Introduction

Now let’s explore CSS animations using keyframes. This will expand upon your encounter with CSS transitions and delve into the differences between them.

Learning Outcomes

  • The differences between CSS transitions and CSS animations
  • How to configure animation sub-properties
  • How to sequence an animation using keyframes

Animations vs Transitions

Animations let you animate elements from one style configuration to another. Does this sound familiar? You wouldn’t be wrong for thinking, “Well, what’s the point in learning animations if they are basically the same as transitions?”, but animations greatly expand on some capabilities that transitions simply do not have. A few of the differences include:

  • Transitions were designed to animate an element from one state to another. They can loop, but they weren’t designed for that. Animations, on the other hand, were designed with the purpose of explicitly enabling loops.

  • Transitions need a trigger, such as the use of pseudo-classes like :hover or :focus, or by adding/removing a class via JavaScript. Animations, on the other hand, do not need such a trigger. Once you have your elements in place and CSS defined, an animation will start running immediately if that’s what you told it to do.

  • Transitions are not as flexible as using animations. When you define a transition, imagine you are sending that element on a journey in a straight line from point A to point B. Yes, the transition-timing-function can add some variation to the timing of this change, but it doesn’t compare to the amount of flexibility added by using animations.

All in all, both animations and transitions have their use, so in addition to considering the above differences you should also use your best judgement. For example, if you need to change the opacity of an element when it is active then an animation would be overkill, but if you need to carry out something more complicated, animations will provide you with the tools you need.

Animation Properties

Let’s see an animation in action to see what we’ve been talking about.

See the Pen keyframes 1 longhand by TheOdinProject (@TheOdinProjectExamples) on CodePen.

Note how the animation is already running and how it keeps repeating itself. We’ll cover that @keyframes rule at the bottom of our example in a bit, so for now focus on the actual animation properties used in the example above:

#ball {
  /* ... other CSS properties ... */
  animation-duration: 2s;
  animation-name: change-color;
  animation-iteration-count: infinite;
  animation-direction: alternate;
}

This is known as the configuration stage where we define our animation properties on the #ball element, and it is only the first half of defining an animation. In our example we have:

  • An animation-duration of two seconds. This means that it will take two seconds for the #ball element to complete one animation cycle.

  • Defined the animation-name to be “change-color” which is essential for the @keyframes section coming up next. This is just a custom name that is not a particular CSS value. We could have called it “pineapples” if we so wished, but for our purposes “change-color” suits well.

  • Set the animation-iteration-count to infinite, which means this animation will run forever. You could set this to 1, 2, or as many iterations as you wish.

  • Set the animation-direction to alternate. This property decides if our animation should alternate direction on the completion of one cycle, or reset to the start point and repeat itself. Here it means that the #ball will smoothly change back to it’s original color instead of “jumping” straight back to red.

Keyframes

Now it’s time to tackle the second half of our animation definition by exploring the @keyframes at-rule.

@keyframes change-color {
  from {
    background-color: red;
  }

  to {
    background-color: green;
  }
}

The @keyframes at-rule references the ‘change-color’ name we defined earlier. Then, we use the from and to properties to change the background-color of #ball from red to green.

It’s important to know that keyframes use a percentage to indicate the times for an animation to take place and that the from and to statements are actually aliases for 0% and 100%, respectively. You can read from/0% as meaning ‘at zero seconds’ and to/100% as ‘at 2 seconds’ according to our animation-duration in our example from above. There is no hard and fast rule on whether or not you should use from/to or 0%/100%. Just pick a style and be consistent with it.

The @keyframes at-rule also defines one animation cycle. So if we were to change our animation-iteration-count from earlier to 2 then the ball would change its background-color from red to green, then from green to red, and then the animation would stop. Be careful not to think of one iteration as a complete loop, but rather a single cycle from beginning to end (or end to beginning when alternating the direction).

Now it’s time to introduce the shorthand notation for our animation properties and glimpse a little into the added flexibility of the keyframe notation. Check out the live example below then have a look at the notation.

See the Pen keyframes 2 shorthand by TheOdinProject (@TheOdinProjectExamples) on CodePen.

#ball {
  /* ... other CSS properties ... */
  background-color: red;
  animation: 2s change-color infinite alternate;
}

@keyframes change-color {
  from {
    background-color: red;
  }
  
  50% {
    width: 200px;
    height: 200px;
    background-color: blue;
  }

  to {
    background-color: green;
  }
}

Here we added another keyframe for when the animation-duration is at 50%, or 1 second. This means as well as the background-color changing to an additional value, we have also specified that the ball double in size. Just be aware that additional keyframes are always defined in percentages. Only the 0%/100% values may use the from/to alias.

Hopefully this gives you a glimpse into the power the @keyframes syntax provides to you when it comes to controlling the animation of an element’s properties. You can add keyframes whenever you want, control whatever CSS-animatable properties you want, and have the control to add some real creative flair to your website elements.

Assignment

  1. Code along with the the MDN article for using CSS animations.
  2. Read the @keyframes reference to gain a deeper understanding of how keyframes are implemented.

Practice

Now let’s make some cool animations! Go to the CSS exercises repository and do the exercises in the ‘animation’ folder in this order:

  1. button-hover
  2. pop-up

Knowledge Check

This section contains questions for you to check your understanding of this lesson. If you’re having trouble answering the questions below on your own, review the material above to find the answer.

Additional Resources

This section contains helpful links to other content. It isn’t required, so consider it supplemental for if you need to dive deeper into something.

Improve this lesson on GitHub

Have a question?

Chat with our friendly Odin community in our Discord chatrooms!

Open Discord

Are you interested in accelerating your web development learning experience?

Get started
Thinkful Logo

Thinkful

  • 5-6 months

    5-6 months

  • Job Guarantee

    Job Guarantee

  • 1-on-1 Mentorship

    1-on-1 Mentorship