Intro to CSS Transitions and Animations 2020

Intro to CSS Transitions and Animations 2020

Welcome to the wtg guide for Intro to CSS Transitions and Animations.

What Are CSS Transitions and Animations?

The evolution of CSS over the years has lead to some really amazing innovations within the language. In the case of transitions and animations, what previously required a program like Adobe Flash or another coding language altogether (such as Javascript) is now possible with nothing but HTML and CSS.

This kind of language maturity, enabled by better browsers and higher web standards (among other things), has been a huge boon to web designers who double as front end developers. They can now do more with less and the whole process of web design/development has become a bit easier.

Nevertheless, CSS transitions and animations are still considered advanced uses of CSS. A spectrum of coding I try to stay away from in most of my articles since I do not consider myself an “advanced developer”–even in language as accessible as HTML or CSS.

That said though, after reading up on W3Schools and elsewhere I think a sufficiently simple introduction to these concepts is within the grasp of not only myself but a good deal of the WTG readership as well.

To begin, I think we need to have a really good idea of what, exactly, CSS transitions and animations are before jumping into examples and code.

CSS Transitions

A CSS transition allows you to change the property values of an element over a given duration that you set. To create a transition you must first identify which CSS property you want to add an effect to and then specify the duration of the effect. If no duration is set, the transition will not occur.

There are four transition properties:

transition-delay – specifies the delay, in seconds (s), you would like to assign your transition effect.

transition-duration – specifies the duration, in seconds (s) or milliseconds (ms), you would like to assign your transition effect.

transition-property – specifies the name of the CSS property your transition effect is meant for.

transition-timing-function – Specifies the speed curve of the transition effect. Meaning, the type of speed variation you want to select for your transition effect. There is no “fast” or “slow” options. Instead there are speed curve options that go from one speed to another. Such as “ease” which tells your effect to start slow, then go fast, then end slowly.

To create a transition you only need to change one of these properties over the duration you choose. However, it is possible to change more than one property at the same time; resulting in more dramatic transitions.

CSS Animations

Where CSS transitions are all about altering element properties as they move from state to state, CSS animations are dependent on keyframes and animation properties.

keyframes – keyframes are used to define the styles an element will have at various times.

animation properties – animation properties are used to assign @keyframes to a specific element and determine how it is animated.

There are eight animation properties:

animation-delay – specifies a delay for the start of an animation.

animation-direction – specifies whether an animation should play in reverse direction or alternate cycles.

animation-duration – specifies how many seconds or milliseconds an animation takes to complete one cycle.

animation-fill-mode – specifies a style for the element when the animation is not playing. Such as when it is finished or when it has a delay.

animation-iteration-count – specifies the number of times an animation should be played.

animation-name – specifies the name of the @keyframes animation.

animation-play-state – specifies whether the animation is running or paused.

animation-timing-function – specifies the speed curve of the animation.

The examples below will show you how these things are used together in various ways. Once you understand the relationships between them you’ll be able to figure out all kinds of interesting ways to use them.

A Quick Note on Vendor Prefixes

In your personal usage of CSS transitions and animations you will most likely need to use vendor prefixes. In some of the code below you will no doubt notice some vendor prefixes. Many of the source examples do not contain vendor prefixes, so if you want to see what the code looks like without them you can check there; I thought it might be helpful to provide a fuller picture.

For the uninitiated, when I say “vendor prefix” I’m referring to a prefix that needs to be added to your CSS based on the range of browsers you want to support your transitions and animations.

A good resource for identifying the necessary prefixes for each browser is You can also check out the respective pages for transitions and animations on W3Schools. Or, if you’d like to avoid the mess of prefixes altogether, you can use a tool like

CSS Transition Examples

The CSS transition examples below are all transitions I’ve found from various sources that show what’s possible with these relatively new CSS capabilities. I’ve chosen to recreate the examples I found using CodePen so you can easily take a peak at the HTML and CSS required for each example while also seeing it in action
1. Linear

Example via.

2. Spin

Example via.

3. Color

Example via.

4. Square to Circle

Example via.

5. Card

Example via.

CSS Animation Examples

Again, the CSS animation examples below are from various sources around the web. Just as above, the CodePen allows you to see the animation and the required code in one place. You can also follow my source links to get more information (in some cases) on each example.
1. Pulse

Example via.

2. Shake

Example via.

3. Bouncing

Example via.

4. Bounce In

Example via.

5. Linear Bar

Example via.

Potential Use Cases for CSS Transitions & Animations

As I mentioned above, CSS transitions and animations are ideal for creating compelling and delightful microinteractions across your website. A lot of great WordPress themes and plugins come with some of these behaviors in place. A good example being the Divi Builder, which allows you to control transitions and animations within its module controls.

You may however wish to take the basics above and apply them other areas of your site in which a theme or plugin author has not given you easy control over. The following ideas might help you get started.

  • An email opt-in form that makes a delightful entrance and exist; such as bouncing in and folding closed to disappear.
  • A form that shakes when the essential information is not and someone attempt to submit it as finished.
  • Buttons that fold open, bounce, shake, or in some other way respond to hovering and clicking.
  • Preview images that turn over to reveal more information.
  • Subtle background graphics that move, creating depth.
  • Beautiful charts that spring into action as they load.
  • Google Doodle style experiments, logos, and more.
  • Games (for the really ambitious).
  • Ads that you can interact with or that subtly change shape to draw attention.
  • Beautiful product displays that rotate and respond to the mouse.
  • Beautiful stat counters.
  • And whatever else your imagination can think up.

Inspiring Showcases of CSS Transitions and Animations

If you need more visual stimulus than a list of ideas, I’ve take the liberty of compiling a small but impressive showcase of inspiring CSS transitions and animations that I hope will show off the potential illustrated in the rather basic examples I created above.

Logos in Pure CSS


Logos in Pure CSS is a great showcase of world famous logos re-created with nothing but CSS. In their current form they use animations and transitions to show how they are made and how they stack up against their traditional counterparts. However, I think it’s important to note that just creating your logo in HTML/CSS opens up a lot of interesting possibilities.

Go to Logos in Pure CSS



CSS A/Z is a showcase of HTML/CSS animated sketches; one for each letter of the alphabet. Great stuff and a lot of ideas for sprucing up seemingly insignificant elements on your website.

Go to CSS A/Z

Double Ring


I think Double Ring is a great example of something you could do with a logo to make it more eye catching and interesting.

Go to Double Ring

Navigation Bar


Navigation Bar is an example of just how dynamic and beautiful something as standard as navigation can become when given some advanced CSS love.

Go to Navigation Bar

In Pieces


In Pieces is a magnificent (and highly complex) use case of CSS animation. It’s an interactive exhibition of the evolution of 30 species of animals. Truly breathtaking and a great indicator of just how powerful a tool CSS can be.

Go to In Pieces

Additional Resources & Tutorials

In your quest to master CSS transitions and animations, there is a good chance that you’ll need or want more detail than I am able to provide in this post. Additionally, someone else’s writing style may be a bette fit for the way you think. That’s why I’ve compiled a short list of other useful resources and tutorials below for you to take advantage of.

In Conclusion

CSS transitions and animations are an extremely useful and versatile set of capabilities. You can do small subtle things or big in-your-face impressive things. But either way, it all starts with mastering the basics and moving on from there.

I hope this post is a welcome change of pace for those who have been requesting more CSS related content. If you have any more thoughts or requests on this post or future posts then please feel free to drop us a line in the comments section below.

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Intro to Cubic Bezier Transitions (CSS)

Intro to Cubic Bezier Transitions (CSS)

One of the most overlooked features of CSS transitions is the ability to specify a cubic-bezier transition.  For most projects the standard: ease, ease-in, ease-out, ease-in-out, and linear will do.

If you want your CSS animations to attain to another level or perhaps create a very specific (custom) effect, you should learn the basics of cubic-bezier (CSS) and the Cubic Bezier Curve.

Cubic Bezier Curve (definition):

Four points P0, P1, P2 and P3 in the plane or in higher-dimensional space define a cubic Bézier curve. The curve starts at P0 going toward P1 and arrives at P3 coming from the direction of P2. Usually, it will not pass through P1 or P2; these points are only there to provide directional information. The distance between P0 and P1 determines “how far” and “how fast” the curve moves towards P1 before turning towards P2.

Writing BPi,Pj,Pk(t) for the quadratic Bézier curve defined by points Pi, Pj, and Pk, the cubic Bézier curve can be defined as a linear combination of two quadratic Bézier curves:

\mathbf{B}(t)=(1-t)\mathbf{B}_{\mathbf P_0,\mathbf P_1,\mathbf P_2}(t) + t \mathbf{B}_{\mathbf P_1,\mathbf P_2,\mathbf P_3}(t) \mbox{ , } 0 \le t \le 1.

The explicit form of the curve is:

\mathbf{B}(t)=(1-t)^3\mathbf{P}_0+3(1-t)^2t\mathbf{P}_1+3(1-t)t^2\mathbf{P}_2+t^3\mathbf{P}_3 \mbox{ , } 0 \le t \le 1.

For some choices of P1 and P2 the curve may intersect itself, or contain a cusp.

Any series of any 4 distinct points can be converted to a cubic Bézier curve that goes through all 4 points in order. Given the starting and ending point of some cubic Bézier curve, and the points along the curve corresponding to t = 1/3 and t = 2/3, the control points for the original Bézier curve can be recovered.

CSS implementation:

Use the property “transition”,  with the value “cubic-bezier(n,n,n,n)”.  Possible values are numeric values from 0 to 1.

Written out (example) syntax:

#example {transition: 600ms cubic-bezier(0.83,0.22,0.8,1.31);}

Demo (hover)

Note the little bounce at the end.  That’s created by the last parameter of 1.31 that extends breifly past the normal numeric value (limit) of 1.  Again, a simple example of creating a unique and fine tuned animation. If you would like to get your hands a little dirty and experiment on your own, I would recommend heading over to

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How to Create The Apple Watch Breathe App Animation with CSS

How to Create The Apple Watch Breathe App Animation with CSS

The Apple Watch comes with a stock app called Breathe that reminds you to… breathe. There’s actually more to it than that, it’s a self wellness app of sorts, that reminds you to take a brief moment out of your stressful day and focus on your breathing to encourage relaxation. Additionally, the app has a minimalistic interface with a nice animation.

I thought it would be fun (and relaxing) to recreate the design, particularly in vanilla CSS. Here’s how far I got, which feels pretty close.


Making the circles

First things first, we need a set of circles that make up that flower looking design. The app itself adds a circle to the layout for each minute that is added to the timer, but we’re going to stick with a static set of six for this demo. It feels like we could get tricky by using ::before and ::after to reduce the HTML markup, but we can keep it simple.

<div class="circle"></div>
<div class="circle"></div>
<div class="circle"></div>
<div class="circle"></div>
<div class="circle"></div>
<div class="circle"></div>

We’re going to make the full size of each circle 125px which is an arbitrary number. The important thing is that the default state of the circles should be all of them stacked on top of one another. We can use absolute positioning to do that.

.circle {
  border-radius: 50%;
  height: 125px;
  position: absolute;
  transform: translate(0, 0);
  width: 125px;

Note that we’re using the translate function of the transform property to center everything. I had originally tried using basic top, right, bottom, left properties but found later that animating translate is much smoother. I also originally thought that positioning the circles in the full expanded state would be the best place to start, but also found that the animations were cumbersome to create that way because it required resetting each one to center. Lessons learned!

If we were to stop here, there would be nothing on the screen and that’s because we have not set a background color. We’ll get to the nice fancy colors used in the app in a bit, but it might be helpful to add a white background for now with a hint of opacity to help see what’s happening as we work.


We need a container!

You may have noticed that our circles are nicely stacked, but nowhere near the actual center of the viewport. We’re going to need to wrap these bad boys in a parent element that we can use to position the entire bunch. Plus, that container will serve as the element that pulses and rotates the entire set later. That was another lesson I had to learn the hard way because I stubbornly did not want the extra markup of a container and thought I could work around it.

We’re calling the container .watch-face here and setting it to the same width and height as a single circle.

<div class="watch-face">
  <div class="circle"></div>
  <div class="circle"></div>
  <div class="circle"></div>
  <div class="circle"></div>
  <div class="circle"></div>
  <div class="circle"></div>

Now, we can add a little flex to the body element to center everything up.

body {
  background: #000;
  display: flex;
  align-items: center;
  justify-content: center;
  height: 100vh;

Next up, animate the circles

At this point, I was eager to see the circles positioned in that neat floral, overlapping arrangement. I knew that it would be difficult to animate the exact position of each circle without seeing them positioned first, so I overrode the transform property in each circle to see where they’d land.

We could set up a class for each circle, but using :nth-child seems easier.

.circle:nth-child(1) {
  transform: translate(-35px, -50px);

/* Skipping 2-5 for brevity... */

.circle:nth-child(6) {
  transform: translate(35px, 50px);

It took me a few swings and misses to find coordinates that worked. It ultimately depends on the size of the circles and it may take some finessing.


Armed with the coordinates, we can register the animations. I removed the transform coordinates that were applied to each :nth-child and moved them into keyframes:

@keyframes circle-1 {
  0% {
    transform: translate(0, 0);
  100% {
    transform: translate(-35px, -50px);

/* And so on... */

I have to admit that the way I went about it feels super clunky because each circle has it’s own animation. It would be slicker to have one animation that can rule them all to push and re-center the circles, but maybe someone else reading has an idea and can share it in the comments.

Now we can apply those animations to each :nth-child in place of transform:

.circle:nth-child(1) {
  animation: circle-1 4s ease alternate infinite;

/* And so on... */

Note that we set the animation-timing-function to ease because that feels smooth…at least to me! We also set the animation-direction to alternate so it plays back and forth and set the animation-iteration-count to inifinite so it stays running.


Color, color, color!

Oh yeah, let’s paint this in! From what I can tell, there are really only two colors in the design and the opacity is what makes it feel like more of a spectrum.

The circles on the left are a greenish color and the ones on the right are sorta blue. We can select the odd-numbered circles to apply the green and the even-numbered ones to apply the blue.

.circle:nth-child(odd) {
  background: #61bea2;

.circle:nth-child(even) {
  background: #529ca0;

Oh, and don’t forget to remove the white background from the .circle element. It won’t hurt anything, but it’s nice to clean up after ourselves. I admittedly forgot to do this on the first go.


It’s also at this point that others in the comments have suggested that replacing opacityfor mix-blend-mode with a value of screen makes for a nicer way to blend the colors of the circles. I’ve since updated the demos and the code.

Pulse and rotate

Remember that pesky .watch-face container we created? Well, we can animate it to pulse the circles in and out while rotating the entire bunch.

I had totally forgotten that transform functions can be chained together. That makes things a little cleaner because it allows us to apply scale() and rotate() on the same line.

@keyframes pulse {
  0% {
    transform: scale(.15) rotate(180deg);
  100% {
    transform: scale(1);

…and apply that to the .watch-face element.

.watch-face {
  height: 125px;
  width: 125px;
  animation: pulse 4s cubic-bezier(0.5, 0, 0.5, 1) alternate infinite;

Like the circles, we want the animation to run both ways and repeat infinitely. In this case, the scale drops to a super small size as the circles stack on top of each other and the whole thing rotates halfway on the way out before returning back on the way in.

I’ll admit that I am not a buff when it comes to finding the right animation-timing-function for the smoothest or exact animations. I played with cubic-bezier and found something I think feels pretty good, but it’s possible that a stock value like ease-in would work just as well.

All together now!

Here’s everything smushed into the same demo.


If you’re having a stressful day, even you don’t have an apple watch, you can gaze into the CSS animation you’ve created and lull yourself into tranquility.

Make sure you don’t keep all of this peacefulness to yourself, and pass along your newly discovered knowledge. 

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Position Sticky Pure CSS: Scroll To Top Then Fixed

Position Sticky Pure CSS: Scroll To Top Then Fixed

Position Sticky Pure CSS – Scroll To Top Then Fixed

For a time “dynamic fixed” elements were the hot web design feature: scroll a site and everything moved as expected, but when a particular element (often a menu bar, sometimes an advertisement) reached the top of the page it would fix itself in place, while the rest of the document continued to scroll underneath it. Scroll back, and the element would reattach itself to the document.

This behaviour – a dynamic hybrid between the standard position: static and position: fixed – was often added to a page with JQuery, via one of a hundred different plugins. Like many popular features, it was eventually adopted into an official specification, meaning that the effect could be achieved with native CSS, with no frameworks, scripts, or other dependencies… but in this case, the adoption process was (and continues to be) somewhat troubled.

How Things Were Meant to Be

The behavior was codified as a new CSS value: position: sticky. This, combined with a clever use of top (in the context of sticky, the distance from the top of the body at which the element will “stick” when scrolled; alternatives are left, bottom and right for scrolling in those directions) was intended to cover the range of popular use cases. The syntax, then, should be pretty simple:

#stickytest {
position: sticky;
top: 0px;

Applied to something like an image, the markup would be:

<img src="geckofoot.jpg" alt id="stickytest"> <p>Lorem ipsum…

If you test that code on a page with appropriate markup and content in a recent version of Firefox, it will work just fine. Moving to other browsers reveals “sticky’s” awkward position:

  1. Safari 6.1+ (on both desktop and mobile) support sticky with a vendor prefix. Somewhat unusually, the prefix is applied to the value, not the property, since it’s the former that’s new.
  2. There’s an added catch: in Safari sticky only works with elements that are display: block, so the CSS for this sticky image example becomes:
#stickytest {
display: block;
position: -webkit-sticky; position: sticky;
top: 0px;

In addition:

  • Placing the sticky element inside a parent that has overflow: hidden applied to it will cause the sticky behaviour to fail.
  • Officially, sticky should also work with display: table, including table cells, as it’s very useful for navigating long rows of table data while keeping column headers in view. Unfortunately, browser implementation of this feature has been lacking so far.

Chrome Travails

You’ll probably find web pages that insist Chrome has support for position: sticky as an experimental option, and that was true… until the option was removed entirely in Chrome 37. The Google development team felt that keeping position: sticky was too much of a challenge in their quest to improve composition and rendering speed in the browser, so it has been placed to one side. That means we must fallback to using a polyfill to recreate the behaviour in Chrome and Internet Explorer (which has never supported the new value).

Fortunately, there are a number of options for this: the Filament Group has a JQuery solution, along with many others; my personal favorite is Oleg Korsunsky’s stickyfill, which has the option of working with or without JQuery.

The example on the StickyFill page adds the sticky behaviour as a class, but it’s more likely to affect only one element, making an id a more logical selector. In the case of this demo, after inserting the script at the bottom of the page, I’d add:


Note that top, left, bottom and right for the element is measured from the body. This will include any margin already in place on the body element.

Keep It Simple

As with all new features, position: sticky has the potential for misuse. To avoid UI disasters, I would recommend the following:

  • In theory, position: sticky can be used to fix elements inside any scrolling container, as shown in the example at the top of this page. Please don’t use sticky more than once per page: we don’t need multiple content boxes acting like clogged drains. (In addition, all the polyfills available for position: fixed fail in providing this feature; the demo for this page only works because it is inside an iframe).
  • Be very careful using position: sticky at mobile screen sizes: anything that is stuck immediately takes up screen real estate, reducing the room for your content. Make sure you’re making an element sticky because it’s required or extremely helpful to do so, not because it “looks cool”. Remember that it’s easy for users to flick-scroll to the top or bottom of most pages; don’t get in the way of that behaviour.

To provide a reasonable use of sticky elements, write a @media query that countersposition: sticky at smaller screen sizes:

@media all and (max-width: 600px) {
#stickytest {
position: static !important;

This returns the element to normal flow in the document if the viewport is 600 pixels wide or less. You’ll need to write a similar rule in JavaScript with matchMedia if you’re using a polyfill. Re-writing and adding to the script above:

var sticky = document.getElementById('stickytest');
var screencheck = window.matchMedia("(max-width: 600px)");
if (screencheck.matches) {
  • As a rule, “stuck” elements should be the new cutting-off point for content. Don’t “stick” an element in the middle of a block, as having scrolling text appear both aboveand below a fixed element is very distracting, and makes the text difficult to read.
  • Similarly, try to avoid sticking elements that cut off part of a text block, forcing the user to scroll in a decreased amount of space to read a full line.
  • Ensure that the fixed element does not occupy more than the minimum expected height of the viewport. If it is taller than its container when it is “stuck”, users will never be able to see all of its content; nor are they likely to be able to read any of the other content on the page.
  • Further to this, you might want to indicate that content is truly disappearing under the stuck element: a partial transparency effect when the element is in it’s “stuck” position, such as my “frosted glass” effect, can provide a useful visual cue.

In principle, as series of elements could be provided with the same position: stickyvalue, effectively replacing each other at the chosen point on the screen as the page scrolls. While this can be effective, it’s also potentially very confusing to users, and should be employed carefully.

Unfortunately there’s no “stuck” event in JavaScript yet to report when an element has entered its fixed position; right now, you have to test for that independently. (Some polyfills add a class to stuck elements to make up for this lack).

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Data Table with CSS – How to Tame

Data Table with CSS – How to Tame

A data table can be a pain to work with, perhaps comparable to herding cats or taming a lion.  Tons of similar-looking, heavily-nested markup can be viewed as completely inflexible. One of the biggest problems I ever encountered was working on a particular company, whose content was almost exclusively data tables, it involved making tables’ cells line up nicely not only with each other, but also with those cells in other tables on the page.

Example of a data table with css:

The problems

There are a lot of headaches we encounter when building tables, and I imagine most of you reading this article will nod along to every point I make; it will be something that will have annoyed us all at some point or another. What this particular (and very specific) problem boils down to is trying to consistently format, size and align complex data layouts across multiple tables. Imagine a financial report; loads of tables of data with differing numbers of cells and columns that—from a purely aesthetic perspective—need to line up in some neat, coherent fashion. Achieving this is made very difficult by a number of different factors…

Cell widths

Tables lay out their cells—by default—in a rather unusual, almost haphazard way. There seems to be no rhyme or reason behind how and why they are rendered at the widths they are, which leads to columns and cells of differing sizes.

Spanning cells

In order to have cells span several columns (and rows, but that doesn’t pose the same problems), we have to use the colspan attribute. To have a cell spanning two columns we would write <t[h|d] colspan="2">. These are often unmanageable, and it can be confusing to remember what all your colspans should add up to.

Knock-on effects

Resizing one cell in one row can, and usually will, affect the layout of the entire table. This is is because all cells’ boundaries have to line up with the boundaries of the rest of the row and column in which it sits. You can’t just change the width of one cell, you have to change them all. This means that, for example, spanning one cell across xcolumns might mean having to update a whole load more colspans elsewhere in thetable.

Tables next to tables

The above problems are further compounded when you begin laying out multiple different tables on any given page. In Sky Bet world, this was pretty much every page. One table’s rendered layout might be vastly different to the tables above and/or below it, creating an unsightly mess of misaligned columns. You might have a tablewith no colspans above a table with some colspans, above a table with lots of awkward colspans. You might have a table with lots of cells above a table with very few. You might have any combination of amounts of cells and amounts of colspans. It all gets very hairy, very quickly.


I’ve come up with what I feel is a solid, very pragmatic solution.

There are two parts to solving this problem. Firstly we need to standardize the number of cells in every table, and then we need to force these cells to all be the same width. Think of this as a grid system for tables.

24 cells

Think about page layouts that adhere to a grid system; you might have a 24 column grid, but your page might only have two main columns which span, say, 16 and eight columns respectively. You can’t see the 24 columns, but they’re there. You might then have a large footer broken into three columns of eight (again, adding up to 24).

We need to apply this model to tables; we shall give all tables 24 columns, and then use a generous amount of colspans to knock our cells through into each other, into more useful layouts. Now every table we build will be based on a 24 column grid which will, firstly, make everything more consistent, and, secondly, it will make our maths much simpler. We just need to make sure every row’s colspan values add up to 24 every time.

This does mean that every cell in the table now has to carry a colspan, but as I said, this solution is a pragmatic one.

The reason we pick 24 is because it can take halves, thirds, quarters, sixths, eighths and twelfths; we can make a lot of layouts if we have 24 columns to play with.

Now, we would write this snippet:

    <th>Column one</th>
    <th>Column two</th>
    <th>Column three</th>


    <th colspan="8">Column one</th>
    <th colspan="8">Column two</th>
    <th colspan="8">Column three</th>

For all this is more markup, it does mean we can begin to standardise our tables’ layouts so that multiple tables on the same page can share a lowest common multiple and are now able to be aligned to one another.

The short version of this section is basically: we are setting up a grid system for ourtables.

Equal width columns

It’s all well and good that all our tables have the same number of columns, but that doesn’t escape the fact that browsers will still render every table differently, and that the size of these cells will always vary. There’s no point having a 24 column table-grid-system if each column is a different width. Thankfully, this is the easiest part of the puzzle to solve and, probably, the most interesting part of this article: table-layout: fixed;.

Now it’s time to tame a data table with css.

There is a little known, and even less used, CSS property called table-layout. table-layout basically tells a browser how to render the columns in a table, and is, by default, set to auto. auto means that the browser will automatically render the cells in a table based on their width, which leads to the differently and inconsistently sized columns.

Interestingly, table-layout: fixed; is the backbone of my pure CSS, equal-width tabs.

Setting table-layout to fixed however, tells the browser to render every cell the same width as each other. Equally-sized table cells right out of the box!

Combining the two

By giving our tables a common grid system of 24 columns, and ensuring these columns are all of equal width, we can begin throwing together all manner of layouts.

I would propose that you opt into the table-grid-system via a simple helper class, perhaps .table-grid:

.table-grid {
    table-layout: fixed;

Every time we want to build a table to a fixed and consistent layout, we simply invoke the grid and lay it out to that.

Hopefully now you’ve gained an edge and can control a data table with css on your project(s).