Tuesday May 11, 2021 By David Quintanilla
A Guide To CSS Container Queries — Smashing Magazine

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

At current, container queries can be utilized in Chrome Canary by visiting chrome://flags and looking for and enabling them. A restart might 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 displaying the “Allow CSS Container Queries” merchandise with a standing of “Enabled”. (Large preview)

Word: Please remember the fact that 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 scale of the viewport. The iPhone had been launched three years prior, and we have been all attempting to determine methods to work inside this new world of contending with each cellular display sizes and desktop display sizes (which have been a lot smaller on common than as we speak).

Earlier than and even after responsive design was launched, many firms handled the issue of adjusting format based mostly on display dimension by delivering fully totally different websites, typically beneath the subdomain of m. Responsive design and media queries opened up many extra format 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 more moderen years, design programs and element libraries have gained reputation. There may be additionally a want to construct as soon as, deploy wherever. Which means a element developed in isolation is meant to work in any variety of contexts to make constructing complicated interfaces extra environment friendly and constant.

Sooner or later, these elements come collectively to make an online web page or utility interface. Presently, with solely media queries, there may be typically an additional layer concerned to orchestrate mutations of elements throughout viewport modifications. As talked about beforehand, a typical answer is to make use of responsive breakpoint utility courses to impose a grid system, corresponding to frameworks like Bootstrap present. However these utility courses are a patch answer for the constraints of media queries, and sometimes end in difficulties for nested grid layouts. In these conditions, you could have so as to add many breakpoint utility courses and nonetheless not arrive on the most excellent 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 format changes from horizontal to vertical preparations, and don’t handle the necessity to modify different properties.

Container queries transfer us past contemplating solely the viewport, and permit any element or factor to answer an outlined container’s width. So whereas you should still use a responsive grid for total web page format, a element inside that grid can outline its personal modifications in conduct by querying its container. Then, it may regulate its types relying on whether or not it’s displayed in a slim or huge 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 to outline a element’s full vary of types in a really exact and predictable manner. Maybe you wish to improve or lower padding, change font sizes, add or take away background photos, or fully 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 — you might outline primary as a container, or maybe article, and even checklist objects. Then, container queries will permit defining guidelines for a 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 susceptible to altering, each by way of what values are used, in addition to the opportunity of a new property being launched as an alternative to assist outline containment.

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

The primary aim of browsers implementing these explicit values first was to arrange for the opportunity of container queries. These containment values are set as much as remedy the problem of infinite looping that might be brought on by a baby factor’s width altering its dad or mum width which modifications the kid width once more.

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

Miriam suggests that the majority typically 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 factor’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 begin experimenting with container queries.

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

.container {
  include: format inline-size model;

We would have liked to incorporate the values of format and inline-size for container queries to efficiently work. Moreover, Miriam suggested including model as properly to keep away from a possible infinite loop from setting properties corresponding to counters which have potential to set off modifications outdoors of the container and have an effect on its dimension thus inflicting a resizing loop.

Now, earlier than we truly write a question, there are a number 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.

Using inline-size creates a containment context for components inside that container. A queried factor will use its nearest ancestor with containment utilized. That is essential, 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 truly appear like? The syntax might be acquainted from media queries, as they start with @container after which settle for a definition corresponding to (min-width: 300px).

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

<primary class="container">

Now we are able to arrange a container question to change the articles and any of their descendants which might be based mostly on the width of primary because it’s the containing factor. 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’s not but full. So, for now, this might be utilizing the foundation font dimension. There is a matter in opposition to the spec for exploring different features that may become queryable.

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

If we regulate our primary container and outline a flex grid in order that the articles reply as flex youngsters, we’re going to hit what you would possibly understand as a pitfall.

primary {
  show: flex;
  flex-wrap: wrap;

article {
  flex: 1 1 30ch;

What you would possibly anticipate 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 dimension. Nevertheless, for the reason that articles are direct youngsters of primary and primary is the one containment context, the articles is not going to change till the width of primary is narrower than the container question. We might encounter an identical problem if we’d used CSS grid to put out the articles.

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

<primary class="container">
  <div class="container article"><article>...</article></div>
  <div class="container article"><article>...</article></div>
  <div class="container article"><article>...</article></div>

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 primary container causes the flex objects to wrap, the final article spans the complete width and can 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 originally!).

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 conduct to have two articles on the primary row utilizing the slim container types and the final article on the second row spanning full width with massive container types. (Large preview)

We additionally stored primary 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 primary, not themselves. I’m anticipating this capacity 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 modifications that alter most of these relationships between components and the containers they could question. Maybe an rising finest apply might be to solely question one stage up inside a given @container block, and to implement youngsters carrying their container with them to scale back the potential of detrimental affect 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 format right into a container. What’s at the moment unsettled within the spec is what occurs when a container question is outlined however there are not any precise container ancestors for these queried components. It could be determined to think about 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 Factor 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 youngsters.

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

Given our article instance, if we wished so as to add a border to each odd article, we are able to write the next:

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

If that you must do that, you might wish to use much less generic container class names to have the ability to establish in a extra readable manner which containers are being queried for the rule.

Case Examine: Upgrading Smashing Journal’s Article Teasers

In the event you go to an creator’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 creator’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 creator’s title. Lastly, on the biggest viewports, the article is allowed to span practically the complete web page width and the studying time and remark stats change their place to drift to the suitable of the article content material and beneath the headline.

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

By combining container queries with an improve to utilizing CSS grid template areas, we are able to replace this element to be conscious of containers as an alternative of the viewport. We’ll begin with the slim view, which additionally implies that browsers that don’t assist container queries will use that format.

Now for this demo, I’ve introduced the minimal mandatory current types from Smashing, and solely made one modification to the prevailing DOM which was to maneuver the headline into the header element (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 youngsters of primary and outline primary as our container:

primary {
  include: format inline-size model;

Within the smallest container, now we have the three sections stacked: header, stats, and content material. Primarily, they’re showing within the default block format 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 with the ability to outline named template areas makes it a lot simpler to use modifications to the association. Plus, its precise format algorithm is extra excellent than flexbox for a way we wish to handle to resize the areas, which can develop into extra clear as we add within the container question updates.

Earlier than we proceed, we additionally have to create a grid template for the header to have the ability to transfer across the avatar, creator’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 aware of grid-template-areas, what we’re doing right here is making certain 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 conduct 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 huge 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 are going to use flex to rearrange the stats checklist horizontally, which would be the association till the biggest container dimension:

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

Word: Safari lately accomplished assist 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, displaying the avatar and creator 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 benefit from with 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 method to handle modifications throughout container widths. Nevertheless, you can definitely use pixels, rems, ems, and presumably extra choices sooner or later.

For this center dimension, we have to regulate 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 look 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 regulate 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, making ready for the visible of the avatar showing in its personal column. Then, we regulate 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 format 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 biggest container dimension, we have to transfer the stats checklist to look on the suitable of the article content material, however beneath the headline. We’ll once more use ch items 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 satisfy all of our necessities, we now have to maintain 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.

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

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 biggest article element association strikes the studying time and remark stats to the suitable of the principle content material, and the article content material takes up probably the most horizontal house. (Large preview)

Now, you might be considering that we’ve type of simply performed media queries however in a barely totally different manner. Which — if we pause a second — is type of nice! It ought to assist container queries really feel acquainted and make them simpler to regulate to and embrace in your workflow. For our demo, it additionally at the moment feels that manner as a result of our single article is at the moment responding to 1 dad or mum factor which itself is just responding to the altering viewport.

What we’re actually performed is ready 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 modifications that occur on the house web page). As we realized within the intro instance, if we would like components to answer the width of CSS grid tracks or flex objects, we have to have them carry their container with them. So let’s add an specific container factor round every article as an alternative of counting on primary.

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

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

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

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

The video helps exhibit the modifications that at the moment are in a position to occur fully 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 complete 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 making ready to make use of container queries as we speak by together with them as a progressive enhancement. By defining types that work properly with out container queries, you possibly can layer up enhancements that do use them. Then, unsupporting browsers will nonetheless obtain a workable — if lower than excellent — model.

As we glance in the direction of the way forward for with the ability to use container queries wherever, listed here are some attainable alternatives the place they are going to be helpful, in addition to some cautions. All of them share one trait: they’re situations when it’s more likely to be thought of fascinating that format and elegance modifications might be impartial from the viewport.

Responsive Typography

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

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 are able to outline responsive typography by altering the font-size worth throughout numerous sizes of contained components. In actual fact, we simply did this within the instance of the Smashing Journal articles.

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

Altering Show Values

With container queries, we’ll be capable to fully change show properties, corresponding to from grid to flex. Or change their associated properties, like replace grid templates. This makes manner for easily repositioning baby 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, you might end up including layers of utility courses to get the consequence you’re actually after. However with container queries, you possibly can precisely specify not solely a grid system, however fully change it because the factor or element grows and shrinks.

Doable situations embrace:

  • altering a publication subscription kind from horizontal to stacked format;
  • creating alternating grid template sections;
  • altering picture facet ratios and their place versus associated content material;
  • dynamic contact playing cards that reposition avatars and make contact with particulars and may 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 kind components.

Exhibiting, Hiding And Rearranging

For extra complicated elements, container queries can step in and handle variations. Contemplate a navigation menu that features a collection of hyperlinks, and when the container is decreased, a few of these hyperlinks ought to disguise and a dropdown ought to seem.

Container queries can be utilized to look at sections of the navigation bar and alter these particular person components independently. Distinction this to attempting to deal with this with media queries, the place you would possibly choose to design and develop in opposition to breakpoints with the results of a compromised, much less excellent closing answer.

Develop As soon as, Deploy Wherever

Okay, this could be a bit aspirational. However for design programs, element libraries, and framework builders, container queries will significantly enhance the flexibility to ship self-defensive options. Parts’ capacity to handle themselves inside any given house will scale back problems launched when it comes time to truly add them right into a format.

At first thought, this looks like the dream, particularly in the event you’ve been concerned with design system improvement as I’ve. Nevertheless, the professionals and cons could also be equal for some elements, and you might not all the time need the dynamic format or repositioning conduct. I anticipate this might be one other space finest practices will kind to maybe have elements opt-in to utilizing container question conduct per occasion, corresponding to via a modifier class.

For instance, think about a card element that assumes that font-size ought to change. However, in a selected occasion, the precise character counts have been for much longer or a lot shorter and people guidelines have been suboptimal. An opt-in would seemingly be simpler than attempting to override each single container question that was connected.

What Would possibly Change within the Spec

Presently, even the syntax is topic to alter earlier than the spec is totally finalized. In actual fact, it’s been launched as an experiment in order that as a group we are able to present suggestions. Miriam Suzanne has created a GitHub project to track issues, and you might 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 may be queried?

Of excessive significance and affect is:

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

Additionally of curiosity is the opportunity of new container items, 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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