3 CSS Grid Techniques to Make You a Grid Convert

CSS grid layout can feel daunting. In fact, I avoided it for several years and was a diehard flexbox fan.

Then I found the following 3 powerful properties/techniques in grid that completely changed my tune.

Spoiler, here's a tweet with all of them. Keep reading to learn a bit more!

View tweet

1: Switch the Grid Flow Axis

I first desired this behavior when I wanted X-axis alignment of variable width items, and also desired to leverage gap.

The Code

grid-auto-flow: column;

What it does

Default grid flow is oriented to "row" layout, which is complementary to block layout, where items flow down the page along the Y-axis.

This switches that default behavior to "column" which means items default to flowing along the X-axis.

Things to note

  • items will take as much room as needed to contain their content up until the max width of the container, at which point text will break to new lines
  • there is a risk of overflow because of lack of "wrapping" behavior in grid, which means assigning this property will flow things along the X-axis into infinity
    • this can be solved by only applying this behavior above a certain viewport width via a media query

Note: once flexbox gap is fully supported, it will likely be the better method for this outcome due to also having wrapping behavior

When to use

For short content where variable widths are desirable, such as a navbar or list of icons, and when wrapping either isn't a concern or a media query can be used to flip this property.

2. XY Center Anything

Literally the thing everyone makes fun of when CSS comes up as a topic:

"How do you center a div?"

Grid has the easiest answer!

Psst - interested in lots of solutions to centering? Check out the "The Complete Guide to Centering in CSS"

The code

place-content: center;

What it does

Centers any child content both vertically (Y) and horizontally (X) 🙌

Things to note

  • there are some gotchas related to the behavior assigned to the children
  • the visual appearance may be only that it's centered horizontally if the container's height doesn't exceed the height of the children

When to use

Anytime you want to center something vertically and horizontally.

3. Intrinsically Responsive Grid Columns

The code

:root {
  --grid-col-breakpoint: 15rem;

.grid-columns {
  grid-template-columns: repeat(
    minmax(var(--grid-col-breakpoint), 1fr)

What it does

The unique-to-grid functions of repeat() and minmax() along with the auto-fit keyword work together to create an outcome where immediate children become equal-width, responsive columns.

As the grid container resizes, upon hitting the supplied value for --grid-col-breakpoint, the columns begin to drop to a new virtual row.

Use of the --grid-col-breakpoint CSS variables allows altering this "breakpoint" via inline style to accommodate various content within a layout or across components with only a single class.

Things to note

  • columns will always be equal width, growing and shrinking to remain equal as the container also flexes in size
  • it's possible for orphan columns to exist at certain container widths

Check out a more comprehensive explanation of what's happening in "Solutions to Replace the 12-Column Grid"

When to use

If you're in need of an intrinsically responsive grid with equal-width columns.

This behavior is also one of two viable "container query" methods that we currently have available since it responds to container width instead of being controlled by media queries.

Learn more about the idea of using grid for container queries >

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This CodePen demonstrates all 3 techniques:

By Stephanie Eckles (@5t3ph)

Check out my egghead lessons which further explore these grid techniques