Headless Mode: Using Annotorious without the Editor Popup

Want to use Annotorious only for the drawing tools? But don’t need the editor? That’s what headless mode is for! In headless mode, you keep all the standard functionality: drawing and editing shapes, JavaScript API, lifecycle events. But you are free to build your own user interface, without being forced to the standard editor popup.

The demo uses headless mode to create annotations with either an Orange or Green tag, and a formatter to color the shapes. (To delete an annotation, select it and press the Delete key.)

Sample image source: Hallstatt, Austria, by Nick Csakany/Wikimedia Commons. Public Domain.

The Headless API

To use Annotorious without the editor popup, the following API options are important:


The disableEditor option defines whether Annotorious will show the editor (normal mode) or not (headless mode). You can disable the editor when you initialize Annotorious:

var anno = Annotorious.init({
  image: 'hallstatt',
  disableEditor: true

Or you can change the value of the disableEditor instance field at any time.

anno.disableEditor = true; // Annotorious is now in headless mode
anno.disableEditor = false; // back to normal mode

createSelection and selectAnnotation

In normal mode, the editor opens when the user creates a new selection, or selects an existing annotation. In headless mode, you want your code to handle these events.

You can do this by attaching handler functions for the createSelection and selectAnnotation events.

anno.on('createSelection', function(selection) {
  // The user has created a new shape...

anno.on('selectAnnotation', function(annotation) {
  // The users has selected an existing annotation

updateSelected and saveSelected

In your handler functions, you will typically perform modifications on the selected annotation. The updateSelected method allows you to replace the current selection with a modified one.

After you have called updateSelected, the annotation is still in draft state. To make the change persistent, you need to save it by calling saveSelected. This will persist the change (and Annotorious will fire createAnnotation or updateAnnotation events accordingly).

Important: updateSelected is an asynchronous operation. It takes a while to complete and returns a Promise. Make sure you wait until updateSelected completes before calling saveSelected!

// This does not work

// This works
await anno.updateSelected(selection);

// And this works, too
anno.updateSelected(selection).then(function() {

Because some applications will often apply only a single change, and then save immediately, updateSelected also includes a convenience “update and save” option.

// This updates and saves immediately, no
// more need to call .saveSelected
anno.updateSelected(modified, true);

Code Example

The code below shows a full working example: when the user creates a new shape, the application inserts a tag automatically, and saves the annotation. (The tag is hard-wired in the example. But you could easily make it a variable that’s changed via a text input or dropdown in your page.)

  1. activates headless mode on init
  2. attaches a createSelection listener, which inserts a (hard-coded) tag into new selections
  3. saves the annotation
var anno = Annotorious.init({
  image: 'hallstatt',
  locale: 'auto',

  // Step 1: activate headless mode by 
  // disabling the editor
  disableEditor: true

// Step 2: add a listener that modifies selections
// created by the user
anno.on('createSelection', async function(selection) {

  // Tag to insert
  selection.body = [{
    type: 'TextualBody',
    purpose: 'tagging',
    value: 'MyTag'

  // Step 3: update the selection and save it
  // Remember that .updateSelected is an async function!
  // You need to wait until it completes before saving
  await anno.updateSelected(selection);

  // Alternative:
  // anno.updateSelected(selection, true);