Handle file download from ajax post

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I have a javascript app that sends ajax POST requests to a certain URL. Response might be a JSON string or it might be a file (as an attachment). I can easily detect Content-Type and Content-Disposition in my ajax call, but once I detect that the response contains a file, how do I offer the client to download it? I’ve read a number of similar threads here but none of them provide the answer I’m looking for.

Please, please, please do not post answers suggesting that I shouldn’t use ajax for this or that I should redirect the browser, because none of this is an option. Using a plain HTML form is also not an option. What I do need is to show a download dialog to the client. Can this be done and how?


Apparently, this cannot be done, but there is a simple workaround, as suggested by the accepted answer. For anyone who comes across this issue in the future, here’s how I solved it:

    type: "POST",
    url: url,
    data: params,
    success: function(response, status, request) {
        var disp = request.getResponseHeader('Content-Disposition');
        if (disp && disp.search('attachment') != -1) {
            var form = $('<form method="POST" action="' + url + '">');
            $.each(params, function(k, v) {
                form.append($('<input type="hidden" name="' + k +
                        '" value="' + v + '">'));

So basically, just generate a HTML form with the same params that were used in AJAX request and submit it.

First answer

Create a form, use the POST method, submit the form – there’s no need for an iframe. When the server page responds to the request, write a response header for the mime type of the file, and it will present a download dialog – I’ve done this a number of times.

You want content-type of application/download – just search for how to provide a download for whatever language you’re using.

Second answer

I faced the same issue and successfully solved it. My use-case is this.

Post JSON data to the server and receive an excel file.
That excel file is created by the server and returned as a response to the client. Download that response as a file with custom name in browser

$("#my-button").on("click", function(){

// Data to post
data = {
    ids: [1, 2, 3, 4, 5]

// Use XMLHttpRequest instead of Jquery $ajax
xhttp = new XMLHttpRequest();
xhttp.onreadystatechange = function() {
    var a;
    if (xhttp.readyState === 4 && xhttp.status === 200) {
        // Trick for making downloadable link
        a = document.createElement('a');
        a.href = window.URL.createObjectURL(xhttp.response);
        // Give filename you wish to download
        a.download = "test-file.xls";
        a.style.display = 'none';
// Post data to URL which handles post request
xhttp.open("POST", excelDownloadUrl);
xhttp.setRequestHeader("Content-Type", "application/json");
// You should set responseType as blob for binary responses
xhttp.responseType = 'blob';

The above snippet is just doing following

  • Posting an array as JSON to the server using XMLHttpRequest.
  • After fetching content as a blob(binary), we are creating a downloadable URL and attaching it to invisible “a” link then clicking it.

Here we need to carefully set few things at the server side. I set few headers in Python Django HttpResponse. You need to set them accordingly if you use other programming languages.

# In python django code
response = HttpResponse(file_content, content_type="application/vnd.openxmlformats-officedocument.spreadsheetml.sheet")

Since I download xls(excel) here, I adjusted contentType to above one. You need to set it according to your file type. You can use this technique to download any kind of files.

Third answer

What server-side language are you using? In my app I can easily download a file from an AJAX call by setting the correct headers in PHP’s response:

Setting headers server-side

header("HTTP/1.1 200 OK");
header("Pragma: public");
header("Cache-Control: must-revalidate, post-check=0, pre-check=0");

// The optional second 'replace' parameter indicates whether the header
// should replace a previous similar header, or add a second header of
// the same type. By default it will replace, but if you pass in FALSE
// as the second argument you can force multiple headers of the same type.
header("Cache-Control: private", false);

header("Content-type: " . $mimeType);

// $strFileName is, of course, the filename of the file being downloaded. 
// This won't have to be the same name as the actual file.
header("Content-Disposition: attachment; filename=\"{$strFileName}\""); 

header("Content-Transfer-Encoding: binary");
header("Content-Length: " . mb_strlen($strFile));

// $strFile is a binary representation of the file that is being downloaded.
echo $strFile;

This will in fact ‘redirect’ the browser to this download page, but as @ahren alread said in his comment, it won’t navigate away from the current page.

It’s all about setting the correct headers so I’m sure you’ll find a suitable solution for the server-side language you’re using if it’s not PHP.

Handling the response client side

Assuming you already know how to make an AJAX call, on the client side you execute an AJAX request to the server. The server then generates a link from where this file can be downloaded, e.g. the ‘forward’ URL where you want to point to.
For example, the server responds with:

    status: 1, // ok
    // unique one-time download token, not required of course
    message: 'http://yourwebsite.com/getdownload/ska08912dsa'

When processing the response, you inject an iframe in your body and set the iframe‘s SRC to the URL you just received like this (using jQuery for the ease of this example):

$("body").append("<iframe src='" + data.message +
  "' style='display: none;' ></iframe>");

If you’ve set the correct headers as shown above, the iframe will force a download dialog without navigating the browser away from the current page.


Extra addition in relation to your question; I think it’s best to always return JSON when requesting stuff with AJAX technology. After you’ve received the JSON response, you can then decide client-side what to do with it. Maybe, for example, later on you want the user to click a download link to the URL instead of forcing the download directly, in your current setup you would have to update both client and server-side to do so.

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