HTML5 Placeholder Attribute

A guide to using the attribute, and support it for older browsers.


Placeholder text is a short example or hint text that is shown in a form field when the field is unfocused and has no input from the user. Designers like to use placeholders to make forms smaller, as smaller things appear to be simpler.

While the adding & removing of placeholder text on field focus has long been accomplished through JavaScript, there is now a placeholder attribute in the HTML5 working draft. Most modern browsers support the placeholder attribute and will automatically add/replace the placeholder text. They will also automatically exclude the placeholder from being sent when the form is submitted. However, versions of Internet Explorer prior to IE10 do not support the attribute.

<input type='text' name='email' placeholder='Email Address'/>

Supporting Older Browsers

It is very easy to detect placeholder support (or lack of) and duplicate the effect with a bit of JavaScript for older browsers.

    // placeholder polyfill
        function add() {
            if($(this).val() == ''){

        function remove() {
            if($(this).val() == $(this).attr('placeholder')){

        // Create a dummy element for feature detection
        if (!('placeholder' in $('<input>')[0])) {

            // Select the elements that have a placeholder attribute
            $('input[placeholder], textarea[placeholder]').blur(add).focus(remove).each(add);

            // Remove the placeholder text before the form is submitted
                $(this).find('input[placeholder], textarea[placeholder]').each(remove);

To enable styling, this script adds a class of ‘placeholder’ while the placeholder text is being displayed.

Styling The Placeholder

Since placeholder has yet to be standardized, styles are applied through vendor-specific prefixes. Even though Opera 11 supports the placeholder attribute, it does not offer any way to style it at this time. It’s a good idea to go ahead and specify at least the color property to normalize the color between browsers. Otherwise, a default style will be provided which will vary from browser to browser.

::-webkit-input-placeholder { color:#999; }
:-moz-placeholder { color:#999; }
:-ms-input-placeholder { color:#999; }
.placeholder { color:#999; }

Unfortunately, the rules can not be combined into a single statement as a browser will not recognize vendor-specific selectors from other browser makers, resulting in an invalid rule that prevents the styles from being applied. John Catterfeld compiled a nifty list of CSS properties can be applied to placeholders.

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michael9 months agoReply
No need to self-close the <input> tag – this is HTML5, not XHTML5 🙂
Anonymous9 months agoReply
To be honest, I like self closing tags as a note that I do not need to match it when cleaning up.
Jack9 months agoReply
Michael is right of course, but since both are valid I appreciate the explicitness of the self-closing tag. It makes it very clear that there is no closing tag, and the omission of a closing tag is not a mistake. I don’t know if that is a good enough reason use them still, I may be stuck in the mindset after years of using XHTML.
Adam9 months agoReply
I like the tag and hate to come to just complain but the only problem here I can see is that your checker to see if the placeholder exists takes up more space than a javascript swap function for onfocus / onblur using a superfluous field like longdesc.

//Bind these by hardcoding them or if you're using JQuery do something fancy
function SwapOnFocus(obj) {
    if (obj.value == obj.title) {
        obj.value = '';
        obj.class = 'active'; /* JQuery has really nice class swaps or you could define a var baseInputClass and add to that here */

function SwapOnBlur(obj) {
    if (obj.value == obj.title || obj.value == '') {
        obj.value = obj.title;
        obj.class = '';

I always try to use the placeholder for example text instead of field names:

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