagation, in much the same
way that the listeners are responsible for event propagation in the

So my other choice is to implement an event propagation mechanism that
does not have the brokenness of the DOM2 draft. In particular, if there
are multiple sets of listeners that apply to a particular event, then
cancellation of the event will only affect a single set of listeners.
Getting this right will require some design, but at least I won't have
to worry about compatibility with existing APIs, so that should afford
me some opportunity to simplify.

And of course that's fairly unappealing as well, because it's a whole
API that's not standards-compliant, which means that each View faces a
difficult choice - be nonstandard and perform reasonably, or be standard
and crippled.

So here is my challenge: does this working group care? If so, I would be
happy to help work out concrete solutions. But if not, I need to go
forward with my own stuff, and let other people know not to expect too
much either.

Received on Thursday, 2 September 1999 05:42:37 UTC

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