jQuery and other DOM libraries got a huge popularity boost in the past, among with other features they provided, thanks to an easy way to select elements on a page.

Traditionally browsers provided one single way to select a DOM element, and that was by its id attribute, with getElementById(), a method offered by the document object.

The Selectors API

Since 2013 the Selectors API, the DOM allows you to use two more useful methods:

  • document.querySelector()
  • document.querySelectorAll()

They can be safely used, as tells us, and they are even fully supported on IE9 in addition to all the other modern browsers, so there is no reason to avoid them, unless you need to support IE8 (which has partial support) and below.

The way they work is by accepting any CSS selector, so you are no longer limited by selecting elements by id.

  • document.querySelector() returns a single element, the first found
  • document.querySelectorAll() returns all the elements, wrapped in a NodeList object.

Those are all valid selectors:

  • document.querySelector('#test')
  • document.querySelector('.my-class')
  • document.querySelector('#test .my-class')
  • document.querySelector('a:hover')

Basic jQuery to DOM API examples

Here below is a translation of the popular jQuery API into native DOM API calls.

Select by id


We use querySelector since an id is unique in the page

Select by class


Select by tag name


More advanced jQuery to DOM API examples

Select multiple items

$('div, span')
document.querySelectorAll('div, span')

Select by HTML attribute value


Select by CSS pseudo class


Select the descendants of an element

For example all li elements under #test:

$('#test li')
document.querySelectorAll('#test li')