How to Use the Download Attribute

Sara Vieira By Sara Vieira  |  Apr. 22, 2013

HTML5 came with all new APIs, new input types and attributes for forms. As is often the case, those major additions often obscure the minor upgrades and I think that this is particularly true of the download attribute.

As you know, there are some files that the browser doesn’t automatically download; images, other web pages and depending on the settings in your browser, sometimes even PDFs. The download attribute gives the browser a native way to download these files automatically, without having to fall back on JavaScript. This is really useful for any app that deals with the downloading of images, such as image upload sites.


Using the download attribute

Since the download attribute doesn’t use scripts of any kind, it’s as simple as adding the attribute to your link:

<a href="myFolder/myImage.png" download>Download image</a>

What’s great about this attribute is that you can even set a name for the downloadable file, even when it’s not the name on your server. This is great for sites with complex file names, or even dynamically created images, that want to provide a simple and user-friendly file name. To provide a name, you just add an equals sign, followed by the name you want to use surrounded in quotes, like so:

<a href="myFolder/reallyUnnecessarilyLongAndComplicatedFileName.png" download="myImage">Download image</a>

Note that the browser will automatically add the correct file extension to the downloaded file, so you don’t need to include that inside your attribute value.


Browser support

Currently, only Chrome 14+ and Firefox 20+ support the download attribute, so you may need to fall back on some simple JavaScript to detect if the attribute is supported. You can do so like this:

var a = document.createElement('a');

if(typeof != "undefined")
   // download attribute is supported
  // download attribute is not supported



Taking into consideration everything that has been added to HTML5, the download attribute is a very small part, but in my opinion it’s an attribute that was long overdue, and definitely has its uses in today’s apps for both usability and simplification.


Have you implemented the download attribute? What are your unsung heroes of HTML5? Let us know in the comments.

Featured image/thumbnail, download image via Shutterstock.