Detect when browser receives file download

Detect when browser receives file download

I have a page that allows the user to download a dynamically-generated file. It takes a long time to generate, so I’d like to show a “waiting” indicator. The problem is, I can’t figure out how to detect when the browser has received the file, so I can hide the indicator.
I’m making the request in a hidden form, which POSTs to the server, and targets a hidden iframe for its results. This is so I don’t replace the entire browser window with the result. I listen for a “load” event on the iframe, in the hope that it will fire when the download is complete.
I return a “Content-Disposition: attachment” header with the file, which causes the browser to show the “Save” dialog. But the browser doesn’t fire a “load” event in the iframe.
One approach I tried is using a multi-part response. So it would send an empty HTML file, as well as the attached downloadable file. For example:
Content-type: multipart/x-mixed-replace;boundary=”abcde”

Content-type: text/html

Content-type: application/vnd.fdf
Content-Disposition: attachment; filename=foo.fdf


This works in Firefox; it receives the empty HTML file, fires the “load” event, then shows the “Save” dialog for the downloadable file. But it fails on IE and Safari; IE fires the “load” event but doesn’t download the file, and Safari downloads the file (with the wrong name and content-type), and doesn’t fire the “load” event.
A different approach might be to make a call to start the file creation, then poll the server until it’s ready, then download the already-created file. But I’d rather avoid creating temporary files on the server.
Does anyone have a better idea?


Solution 1:

One possible solution uses JavaScript on the client.

The client algorithm:

  1. Generate a random unique token.
  2. Submit the download request, and include the token in a GET/POST field.
  3. Show the “waiting” indicator.
  4. Start a timer, and every second or so, look for a cookie named “fileDownloadToken” (or whatever you decide).
  5. If the cookie exists, and its value matches the token, hide the “waiting” indicator.

The server algorithm:

  1. Look for the GET/POST field in the request.
  2. If it has a non-empty value, drop a cookie (e.g. “fileDownloadToken”), and set its value to the token’s value.

Client source code (JavaScript):

function getCookie( name ) {
  var parts = document.cookie.split(name + "=");
  if (parts.length == 2) return parts.pop().split(";").shift();

function expireCookie( cName ) {
    document.cookie = 
        encodeURIComponent(cName) + "=deleted; expires=" + new Date( 0 ).toUTCString();

function setCursor( docStyle, buttonStyle ) {
    document.getElementById( "doc" ).style.cursor = docStyle;
    document.getElementById( "button-id" ).style.cursor = buttonStyle;

function setFormToken() {
    var downloadToken = new Date().getTime();
    document.getElementById( "downloadToken" ).value = downloadToken;
    return downloadToken;

var downloadTimer;
var attempts = 30;

// Prevents double-submits by waiting for a cookie from the server.
function blockResubmit() {
    var downloadToken = setFormToken();
    setCursor( "wait", "wait" );

    downloadTimer = window.setInterval( function() {
        var token = getCookie( "downloadToken" );

        if( (token == downloadToken) || (attempts == 0) ) {

    }, 1000 );

function unblockSubmit() {
  setCursor( "auto", "pointer" );
  window.clearInterval( downloadTimer );
  expireCookie( "downloadToken" );
  attempts = 30;

Example server code (PHP):

$TOKEN = "downloadToken";

// Sets a cookie so that when the download begins the browser can
// unblock the submit button (thus helping to prevent multiple clicks).
// The false parameter allows the cookie to be exposed to JavaScript.
$this->setCookieToken( $TOKEN, $_GET[ $TOKEN ], false );

$result = $this->sendFile();


public function setCookieToken(
    $cookieName, $cookieValue, $httpOnly = true, $secure = false ) {

    // See:
    // See:
    // See:
        2147483647,            // expires January 1, 2038
        "/",                   // your path
        $_SERVER["HTTP_HOST"], // your domain
        $secure,               // Use true over HTTPS
        $httpOnly              // Set true for $AUTH_COOKIE_NAME

Solution 2:

A very simple (and lame) one line solution is to use the window.onblur() event to close the loading dialog. Of course, if it takes too long and the user decides to do something else (like reading emails) the loading dialog will close.

Solution 3:

old thread, i know…

but those, that are lead here by google might be interested in my solution.
it is very simple, yet reliable. and it makes it possible to display real progress messages (and can be easily plugged in to existing processes):

the script that processes (my problem was: retrieving files via http and deliver them as zip) writes the status to the session.

the status is polled and displayed every second. thats all (ok, its not. you have to take care of a lot of details [eg concurrent downloads], but its a good place to start ;-)).

the downloadpage:

    <a href="download.php?id=1" class="download">DOWNLOAD 1</a>
    <a href="download.php?id=2" class="download">DOWNLOAD 2</a>
    <div id="wait">
    Please wait...
    <div id="statusmessage"></div>
//this is jquery
               $('#statusmessage').html('prepare loading...');
               setTimeout('getstatus()', 1000);
    function getstatus(){
          url: "/getstatus.php",
          type: "POST",
          dataType: 'json',
          success: function(data) {
              setTimeout('getstatus()', 1000);


echo json_encode($_SESSION['downloadstatus']);


//and spit the generated file to the browser

Solution 4:

i use the following to download blobs and revoke the object-url after the download. it works in chrome and firefox!

function download(blob){
    var url = URL.createObjectURL(blob);
    console.log('create ' + url);

    window.addEventListener('focus', window_focus, false);
    function window_focus(){
        window.removeEventListener('focus', window_focus, false);                   
        console.log('revoke ' + url);
    location.href = url;

after the file download dialog is closed, the window gets her focus back so the focus event is triggered.

Solution 5:

I wrote a simple JavaScript class that implements a technique similar to the one described in bulltorious answer. I hope it can be useful to someone here.
The GitHub project is called response-monitor.js

By default it uses spin.js as the waiting indicator but it also provides a set of callbacks for implementation of a custom indicator.

JQuery is supported but not required.

Notable features

  • Simple integration
  • No dependencies
  • JQuery plug-in (optional)
  • Spin.js Integration (optional)
  • Configurable callbacks for monitoring events
  • Handles multiple simultaneous requests
  • Server-side error detection
  • Timeout detection
  • Cross browser

Example usage


<!-- the response monitor implementation -->
<script src="response-monitor.js"></script>

<!-- optional JQuery plug-in -->
<script src="response-monitor.jquery.js"></script> 

<a class="my_anchors" href="/report?criteria1=a&criteria2=b#30">Link 1 (Timeout: 30s)</a>
<a class="my_anchors" href="/report?criteria1=b&criteria2=d#10">Link 2 (Timeout: 10s)</a>

<form id="my_form" method="POST">
    <input type="text" name="criteria1">
    <input type="text" name="criteria2">
    <input type="submit" value="Download Report">

Client (plain JavaScript)

//registering multiple anchors at once
var my_anchors = document.getElementsByClassName('my_anchors');
ResponseMonitor.register(my_anchors); //clicking on the links initiates monitoring

//registering a single form
var my_form = document.getElementById('my_form');
ResponseMonitor.register(my_form); //the submit event will be intercepted and monitored

Client (JQuery)

$('#my_form').ResponseMonitor({timeout: 20});

Client with callbacks (JQuery)

//when options are defined, the default spin.js integration is bypassed
var options = {
    onRequest: function(token){
    onMonitor: function(countdown){
    onResponse: function(status){
    onTimeout: function(){

//monitor all anchors in the document

Server (PHP)

$cookiePrefix = 'response-monitor'; //must match the one set on the client options
$tokenValue = $_GET[$cookiePrefix];
$cookieName = $cookiePrefix.'_'.$tokenValue; //ex: response-monitor_1419642741528

//this value is passed to the client through the ResponseMonitor.onResponse callback
$cookieValue = 1; //for ex, "1" can interpret as success and "0" as failure

    time()+300,            // expire in 5 minutes

header('Content-Type: text/plain');
header("Content-Disposition: attachment; filename=\"Response.txt\"");

sleep(5); //simulate whatever delays the response
print_r($_REQUEST); //dump the request in the text file

For more examples check the examples folder on the repository.

Solution 6:

Based on Elmer’s example I’ve prepared my own solution. After elements click with defined download class it lets to show custom message on the screen. I’ve used focus trigger to hide the message.


$(function(){$('.download').click(function() { ShowDownloadMessage(); }); })

function ShowDownloadMessage()
     $('#message-text').text('your report is creating, please wait...');
     window.addEventListener('focus', HideDownloadMessage, false);

function HideDownloadMessage(){
    window.removeEventListener('focus', HideDownloadMessage, false);                   


<div id="message" style="display: none">
    <div id="message-screen-mask" class="ui-widget-overlay ui-front"></div>
    <div id="message-text" class="ui-dialog ui-widget ui-widget-content ui-corner-all ui-front ui-draggable ui-resizable waitmessage">please wait...</div>

Now you should implement any element to download:

<a class="download" href="file://">Download report</a>


<input class="download" type="submit" value="Download" name="actionType">

After each download click you will see message your report is creating, please wait…