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JavaScript/jQuery to download file via POST with JSON data

user3830 Published in May 21, 2018, 11:18 am

I have a jquery-based single-page webapp. It communicates with a RESTful web service via AJAX calls.

I'm trying to accomplish the following:

  1. Submit a POST that contains JSON data to a REST url.
  2. If the request specifies a JSON response, then JSON is returned.
  3. If the request specifies a PDF/XLS/etc response, then a downloadable binary is returned.

I have 1 & 2 working now, and the client jquery app displays the returned data in the web page by creating DOM elements based on the JSON data. I also have #3 working from the web-service point of view, meaning it will create and return a binary file if given the correct JSON parameters. But I'm unsure the best way to deal with #3 in the client javascript code.

Is it possible to get a downloadable file back from an ajax call like this? How do I get the browser to download and save the file?

    type: "POST",
    url: "/services/test",
    contentType: "application/json",
    data: JSON.stringify({category: 42, sort: 3, type: "pdf"}),
    dataType: "json",
    success: function(json, status){
        if (status != "success") {
            log("Error loading data");
        log("Data loaded!");
    error: function(result, status, err) {
        log("Error loading data");

The server responds with the following headers:

Content-Disposition:attachment; filename=export-1282022272283.pdf

Another idea is to generate the PDF and store it on the server and return JSON that includes a URL to the file. Then, issue another call in the ajax success handler to do something like the following:

success: function(json,status) {
    window.location.href = json.url;

But doing that means I would need to make more than one call to the server, and my server would need to build downloadable files, store them somewhere, then periodically clean up that storage area.

There must be a simpler way to accomplish this. Ideas?

EDIT: After reviewing the docs for $.ajax, I see that the response dataType can only be one of xml, html, script, json, jsonp, text, so I'm guessing there is no way to directly download a file using an ajax request, unless I embed the binary file in using Data URI scheme as suggested in the @VinayC answer (which is not something I want to do).

So I guess my options are:

  1. Not use ajax and instead submit a form post and embed my JSON data into the form values. Would probably need to mess with hidden iframes and such.

  2. Not use ajax and instead convert my JSON data into a query string to build a standard GET request and set window.location.href to this URL. May need to use event.preventDefault() in my click handler to keep browser from changing from the application URL.

  3. Use my other idea above, but enhanced with suggestions from the @naikus answer. Submit AJAX request with some parameter that lets web-service know this is being called via an ajax call. If the web service is called from an ajax call, simply return JSON with a URL to the generated resource. If the resource is called directly, then return the actual binary file.

The more I think about it, the more I like the last option. This way I can get information back about the request (time to generate, size of file, error messages, etc.) and I can act on that information before starting the download. The downside is extra file management on the server.

Any other ways to accomplish this? Any pros/cons to these methods I should be aware of?

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