Getting to know QuillJS - Part 1 (Parchment, Blots, and Lifecycle)

March 15, 2018 0 Comments

Getting to know QuillJS - Part 1 (Parchment, Blots, and Lifecycle)



This is the first of series of Blog posts on QuillJS and its data library Parchment. The following followup articles are planned and will be linked here when complete.

  1. Parchment, Blots, and Lifecycle

  2. Containers - Creating a Mutliline Block

  3. Inline Embeds - Creating an @mention Blot

  4. Block Embeds - Creating a Custom Video Blot without an iFrame

Note: This series is targeted at people trying to gain an advanced understanding of Quill and Parchment. If you're just trying to get started with an easy, well-featured editor, it might be good idea to check out Quill's Quickstart Guide or Cloning Medium with Parchment guide.

What is Quill?

QuillJS is a modern rich text editor built for compatibility and extensibility. It was created by Jason Chen and Byron Milligan and open sourced by Salesforce. Since then it has been used by hundreds of other companies and people to build fast, reliable, and rich editing experiences in a browser.

Quill is a mostly batteries-included library with support for most common formatting options such bold, italics, strike, underline, custom fonts and colors, dividers, headings, inline code, code blocks, blockquotes, lists (bulleted, numbered, checkboxes), formulas, images, as well as embedded videos.

What more could you want?

A few months ago, the company I work for, Vanilla Forums began planning a new editor for our product. Our current editor supported numerous different text entry formats, including

  • Markdown

  • BBCode

  • HTML

  • WYSIWYG HTML (using an iFrame to render the contents)

We had different parsers, renderers, and frontend javascript for all of these formats, so we set out to create new editor to replace them all with a single new unified, rich editing experience.

We chose Quill as the base of our new editor due to its browser compatibility and extensibility, but quickly realized that it was not going to have all of the functionality we needed out of the box. Notably lacking was multiline block type structures like block-quotes (missing nesting and multiline support). We have some other formatting items such as Spoilers with similar requirements.

We also had some extended functionality to add in the form of rich link embeds, and special formatting options and functionality for images and videos.

So I set to out to learn Quill and its underlying data library Parchment inside and out. This series of posts represents my understanding of Parchment and QuillJS. I am not a maintainer of the project, so if something is incorrect here, I encourage you to point it out.

Data Formats

Quill has 2 forms of data-formats. Parchment (Blots), and Delta.

Parchment is used as an in-memory data structure made up primarily of LinkedLists in a tree structure. Its tree of Blots should map 1:1 with the browser's tree of DOM Nodes.

Deltas are used to store persistant data from the editor and takes the form of a relatively flat JSON array. Each item in the array represents an operation, that could affect or represent multiple DOM Nodes or Blots. This is the form of data that you will generally store in your Database or persistent storage. It is also used to represent diffence between one state and another.

What is a Blot?

Blots are the building blocks of a Parchment document. They are one of the most powerful abstractions of Quill, as they allow the editor and API users to consume and modify the document's contents without needing to touch the DOM directly. Blots have a simpler and more expressive interface than a DOM Node which can make consuming and creating them easier to reason about.

Each Blot must implement the interface Blot and every existing Blot in Quill and Parchment is a class that inherits from ShadowBlot.

In order to make it possible to look around the document from the perspective of a Blot, every Blot has the following references

  • .parent - The Blot that contains this Blot. If this Blot is the top level Blot, parent will be null.

  • .prev - The previous sibling Blot in the tree from this Blot's parent. If this iBlotis the first child directly under its parent, prev will be null.

  • .next - The next sibling Blot in the tree form this Blot's parent. If this Blot is the last child directly under its parent, next will be null.

  • .scroll - The scroll is the top level Blot in Parchment's data structure. More info about the Scroll Blot will be provided later.

  • .domNode - Since Parchment's tree maps 1:1 with the DOM's tree, each Blot has access to the Node it represents. Additionally these DOM Nodes will have a reference to their Blot (with ._blot).

The Blot Lifecycle

Each Blot has several “lifecycle methods” that you can override to run code at particular times in the process. You generally will still want to call super.<OVERRIDENMETHOD> before or after inserting your own custom code though. This component lifecycle is broken up into multiple sections.


There are multiple steps in properly creating a Blot, but these can all be replaced with calling Parchment.create()


Each Blot has a static create() function that creates a DOM Node from an initial value. This is also good place to set initial values on a DOM Node that are unrelated to the actual Blot instance.

The returned DOM Node is not actually attached anywhere, and the Blot is still not yet created. This is because Blots are created from a DOM Node, so this function puts one together in case there isn't already one. Blots are not necesarilly always constructed with their create function. For example, when a user copy/pastes text (either from Quill or from another source) the copied HTML structure is passed to Parchment.create(). Parchment will skip calling create() and use the passed DOM Node, skipping to the next step.

import Block from "quill/blots/block"; class ClickableSpan extends Inline { // ... static tagName = "span"; static className = "ClickableSpan"; static create(initialValue) { // Allow the parent create function to give us a DOM Node // The DOM Node will be based on the provided tagName and className. // E.G. the Node is currently <code class="ClickableSpan">{initialValue}</code> const node = super.create(); // Set an attribute on the DOM Node. node.setAttribute("spellcheck", false); // Add an additional class node.classList.add("otherClass") // Returning <code class="ClickableSpan otherClass">{initialValue}</code> return node; } // ... 


Takes a DOM Node (often made in the static create() function, but not always) and creates a Blot from it.

This is the place to instantiate anything you might want to keep a reference to inside of a Blot. This is a good place to register an event listener or do anything you might normally do in a class constructor.

After the constructor is called, our Blot is still not in the DOM tree or in our Parchment document.

class ClickableSpan extends Inline { // ... constructor(domNode) { super(domNode); // Bind our click handler to the class. this.clickHandler = this.clickHandler.bind(this); domNode.addEventListener(this.clickHandler); } clickHandler(event) { console.log("ClickableSpan was clicked. Blot: ", this); } // ... 


Parchment keeps a registry of all of your Blots to simplify creation of them. Using this registry, Parchment exposes a function Parchment.create() which can create a Blot either from its name - using the Blot's static create() function - or from an existing DOM Node.

In order to use this registry you need register your Blots using Parchment.register(). With Quill its better to use Quill.register(), which will call Parchment.register() internally. For more details on Quill's register function see Quill's excellent documentation.

import Quill from "quill"; // Our Blot from earlier 
class ClickableSpan extends Inline { /* ... / } Quill.register(ClickableSpan);

Ensuring Blots have Unique Identifiers

When creating a Blot with Parchment.create(blotName) and passing in a sting corresponding to a register blotName, you will always get the correct class instantiated. You could have 2 otherwise identical Blots with separate blotNames, and Parchment.create(blotName) will work correctly. However undefined behaviour can occur when using the other form of the method Parchment.create(domNode).

While you might know the blotName when manually instantiating a Blot, there are instances where Quill needs to create a Blot from DOM Node, such as copy/pasting. In these cases your Blots need to be differentiated in one of 2 ways.

By tagName

import Inline from "quill/blots/inline"; // Matches to <strong ...>...</strong> 
class Bold extends Inline { static tagName = "strong"; static blotName = "bold";
} // Matches to <em ...>...</em>
class Italic extends Inline { static tagName = "em"; static blotName = "italic";
} // Matches to <em ...>...</em>
class AltItalic extends Inline { static tagName = "em"; static blotName = "alt-italic"; // Returns <em class="alt-italic">...</em> static create() { const node = super.create(); node.classList.add("Italic--alt"); }
} // ... Registration here

In this case Parchment can easily distinguish between the Bold and Italic Blots when passed a DOM Node with the tag em or strong, but will be unable to make this distinction between Italic and AltItalic.

Currently the only other way for Parchment to tell the difference between these HTML structures is by setting a static className that matches an expected CSS class on the DOM Node passed in. If this is not provided you may find yourself manually creating an instance of a custom Blot through its blotName only to find an undo/redo or copy/paste action changes your Blot into a different type. This especially common when using a common tagName like span or div.

By className

// ... Bold and Italic Blot from the previous example. // Matches to <em class="alt-italic">...</em> 
class AltItalic extends Inline { static tagName = "em"; static blotName = "alt-italic"; static className = "Italic--alt"; // Returns <em class="alt-italic">...</em>

In this case the static className has been set. This means parent ShadowBlot will automatically apply the className to the element's DOM Node in the static create() function, and that Parchment will be able to differentiate between the 2 Blots.

Insertion and Attachment

Now that a Blot is created we need to attach it both to Quill's document tree and the DOM tree. There are multiple ways to insert a Blot into the document.

insertInto(parentBlot, refBlot)

const newBlot = Parchment.create("someBlotName", initialBlotValue); 
const parentBlot = /
Get a reference to the desired parent Blot in some way */;

This is the primary insertion method. The other insertion methods all call this one. It handles inserting a Blot into a parent Blot. By default this method will insert the newBlot at the end of the parentBlot's children. Its DOM Node will also be appended to parentBlot.domNode.

If refBlot is passed as well, the newBlot will be inserted into the parent, except, instead of being inserted at the end of the parentBlot, the Blot will be inserted before refBlot and newBlot.domNode will be inserted before refBlot.domNode.

Additionally newBlot.scroll will be set at the end of this call using the attach() method. Details on that can be found later in this post.

insertAt(index, name, value)

This method is only available on Blots inheriting from ContainerBlot. A later post will cover ContainerBlot in more detail, but the most common of these Blots are BlockBlot, InlineBlot, and ScrollBlot. EmbedBlot and TextBlot do not inherit from ContainerBlot.

This method will call Parchment.create() for you with the passed name, and value. That newly created Blot will be inserted at the given index. If there nested containers at the given index, the call will be passed to container deepest in the tree and inserted there.

insertBefore(childBlot, refBlot)

This method is similar to insertInto() except reversed. Instead of a child inserting itself into a parent, the parent inserts the child into itself. Internally insertInto() is called and refBlot serves the same purpose here.


attach() attaches the calling Blot's parent's ScrollBlot to itself as the .scroll property. If the calling Blot is a container, it will also call attach on all of its children after setting its own ScrollBlot.

Updates and Optimization

Note: My understanding of this part of Parchment is still not complete. I will update it in future as I gain a better understanding. If anyone can help fill in the gaps, especially around how many times optimize() may called on children it would be much appreciated.

The ScrollBlot is the top level ContainerBlot. It holds all of the other Blots and is responsible for managing changes made inside of the contenteditable. In order to stay in control of the editor's contents, the ScrollBlot sets up a MutationObserver.

The ScrollBlot tracks the MutationRecords and calls the update() method on every Blot who's DOM Node was the target of a MutationRecord. The relevant MutationRecords are passed as the parameter. Additionally a shared context is passed with every update call.

Then the ScrollBlot takes the same MutationRecords and calls the optimize() method on every affected Blot as well as each of that Blot's children recursively to the bottom of the tree. The releveant MutationRecords are passed in as well as the same shared context.

update(mutations: MutationRecord[], sharedContext: Object)

A Blot's update method is called with the MutationRecords targetting its DOM Node. A single context is shared among every Blot in a single update cycle.

There are 3 primary implementations of this method in different core Blots.


The ContainerBlot checks for changes that modify its direct children and will either:

  • Remove Blots from the document whose DOM Nodes have been deleted.

  • Add Blots for DOM Nodes that have been added.

If a new DOM Node is added that doesn't match any registered Blots, the container will remove that DOM Node and replace it with DOM Node corresponding to the InlineBlot (basically a plain text Blot) with the text content from the originally inserted DOM Node.


The TextBlot will replace its value with the new contents from the DOM Node as it exists in the DOM tree.


The EmbedBlot in parchment doesn't implement update(). Parchment's EmbedBlot and its descendant class in Quill BlockEmbed both have no control over Mutations of their child DOM Nodes.

Quill's other EmbedBlot descendant class Embed wraps its contents with 0-width space characters and sets contenteditable=false on the inner children. Inside of its update() method it checks if a MutationRecord would affect the characterData of these space characters. It it would, the Blot restores the original character data of the affected Node and inserts the change as text before or after itself.


The optimize() method is called after an update pass completes. It is important to note that the optimize call should never change the length or value of the document. This is a good place to reduce the complexity of the document however.

To simplify, the Delta of a document should always be the same before or after an optimization pass.

By default Blots only cleanup leftover data from the update process, although a few Blots make some additional changes here.


Empty Containers either remove themselves or add back their default child. Since the length of the document must be the same before and after the changes, the default child Blot must be a 0-length child. In the case of Quill's Block Blot, that child is a break.

Inline and List

Quill's Inline and List Blots both use optimize to simplify and make the DOM Tree more consistent.

As an example, the same Delta

[ { "insert": "bold", "attributes": { "bold": true } }, { "insert": "bold italic", "attributes": { "bold": true, "italic": true } } 

could be be rendered in 3 different ways.

<strong>bold</strong><strong><em>bold italic</em></strong> 
<!-- or -->
<strong>bold</strong><em><strong>bold italic</strong></em>
<!-- or -->
<strong>bold<em>bold italic</em></strong>

The Delta is the same, and this will generally be rendered mostly the same way, but the optimize implementation in FormatBlot ensures that these items always render consistently.

Deletion and Detachment


The remove() method is often the simplest way to wholly remove a Blot and its DOM Node(s). It removes the Blot's .domNode from the DOM tree, then calls detach().


This method is only available on ContainerBlot and its descendant classes. Removes the passed Blot from the calling Blot's .children.


Delete the Blot or contents at the specified index. Calls remove() internally.


Remove all references Quill has to the Blot. This includes removing the Blot from its parent with removeChild(). Also calls detach() on any child Blot's if applicable.

Wrapping Up

This concludes the primary life cycle. Additional Blot methods such as replace(), replaceWith(), wrap(), and unwrap() will be covered in the next article in this series, "Containers - Creating a Mutliline Block".

If you enjoyed this article, keep in touch!

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