Posts Tagged “Grids”

Progressively Enhancing CSS Layout: From Floats To Flexbox To Grid

Progressively Enhancing CSS Layout: From Floats To Flexbox To Grid

Earlier this year, support for CSS grid layout1 landed in most major desktop browsers. Naturally, the specification is one of the hot topics at meet-ups and conferences. After having some conversations about grid and progressive enhancement, I believe that there’s a good amount of uncertainty about using it. I heard some quite interesting questions and statements, which I want to address in this post.

Statements And Questions I’ve Heard In The Last Few Weeks Link

  • “When can I start using CSS grid layout?”
  • “Too bad that it’ll take some more years before we can use grid in production.”
  • “Do I need Modernizr in order to make websites with CSS grid layout?”
  • “If I wanted to use grid today, I’d have to build two to three versions of my website.”
  • “Progressive enhancement sounds great in theory, but I don’t think it’s possible to implement in real projects.”
  • “How much does progressive enhancement cost?”

These are all good questions, and not all of them are easy to answer, but I’m happy to share my approach. The CSS grid layout module is one of the most exciting developments since responsive design. We should try to get the best out of it as soon as possible, if it makes sense for us and our projects.

Demo: Progressively Enhanced Layout Link

Before going into detail and expounding my thoughts on the questions and statements above, I want to present a little demo42 I’ve made.

Disclaimer: It would be best to open the demo on a device with a large screen. You won’t see anything of significance on a smartphone.

Progressively enhanced CSS Layout, with Flexbox and CSS Grid.3
The home page of an example website, with an adjustable slider to switch between different layout techniques.

When you open the demo42, you’ll find yourself on the home page of a website with a very basic layout. You can adjust the slider in the top left to enhance the experience. The layout switches from being very basic to being a float-based layout to being a flexbox layout and, finally, to being one that uses grid.

It’s not the most beautiful or complex design, but it’s good enough to demonstrate which shapes a website can take based on a browser’s capabilities.

This demo page is built with CSS grid layout and doesn’t use any prefixed properties or polyfills. It’s accessible and usable for users in Internet Explorer (IE) 8, Opera Mini in Extreme mode, UC Browser and, of course, the most popular modern browsers. You can perfectly use CSS grid layout today if you don’t expect exactly the same appearance in every single browser, which isn’t possible to achieve nowadays anyway. I’m well aware that this decision isn’t always up to us developers, but I believe that our clients are willing to accept those differences if they understand the benefits (future-proof design, better accessibility and better performance). On top of that, I believe that our clients and users have — thanks to responsive design — already learned that websites don’t look the same in every device and browser.

In the following sections, I’m going to show you how I built parts of the demo and why some things just work out of the box.

Quick side note: I had to add a few lines of JavaScript and CSS (an HTML5 shim) in order to make the page work in IE 8. I couldn’t resist, because IE 8+ just sounds more impressive than IE 9+.

CSS Grid Layout And Progressive Enhancement Link

Let’s take a deeper look at how I built the “four levels of enhancement” component in the center of the page.


I started off by putting all items into a section in a logical order. The first item in the section is the heading, followed by four subsections. Assuming that they represent separate blog posts, I wrapped each of them in an article tag. Each article consists of a heading (h3) and a linked image. I used the picture element here because I want to serve users with a different image if the viewport is wide enough. Here, we already have the first example of good ol’ progressive enhancement in action. If the browser doesn’t understand picture and source, it will still show the img, which is also a child of the picture element.

 <h2>Four levels of enhancement</h2>
 <article><h3>No Positioning</h3><a href="#"> <picture> <source srcset="320_480.jpg" media="(min-width: 600px)"> <img src="480_320.jpg" alt="image description"> </picture></a>

Float Enhancements Link

A component of the demo page built with float
All items in the “four levels of enhancement” component, floated left

On larger screens, this component works best if all items are laid out next to each other. In order to achieve that for browsers that don’t understand flexbox or grid, I float them, give them a size and some margin, and clear the floating after the last floated item.

article { float: left; width: 24.25%; } article:not(:last-child) { margin-right: 1%; } section:after { clear: both; content: ""; display: table; } read more

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