DEV Community

loading...

How to communicate between Content Script, Popup, and Background in Browser Extension development

saisandeepvaddi profile image Sai Sandeep Vaddi Originally published at saisandeepvaddi.com ・5 min read

Message passing between different parts of a browser extension is the most confusing part when starting with browser extension development. This post is about how I generally structure my web extensions code to communicate between Content Script, Background, and popups (Browser Action).

These are the pieces we will use.

  1. Create IDs for the messages we will be using in a file. We can use regular object literals or enum if you use TypeScript.
  2. Create a mapping ( Map<MessageID, callback> or regular object literal ) where we fix the message id which we created in Step 1 with a callback to run when the message with that ID arrives.
  3. Register message listeners. Loop through the items in the Map we created in Step 2 and add a listener which is the value for each key (MessageID).

Let's write some code

The finished code is available in my GitHub at web-extension-communication-blog-post. I recommend you open the link and follow along with me. We will also use a polyfill so we don't have to deal with the API differences between Firefox and Chrome. Also, the polyfill allows Promise-based API for both Firefox and Chrome. I am using webextension-polyfill-ts which is a TypeScript wrapper for Mozilla's webextension-polyfill.

Our messages will be simple. We will exchange "Hi" or "Bye" between Content Script and Background.

First, we will write two utility functions that we can use to send messages between Content Script and Background.

// Messenger.ts
import { browser } from "webextension-polyfill-ts";

const Messenger = {
  /**
   * Send a message to Background script
   *
   * @param {BackgroundMessage} type Background Message Type
   * @param {*} [data=null]
   * @return {*}
   */
  async sendMessageToBackground(type, data = null) {
    try {
      const response = await browser.runtime.sendMessage({ type, data });
      return response;
    } catch (error) {
      console.error("sendMessageToBackground error: ", error);
      return null;
    }
  },

  /**
   * Send a message to Content Script of a Tab
   *
   * @param {number} tabID Tab ID
   * @param {ContentScriptMessage} type
   * @param {*} [data=null]
   * @return {*}
   */
  async sendMessageToContentScript(tabID, type, data = null) {
    try {
      // Notice the API difference - browser.tabs to send to content script but browser.runtime to send to background.
      const response = await browser.tabs.sendMessage(tabID, { type, data });
      console.log("response:", response);
      return response;
    } catch (error) {
      console.error("sendMessageToContentScript error: ", error);
      return null;
    }
  },
};
Enter fullscreen mode Exit fullscreen mode

I like to put these two functions in a separate file because we don't have to constantly throw in browser.tabs or browser.runtime API everywhere. We get cleaner code with Messenger.sendMessageToBackground and Messenger.sendMessageToContentScript functions.

Remember I told you in Step 1 that we will create IDs for each type of messages, let's define those. I am using TypeScript enums because they are easy to type the functions, but you can use simple objects as well. The IDs can be simple numbers - 1, 2, etc.,

// messages.ts
export enum ContentScriptMessages {
  SAY_HELLO_TO_CS,
  SAY_BYE_TO_CS,
}

export enum BackgroundMessages {
  SAY_HELLO_TO_BG,
  SAY_BYE_TO_BG,
}
Enter fullscreen mode Exit fullscreen mode

Now whenever we need to talk to Background script from Content Script or Popup, we can write Messenger.sendMessageToBackground(BackgroundMessages.SAY_HELLO_TO_BG, {message: "Hey Background"}).

Sending message to Content Script from Background is also similar with a difference that we need to pass the tab ID of the content script. That is the first parameter you see in Messenger.sendMessageToContentScript(tabID, ContentScriptMessages.SAY_HELLO_TO_CS, {message: "Hey Content Script!"}) function.

Registering Message listeners

We will register the message listeners that we talked about in Step 2 and 3. This code is similar for both Content Script and Background. We will register ContentScriptMessages in content script initialization and BackgroundMessages in background initialization.

// content-script.ts
// Install webextension-polyfill for JavaScript based projects
import { browser } from "webextension-polyfill-ts";
import { BackgroundMessages, ContentScriptMessages } from "./messages";
import Messenger from "./Messenger";

class ContentScript {
  requests = new Map();

  async receiveHello(sender, data) {
    console.log(`receiveHelloFromBackground: `, data);
  }

  async receiveBye(sender, data) {
    console.log(`receiveByeFromBackground: `, data);
  }

  async sayHelloToBackground() {
    const response = await Messenger.sendMessageToBackground(
      BackgroundMessages.SAY_HELLO_TO_BG,
      { message: "Hello Background!!!" }
    );
    console.log("Background Response: ", response);
  }

  async sayByeToBackground() {
    await Messenger.sendMessageToBackground(BackgroundMessages.SAY_BYE_TO_BG, {
      message: "Bye Background!!!",
    });
  }

  registerMessengerRequests() {
    this.requests.set(ContentScriptMessages.SAY_HELLO_TO_CS, this.receiveHello);
    this.requests.set(ContentScriptMessages.SAY_BYE_TO_CS, this.receiveBye);
  }

  listenForMessages() {
    browser.runtime.onMessage.addListener((message, sender) => {
      const { type, data } = message;
      return this.requests.get(type)(sender, data);
    });
  }

  init() {
    // 1. Create a mapping for message listeners
    this.registerMessengerRequests();

    // 2. Listen for messages from background and run the listener from the map
    this.listenForMessages();
  }
}

new ContentScript().init();
Enter fullscreen mode Exit fullscreen mode
//background.ts
import { browser, Runtime } from "webextension-polyfill-ts";
import { BackgroundMessages, ContentScriptMessages } from "./messages";
import Messenger from "./Messenger";
import { IMessage, MessageListener } from "./types";

class Background {
  requests = new Map<BackgroundMessages, MessageListener>();

  async receiveHello(sender: Runtime.MessageSender, data: IMessage<any>) {
    console.log("receiveHelloFromContentScript: ", data);
    return {
      message: "Hey there!!!",
    };
  }

  async receiveBye(sender: Runtime.MessageSender, data: IMessage<any>) {
    console.log("receiveByeFromContentScript: ", data);
    return {
      message: "Bye there!!!",
    };
  }

  async sayHelloToContentScript(tabID: number) {
    await Messenger.sendMessageToContentScript(
      tabID,
      ContentScriptMessages.SAY_HELLO_TO_CS,
      { message: "Hello from BG!!!" }
    );
  }

  async sayByeToContentScript(tabID: number) {
    await Messenger.sendMessageToContentScript(
      tabID,
      ContentScriptMessages.SAY_BYE_TO_CS,
      { message: "Bye from BG!!!" }
    );
  }

  registerMessengerRequests() {
    this.requests.set(BackgroundMessages.SAY_HELLO_TO_BG, this.receiveHello);
    this.requests.set(BackgroundMessages.SAY_BYE_TO_BG, this.receiveBye);
  }

  listenForMessages() {
    browser.runtime.onMessage.addListener((message, sender) => {
      const { type, data } = message;
      return this.requests.get(type)(sender, data);
    });
  }
  // Example: Send message to content script of active tab
  sendHelloToActiveTab() {
    browser.tabs.query({ active: true, currentWindow: true }).then((tabs) => {
      tabs.forEach((tab) => {
        this.sayHelloToContentScript(tab.id);
      });
    });
  }

  init() {
    // 1. Create a mapping for message listeners
    this.registerMessengerRequests();

    // 2. Listen for messages from background and run the listener from the map
    this.listenForMessages();
  }
}

new Background().init();
Enter fullscreen mode Exit fullscreen mode

We can use the messages.ts and Messenger.ts from popup as well. Since popup won't be open all the time, we don't have to add message listeners there. I prefer to use the Messenger.sendMessageToBackground and use the return value in the popup.

Conclusion

We've abstracted most of the messaging to messages.ts and Messenger.ts. Whenever you want to add new types of messages, update the enum (or add a key if you used objects) in messages.ts and add a listener in the content script or background in their registerMessengerRequests function.

This code works in Firefox and all chromium-based browsers. Simply send a message and await for the response if the other side returns something from the listener. Thanks to Mozilla's webextension-polyfill we get cross-browser support and don't have to deal with the callback version of Chrome's API.

There are other ways people are trying to solve this like webext-redux which is a clever way for message passing along with managing state between different parts of the extension the redux way. But I feel it adds additional verbose API in an attempt to solve existing complexity and only works with React. Feel free to check that repository if that suits your requirements.

You can install the sample extension I built for this blog post here.

Have a great day !!! 👋

Discussion (0)

pic
Editor guide