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 on the market for experimentation. Let’s have a look at what downside is being solved, learn the way container queries work, and see how they evaluate 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)

Notice: 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 shaped.

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 varied guidelines relying on the dimensions of the viewport. The iPhone had been launched three years prior, and we have been all attempting to determine how you can 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 at present).

Earlier than and even after responsive design was launched, many firms handled the issue of adjusting structure based mostly on display dimension by delivering fully completely different websites, usually underneath the subdomain of m. Responsive design and media queries opened up many extra structure options, and a few years of making greatest practices round responding to viewport sizes. Moreover, frameworks like Bootstrap rose in recognition largely resulting from offering builders responsive grid programs.

In more moderen years, design programs and element libraries have gained recognition. There may be additionally a want to construct as soon as, deploy anyplace. That 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.

In some unspecified time in the future, these elements 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 elements throughout viewport adjustments. As talked about beforehand, a standard resolution 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 resolution for the constraints of media queries, and infrequently 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 ultimate 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 handle the necessity to modify different properties.

Container queries transfer us past contemplating solely the viewport, and permit any element or component to answer an outlined container’s width. So whereas you should still use a responsive grid for total web page structure, a element inside that grid can outline its personal adjustments in habits by querying its container. Then, it might probably regulate its kinds relying on whether or not it’s displayed in a slender or broad 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 element’s full vary of kinds in a really exact and predictable means. Maybe you need to improve or lower padding, change font sizes, add or take away background photographs, or fully change the show property and orientation of kid parts.

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

Getting Began With CSS Container Queries

The very first thing to find out 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 could outline principal as a container, or maybe article, and even listing gadgets. Then, container queries will permit defining guidelines for the way parts 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 prone to altering, each by way of what values are used, in addition to the potential for 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 structure dimension. The structure 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 component will not verify its dimensions from its youngsters.

The primary aim of browsers implementing these explicit values first was to organize for the potential for container queries. These containment values are set as much as clear up the problem of infinite looping that might be brought on by a toddler component’s width altering its dad or mum 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 dimension 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 are attempting to include parts based mostly on width. In the meantime, peak is allowed to be intrinsic — in different phrases, to develop or shrink based mostly on the component’s contents. Subsequently, inline-size is taken into account to be single axis containment. And it’s the worth that’s out there 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 parts as containers:

.container {
  include: structure inline-size fashion;

We would have liked to incorporate the values of structure and inline-size for container queries to efficiently work. Moreover, Miriam suggested including fashion as properly to keep away from a possible infinite loop from setting properties corresponding to counters which have potential to set off adjustments exterior of the container and have an effect on its dimension 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 parts inside that container. A queried component will use its nearest ancestor with containment utilized. That is necessary, 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 could change.

So, what does a container question really appear like? The syntax can 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 <principal> component, and that it accommodates a sequence of <articles>.

<principal class="container">

Now we are able to arrange a container question to change the articles and any of their descendants which can be based mostly on the width of principal because it’s the containing component. To date in my experimentation, I’ve discovered it helpful to consider these much like the idea of “mobile-first”, besides on this case, it’s “narrowest container first”. That means, I’ll outline the kinds for my smallest anticipated container first, then use container queries to change kinds because the container grows.

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

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

Notice 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 can be utilizing the basis font dimension. There is a matter towards the spec for exploring different features that may become queryable.

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

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

principal {
  show: flex;
  flex-wrap: wrap;

article {
  flex: 1 1 30ch;

What you may anticipate is that when the article’s width is lower than the 60ch we used for our container question is that it could tackle the diminished padding and font dimension. Nonetheless, because the articles are direct youngsters of principal and principal is the one containment context, the articles is not going to change till the width of principal is narrower than the container question. We might encounter the same problem if we’d used CSS grid to put out the articles.

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

<principal 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 principal container causes the flex gadgets to wrap, the final article spans the complete width and can have the massive container kinds. 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 firstly!).

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 kinds and the final article on the second row spanning full width with massive container kinds. (Large preview)

We additionally stored principal as a container. This implies we can add kinds for the .article class, however they are going to be in response to the width of principal, 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 adjustments that alter these kind of relationships between parts and the containers they might question. Maybe an rising greatest apply can be to solely question one degree up inside a given @container block, and to implement youngsters carrying their container with them to scale back the potential of unfavourable influence right here. The trade-off is the potential for extra DOM parts as we noticed with our article instance, and consequently dirtying semantics.

On this instance, we noticed what occurred with each nested containers and likewise the results of introducing flex or grid structure right into a container. What’s presently unsettled within the spec is what occurs when a container question is outlined however there aren’t any precise container ancestors for these queried parts. It might be determined to think about containment to be false and drop the principles, or they might 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 not itself be styled inside a container question (except it’s a nested container and responding to its ancestor container’s question). Nonetheless, a container can be used as a part of the CSS selector for its youngsters.

Why is that this necessary? It permits retaining entry to CSS pseudo-classes and selectors that could 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 strong gray;

If you’ll want to do that, you could need to use much less generic container class names to have the ability to determine in a extra readable means which containers are being queried for the rule.

Case Examine: Upgrading Smashing Journal’s Article Teasers

When 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 parts 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 complete web page width and the studying time and remark stats change their place to drift to the appropriate of the article content material and beneath 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 are able to replace this element to be attentive to containers as an alternative of the viewport. We’ll begin with the slender view, which additionally implies that browsers that don’t assist container queries will use that structure.

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

Right here’s a diminished 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 principal and outline principal as our container:

principal {
  include: structure inline-size fashion;

Within the smallest container, we’ve 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 parts as a result of the template is essential 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 good 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 ultimate 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 have to 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;

When 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 by utilizing 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 area. It is because we wish the primary column to solely be as broad because the avatar, and permit the title to occupy the remaining area.

Now we have to you’ll want to explicitly place the associated parts 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 listing horizontally, which would be the association till the most important container dimension:

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

Notice: 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 kinds, exhibiting the avatar and writer title aligned, adopted by the headline, then stats, then teaser content material. (Large preview)

We are able to now transfer to our first of two container queries to create the midsize view. Let’s benefit from 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 technique to handle adjustments throughout container widths. Nonetheless, you could possibly definitely use pixels, rems, ems, and probably 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 wish 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 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, getting 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 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 dimension, we have to transfer the stats listing to seem on the appropriate of the article content material, however beneath the headline. We’ll once more use ch models for our “breakpoint”, this time choosing 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 have to deal with 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 operate, which will 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 attentive to its out there area as properly.

Following the content material column, we outline auto for the stats column width. This implies will probably be allowed to take the inline area 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 element association strikes the studying time and remark stats to the appropriate of the principle content material, and the article content material takes up probably the most horizontal area. (Large preview)

Now, you could be pondering that we’ve form of simply achieved media queries however in a barely completely different means. 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 embrace in your workflow. For our demo, it additionally presently feels that means as a result of our single article is presently responding to at least one dad or mum component which itself is just responding to the altering viewport.

What we’re actually achieved is about the muse 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 realized within the intro instance, if we wish parts to answer the width of CSS grid tracks or flex gadgets, we have to have them carry their container with them. So let’s add an specific container component round every article as an alternative of counting on principal.

<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 ends in the next changes because the containers change dimension:

The video helps show the adjustments that are actually 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 therefore 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 getting ready to make use of container queries at present by together with them as a progressive enhancement. By defining kinds that work properly with out container queries, you’ll be able to layer up enhancements that do use them. Then, unsupporting browsers will nonetheless obtain a workable — if lower than ultimate — model.

As we glance in the direction of the way forward for having the ability to use container queries anyplace, listed here are some doable 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 prone to be thought of fascinating that structure and elegance adjustments can be unbiased from the viewport.

Responsive Typography

Chances are you’ll be accustomed to the idea of responsive or fluid typography. Options for making typography replace throughout viewport and component widths have seen many developments, from JavaScript helping, to CSS options utilizing clamp() and viewport models.

If the spec receives a container unit (which we’ll discuss shortly), we could possibly obtain intrinsic typography. However even with the present spec, we are able to outline responsive typography by altering the font-size worth throughout varied sizes of contained parts. 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 person ought to be capable of zoom the structure and improve font-size to 200% of its authentic dimension. When you create an answer that drastically shrinks font dimension in smaller containers — which often is the computed dimension upon zoom — a person could by no means be capable of obtain rising the bottom font-size by 200%. I’m positive we are going to see extra tips 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 fully change show properties, corresponding to from grid to flex. Or change their associated properties, like replace grid templates. This makes means for easily repositioning little one parts based mostly on the present area allowed to the container.

That is the class you’ll discover lots of the present demos fall into, because it appears to be one of many issues that makes the potential for container queries so thrilling. Whereas responsive grid programs are based mostly on media queries tied to viewport width, you could end up including layers of utility courses to get the consequence you’re actually after. However with container queries, you’ll be able to precisely specify not solely a grid system, however fully change it because the component or element grows and shrinks.

Doable situations embrace:

  • 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 will 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 parts like hyperlinks, buttons, and type parts.

Displaying, Hiding And Rearranging

For extra complicated elements, container queries can step in and handle variations. Take into account a navigation menu that features a sequence of hyperlinks, and when the container is diminished, a few of these hyperlinks ought to disguise and a dropdown ought to seem.

Container queries can be utilized to observe sections of the navigation bar and alter these particular person elements independently. Distinction this to attempting to deal with this with media queries, the place you may decide to design and develop towards breakpoints with the results of a compromised, much less ultimate ultimate resolution.

Develop As soon as, Deploy Anyplace

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. Elements’ capacity to handle themselves inside any given area will cut back problems launched when it comes time to truly add them right into a structure.

At first thought, this looks as if the dream, particularly in case you’ve been concerned with design system improvement as I’ve. Nonetheless, the professionals and cons could also be equal for some elements, and you could not at all times need the dynamic structure or repositioning habits. I anticipate this can be one other space greatest practices will type to maybe have elements opt-in to utilizing container question habits per occasion, corresponding to by means of a modifier class.

For instance, think about a card element that assumes that font-size ought to change. However, in a specific 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 May Change within the Spec

At the moment, even the syntax is topic to vary earlier than the spec is totally finalized. In reality, 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 could 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 will be queried?

Of excessive significance and influence 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 adjustments come by means of within the prototype section, the values demonstrated firstly of this text could not work. So as soon as once more, notice that it’s nice to experiment, however bear in mind that issues will proceed altering!

Additionally of curiosity is the potential for 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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