Javascript – event.preventDefault() vs. return false (no jQuery)


I wondered if event.preventDefault() and return false were the same.

I have done some tests, and it seems that

  • If the event handler is added using old model, for example

    elem.onclick = function(){
        return false;

    Then, return false prevents default action, like event.preventDefault().

  • If the event handler is added using addEventListener, for example

            return false;

    Then, return false doesn't prevent the default action.

Do all browsers behave like this?

Are there more differences between event.preventDefault() and return false?

Where I can find some documentation (I couldn't in MDN) about return false behaving like event.preventDefault() in some cases?

My question is only about plain javascript, not jQuery, so please don't mark it as a duplicate of event.preventDefault() vs. return false, even if both questions have almost the same title.

Best Solution

The W3C Document Object Model Events Specification in 1.3.1. Event registration interfaces states that handleEvent in the EventListener has no return value:

handleEvent This method is called whenever an event occurs of the type for which the EventListener interface was registered. [...] No Return Value

under 1.2.4. Event Cancelation the document also states that

Cancelation is accomplished by calling the Event's preventDefault method. If one or more EventListeners call preventDefault during any phase of event flow the default action will be canceled.

which should discourage you from using any effect that returning true / false could have in any browser and use event.preventDefault().


The HTML5 spec actually specifies how to treat a return value different. Section of the HTML Spec states that

If return value is a WebIDL boolean false value, then cancel the event.

for everything but the "mouseover" event.


I would still recommend to use event.preventDefault() in most projects since you will be compatible with the old spec and thus older browsers. Only if you only need to support cutting edge browsers, returning false to cancel is okay.