Activation Transfer through postMessages

An API to allow developers transfer user activation state to any target window in the frame tree.


What’s a user activation?

The term user activation means the state of a browsing session with respect to user actions: an “active” state typically implies either the user is currently interacting with the page through some input mechanism (typing, clicking with mouse etc.), or the user has completed some interaction since the page got loaded. Browsers control access to “abusable” of APIs through user activation, e.g., popups are usually blocked unless the user is actively interacting with the page.

Why activation transfer?

Chrome shipped User Activation v2 in version 72, before which the concept of user activation visibility was not defined. With UAv2, a user activation in a window object makes the activation state visible by default to all container window objects (that is, those in the ancestor frames in the frame tree, including the frame being interacted with). We encountered a few regressions where the developers would like to override this default visibility. To support such use-cases, we are proposing here an API that allows passing on the activation state to any window in the frame tree.

Note, however, that our proposed API makes sense without User Activation v2 too, even though we have spec limitations with the notion of user activation.

Proposed API for activation transfer

Proposed spec change

Here is the initial pull request for whatwg/html.

Example usage

Suppose a page has a button on the top frame, and it has a subframe that wants to open a popup when that button on the top frame is clicked. The default visibility rule in UAv2 means that the subframe would be unable to open a popup because it cannot see the user activation in its parent frame. To let the subframe open a popup, the top frame will transfer its own user activation to the subframe after a click, as follows:

// Script for top frame
function clickHandler() {
    let targetWindow = frames[0];
    targetWindow.postMessage("handle_click", {transferUserActivation: true});

let elem = document.getElementById("button");
elem.addEventListener("click", clickHandler);
// Script for subframe
function messageReceiver(e) {
    if (e.source === window.parent && === "handle_click")"about:blank");

window.addEventListener("message", messageReceiver);

How the transfer affects activation states

Proposed IDL

The changes below are on top of WindowPostMessateOptions added through JS API for querying User Activation states.

partial dictionary WindowPostMessageOptions {
  boolean transferUserActivation = false;

Design doc

Alternates explored

We also explored the possibility of adding an <iframe> attribute to allow activation visibility in selected subframes. This API won’t be useful when the receiver frame is not a descendant subframe (e.g. a sibling frame in the frame tree), or when the sender frame would transfer dynamically (e.g. only certain clicks would be delegated instead of all).


Work in progress. First need to complete an implementation behind a flag in Chrome. Note that the API can’t be done through a polyfill.