Nausheen Sujela Nausheen is a software-engineer-and-writer-hybrid who uses her cross-disciplinary experience to craft compelling copy and content about all things technology and marketing.

How and why to use JavaScript media queries

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javascript media queries feature image

Media queries, first introduced in CSS3, form a core component of responsive web design. Applications should be tailored to fit the constraints of each type of device (e.g., mobile phones, tablets, laptops, desktop computers), and media queries provide an easy way to set viewport dimensions based on the size of the device that the application is being viewed on.

Media queries allow you to not only vary viewport dimensions based on screen size, but they can also help you set different style properties for different devices, including color schemes, font styles, motion settings and animations, borders and spacing, and almost any other CSS property you can think of.

A fact some frontend developers miss at first glance is that media queries are also supported by JavaScript. While not as popular as CSS media queries, JavaScript media queries provide flexibility and a number of advantages that can make them a better choice for certain use cases.

Benefits of JavaScript media queries

At this point, you might be thinking: why on earth would a developer opt for JS media queries when the CSS3 route would do?

There are two primary advantages offered by JavaScript media queries.

  1. Flexibility: You can programmatically incorporate media queries into your JavaScript code so that they are only triggered at the onset of a particular event or when certain conditions are met. With a CSS3-only approach, the changes described by a media query go into effect for every screen resize event.
  2. Convenience: JavaScript media queries use the same syntax you’re used to when working with CSS.

Consider this: what if you wanted to dynamically alter properties for different screen sizes? You still might be scratching your head, insisting something like this would work just fine:

// A function we want executed based on changes in screen size 
function foo() {
   if (window.innerWidth < 1024) { 
               /* whatever you want to do here */ 
     }
}
// Set up a listener 
window.addEventListener('changesize', foo);

In the block of code above, we have an “if” statement predicated on window.innerWidth being less than 1024 (i.e., the standard screen size for desktop displays). Presumably, the method is supposed to run any time the application is running on a device smaller than a desktop computer.

Unfortunately, this method is a costly one because it will be triggered on every single resize, not just when the user opens the app up on their mobile phone or tablet. That’s right — this method will run any time the user manually resizes the screen on a desktop computer. An excessive number of such operations can eventually cause the application to lag.

Thankfully, we have the perfect API to handle dynamic situations and response designs: say hello to the matchMedia API.

How to use JavaScript media queries

Instead of attaching listeners to a resize event as we did in the example above, we can use the matchMedia API.

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The Window interface’s matchMedia() method essentially attaches listeners to media queries, but doesn’t respond to every change in window or screen size, leading to significantly better performance. If we take advantage of this method, we’re only responsible for developing the logic we want executed for a screen resize without having to worry about other conditions, validations, and code optimizations.

To use this API, we call window.matchMedia() and pass in a media query string specifying the screen size we want to respond to.

// This media query targets viewports that have a minimum width of 320px
const mQuery = window.matchMedia('(min-width: 320px)')

The matchMedia() method returns a new MediaQueryList object, which we have named mQuery in the above example. This object stores information about a media query applied to a particular document as well as supporting methods for event-driven and immediate matching. This allows us to trigger custom logic at the onset of a resize event.

To execute the necessary resizing logic, we need to check window.matches, a Boolean property that returns “true” if the media query was matched and “false” if it was not. In our example, this property tells us whether there was an actual match to the condition specified (i.e., the minimum width of the screen is 320px).

// Check whether the media query has been matched 
if (mQuery.matches) { 
    // Print a message to the console 
    console.log('Media query matched!') 
}

Easy, right? There’s just one catch: window.matches is only able to carry out this check once. To facilitate a responsive web design, we want to continuously check for any changes that are occurring. Thankfully, there’s another tool that we can pair with windows.matches to help us achieve this: the addListener() method.

The addListener() method

The matchMedia API provides an addListener() method as well as a corresponding removeListener() method. When we call addListener(), we pass in a callback function that runs whenever it detects a change in the media query match status. This callback function is the function we want triggered on the resize event:

// This media query targets viewports that have a minimum width of 320px
const mQuery = window.matchMedia('(min-width: 320px)')

function handleMobilePhoneResize(e) {   
   // Check if the media query is true
   if (e.matches) {     
        // Then log the following message to the console     
        console.log('Media Query Matched!')   
   } 
} 

// Set up event listener 
mQuery.addListener(handleMobilePhoneResize)

This technique allows us to be responsive to media query changes and dynamically invoke additional methods as needed. These dynamically invoked methods can then alter various document properties, like font styles, borders and spacing, animations, and more.

For example, if you want to incorporate dynamic font styling, you can achieve that with something like this:

function changeFontStyleMobile(e) {
   // Check whether the media query has been matched
   if (e.matches) {
      // Change font size
      document.getElementById("p2").style.color="blue";
      var span = document.document.getElementById("span");
      span.style.fontSize = "25px";
      span.style.fontcolor = "white"; span.style.fontSize = "36px";
   }
}

// Set up event listener
mQuery.addListener(changeFontStyleMobile)

Conclusion

You should now have a basic understanding of media queries in JavaScript and how they enable efficient, adaptive design. The matchMedia API can help you create a media query in JavaScript, and addListener() can enable you to build responsive cross-platform experiences by invoking callback functions.

Periodic polling for document state changes is an inefficient and resource-intensive approach that will eventually cause the application to lag. Using matchMedia() enables us to observe a particular document, detect changes in media query conditions, and programmatically alter document properties based on media query status.

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Nausheen Sujela Nausheen is a software-engineer-and-writer-hybrid who uses her cross-disciplinary experience to craft compelling copy and content about all things technology and marketing.

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