Torsten Müller

Communication between Browser tabs: Synchronizing State

published Jan 16th, 2021

Web applications requiring authentication can run in multiple browser tabs at the same time, thus requiring — for good UX — to synchronize global application state such as auth status, name changes, data updates etc.

In principle, I can think of three mechanisms that would accomplish this synchronization:

  1. Maintaining state on the server, implementing a polling mechanism to ask for updates
  2. Using web sockets to permit the server to push state changes to the browser
  3. A pure frontend solution, where state changes are communicated among tabs without involvement of a server.

In this post, I will describe a solution to the last approach, using localStorage to communicate a change in authentication status among different tabs/instances of a web application.

Features of localStorage

When storing, deleting or modifying data in localStorage, modern browsers emit storage events. The browser tab which updates localStorage triggers the event, which is communicated to all other tabs in the same domain only — meaning the triggering tab itself does not receive the event it emits, nor do tabs showing content from different domains. The StorageEvent is well-supported in all modern browsers, with the exception Internet Explorer.

To receive that event, you can request to be notified using an event listener on the window object:

window.addEventListener('storage', this.onLocalStorageEvent.bind(this));

The data passed to the event listener function contains, among many other properties, the name of the localStorage key name that was modified plus the old and new content being stored. Omitting many properties, the following listing shows the properties of interest to this discussion:

StorageEvent {
  currentTarget: Window 
  key: "userInfo"
  newValue: "{"user":"Somebody","sourceId":49638}"
  oldValue: null
  storageArea: Storage {...}
  type: "storage"
  __proto__: StorageEvent

This event object tells us that which property in localStorage has changed (key: "userInfo"), its current value (newValue: "{...}") and that it previously was not set (oldValue: null). The storageArea property “represents the Storage object that was affected” StorageEvent detail documentation

As you can see in the object, the values for the current and previous state are provided as strings and therefore need to be converted to a proper JavaScript object using JSON.parse().

The following screenshot shows the same application loaded into two windows demonstrating the functionality. It was taken after clicking on the “Toggle status” button in the left window, and shows:

  1. both windows displaying the same JSON object/state and
  2. the instance of the received event payload from the left window with the sourceId 83077 (the source ID is a random number created upon instantiation of this application — it is not a feature of the Storage mechanism and used here only for demonstration)

Screenshot with two tabs of the application


With this basic browser functionality, we can take a look at the code. In principle, there are several tasks the code needs to accomplish:

  1. An initialization which attaches an event handler to the browser’s storage event,
  2. a function invoked whenever a storage event occurs and
  3. a function which updates the localStorage property and thus triggers the event

the following listing shows the relevant parts of the implementation; You can find the full implementation on bitbucket:

const Fct = {

  lsProperty: 'userInfo',

  init() {
    window.addEventListener('storage', this.onLocalStorageEvent.bind(this));

  onLocalStorageEvent(authData) {
    const isLoggedIn = !!(authData && authData.newValue);

  triggerBtnClickEvent() {
    const loggedIn = this.setNewState();

  setNewState() {
    const storedData = window.localStorage[this.lsProperty];

    if (storedData) delete window.localStorage[this.lsProperty];
    else {
      const dataTostore = ...
      window.localStorage[this.lsProperty] = JSON.stringify(dataToStore);
    return !!window.localStorage[this.lsProperty];


This simplified implementation achieves the following objectives:

  1. The init() function sets up the event listener to call the onLocalStorageEvent() method and should be called after page load.
  2. onLocalStorageEvent() receives the StorageEvent object and determines whether the user is logged in based on whether newValue contains a JSON string and then updates the UI. If newValue is null, the value has just been cleared, indicating a logout event.
  3. triggerBtnClickEvent() is a function that gets invoked whenever a user clicks on the button to change the login state; it invokes the setNewState() method, which does the actual work of manipulating localStorage.
  4. setNewState() determines whether localStorage currently stores data for the key indicating the logged-in state and either removes or sets the entry. Either change will trigger a StorageEvent in all other tabs on the same domain and will ultimately cause a change in their UIs via the updateUI() method.

The code sample uses a method updateUI() which is where the update to the UI and browser display happens in each tab. While this example implementation simply updates the UI with new copy, a real implementation would take appropriate steps to react to a change in login status. Possible options might be to load the login page or show a message on a translucent overlay, which makes it impossible to further interact with the application.

The missing pieces pulling this implementation together, such as setting up the functionality happen (in this simple case) in the HTML:

  <button onclick="Fct.triggerBtnClickEvent()">Toggle status</button>
<script type="application/javascript" src="transtab.js"></script>

Frameworks such as React.js or Angular provide lifecycle hooks which can be leveraged to set up this functionality as part of an application and should be used instead of this plain POC implementation.

The following sequence diagram visualizes the chain of events for three tabs, where a user logs out of the application on tab 2.

Sequence diagram for localStorage based tab synchronization

Summary and Discussion

As demonstrated in this post, the solution is a pure frontend solution which does not rely on communication with the server — the source of truth. Therefore, it is not impossible for the frontend to get out of sync with the backend if errors during the API call changing the authorization status are not properly handled on the frontend.

The safety implications are minimal, though, as even if the frontend shows a logged-in state, the server will reject any unauthenticated requests and prevent data manipulation or unauthenticated access to data — Developers can and should not rely on the frontend alone to implement secure web applications.

This solution’s main benefit is that it eliminates the need for repetitive polling of the server to retrieve login state. Considering the web traffic required for multiple tabs contacting the server every minute for potentially thousands of concurrent users adds up and can be avoided with this mechanism, which does not rely on requests to the server.

The process described here, and implemented in the code on bitbucket, can be simplified if the login system is accessible under a different URL, as can be the case in a microservice architecture. In that case, the property in localStorage can be set in a frame when being instantiated. On change of the login state indicated through localStorage, a redirect to the login page then suffices to bring the UI in sync with the application state.