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CSS – A Sticky Subject

Friday, October 9th, 2009

CSS is a sticky subject in the best of times and to make it more sticky I thought I’d run down the techniques needed to make a sticky footer that works in all modern browsers. This is unlike most examples on the web that break in either Opera, IE8, IE7 or indeed in all three.

Try any of those footers from the Google search above in IE8 or Opera (some don’t work in IE7 either). Load the page then grab the bottom of the window (not the side or corner of the window) and drag it up or down and you will see that the footer usually sticks in the wrong place, messing up the display.

Now try it on my old original sticky footer version (circa 2003 which pre-dates all those above) and you will see that my version is working in all browsers including IE8.

Before we get into details I should first explain what a sticky footer is.

What is a Sticky Footer

A sticky footer is one that sits at the bottom of the viewport when there is not enough content in the page to push the footer down. If there is a lot of content then the footer sits at the bottom of the document and will be below the fold as usual. Why this is desirable is because on short content pages you won’t have a footer right at the top of the screen looking very strange indeed as shown from Figure 1 below.

Figure 1 – normal footer close to content.
Normal footer

Figure 2 – Sticky footer at bottom of viewport.

Note that a “fixed positioned” footer is not the same thing as a sticky footer as a fixed positioned footer is one that sits at the bottom of the viewport at all times and never moves. Don’t get confused between the two.


Before we get into the nitty gritty detail I will briefly explain the concept in getting a sticky footer to work.

The first thing we need to do is create a 100% high container which is achieved by setting the html and body elements to 100% height and then creating a container that is a minimum of 100% high. The footer is then placed after this container which means it will be invisible as it will be below the fold of the page but by the magic of negative margins we can bring it back into view at the bottom of the viewport.

Of course this means that the sticky footer must be a fixed height (pixels or ems will do) so that we know how to accommodate it with the exact negative margins that bring it into view. This also means that our footer is now overlapping content on the page so we will also need to protect this content with either padding on an inner element, or some other similar approach as you will see when we get into specifics later.

That’s basically all there is to it except that we have to squash a few bugs on the way to make it work everywhere.


Let’s All Get Inline (In a Block, In a Block)

Thursday, August 28th, 2008


One of the values for the display property is inline-block and although it has been around for quite a while now browsers have been slow on the uptake which is a shame because it’s just the sort of thing that can be very useful. In this article we will investigate ways to implement display:inline-block in a number of browsers.

If you are unfamiliar with inline-block then its use is defined as follows: “an inline-block makes the element generate a block box that’s laid out as if it were an inline box“.

What this means is that a “block level box” can retain most of its block level capabilities but in an inline environment. This would allow you to align a number of boxes on the same line all with their own width and height much in the same way as floating the elements but having the benefit of allowing inline rules to be applied to them unlike floats.

For example, three or four inline-block elements could be aligned horizontally and centered by using the text-align:center property on the parent. This would automatically center the elements within the available width. We could also apply the vertical-align:property to align their top or bottom edges with each other.

Perhaps it’s best to start with the finished example so you can see what we are talking about. The result is also shown in the screenshot below.

Figure 1

As you can see in the above we have achieved three (apparently) block elements all aligned nicely in the same row. The elements are perfectly centred and they all have their bottom borders aligned with each other. Imagine trying to do this with floats.

The truth is you could not do this automatically with floats at all as you could never align the bottom borders unless you were using fixed heights and then could calculate the margins for each. It is also very difficult to center floats also. With very little code we have achieved this effect so now we will get down to specific details.


My CSS is Cat -(Categories With CSS)

Wednesday, August 13th, 2008

This article details how to produce a product category list with associated images and text. This is the sort of thing you would see if you did a search on Amazon.

I am going to start by showing the finished product as this will help you visualize what we are going to achieve along the way. Figure 1 below shows a smaller version of the task ahead.

Figure 1

We are going to make a similar display but without using tables as in my view the information presented is not tabular and does not have a logical correspondence between rows and columns. Even if you do present a good case of why this should be in a table, please don’t comment on this as we are interested in the layout techniques rather than perfect semantics (for this example). The techniques presented here can be used in other layouts that are certainly not tabular and will prove useful in many situations.


Fix Your CSS

Monday, July 14th, 2008

Now that IE7 has overtaken IE6 in usage it has become more common to find authors trying to use position:fixed in their layouts. Therefore in this article we will try to address some common problems and misconceptions when using position:fixed (we will not be covering the background-attached “fixed” property but you can find out more about that here if you are interested.).

Note that position:fixed doesn’t work in IE6 and under so you will need to be using another browser although we will try to accommodate IE6 with some alternate styling.

Fixed to What?

Fixed positioning varies from other positioned elements in that the element is always placed in relation to the viewport and not a local stacking context. Even if you add position:relative to a parent of the fixed element it is still placed in relation to the viewport.

This can present problems if you want to place the fixed element inside a centered layout and then place it at a certain position within that centered layout.

In order to have a positioned element inside a centered layout you can simply let it occupy its normal position in the flow and not specify any position values for top, bottom, left or right at all. This will enable the element to become fixed at that point while the rest of the content scrolls.

We’ll work through some simple examples to show this in effect.

We’ll start with this simple Example


CSS – Bordering on The Ridiculous

Wednesday, June 4th, 2008

I’d like to share a couple of simple tips for adding graphical borders or side shadows to your CSS layouts. This article is mainly aimed at beginners but there are some useful tips for everyone if you’ll bear with the simpler stuff first.

CSS Full Length Graphical Borders on Fluid Layout

It’s quite easy to use graphical side borders on fixed width elements as you can simply repeat an appropriate sized image down the y-axis of the container and draw both edges at the same time. However, it is often not well understood how to achieve this effect with an element that has a fluid width especially in a 100% high environment.

We will first learn how to apply an image to both sides of a normal content height (but fluid width) container and then later on explore the possibilities of using this for a 100% (viewport high) container.


Easy Vertical Centering with CSS

Thursday, May 15th, 2008

It’s always good when you learn something that you already knew isn’t it?

I know that probably doesn’t quite make sense but what I mean is that quite often you know how things work but it’s how they are applied that can make all the difference. This is the beauty with CSS where you can always be surprised at the different ways the same layout can be achieved. This happened to me the other week when I noticed a different way that a site had been centered using simple techniques already known to us all. Indeed, many of you may already have used this method but it seems to have escaped my attention until now.

The Old Way

One of the first things I learned to do in CSS was how to horizontally and vertically center a fixed width and height element. This could be an image for a splash page (god forbid) or a small centered site that some designers love to do. Originally this was accomplished with absolutely positioning an element 50% from the top and 50% from the left of the viewport. This of course only places the top left corner of the element at the center of the viewport and you then need to drag the element back into a central position with a negative margin equal to half the height and half the width of the element.

Let’s take a look at the old way of doing this and note what the problems are.


Why Validate

Thursday, April 24th, 2008

This is an old question but worthy of a mention once again especially as I seem to have spent the last few days repeatedly pointing out to posters why their page isn’t displaying properly. No matter how good a coder you are no one is perfect and the odd typo or spare character will often creep into your code when you aren’t looking.

Why Should I Validate?

I don’t know the answer “why you should validate” but I certainly know why I validate.

In a recent article on Search-This a poster commented that it was unnecessary to validate HTML and CSS and served little benefit so I thought it would be wise to explain why I always validate and why it is good for me. You can then make up your own minds whether you should validate or not.


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