These notes are unpolished collections of thoughts, unfinished ideas, and things I want to remember later. In the spirit of learning in public, I'm sharing them here. Have fun exploring, if you want!

Handling External Links

Tags: [[Accessibility]] [[Drafts]]

During QA on almost every web project I've worked on, a time comes when somebody files a bug report like this:

These links should open in a new window.

I usually try to have a conversation with them about how opening links in a new window is unexpected behavior, it can be jarring, we should let users decide how to use their browser, et cetera, but I have never won that battle and always end up implementing target="_blank"

On one project I inherited though, a bunch of links were already opening in a new window. I was doing an accessibility audit and remediation. In order to keep the links opening in a new window and meet WCAG guidelines, links that opened in a new window needed:

  • a visual indication that they open in a new window
  • textual indication that the link would open in a new window for screen readers
  • rel="noopener noreferrer" for security

Instead of combing through the markup to add this, I created a small JavaScript module that would accomplish all three. Here's how I did it.


Set Up

In our initialization, we need two things:

  1. The current host (for example, you are currently on
  2. A list of all links on the page.

You can get the current host with JavaScript easily with We'll use this to compare each link to.

To grab all the links, we can use an attribute selector that targets the href attribute. We already know we only want external URLs so we'll grab elements with an href that starts with http.

// This will grab every single <a> on the page
// This will grab only <a> elements that have a full url in the href, either http or https

Parse the URLs Array

Next we need to loop through each array and determine if we need to do anything to it.

Set Attributes / Add Indicators

Final Code

var ExternalLinks = {
host: '',
links: [],
init: function() {
// Get the current host =;
// find all links
this.links = $('a[href^="http"]');
// Parse all links
parse: function() {
var self = this;
$.each(this.links, function(index, link) {
if ( !== ) {
link.rel = 'noopener noreferrer'; = '_blank';
if('facebook') >= 0 ||'youtube') >= 0 ||'instagram') >= 0 ||'twitter') >= 0) return;
signifier: function(link) {
var icon = document.createElement('span');
icon.classList.add('glyphicon', 'glyphicon-new-window', 'glyphicon--small', 'glyphicon--space-left');
var span = document.createElement('span');
span.textContent = 'new window';

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