Adrien Gautier
Adrien Gautier

Adrien Gautier

Two helpful tricks using display: table;

Two helpful tricks using display: table;

Adrien Gautier's photo
Adrien Gautier
·Nov 29, 2021·

2 min read

In modern Front-End development, it is well known you should never use an HTML table to achieve your page layout. That doesn't mean you must not use the table value from the display CSS property.

About display: table;

The behavior of the display: table; declaration is not easy to understand. In many ways, it is identical to the display: block; declaration. In fact, table shares the same outside behavior with block in the normal flow, which is to break the line before and after the element. However, I found two differences regarding the internal behavior.

Fit content

Initially, headings and other block-displayed elements fill the full width of their parent.

full_width.png

Using display: table; the box fits the content:

fit_content.png

The modern way to achieve this behavior is to use the following declaration: width: fit-content;
Be aware this rule is not supported by IE and non-chromium Edge browsers.

Prevent margin collapsing

Margin collapsing is a set of rules/specs which allow textual content to display the best way possible out of the box.

Long story short:

  • block-displayed elements blend their vertical margins between their siblings and parents
  • block-displayed elements disappear from the normal flow if it doesn't have any content nor height

Sometimes we want to apply style to textual elements to identify them from the rest of the content.

margin_collapse.png

In the above example, I wrapped a <p> tag inside a <div> on which I applied a background color and horizontal padding. We can see the margin of the paragraph collapses with the div.

One way to break the margin collapsing is to set the vertical padding or border (of the parent) to be > 0px.

.not-collapsing-margin {
    padding: 1px;
}

non_collapse_padding.png

Another way of doing this is to set an empty pseudo-element displayed as a table.

.not-collapsing-margin::before {
    content: "";
    display: table;
}

non_collapse_display_table.png

For some reason, table-displayed elements are not ignored even if their content is empty. That allows breaking the margin collapsing with a visually inexisting element (its height equals 0).

Conclusion

These are two ways you can use the display: table; declaration in your stylesheets.

If you want to see how to push the pseudo-element trick further, I created a plugin for tailwind to create better paddings.