SVG manipulation and animation with JavaScript

Anton Ioffe - October 31st 2023 - 8 minutes read

Navigation through the modern web development landscape requires a fluency in numerous tools and techniques. One area that continues to grow in significance is the manipulation and animation of SVGs with JavaScript. This article takes a deep dive into this crucial topic. Starting with an understanding of the importance of SVGs, we will journey through techniques for creating and managing these graphic elements, reveal secrets of animating them flawlessly using JavaScript, and even explore an advanced approach using the SvgTween JavaScript class. Filled with detailed code examples and practical tips, this comprehensive guide is geared to refine your SVG-related prowess and revolutionize the way you view JavaScript's role in modern web development.

Understanding SVG and Its Importance in JavaScript

Scalable Vector Graphics (SVG) is an XML-based vector image format specifically designed for two-dimensional graphics that support interactivity and animation. It shines brightly among other image formats like JPEG or PNG in terms of syntax compactness, interoperability, and scalability. The SVG format can compress brilliantly, resulting in far smaller file sizes compared to its equivalents. More impressively, SVG images maintain their razor-sharp quality regardless of the amplitude of scaling or the resolution of the display, which isn't the case with raster image formats.

Being a first-class citizen in the Document Object Model (DOM), SVG bolsters modern web development by seamlessly integrating with CSS and JavaScript. When embedded directly in the HTML documents, SVG's unique tags, attributes, and behaviors, which allow defining arbitrary shapes, open up a vast array of opportunities for manipulation. Should you wish to animate parts of an image, make it interactive, or generate graphics using data, JavaScript comes into play and does an impeccable job manipulating SVGs to meet your specific expectations.

When it comes to JavaScript's role in relation to SVG, it's quite impactful. Simply put, SVG essentially transforms JavaScript's DOM manipulation capability into a powerful tool for creating and animating graphics in your web applications. JavaScript can keenly animate SVG properties that are beyond the reach of declarative syntaxes like CSS or even SVG's native SMIL animations. This allows you to have complex animations, change the shapes of the elements themselves, and even address the browser-specific quirks related to SVG animation.

In the grand scheme of things, SVG is not just an image format but a full-fledged graphical toolset tightly integrated with JavaScript. Accordingly, knowing how to use it can significantly improve the perceptual performance of your web applications, reduce assets weights, and enhance interactive capabilities to create immersive experiences for users. Given the broad support for SVG among web browsers and its incredible compatibility with JavaScript, it's absolutely worth taking advantage of SVG's strengths and incorporate it into your web development practices. Every serious developer needs to grasp the critical role SVG plays in the context of JavaScript-powered modern web development.

Creating SVG Elements with JavaScript

Creating SVG elements with JavaScript is a powerful skill that unlocks the full potential of SVG graphics in web applications. Fundamentally, creating SVG elements involves using JavaScript’s document.createElementNS() and Node.appendChild() methods. However, there are subtle aspects pertaining to performance, memory management, and reusability that necessitate careful coding practices.

Let's start with creating a basic SVG element. It's important to note that SVG is a namespace-based XML mark-up, unlike HTML. Thus, to create SVG elements you need to employ document.createElementNS instead of document.createElement. createElementNS requires a namespace URI and the tag name for the element. For SVG, the namespace is typically ''. For instance, here's how to create an SVG element and append it to a specific div in the document:

 const targetDiv = document.getElementById('svg-target'); 
 const svgElement = document.createElementNS('', 'svg'); 

Here, performance benefits are inherent since no costly DOM queries are done within a loop. Additionally, using IDs to access DOM elements is faster than using class names.

Building upon this, additional SVG elements can be created and appended in a similar fashion. For instance, an SVG circle can be added to our SVG element like so:

 const circleElement = document.createElementNS('', 'circle'); 
 circleElement.setAttributeNS(null, 'cx', '50'); 
 circleElement.setAttributeNS(null, 'cy', '50'); 
 circleElement.setAttributeNS(null, 'r', '40'); 
 circleElement.setAttributeNS(null, 'fill', 'blue'); 

In terms of memory and reusability, it is beneficial to modularize SVG element creation. Consider a scenario where multiple SVG elements of different shapes need to be created frequently. Making generalized functions for SVG element creation not only helps in writing clean and maintainable code but could also lead to memory benefits, especially when dealing with large, complex SVG graphics.

Lastly, it's worth mentioning that care needs to be taken when dynamically creating elements in a loop, as excessive DOM operations can lead to poor performance. This consideration remains valid regardless of the element type being manipulated - be it SVG or standard HTML elements.

SVG Attributes Manipulation And Styling Using JavaScript

When it comes to SVG manipulation, JavaScript provides extensive controls over SVG properties. SVG elements carry unique attributes such as fill, x, y, which describe how an SVG is visually rendered. The fill property is equivalent to the background-color in CSS, whereas stroke aligns with border-color. You can manipulate these properties in JavaScript in a way similar to CSS properties. Look at the following JavaScript example:

let svgElement = document.getElementById('mySVG'); = '#ff0000'; = '#000000';

In the SVG universe, JavaScript's Element.setAttributeNS method comes in handy for manipulating the attributes. Though it may sound complex, you can generally leave the namespace param as null when working with SVG attributes. Let's illustrate this with an implementation. Suppose we want to draw a blue SVG circle inside our SVG node:

let targetDiv = document.getElementById('svg-target'); 
let svgNode = document.createElementNS('', 'svg'); 

let circleElem = document.createElementNS('', 'circle');
circleElem.setAttributeNS(null, 'cx', '100');
circleElem.setAttributeNS(null, 'cy', '100');
circleElem.setAttributeNS(null, 'r', '50');
circleElem.setAttributeNS(null, 'fill', 'blue');


Do you find it surprising that we are setting the SVG attributes via JavaScript, instead of CSS? It's crucial to note that when it comes to SVG styling, choosing between CSS or attributes can be tricky as there's practically no difference. However, for consistent, maintainable, and readable code, prefer using one method throughout. For instance, if you start styling SVG elements with CSS, you should continue with it throughout your entire project.

However, some common mistakes that developers make are forgetting about the namespace parameter when setting SVG attributes using Element.setAttributeNS(). It should be null for SVG, but it's often left out entirely, leading to an incorrect rendering of the SVG element. So always include it!

Finally, ask yourself: at what point would you switch to using CSS for SVG styling rather than manipulating SVG properties with JavaScript? How much would performance inform your choice? Navigating decisions like these gracefully can help strike a balance amongst performance, maintainability, and readability in writing your SVG manipulation code.

Harnessing SVG Animation with JavaScript

JavaScript possesses dynamic capabilities to handle sophisticated SVG animations that power modern web applications. For instance, the native JavaScript method: [window.requestAnimationFrame()]( serves as the backbone for creating smooth, time-controlled animations. Essentially, this function tells the browser to perform an animation and requests that the browser calls a specified function to update an animation before the next repaint.

Consider a simple example of animating an SVG circle:

let startTime;

// Define animateStep function 
function animateStep(timestamp) {
    // Set start time
    if(!startTime) startTime = timestamp;

    // Calculate elapsed time
    let elapsed = timestamp - startTime;

    // Animate circle by setting new radius value
    let circle = document.querySelector('circle');
    let newRadius = 10 + Math.abs(10 * Math.sin(elapsed / 500));
    circle.setAttributeNS(null, 'r', newRadius);

    // Recursively call animateStep function
//Initial call 

This script initiates an animation loop that changes the radius of a circle using the sine function. Now, if the timestamp parameter is not understood, note that every time window.requestAnimationFrame() calls the animateStep function, it passes a single argument to it, a DOMHighResTimeStamp. This is the elapsed time since the start of the animation.

One common mistake while animating with JavaScript is ignoring browser repaints and frame rate. Animations might look smooth on a high-end machine but may lag or stutter on less powerful devices due to differences in processor speeds. Using window.requestAnimationFrame() addresses this issue as it calls the next animation frame just before a repaint, resulting in smoother animations across all devices.

Another often overlooked aspect is forgetting to use conditionals to stop the requestAnimationFrame() loop. Without a stop condition or method to cancel it, requestAnimationFrame() runs continuously in the background, even when the animation isn't visible or needed, leading to unnecessary CPU and memory overhead. Therefore, it is recommended to employ a conditional or use the native cancelAnimationFrame() method.

Lastly, while JavaScript provides more flexibility and power in SVG animation than CSS or SMIL, remember that it can be more verbose and affect page load times if not optimally implemented. Always aim for balanced, efficient use of JavaScript animations in your SVG manipulation endeavors.

Simplifying SVG Animation with SvgTween JavaScript Class

For more advanced SVG animation in JavaScript, the SvgTween class provides a powerful yet simple approach. While typical JavaScript animation techniques can be confusing and complex, the SvgTween class exists to simplify these complexities and improve your code's efficiency and reusability. A typical use case for SvgTween can be seen in the animation of an SVG circle. To cancel ongoing animations and start a new one, you can make use of SvgTween:

let circleTween;  
const animateCircle = () => {  
  if (circleTween) circleTween.cancel();  
  circleTween = new SvgTween(circleNode, 'cx', 50, 150, 1000);  

document.getElementById('start-button').addEventListener('click', animateCircle);

In the snippet above, it is evident that using SvgTween significantly simplifies your animation code. No need for complex steps or cumbersome methods - simply create a new SvgTween instance and specify the animation parameters. You then call the start() method which automatically starts the animation.

In the real world, it is not always straightforward and common pitfalls may occur while implementing SvgTween. For instance, forgetting to cancel an ongoing animation before starting a new one may lead to unexpected results. Luckily with SvgTween, cancelling ongoing animations becomes as simple as invoking the cancel() method on your SvgTween instance as shown above.

Finally, using Javascript classes like SvgTween for your SVG animations greatly improves code modularity and reusability. As a developer, you should always strive for readable and maintainable code. SvgTween offers you the opportunity to do just that while keeping your performance optimal. By encapsulating the complexity of the animation in one place (i.e., the SvgTween class), your code becomes easier to read and manage. Additionally, it reduces the risk of repeating code, making your application leaner and more performant.


This article delves into the importance of SVG manipulation and animation with JavaScript in modern web development. It emphasizes the power of SVG in creating scalable and interactive graphics, and highlights JavaScript's role in manipulating and animating these SVG elements. The article provides practical tips and code examples for creating SVG elements, manipulating their attributes and styling, and harnessing JavaScript's animation capabilities. It also introduces the SvgTween JavaScript class as a simplified approach to SVG animation. A challenging task for the reader is to create a dynamic SVG animation using JavaScript and SvgTween, and optimize it for performance and efficiency.

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