Virtual scroll with functional JavaScript

A detailed step-by-step guide on how to build a virtual scroll using pure JavaScript and a functional library, Ramda.

Virtual scroll is a powerful technique that enables web developers to present large datasets in a user-friendly and efficient manner. By rendering only the visible content and dynamically managing the dataset as the user scrolls, virtual scrolling enhances performance, improves the user experience, and reduces DOM clutter. Whether you’re building a data-intensive application or simply looking to optimize your user interface, mastering virtual scrolling is a valuable skill that will elevate your web development projects.

Below are the steps to build and understand a virtual scroll. I will break down the problem into smaller chunks, which will help us all to really grasp what is going on behind the scenes of virtual scrolling.

Here are the sub-problems we will tackle:

  1. Display number of items using buttons
  2. Show items in their “corresponding” place
  3. Add the scroll functionality

1. Display number of items using buttons

We will work with a list of 10 items. This acts as data that we fetched from the database.

	const items = ["Item 0", "Item 1", "Item 2", "Item 3", 
		"Item 4", "Item 5", "Item 6", "Item 7", "Item 8", "Item 9"];

To break down the problem, I started with two buttons for incrementing and decrementing a number. That number corresponds to an index in our tiny dataset of 10 items. So, we will add two buttons into the html with an onclick event with two different callback functions:

		<button onclick="increment()">Increment</button>
		<button onclick="decrement()">Decrement</button>

Those functions will do a lot of work for calculating which items from items we should display, when the user clicks either of the buttons. To keep track of that, we need a count, the number of items, and a number of items we want to show.

	let count = 0;
	const shownItemsCount = 3;
	const totalItemsCount = R.length(items);

We also want to have a cap for count, since we only have 10 items in this case, and we treat count as index, the maximum count should be 9. But because of how the items will be rendered, the maximum count can be totalItemsCount - shownItemsCount. In our case, it is 7. The same goes for values below zero, they don’t exist in the array. If we don’t do this measure, what will happen is the displayed items will disappear, one by one, when we reach the limit of the array of either side by clicking the buttons.

Finally, those functions will re-render the page, so the correct items can be shown.

Those are the functions:

	function increment() {
		(count < totalItemsCount - shownItemsCount) ? count++ : count;
	function decrement() {
		(count > 0) ? count-- : count;

Let’s go over what happens in the renderList function. Here, we want to take a portion of items from the array and get it ready for display. Then, render that data onto the page.

	function renderList() {
		const visibleItems = R.pipe(
			R.slice(count, count + shownItemsCount), => `<div>${x}</div>`)

		document.getElementById("list-container").innerHTML = R.join("", 

Now we got a virtual scroll…with buttons. :)

2. Show items in their “corresponding” place

Next step is show the items in their corresponding place, as if they are invisible until you “scroll” to their location. For this, we need to know the height of the container that can hold all of the items, together with the height of a single row that displays an item from items.

	const rowHeight = 20;
	const totalListHeight = rowHeight * totalItemsCount;

Another variable we need is an offset, by which we need to visually move the shown items down. For example, if we increment the count to 3, that means we will be displaying “Item 3”, “Item 4”, and “Item 5”, and we want to offset the reserved place for “Item 0”, “Item 1”, and “Item 2”. Hence,

	let offsetY = count * rowHeight;

That offset variable will become very handy with CSS transform property and translateY transformation function, which does exactly what we want: move an element vertically.

So, we will rewrite the renderList function:

	function renderList() {
		offsetY = count * rowHeight;

		const visibleItems = R.pipe(
			R.slice(count, count + shownItemsCount), => `<div style="height: ${rowHeight}px;
			transform: translateY(${offsetY}px)">${x}</div>`)
		document.getElementById("list-container").innerHTML = `
		<div style="height: ${totalListHeight}px;">
			${R.join("", visibleItems)}

Perfect! Now it works with an offset, so we are very close to make it work with a scroll event. Let’s dive in!

3. Add the scroll functionality

First, let’s replace click event (and corresponding buttons) with a scroll event. We attach it to the same old list-container div. We also want to set the ability to scroll with CSS. Plus, we need a viewport div with a fixed height.

	#list-container {
		overflow: scroll;

	#viewport {
		height: 60px;

Since, there are no buttons, we are not going to use the callback functions increment and decrement. However, we will take our learnings and create a new function moveItems. Because we are not clicking but scrolling, calculating count will require a bit more math than adding or subtracting 1 to it.

We want to know where we are when we scroll. And one important property that will help us immensely with calculating our position from the top of the list-container to the place we have scrolled to is scrollTop. It is attached to list-container, so we can use it with a scrollEventHandler.

	function scrollEventHandler(event) {
		const scrollTop = listElement.scrollTop;

To calculate count, we have to divide the distance scrolled by a constant row height. And the same restrictions apply here: we don’t want to go below 0, and above 7.

	function moveItems(scrollTop) {
		count = Math.floor(scrollTop / rowHeight);
		count = R.min(totalItemsCount - shownItemsCount, count);
		count = R.max(0, count);

And there you have it! A virtual scroll, implemented with vanilla JavaScript (and Ramda).

To make it a better user experience for our fussy sophisticated users, we can add buffer to the visibleItems. That will produce a smoother scroll, without empty spaces on either sides of the rendered list. Also, let’s make it a bit more pretty and give it a more catchy data than Item 1, Item 2…

After a bit of tweaking, here is my result. All the code can be found on my GitHub repo.