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Advanced Grid Properties

Intermediate HTML and CSS Course

Introduction

So far, you’ve learned how to create a grid, adjust the sizes of the tracks, and position grid elements in specific rows and columns. Right now, you have all the tools you need to be able to create any kind of static grid layout, but what do you do when you want your grid to be more responsive, dynamic, or reusable?

In this lesson, you will learn about some more advanced Grid properties that can help you do this.

Learning Outcomes

By the end of this lesson, you will be able to:

  • Create multiple grid tracks more easily using the repeat function
  • Create grid tracks using fr units instead of an explicit size
  • Set minimum, maximum, and ideal track size boundaries
  • Use auto-fit and auto-fill to create a grid with a dynamic number of rows or columns
  • Use auto-fit/auto-fill along with minmax() to create responsive grids

Setup

We’re going to approach this lesson hands-on. Let’s set up a grid with five columns and two rows and apply some styling so everything is easy to see.

See the Pen Advanced Properties | CSS Grid by TheOdinProject (@TheOdinProjectExamples) on CodePen.

In this example, the HTML is pretty straightforward, but let’s talk really quick about some of the CSS being used that isn’t related to the lesson so you can understand why it is being used.

.grid-item, p, img selectors

All the properties here are simply to make our grid items look a bit nicer. They are all relatively straightforward, so no need to dive into specifics.

.grid-container

For our container, we are obviously using display: grid to render the container as a CSS Grid. But the next property might be unfamiliar to you: resize: both. This is a property that allows the user to resize the container by clicking and dragging from the bottom right corner. This will be beneficial to us when we start using properties that resize our grid tracks based on the size of the grid.

Change Zoom Levels: Make sure to view the CodePen embeds at 0.5x or 0.25x so that there’s room to resize the container.

We use overflow: auto to enable scrolling if we resize the container to be smaller than our grid can accommodate.

We use the properties gap and padding to establish a “gutter” area to be able to visualize the grid items better.

The border and background-color are included to make the container look nicer.

grid-template-rows: 150px 150px;
grid-template-columns: 150px 150px 150px 150px 150px;

Here is where we want to begin our focus for this lesson. In order to make two rows and five columns, we manually define each row and column’s track size individually.

Ugh, so tedious!

Okay, so maybe it wasn’t THAT tedious. But in this case, we only made a 2x5 grid, which can hold a total of ten items. Imagine using this method of defining every column and row for a grid that can hold hundreds of items!

Enter, repeat().

Repeat

repeat() is a CSS function available to the CSS Grid template properties that allows us to define a number of rows or columns and the size we want them to be without having to manually type out each individual track’s size. For example, in our setup above:

.grid-container {
  grid-template-rows: 150px 150px;
  grid-template-columns: 150px 150px 150px 150px 150px;
}

can be rewritten as:

.grid-container {
  grid-template-rows: repeat(2, 150px);
  grid-template-columns: repeat(5, 150px);
}

Check it out for yourself!

See the Pen repeat | CSS Grid by TheOdinProject (@TheOdinProjectExamples) on CodePen.

Fractional units

Now that we know how to quickly create many grid tracks, it’s time to learn how to start making them dynamic. Dynamic, in this context, simply means “flexible” or “responsive in some way.” The opposite of dynamic is static, or fixed at a certain defined height, like 150px, which we used in the setup of this sample grid.

The most basic way to make our grid items dynamic is by using fractional units, also known as fr.

The fr unit is a way of distributing whatever remaining space is left in the grid. For example, if we have a four-column grid with a total width of 400px and four grid items each on a column track assigned 1fr as their size, all of the grid items should be given one fraction of that 400px of space, which is 100 pixels.

Let’s take a look at what happens if we give our column and row tracks in the sample grid we created a dynamic width of 1fr instead of a static width of 150px:

See the Pen fr Unit 1 | CSS Grid by TheOdinProject (@TheOdinProjectExamples) on CodePen.

Notice how all of our grid items now fill up the entire width and height of the grid? Neat, right? Now, try resizing that example and see what happens. Even cooler!

We can also tell our grid items to distribute the remaining space disproportionately. For example, if I divide my 5 columns up by giving the first two a track size of 2fr and the remaining three a track size of 1fr, the first two tracks will be given twice as much remaining space as the others. Compare this example to the previous one:

See the Pen fr Unit 2 | CSS Grid by TheOdinProject (@TheOdinProjectExamples) on CodePen.

In this example, there’s a lot going on in our grid-template-columns, but take a minute to understand what is written:

grid-template-columns: repeat(2, 2fr) repeat(3, 1fr);

Quick note: We continue to use the repeat() function here, but this could be written the old-fashioned way too!

The key here is that the first two columns are assigned 2fr units and the remaining three are assigned 1fr. This means that as the grid grows and shrinks dynamically, the space will be distributed in different amounts between these columns, specifically, twice as many pixels to the first two columns as the remaining three.

Notice that when you resize, the grid items grow proportionately to how many fr units they are allocated, as mentioned above.

You can also mix static units (like px) and dynamic units (like fr):

See the Pen fr and px Units | CSS Grid by TheOdinProject (@TheOdinProjectExamples) on CodePen.

You may have noticed at this point that when you resize the grid as large as possible, there is no limit to how large the grid items will become. However, when you resize it as small as possible, there is a distinct “smallest” size the grid will allow its items to go. In this case, it’s the smallest size either the <p> or <img> element can be without overflowing. This breakpoint is the item’s min-content value. This CSS keyword is very useful, but it is beyond the scope of this lesson. For more info, check out the docs.

Minimum and Maximum Track Sizes: min() and max()

When we resize our grid super small, it is reassuring to know that the browser will stop the item from shrinking beyond the min-content value. However, we really don’t want to rely on that most of the time. It’s much better for you to explicitly decide as a developer how small and large your content should be, even in the most extreme situations.

We learned about min() and max() in our previous lesson on CSS functions, but a bit of review can’t hurt. Both of these functions will return a value based on the arguments you supply them. min() will return the smallest of all the values passed in, and max() will return the largest. For example, min(100px, 200px) will return a value of 100px every time, while max(100px, 200px) will return a value of 200px every time.

You can supply as many arguments to these functions as you want:

.grid-container {
  grid-template-rows: repeat(2, min(100px, 200px, 300px, 400px, 500px));
  grid-template-columns: repeat(5, max(100px, 200px, 300px, 400px, 500px));
}

Of course, it’s silly to give these functions static units because the calculation is meaningless: the smallest or largest value will always be returned. In the above example, the grid rows will always have a size of 100px (the smallest of the five values) and the grid columns will always have a size of 500px (the largest of the five). But when we provide a dynamic value as one of these arguments, we unlock the real potential of these functions, especially in the context of Grid:

.grid-container {
  grid-template-rows: repeat(2, min(200px, 50%));
  grid-template-columns: repeat(5, max(120px, 15%));
}

In this case, the grid row size will be calculated from the values 200px and 50% grid container’s height. In realtime, the browser will compare both of these values and apply whichever is smallest to the size of our grid row. Essentially, what this tells this grid is that the track size should be 50% of the grid’s total vertical space (because we are defining a row size), unless that number would exceed 200px. Essentially, you’re setting a max-height for the track.

Conversely, the grid column size will be calculated based on the larger of the two values 120px and 15% of the grid container’s width. In doing so, we are essentially setting a minimum width of our grid column size at 120px. Check out the example here, and try clicking and dragging to change the grid’s dimensions to see how the grid items respond:

See the Pen min and max | CSS Grid by TheOdinProject (@TheOdinProjectExamples) on CodePen.

Dynamic minimum and maximum sizes

minmax()

minmax() is a CSS function that is specifically used with Grid. It can only be used with the following CSS properties:

  • grid-template-columns
  • grid-template-rows
  • grid-auto-columns
  • grid-auto-rows

It is a relatively straightforward function that only takes in two arguments:

  1. The minimum size the grid track can be
  2. The maximum size the grid track can be

Unlike min() and max(), it can make sense to use static values for both arguments. Here is an example of the grid we’ve been using written with minmax() and some static values:

.grid-container {
  grid-template-rows: repeat(2, 1fr);
  grid-template-columns: repeat(5, minmax(150px, 200px));
}

With our grid-template-columns set with minmax() values, each grid item’s width will grow and shrink with the grid container as it resizes horizontally. However, as the grid shrinks, the column tracks will stop shrinking at 150px, and as the grid grows, they will stop growing at 200px. Talk about flexibility! Check it out for yourself below:

See the Pen minmax | CSS Grid by TheOdinProject (@TheOdinProjectExamples) on CodePen.

clamp()

Unlike minmax(), clamp() is a CSS function that can be used anywhere, not just within a grid container. As with min() and max(), we learned about it in a previous lesson, but let’s do a quick review. The syntax is as follows:

clamp(minimum-size, ideal-size, maximum-size)

What this does is allow our item to resize itself until it reaches one of the minimum or maximum threshold values.

Since clamp()’s purpose is to create a flexibly sized track with constraints, we want to use a dynamic value for the “ideal size” argument, and typically a static size for the minimum and maximum size, although it is possible to use a dynamic value here too.

Here is a simple non-grid example. We will look back at our grid in a moment:

.simple-example {
  width: clamp(500px, 80%, 1000px);
}

This element, which we can pretend is just a div, will render with a width equal to 80% of its parent’s width, unless that number is lower than 500px or higher than 1000px, in which case it will use those numbers as its width.

Okay, now back to our grid:

.grid-container {
  grid-template-columns: repeat(5, clamp(150px, 20%, 200px));
}

See the Pen clamp | CSS Grid by TheOdinProject (@TheOdinProjectExamples) on CodePen.

Notice how the tracks stay at 20% of the width of the container until they hit the minimum or maximum thresholds?

Using clamp() and minmax() are fantastic methods for making grids more responsive while ensuring we don’t hit critical breakpoints that make our website look bad. This is imperative when using images and elements that may have a tendency to overflow or render in undesirable ways when pushed to extreme sizes.

auto-fit and auto-fill

These two values are actually a part of the repeat() function specification, but they were saved for the end of the lesson because their usefulness is not apparent until after you understand the minmax() function. Here’s the use case: You want to give your grid a number of columns that are flexible based on the size of the grid. For example, if our grid is only 200px wide, we may only want one column. If it’s 400px wide, we may want two, and so on. Solving this problem with media queries would be a lot of typing. Thankfully, auto-fit and auto-fill are here to save the day!

According to the W3 specification on auto-fill and auto-fit, both of these functions will return “the largest possible positive integer” without the grid items overflowing their container. Here is a simple example:

.simple-example {
  display: grid;
  width: 1000px;
  grid-template-columns: repeat(auto-fit, 200px);
}

For this grid, we have a set width of 1000px and we are telling it to fill in our columns with tracks of 200px each. As long as there are at least five grid items, this will result in a 5-column layout no matter what. In this case, auto-fill would actually do the same thing. We will get into the difference soon.

The real magic of auto-fit and auto-fill comes when we incorporate minmax() into the equation. With minmax(), we can tell our grid that we want to have as many columns as possible, using the constraints of our minmax() function to determine each column’s size, without it overflowing our grid. Check out how cool our grid looks when we resize it now!

.grid-container {
  grid-template-columns: repeat(auto-fit, minmax(150px, 1fr));
}

See the Pen autofit 1 | CSS Grid by TheOdinProject (@TheOdinProjectExamples) on CodePen.

Notice how when we resize, the columns automagically know how many will fit across without any media queries whatsoever. If you don’t think that’s cool, you better check your pulse!

So what’s going on here specifically with repeat(auto-fit, minmax(150px, 1fr));? Simple! Remember that auto-fit will return the highest positive integer without overflowing the grid. So first, the browser has to know how wide our grid is: in this case, it’s just the window’s width (minus margins) because we didn’t explicitly set it. For the sake of this example, let’s pretend like our window is currently 500px wide. Second, the browser needs to know how many grid column tracks could possibly fit in that width. To do this, it uses the minimum value in our minmax() function, since that will yield the highest number of items, which is 150px. If our window is 500px wide, this means our grid will render 3 columns. But wait, there’s more! Once the browser has determined how many columns we can fit, it then resizes our columns up to the maximum value allowed by our minmax() function. In this case, our max size is 1fr, so all three columns will be given an equal allotment of the space available. As we resize our window, these calculations happen in realtime and the result is what you see in the above example!

What about auto-fill?

In most cases, auto-fill is going to work exactly the same way as auto-fit. The difference is only noticeable when there are fewer items than can fill up the entirety of the grid row once. When the grid is expanded to a size where another grid item could fit, but there aren’t any left, auto-fit will keep the grid items at their max size. Using auto-fill, the grid items will snap back down to their min size once the space becomes available to add another grid item, even if there isn’t one to be rendered. They will continue their pattern of growing to max and snapping back to their min as the grid expands and more room becomes available for new grid tracks.

To see this in action, look at the following 2 examples, the first with auto-fit and the second with auto-fill and see what happens when you resize the grid horizontally:

See the Pen autofit 2 | CSS Grid by TheOdinProject (@TheOdinProjectExamples) on CodePen.

See the Pen autofill | CSS Grid by TheOdinProject (@TheOdinProjectExamples) on CodePen.

And that’s about it! Congratulations, if you’ve made it this far, you are well on your way to becoming a Grid Master!

Practice

When doing the following exercises, please use all the documentation and resources you need to accomplish them. You are not intended to have any of this stuff memorized at this point. Check the docs, use google, do what you need to do (besides checking the solutions) to get them done.

Go back to our CSS exercises repository (you’ve done these previously, but don’t forget that the instructions are in the README). Do the exercises in the ‘grid’ directory in the following order:

  1. grid-layout-2
  2. grid-layout-3

Additional Resources

This section contains helpful links to other content. It isn’t required, so consider it supplemental.

  • More on auto-fit and auto-fill here.
  • If videos are more your speed, check out this one.

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.

Improve this lesson on GitHub

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