Chrome Developer Tools Tricks & Tips

Published  February 11th, 2012

If you're a web developer and you have spent time writing JavaScript and/or styling with CSS, odds are you're familiar with Chrome Developer Tools (CDT). When I discovered CDT, my front-end productivity sky-rocketed. Editing CSS on the fly, inspecting HTML, and interacting/debugging with the page's JS console have become more engrained in my day-to-day workflow than any other development tool I use. I love TextMate, but if someone put a hypothetical development gun to my head and asked me to choose between CDT and TextMate, I would be asking around for good a Vim tutorial if you know what I mean.

Quick disclosure: all of the tricks and tips below have been tested with CDT, but there's a chance they won't work with FireFox's Firebug Add-on.

JavaScript Debugging

There are three very useful tools in CDT to debug your JS. The first is the most obvious - the interactive JS console. When you open up the developer tools (⌘ + Alt + I), the interactive JS console resides with the 'Console' tab. You can also press (⌘ + Alt + J) to dual-load CDT and the console tab. This console allows you to interact with the page's DOM. You can execute any JavaScript you want here and also interact with objects (like the window object or any local objects you've defined) and inspect their contents/functions. One important note is that when this console loads, the DOM has loaded as well, which means if you're using jQuery and it's working on the console, but not in your source file, you're probably missing a jQuery $.ready() wrapper.

The second debugging tool is fairly new to me. If you click on the 'Scripts' tab and choose one of the JS files included in the page, you're able to add breakpoints to the code by clicking on the line numbers. Once the breakpoints are added, you can step through every breakpoint. It can be tedious tracking down the code you want to put the breakpoint in if you have many files. It's especially painful if you're writing in CoffeeScript as the line numbers you're editing in your .coffee file differ from the compiled line numbers of the same .js files (what you see in CDT).

Last week a colleague of mine, Wilson Collado, told me about the 'debugger;' call. If you put 'debugger;' in your JavaScript, it's the equivalent of putting a breakpoint through the scripts tab. It's a really useful trick that can save you a lot of time. One last thing about the scripts tab - make sure you take a look at the call stack information panel (located on the right side of CDT's scripts tab). In this panel you can also inspect all the local variables at the time in which the breakpoint/debugger was reached. Very helpful when stepping through your JS.

I would be remiss if I discussed JavaScript debugging and didn't mention the 'console.log()' function. In your JS, you can pass any object to console.log and it will print out the object on your console when the code is executed. You can then inspect the object to look at its value/properties. Simple, but very useful. In addition to log(), console also has warn(), info(), error() and assert() functions. Assert is really nice as it will evaluate the contents of whatever is passed into the function as a boolean. Beware that leaving in console calls will break your JavaScript in Internet Explorer, so make sure to take them out before you commit your code.


If you right click on any part of a website in Chrome (with the exception to a website built in Adobe Flash), there's an option called 'Inspect Element'. This is any front-end dev's bread and butter. You can view/edit HTML, traverse the HTML hierarchy, view CSS for any HTML element...the list goes on. For the most part, inspecting the HTML is elementary (yes, pun intended), but did you know that if you select an element, go to the console, and type '$0' - the last element you inspected is now tied to that variable? I didn't. Will User dropped that gem on me last week. The $ command dumps previously selected nodes, try typing $2, $3 and so on.

Here's another one that is news to me. There are certain CSS selectors that are used on every custom-styled button (or link). They are ':hover' and ':active'. If you have a button that is supposed to change it's image when you cursor over it or press it, you're invoking one of these selectors. It's a pain to style them though because when you hover over the element, the CSS properties show but you can't edit them without moving your cursor over to the CSS property (it's hard to explain, just try to do it and you'll see what I'm talking about). Enter the 'Toggle Element State' feature. In the CDT CSS pane, click the 'Styles' arrow and then click the button with the dotted square with a cursor in the center of it. Now you can toggle these selectors. See below:

Console DOM Tips

Lastly, let's go over some tips that involve both the console as well as the Document Object Model (DOM). Fire back up that console press (⌘ + K), which will clear the console. Grab an element off the DOM with jQuery (or do $0 if you've recently inspected something). Now call 'dir()' and pass in the element. As you'll notice, 'dir()' will print out every attribute/property that exists for the element. There are definitely some properties I didn't even know existed after using it for the first time.

Let's say you're generating something on the console. Maybe a calculation or you're scraping a page for some text. Did you know that you can pass in JavaScript to the 'copy()' function and it will copy the result of the JavaScript to your clipboard? The potential uses are probably not obvious, but it's another solid tool to keep in that JavaScript debugging toolbox.

If you have some CDT functions/tools/tricks that I didn't list, please share them in the comments.