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Posts Tagged ‘Mastering CSS Basics’

Mastering CSS Basics

We’ll start with what you could call the fundamental properties and capabilities of CSS, ones that we commonly use to build CSS-based websites:

  1. Padding vs. margin
  2. Floats
  3. Center alignment
  4. Ordered vs. unordered lists
  5. Styling headings
  6. Overflow
  7. Position

1. Padding vs. Margin

Most beginners get padding and margins mixed up and use them incorrectly. Practices such as using the height to create padding or margins also lead to bugs and inconsistencies. Understanding padding and margins is fundamental to using CSS.

What Is Padding and Margin?

Padding is the inner space of an element, and margin is the outer space of an element.

The difference becomes clear once you apply backgrounds and borders to an element. Unlike padding, margins are not covered by either the background or border because they are the space outside of the actual element.

Margin and padding values are set clockwise, starting from the top.

2. Floats

Floats are a fundamental element in building CSS-based websites and can be used to align images and build layouts and columns. If you recall how to align elements left and right in HTML, floating works in a similar way.

According to HTML Dog, the float property “specifies whether a fixed-width box should float, shifting it to the right or left, with surrounding content flowing around it.”

The float: left value aligns elements to the left and can also be used as a solid container to create layouts and columns. Let’s look at a practical situation in which you can use float: left.

The float: right value aligns elements to the right, with surrounding elements flowing to the left.

3. Center Alignment

The days of using the <center> HTML tag are long gone. Let’s look at the various ways of center-aligning an element.

Horizontal Alignment

You can horizontally align text elements using the text-align property. This is quite simple to do, but keep in mind when center-aligning inline elements that you must add display: block. This allows the browser to determine the boundaries on which to base its alignment of your element.

1 .center {
2 text-align: center;
3 display: block; /*--For inline elements only--*/
4 }

To horizontally align non-textual elements, use the margin property.

The W3C says, “If both margin-left and margin-right are auto, their used values are equal. This horizontally centers the element with respect to the edges of the containing block.”

Horizontal alignment can be achieved, then, by setting the left and right margins to auto. This is an ideal method of horizontally aligning non-text-based elements; for example, layouts and images. But when center-aligning a layout or element without a specified width, you must specify a width in order for this to work.

4. Ordered vs. Unordered Lists

An ordered list, <ol>, is a list whose items are marked with numbers.

An unordered list, <ul>, is a list whose items are marked with bullets.

By default, both of these list item styles are plain and simple. But with the help of CSS, you can easily customize them.

To keep the code semantic, lists should be used only for content that is itemized in a list-like fashion. But they can be extended to create multiple columns and navigation menus.

5. Styling Headings

The heading HTML tag is important for SEO. But regular headings can look dull. Why not spice them up with CSS and enjoy the best of both worlds?

Once you have the main styling properties set for your headings, you can now nest inline elements to target specific text for extra styling.

6. Overflow

The overflow property can be used in various ways and is one of the most useful properties in the CSS arsenal.

What Is Overflow?

According to W3Schools.com, “the overflow property specifies what happens if content overflows an element’s box.”

Visually, overflow: auto looks like an iframe but is much more useful and SEO-friendly. It automatically adds a scroll bar (horizontal, vertical or both) when the content within an element exceeds the element’s box or boundary.

The overflow: scroll property works the same but forces a scroll bar to appear regardless of whether or not the content exceeds the element’s boundary.

And the overflow: hidden property masks or hides an element’s content if it exceeds the element’s boundary.

Quick tip: have you ever had a parent element that did not fully wrap around its child element? You can fix this by making the parent container a floated element.

In some cases, though, floating left or right is not a workable solution — for example, if you want to center-align the container or do not want to specify an exact width. In this case, use overflow: hidden on your parent container to completely wrap any floated child elements within it.

7. Position

Positioning (relative, absolute and fixed) is one of the most powerful properties in CSS. It allows you to position an element using exact coordinates, giving you the freedom and creativity to design out of the box.

You have to do three basic things when using positioning:

  1. Set the coordinates (i.e. define the positioning of the x and y coordinates).
  2. Choose the right value for the situation: relative, absolute, fixed or static.
  3. Set a value for the z-index property: to layer elements (optional).

With position: relative, an element is placed in its natural position. For example, if a relatively positioned element sits to the left of an image, setting the top and left coordinates to 10px would move the element just 10 pixels from the top and 10 pixels from the left of that exact spot.

Relative positioning is also commonly used to define the new point of origin (the x and y coordinates) of absolutely positioned nested elements. By default, the base position of every element is the top-left corner (0,0) of the browser’s view port. When you give an element relative positioning, then the base position of any child elements with absolute positioning will be positioned relative to their parent element — i.e. 0,0 is now the top-left corner of the parent element, not the browser’s view port.

An element with a value of position: absolute can be placed anywhere using x and y coordinates. By default, its base position (0,0) is the top-left corner of the browser’s view port. It ignores all natural flow rules and is not affected by surrounding elements.

The base position of an element with a position: fixed value is also the top-left corner of the browser’s view port. The difference with fixed positioning is that the element will be fixed to its location and remain in view even when the user scrolls up or down.

The z-index property specifies the stack order of an element. The higher the value, the higher the element will appear.

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