The Zulip web application has a nice system of hash (#) URLs that can
be used to deep-link into the application and allow the browser’s
“back” functionality to let the user navigate between parts of the UI.
Some examples are:
/#settings/your-bots: Bots section of the settings overlay.
/#streams: Streams overlay, where the user manages streams
/#streams/11/announce: Streams overlay with stream ID 11 (called
/#narrow/stream/android/subject/fun: Message feed showing stream
“android” and topic “fun”.
The main module in the frontend that manages this all is
hash_util.js for all the parsing
code), which is unfortunately one of our thorniest modules. Part of
the reason that it’s thorny is that it needs to support a lot of
- The user clicking on an in-app link, which in turn opens an overlay.
For example the streams overlay opens when the user clicks the small
cog symbol on the left sidebar, which is in fact a link to
/#streams. This makes it easy to have simple links around the app
without custom click handlers for each one.
- The user uses the “back” button in their browser (basically
equivalent to the previous one, as a link out of the browser history
will be visited).
- The user clicking some in-app click handler (e.g. “Stream settings”
for an invidual stream), that potentially does
several UI-manipulating things including e.g. loading the streams
overlay, and needs to update the hash without re-triggering the open
- Within an overlay like the streams overlay, the user clicks to
another part of the overlay, which should update the hash but not
re-trigger loading the overlay (which would result in a confusing
- The user is in a part of the webapp, and reloads their browser window.
Ideally the reloaded browser window should return them to their
- A server-initiated browser reload (done after a new version is
deployed, or when a user comes back after being idle for a while,
see notes below), where we try to preserve
extra state (e.g. content of compose box, scroll position within a
narrow) using the
/#reload hash prefix.
When making changes to the hashchange system, it is essential to
test all of these flows, since we don’t have great automated tests for
all of this (would be a good project to add them to the
Casper suite) and there’s enough complexity
that it’s easy to accidentally break something.
Here’s some notes on how we handle these cases:
hashchange.hashchanged is the function used to handle the hash,
when it’s changed by the browser (e.g. by clicking on a link to
a hash or using the back button).
hashchange.should_ignore is the function
calls to make it possible for clicking on links within a given
overlay to just be managed by code within that overlay, without
reloading the overlay. It primarily checks whether the “main hash”
(i.e. the first piece like
#settings/your-account) is an overlay.
hashchange.do_hashchange is what is called when the user reloads the
browser. If the hash is nonempty, it ensures the relevant overlay
is opened or the user is narrowed as part of the page load process.
It is also is called by
hashchange.hashchanged when the hash
changes outside the
should_ignore boundaries, since the logic for
that case is identical.
reload.preserve_state is called when a server-initiated browser
reload happens, and encodes a bunch of data like the current scroll
position into the hash.
reload.initialize handles restoring the preserved state after a
reload where the hash starts with
In addition to saving state as described above when reloading the
browser, Zulip also does a few bookkeeping things on page reload (like
cleaning up its event queue, and saving any text in an open compose
box as a draft).