Tuesday May 11, 2021 By David Quintanilla
A Primer On CSS Container Queries — Smashing Magazine

A prototype of the long-awaited CSS container queries has landed in Chrome Canary and is out there for experimentation. Let’s have a look at what downside is being solved, find out how container queries work, and see how they examine with and complement current CSS options for structure.

At current, container queries can be utilized in Chrome Canary by visiting chrome://flags and looking for and enabling them. A restart can be required.

View of the search results within Chrome Canary’s chrome://flags settings screen showing the “Enable CSS Container Queries” item with a status of “Enabled”
View of the search outcomes inside Chrome Canary’s chrome://flags settings display exhibiting the “Allow CSS Container Queries” merchandise with a standing of “Enabled”. (Large preview)

Word: Please needless to say the spec is in progress, and will change at any time. You may review the draft document which is able to replace because the spec is fashioned.

What Drawback Are CSS Container Queries Fixing?

Almost 11 years in the past, Ethan Marcotte launched us to the concept of responsive design. Central to that concept was the provision of CSS media queries which allowed setting numerous guidelines relying on the dimensions of the viewport. The iPhone had been launched three years prior, and we had been all making an attempt to determine the right way to work inside this new world of contending with each cellular display sizes and desktop display sizes (which had been a lot smaller on common than as we speak).

Earlier than and even after responsive design was launched, many corporations handled the issue of fixing structure based mostly on display measurement by delivering utterly completely different websites, usually below the subdomain of m. Responsive design and media queries opened up many extra structure options, and a few years of making finest practices round responding to viewport sizes. Moreover, frameworks like Bootstrap rose in reputation largely because of offering builders responsive grid programs.

In newer years, design programs and part libraries have gained reputation. There may be additionally a want to construct as soon as, deploy wherever. Which means a part developed in isolation is meant to work in any variety of contexts to make constructing advanced interfaces extra environment friendly and constant.

In some unspecified time in the future, these parts come collectively to make an internet web page or utility interface. At the moment, with solely media queries, there may be usually an additional layer concerned to orchestrate mutations of parts throughout viewport adjustments. As talked about beforehand, a standard answer is to make use of responsive breakpoint utility lessons to impose a grid system, comparable to frameworks like Bootstrap present. However these utility lessons are a patch answer for the constraints of media queries, and infrequently lead to difficulties for nested grid layouts. In these conditions, you’ll have so as to add many breakpoint utility lessons and nonetheless not arrive on the most perfect presentation.

Or, builders could also be utilizing sure CSS grid and flex behaviors to approximate container responsiveness. However flex and CSS grid solutions are restricted to solely loosely defining structure changes from horizontal to vertical preparations, and don’t deal with the necessity to modify different properties.

Container queries transfer us past contemplating solely the viewport, and permit any part or aspect to reply to an outlined container’s width. So whereas you should still use a responsive grid for total web page structure, a part inside that grid can outline its personal adjustments in habits by querying its container. Then, it could actually alter its types relying on whether or not it’s displayed in a slender or large container.

See the Pen [Container Queries – Minimal Flexbox Grid Layout Example](https://codepen.io/smashingmag/pen/MWpaGpQ) by Stephanie Eckles.

See the Pen Container Queries – Minimal Flexbox Grid Layout Example by Stephanie Eckles.

Container queries move us beyond considering only the viewport, and allow any component or element to respond to a defined container’s width.

With container queries, you’ll be capable of outline a part’s full vary of types in a really exact and predictable method. Maybe you need to improve or lower padding, change font sizes, add or take away background photos, or utterly change the show property and orientation of kid components.

We’ll have a look at extra examples quickly, however first let’s discover ways to create a container question!

Getting Began With CSS Container Queries

The very first thing to learn about CSS container queries is that “containers” are the weather being queried, however guidelines inside container queries have an effect on solely the container descendants. In different phrases — it’s possible you’ll outline most important as a container, or maybe article, and even checklist gadgets. Then, container queries will permit defining guidelines for the way components inside these change throughout container sizes.

For the present experimental prototype, there may be one property required to outline a component as a container, and that’s the current include property. That is liable to altering, each by way of what values are used, in addition to the opportunity of a new property being launched as a substitute to assist outline containment.

Already, the include property takes one or a number of values, and support is gaining for the preliminary mixture of structure measurement. The structure worth creates a block formatting context that can include all its margins in order that the contents don’t have an effect on contents in one other container. The measurement worth requires setting express peak and width values or receiving dimensions extrinsically as from flex or grid dad and mom, as with this worth the aspect will now not verify its dimensions from its kids.

The primary purpose of browsers implementing these explicit values first was to organize for the opportunity of container queries. These containment values are set as much as clear up the difficulty of infinite looping that may very well be attributable to a baby aspect’s width altering its father or mother width which adjustments the kid width once more.

The container query proposal is authored by Miriam Suzanne and defines a brand new worth of inline-size. Whereas measurement is for containment in each instructions (width and peak), the inline-size worth is for containment based mostly on width.

Miriam suggests that almost all usually CSS authors try to include components based mostly on width. In the meantime, peak is allowed to be intrinsic — in different phrases, to develop or shrink based mostly on the aspect’s contents. Due to this fact, inline-size is taken into account to be single axis containment. And it’s the worth that’s obtainable in Chrome Canary and permits us to start out experimenting with container queries.

Let’s create a category to have the ability to use for outlining components as containers:

.container {
  include: structure inline-size type;

We would have liked to incorporate the values of structure and inline-size for container queries to efficiently work. Moreover, Miriam suggested including type as nicely to keep away from a possible infinite loop from setting properties comparable to counters which have potential to set off adjustments exterior of the container and have an effect on its measurement thus inflicting a resizing loop.

Now, earlier than we really write a question, there are a couple of extra issues to know.

When you attach a container query, you are not modifying the container itself, but rather the elements within that container.

The usage of inline-size creates a containment context for components inside that container. A queried aspect will use its nearest ancestor with containment utilized. That is vital, as a result of it’s allowed to nest containers. So if you’re unaware of what the container is or create a nested container, outcomes for descendants might change.

So, what does a container question really appear to be? The syntax can be acquainted from media queries, as they start with @container after which settle for a definition comparable to (min-width: 300px).

Let’s assume we’ve positioned our container class on the <most important> aspect, and that it accommodates a collection of <articles>.

<most important class="container">
</most important>

Now we will arrange a container question to change the articles and any of their descendants which can be based mostly on the width of most important because it’s the containing aspect. Up to now in my experimentation, I’ve discovered it helpful to think about these just like the idea of “mobile-first”, besides on this case, it’s “narrowest container first”. Which means, I’ll outline the types for my smallest anticipated container first, then use container queries to change types because the container grows.

article {
  padding: 1rem;
  font-size: 1rem;

@container (min-width: 60ch) {
  article {
    padding: 2rem;
    font-size: 1.25rem;

Word that utilizing a font-relative unit like ch or em is meant to make use of the font-size of the container, however on the time of writing that isn’t but full. So, for now, this can be utilizing the basis font measurement. There is a matter in opposition to the spec for exploring different features that may become queryable.

The foundations we added will not be advanced, however they’re sensible. In programs I’ve labored on, changes like what we’ve accomplished with padding are dealt with by making a collection of utility lessons which might be tied to viewport media queries. Now we will make them extra proportionate to components based mostly on their contained measurement.

If we alter our most important container and outline a flex grid in order that the articles reply as flex kids, we’re going to hit what you may understand as a pitfall.

most important {
  show: flex;
  flex-wrap: wrap;

article {
  flex: 1 1 30ch;

What you may count on is that when the article’s width is lower than the 60ch we used for our container question is that it will tackle the decreased padding and font measurement. Nevertheless, for the reason that articles are direct kids of most important and most important is the one containment context, the articles is not going to change till the width of most important is narrower than the container question. We might encounter an analogous concern if we’d used CSS grid to put out the articles.

To resolve this, every article must have a containing aspect added to be able to accurately question for the width of the flex merchandise. It is because the most important aspect is now not consultant of the aspect’s width. On this case, the quickest decision is so as to add div components with our container class round every article.

<most important class="container">
  <div class="container article"><article>...</article></div>
  <div class="container article"><article>...</article></div>
  <div class="container article"><article>...</article></div>
</most important>

We’ll additionally want to change our flex definition from the article to the brand new div, which we’ve additionally added the category of article for ease of writing our rule:

.article {
  flex: 1 1 30ch;

The result’s that when the most important container causes the flex gadgets to wrap, the final article spans the total width and may have the massive container types. Here’s a CodePen of this instance of container queries for flexbox children (reminder to view in Chrome Canary with container queries enabled as famous at first!).

The articles arranged by flex behavior to have two articles on the first row using the narrow container styles and the last article on the second row spanning full width with large container styles.
The articles organized by flex habits to have two articles on the primary row utilizing the slender container types and the final article on the second row spanning full width with massive container types. (Large preview)

We additionally stored most important as a container. This implies we can add types for the .article class, however they are going to be in response to the width of most important, not themselves. I’m anticipating this potential to have guidelines inside container queries responding to a number of layers of containers trigger probably the most confusion for preliminary implementation and later analysis and sharing of stylesheets.

Within the close to future, updates to browser’s DevTools will definitely help make DOM adjustments that alter most of these relationships between components and the containers they could question. Maybe an rising finest follow can be to solely question one stage up inside a given @container block, and to implement kids carrying their container with them to cut back the potential of adverse impression right here. The trade-off is the opportunity of extra DOM components as we noticed with our article instance, and consequently dirtying semantics.

On this instance, we noticed what occurred with each nested containers and in addition the consequences of introducing flex or grid structure right into a container. What’s at the moment unsettled within the spec is what occurs when a container question is outlined however there aren’t any precise container ancestors for these queried components. It could be determined to contemplate containment to be false and drop the principles, or they could fallback to the viewport. You may observe the open issue for fallback containment and even add your opinion to this dialogue!

Container Ingredient Selector Guidelines

Earlier I discussed {that a} container can’t itself be styled inside a container question (except it’s a nested container and responding to its ancestor container’s question). Nevertheless, a container can be used as a part of the CSS selector for its kids.

Why is that this vital? It permits retaining entry to CSS pseudo-classes and selectors that might must originate on the container, comparable to :nth-child.

Given our article instance, if we needed so as to add a border to each odd article, we will write the next:

@container (min-width: 60ch) {
  .container:nth-child(odd) > article {
    border: 1px stable gray;

If it is advisable do that, it’s possible you’ll need to use much less generic container class names to have the ability to establish in a extra readable method which containers are being queried for the rule.

Case Research: Upgrading Smashing Journal’s Article Teasers

In the event you go to an writer’s profile right here on Smashing (such as mine) and resize your browser, you’ll discover the association of the article teaser components change relying on the viewport width.

On the smallest viewports, the avatar and writer’s title are stacked above the headline, and the studying time and remark stats are slotted between the headline and article teaser content material. On barely bigger viewports, the avatar floats left of all of the content material, inflicting the headline to additionally sit nearer to the writer’s title. Lastly, on the most important viewports, the article is allowed to span almost the total web page width and the studying time and remark stats change their place to drift to the precise of the article content material and under the headline.

Screenshot of the three layout adjustments described in the previous paragraph.
Screenshot of the three structure changes described within the earlier paragraph. (Large preview)

By combining container queries with an improve to utilizing CSS grid template areas, we will replace this part to be conscious of containers as a substitute of the viewport. We’ll begin with the slender view, which additionally implies that browsers that don’t help container queries will use that structure.

Now for this demo, I’ve introduced the minimal essential current types from Smashing, and solely made one modification to the prevailing DOM which was to maneuver the headline into the header part (and make it an h2).

Right here’s a decreased snippet of the article DOM construction to point out the weather we’re involved about re-arranging (authentic class names retained):

<article class="article--post">
    <div class="article--post__image"></div>
    <span class="article--post__author-name"></span>
    <h2 class="article--post__title"></h2>
  <footer class="article--post__stats"></footer>
  <div class="article--post__content"></div>

We’ll assume these are direct kids of most important and outline most important as our container:

most important {
  include: structure inline-size type;

Within the smallest container, we’ve got the three sections stacked: header, stats, and content material. Primarily, they’re showing within the default block structure in DOM order. However we’ll go forward and assign a grid template and every of the related components as a result of the template is vital to our changes inside the container queries.

.article--post {
  show: grid;
    "content material";
  hole: 0.5rem;

.article--post header {
  grid-area: header;

.article--post__stats {
  grid-area: stats;

.article--post__content {
  grid-area: content material;

Grid is right for this job as a result of having the ability to outline named template areas makes it a lot simpler to use adjustments to the association. Plus, its precise structure algorithm is extra perfect than flexbox for the way we need to handle to resize the areas, which can grow to be extra clear as we add within the container question updates.

Earlier than we proceed, we additionally must create a grid template for the header to have the ability to transfer across the avatar, writer’s title, and headline.

We’ll add onto the rule for .article--submit header:

.article--post header {
  show: grid;
    "avatar title"
    "headline headline";
  grid-auto-columns: auto 1fr;
  align-items: middle;
  column-gap: 1rem;
  row-gap: 0.5rem;

In the event you’re much less accustomed to grid-template-areas, what we’re doing right here is guaranteeing that the highest row has one column for the avatar and one for the title. Then, on the second row, we’re planning to have the headline span each of these columns, which we outline through the use of the identical title twice.

Importantly, we additionally outline the grid-auto-columns to override the default habits the place every column takes up 1fr or an equal a part of the shared house. It is because we would like the primary column to solely be as large because the avatar, and permit the title to occupy the remaining house.

Now we have to you should definitely explicitly place the associated components into these areas:

.article--post__image {
  grid-area: avatar;

.article--post__author-name {
  grid-area: title;

.article--post__title {
  grid-area: headline;
  font-size: 1.5rem;

We’re additionally defining a font-size for the title, which we’ll improve because the container width will increase.

Lastly, we’ll use flex to rearrange the stats checklist horizontally, which would be the association till the most important container measurement:

.article--post__stats ul {
  show: flex;
  hole: 1rem;
  margin: 0;

Word: Safari not too long ago accomplished help of hole for flexbox, that means it’s supported for all trendy browsers now! 🎉

The result of the grid template styles, showing the avatar and author name aligned, followed by the headline, then stats, then teaser content.
The results of the grid template types, exhibiting the avatar and writer title aligned, adopted by the headline, then stats, then teaser content material. (Large preview)

We will now transfer to our first of two container queries to create the midsize view. Let’s make the most of having the ability to create font-relative queries, and base it on the container exceeding 60ch. In my view, making content material issues relative to line size is a sensible approach to handle adjustments throughout container widths. Nevertheless, you could possibly actually use pixels, rems, ems, and probably extra choices sooner or later.

For this center measurement, we have to alter each the header and total article grid templates:

@container (min-width: 60ch) {
  .article--post header {
      "avatar title"
      "avatar headline";
    align-items: begin;

  .article--post {
    grid-template-areas: "header header" ". stats" ". content material";
    grid-auto-columns: 5rem 1fr;
    column-gap: 1rem;

  .article--post__title {
    font-size: 1.75rem;

At this width, we would like the avatar to seem pulled into its personal column to the left of the remainder of the content material. To attain this, inside the header the grid template assigns it to the primary column of each rows, after which shifts the title to row one, column two, and the headline to row two, column two. The avatar additionally must be aligned to the highest now, so alter that with align-items: begin.

Subsequent, we up to date the article grid template in order that the header takes up each columns within the prime row. Following that, we use the . character to assign an unnamed grid space for the primary column of the second and third row, getting ready for the visible of the avatar showing in its personal column. Then, we alter the auto columns to make make the primary column equal to the avatar width to finish the impact.

The midsize container query layout with the avatar visually appearing to be in it’s own column to the left of the rest of the content.
The midsize container question structure with the avatar visually showing to be in it’s personal column to the left of the remainder of the content material. (Large preview)

For the most important container measurement, we have to transfer the stats checklist to seem on the precise of the article content material, however under the headline. We’ll once more use ch models for our “breakpoint”, this time selecting 100ch.

@container (min-width: 100ch) {
  .article--post {
    grid-template-areas: "header header header" ". content material stats";
    grid-auto-columns: 5rem fit-content(70ch) auto;

  .article--post__stats ul {
    flex-direction: column;

  .article--post__title {
    max-width: 80ch;
    font-size: 2rem;

  .article--post__content {
    padding-right: 2em;

To fulfill all of our necessities, we now must care for three columns, which makes the primary row a triple repeat of header. Then, the second row begins with an unnamed column shared with content material after which stats.

the actual model of this web page, we see that the article doesn’t span 100% of the width of Smashing’s structure. To retain this cover, inside the grid-auto-columns we’re utilizing the fit-content perform, which might be learn as: “develop up till intrinsic max-width of the content material, however no larger than the supplied worth”. So, we’re saying the column can develop however not exceed 70ch. This doesn’t forestall it from shrinking, so the column stays conscious of its obtainable house as nicely.

Following the content material column, we outline auto for the stats column width. This implies it will likely be allowed to take the inline house it wants to suit its content material.

The largest article component arrangement moves the reading time and comment stats to the right of the main content, and the article content takes up the most horizontal space.
The most important article part association strikes the studying time and remark stats to the precise of the primary content material, and the article content material takes up probably the most horizontal house. (Large preview)

Now, it’s possible you’ll be pondering that we’ve form of simply accomplished media queries however in a barely completely different method. Which — if we pause a second — is form of nice! It ought to assist container queries really feel acquainted and make them simpler to regulate to and embody in your workflow. For our demo, it additionally at the moment feels that method as a result of our single article is at the moment responding to at least one father or mother aspect which itself is simply responding to the altering viewport.

What we’re actually accomplished is about the inspiration for this text to be dropped in on an article web page, or on the house web page the place the articles are organized in columns (for the sake of this demo, we’ll ignore the opposite adjustments that occur on the house web page). As we discovered within the intro instance, if we would like components to reply to the width of CSS grid tracks or flex gadgets, we have to have them carry their container with them. So let’s add an express container aspect round every article as a substitute of counting on most important.

<div class="article--post-container">
    <article class="article--post"></article>

Then, we’ll assign .article--post-container as a container:

.article--post-container {
  include: structure inline-size;

Now, if we create a flex-based grid structure as we did within the intro instance, we’ll place one article by itself above that grid, and two inside the flex grid. This leads to the next changes because the containers change measurement:

The video helps exhibit the adjustments that are actually in a position to occur utterly independently of viewport-based media queries! That is what makes container queries thrilling, and why they’ve been wanted by CSS builders for thus lengthy.

Right here is the total CodePen of this demo together with the flex grid:

See the Pen [Container Queries Case Study: Smashing Magazine Article Excerpts](https://codepen.io/smashingmag/pen/KKWdRMq) by Stephanie Eckles.

See the Pen Container Queries Case Study: Smashing Magazine Article Excerpts by Stephanie Eckles.

Alternatives and Cautions for Utilizing Container Queries

You can begin getting ready to make use of container queries as we speak by together with them as a progressive enhancement. By defining types that work nicely with out container queries, you may layer up enhancements that do use them. Then, unsupporting browsers will nonetheless obtain a workable — if lower than perfect — model.

As we glance in direction of the way forward for having the ability to use container queries wherever, listed here are some potential alternatives the place they are going to be useful, in addition to some cautions. All of them share one trait: they’re situations when it’s more likely to be thought-about fascinating that structure and magnificence adjustments can be unbiased from the viewport.

Responsive Typography

You might be accustomed to the idea of responsive or fluid typography. Options for making typography replace throughout viewport and aspect widths have seen many developments, from JavaScript aiding, to CSS options utilizing clamp() and viewport models.

If the spec receives a container unit (which we’ll speak about shortly), we might be able to obtain intrinsic typography. However even with the present spec, we will outline responsive typography by altering the font-size worth throughout numerous sizes of contained components. In reality, we simply did this within the instance of the Smashing Journal articles.

Whereas that is thrilling from a design and structure standpoint, it comes with the identical warning as current fluid typography options. For accessibility, a consumer ought to be capable of zoom the structure and improve font-size to 200% of its authentic measurement. In the event you create an answer that drastically shrinks font measurement in smaller containers — which often is the computed measurement upon zoom — a consumer might by no means be capable of obtain rising the bottom font-size by 200%. I’m certain we’ll see extra pointers and options round this as all of us get extra accustomed to container queries!

Altering Show Values

With container queries, we’ll be capable of utterly change show properties, comparable to from grid to flex. Or change their associated properties, like replace grid templates. This makes method for easily repositioning little one components based mostly on the present house allowed to the container.

That is the class you’ll discover most of the present demos fall into, because it appears to be one of many issues that makes the opportunity of container queries so thrilling. Whereas responsive grid programs are based mostly on media queries tied to viewport width, it’s possible you’ll end up including layers of utility lessons to get the outcome you’re actually after. However with container queries, you may precisely specify not solely a grid system, however utterly change it because the aspect or part grows and shrinks.

Potential situations embody:

  • altering a publication subscription type from horizontal to stacked structure;
  • creating alternating grid template sections;
  • altering picture facet ratios and their place versus associated content material;
  • dynamic contact playing cards that reposition avatars and call particulars and might be dropped in a sidebar simply as simply as a page-width part

Right here it needs to be famous that simply as in our pre-container question world, for accessibility it’s suggested to make sure a logical order particularly for the sake of tabbing interactive components like hyperlinks, buttons, and type components.

Exhibiting, Hiding And Rearranging

For extra advanced parts, container queries can step in and handle variations. Think about a navigation menu that features a collection of hyperlinks, and when the container is decreased, a few of these hyperlinks ought to conceal and a dropdown ought to seem.

Container queries can be utilized to observe sections of the navigation bar and alter these particular person components independently. Distinction this to making an attempt to deal with this with media queries, the place you may decide to design and develop in opposition to breakpoints with the results of a compromised, much less perfect ultimate answer.

Develop As soon as, Deploy Wherever

Okay, this could be a bit aspirational. However for design programs, part libraries, and framework builders, container queries will tremendously enhance the flexibility to ship self-defensive options. Elements’ potential to handle themselves inside any given house will cut back issues launched when it comes time to really add them right into a structure.

At first thought, this looks as if the dream, particularly in the event you’ve been concerned with design system growth as I’ve. Nevertheless, the professionals and cons could also be equal for some parts, and it’s possible you’ll not all the time need the dynamic structure or repositioning habits. I anticipate this can be one other space finest practices will type to maybe have parts opt-in to utilizing container question habits per occasion, comparable to by a modifier class.

For instance, think about a card part that assumes that font-size ought to change. However, in a specific occasion, the precise character counts had been for much longer or a lot shorter and people guidelines had been suboptimal. An opt-in would doubtless be simpler than making an attempt to override each single container question that was connected.

What May Change within the Spec

At the moment, even the syntax is topic to alter earlier than the spec is absolutely finalized. In reality, it’s been launched as an experiment in order that as a group we will present suggestions. Miriam Suzanne has created a GitHub project to track issues, and it’s possible you’ll react to these and add feedback.

I already talked about two key points but to be resolved:

  • #6178: How does @container resolve when no ancestor containers have been outlined?
  • #5989: What container options might be queried?

Of excessive significance and impression is:

  • Ought to there be a brand new syntax for establishing queryable containers? (#6174)
    The preliminary concern from Miriam proposes two choices of both a brand new set of devoted include values or a wholly new property maybe known as containment. If any of those adjustments come by within the prototype section, the values demonstrated initially of this text might now not work. So as soon as once more, word that it’s nice to experiment, however bear in mind that issues will proceed altering!

Additionally of curiosity is the opportunity of new container models, tracked in:

  • [“container width” and “container height” units (#5888)
    This could open up a native CSS solution for intrinsic typography among other things, something like: font-size: clamp(1.5rem, 1rem + 4cw, 3rem) (where cw is a placeholder for a currently undefined unit that might represent container width).

Additional Demos And Resources

Smashing Editorial
(vf, il)

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