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Posts Tagged ‘css’

Display:run-in – why would you?

Monday, February 22nd, 2010

A while (about 2 years) ago I was reading quirksmode’s page on support for CSS display properties in browsers when I came across a hitherto unknown type of display – display:run-in;

Something with display run-in, if followed by a block level element, becomes the first inline-block of the next block-level element.

So if you have the code

<div style="display:run-in;font-weight:bold;">My run-in box</div>
<div style="display:block">My block box</div>

it should display as follows (though doesn’t in firefox or ie yet):

My run-in box My block box

Quirksmode poses the question: ‘Why would you want to do this?’

Well, I can think of a very good reason: starting a paragraph with a heading, such as the following:

Conclusion: display:run-in can provide a more semantic way of representing a paragraph which has it’s heading as the start of its first line. At present I bet everyone just wraps the heading in <strong> tags, but that’s not really what <strong> is for.

Or also for a definition list

Second argument in favour of display:run-in: Using display run-in, imagine this is a <dt> followed by a <dd>. How would you get the <dt> to appear inline with the <dd> without display:run-in?

So given that display:run-in is useful it’s surprising that firefox are yet to implement it, especially given that ie8 has already done so.

In defence of jQuery browser detection

Friday, May 22nd, 2009

I read somewhere the other week that jQuery is deprecating its jQuery.browser method, which means that in the future (though not yet, as the method still works but will not continue to be developed/supported, and will eventually be dropped) you will not be able to directly ask jQuery which browser it is being run in.

The rationale behind doing this is on the face of it sound: The reason you want to check what the browser is is that you want to check if a feature of javascript is available in that browser… so why not just ask if that feature is available, then the question of which browser it is becomes irrelevant. This will enable your script to continue to function (most probably) even in the unlikely event that eg Microsoft bring out a patch for ie6 that makes it fully support javascript.

But there is a flaw in this reasoning. It assumes that the only reason you would want to serve some different script to a browser is because of flaws in the browser’s javascript implementation, but in fact there are other reasons for doing this too, principally the browser’s failure to render CSS correctly.

While the new method does include tests for boxModel (ie6 and 7′s incorrect rendering of the CSS box model being the principle reason behind serving different CSS to different browsers) and one or two other CSS bugs, this simply isn’t up to the task. The box model is broken in ie6 and ie7, but broken in different ways, so normally to fix a layout bug I will want to serve different CSS to both.

Using various combinations of, eg

! &&

you can still detect ie6 and ie7… but is this really an improvement on jQuery.browser?

jQuery.browser.msie && jQuery.browser.version.substr(0,1)=="6"

With jQuery.browser it is wholly transparent what you’re trying to detect, and if the code within the conditional’s braces contains a hefty amount of CSS rules your average developer should be able to work out the reason for the browser detection is to fix CSS bugs.

One other reason for explicitly detecting a browser (which I need at the moment as I’m developing a jQuery plugin) is that different browsers render form elements differently (the most obvious black sheep is safari’s making most elements look blue and glossy, but there are subtle differences in other browsers too). If I, say, want to fake a <select> element  by using a <ul>, and want it to look convincing in all browsers I need to supply each browser with differentiated CSS. jQuery.browser would be the obvious way to do this. No matter how many CSS bugs get fixed in browsers, how to render form elements by default isn’t specified by CSS/html, so there will always be this reason to want to detect browsers.

jQuery.browser is a very useful feature and it’ll be a shame when it goes.

CSS positioning and tables (or, it’s a list whether you like it or not)

Wednesday, May 20th, 2009

Marking up web pages semantically is normally more or less a doddle. Most tags are named (or have abbreviated names) that are straightforward. If you’re writing a  paragraph, wrap it in a <p> tag. If you’re writing an ordered list put it in an <ol>… and so on and so forth. And it’s actually less effort than typing eg <div class=”list”>.

But there are nevertheless lots of examples where the tags offered by (x)html seem hopelessly limited in their semantic meaning. Recently I worked on this site. On the home page is a list of holiday offers, and I ummed and aahed over how to mark it up for a while. Previously I would always follow the same practice – lists of complex items would be marked up as a list, and whatever more complicated markup needed would be placed inside the <li> items. But I’ve read somewhere that putting too much information within a list item can actually be a hindrance to accessibility,  so this time things would be different.


Design of list of holiday packages

The design superficially lent itself to a simple nested list:

  <li><h3>Blue Reef Resort</h3>
        <li>All inclusive</li>
        <li>8, 15 dagen</li>
        <li>Marsa Alam</li>

But it’s hardly satisfactory. The items in the sub-list are in fact properties of the particular holiday offer. In fact, the whole thing is more like a table, which becomes clear if we just move some bits around.

Modified design to show true semantic structure

Modified design to show true semantic structure

So to achieve the required design all we need is to hide the table header and move some of the cells around. The first task is easily completed with a display:none, but the second is alas not very feasible. While support for floating and positioning table, tr and td elements is supported in ie8 and other good browsers, in ie6 and ie7 there are big problems as they more or less ignore that the <tr> element is there. You can’t float a tr, you can’t give it position:relative (in order to absolutely position td’s within it) but, bizarrely, you can absolutely position a tr, though this is of limited use. Racking my brains for a use the only one I’ve come up with is in order to give you the ability to absolutely position the tr’s td’s absolutely in relation to the tr, but then you would need a different style for each tr to avoid them layering on top of each other. Which admiteddly could be generated dynamically as an inline style, so perhaps not all that hopeless a situation.

ie6 and ie7 also don’t support floating on table cells either, in case you were thinking that was an option.

As it turns out, I may have discovered a new bug in Internet Explorer 8. While writing this I set up a test page to make sure what I thought was the case was correct (turns out I was, in my main thesis, incorrect, as I thought HTML/CSS had no provision for positioning table elements). Here are 3 screenshots:

Correctly positioned table elements (firefox)

Correctly positioned table elements (firefox)

Incorrect table element positioning (ie8)

Incorrect table element positioning (ie8)

Incorrect table positioning (ie6/7)

Incorrect table positioning (ie6/7)

Once again, ie has problems dealing with relative positioning on tr’s. On the face of it it’s not as bad in ie8 as in ie6/7, but what’s happening is that instead of letting the tr’s confuse the positioning completely, it just ignores them, and goes ahead and positions relative to the next positioned ancestor, which is een worse if you look at where the cells get put relative to where they shoudl be – ie6 and ie7 nearly get it right (but this might be a fluke that a larger table would unmask), but ie8 is completely wrong.

The long and short of this article is that there are lots of instances where a table should be the natural choice of markup (given a little thought about what the content’s structure is), but once again thanks to Internet explorer, it’s going to have to be a nice idea that will have to be shelved for the time being.

So, unless you fancy individually positioning each tr with its own style rule, nested lists it is for now.

Zombie table resurrection

Friday, April 17th, 2009

A few months ago a blogger posted a now infamous post on the falilings of CSS as a design tool, and advocating tables be used instead (if you want to read why he’s wrong, this is probably the best riposte, quite rightly pointing out that he thinks because he is bad at CSS then CSS must be too hard to do design with, and you can justify using tables instead).

But what I found most notable about the whole debate was how he throws meaningless phrases around and no-one seems to pick him up on it.

For instance

tables have the correct semantics for doing layout

What on earth does this mean? From

Semantics: the meaning, or an interpretation of the meaning, of a word, sign, sentence, etc.

Well, what he seems to be saying is that tables’ meaning is “used for layout”, but the whole point is that they don’t!

In another article I think he reveals his not particularly investigative side.  In response to a comment:

> put your content inside a table, lose most users with disabilities

That is far from clear. I just did a Google search on “html accessibility tables” and got a zillion pages on how to make tables accessible. Even the W3C’s own web site says you can make accessible web sites using tables as long as you adhere to certain constraints.

Well, I did that search for html accessibility tables, and most, if not all, of those zillions of pages are about making html data tables more accessible. If you search for html accessibility tables layout you will find a lot of pages explaining why you shouldn’t use tables for layout as it’s inaccessible. The only article I could find condoning table use dated from 2002, in a time when dreamweaver still largely used tables, and the condoning was merely an acknowledgement that while the standard tools in the industry still used tables you couldn’t expect everyone to switch over overnight. In fact the article opens with a pretty good summing up of what’s wrong with tables.

So, why have I written this article, responding to something from a few months ago? Simply to illustrate that there is still so much junk been pumped out onto the internet on designing using tables that it is as hard as ever to find information on designing tables.

Nail on its head

Wednesday, April 15th, 2009
A man looking like santa hammering in a nail

I really think I’ve hit the nail on its head when it come to captioning pictures. I really do.

It always bugged me that there wasn’t a really semantic way to caption a picture, despite it being a very common use of words both on the internet and off (for instance, I caption everything I see by talking about it VERY LOUDLY), and this all came to a head yesterday on

And I hit upon the perfect semantic way of doing it. The picture on the right is a working example. The caption is actually a heading – a h5 in this case – above the image in the markup, but a combination of padding and positioning has put it beneath the picture.

Semantically if you put a heading above a paragraph/section then the heading should tell you what’s in that paragraphsection. Surely the same extends to images too. So my markup literally means “The following picture is a picture of a man looking like santa hammering in a nail”.

So here’s the bare bones code, though you’d obviously want to use classes and wotnot:

<div style="position:relative;padding-bottom:50px">
<h5 style="position: absolute; bottom: 0pt; left: 0pt;
           height: 40px; line-height: 14px; font-size: 12px;">Caption</h5>
<img src="..."></div>

Vive la moderate improvement in accessibility.

Finally, I realised today that because of web standards, my job will get easier with time – another 2 years and I won’t have to take ie6 into account… a few more after that and ie7 will be gone… and from ie8 it will be plain sailing. So the job will be easier, but much less fun.

A nerdy CSS question

Monday, March 30th, 2009

This blog has taken a ridiculously nerdy turn of late, and the nerdiness continues right here.

It’s a simple, though nerdy question:

I write cascading stylesheets, for which CSS is an acronym. What is the language I use in these cascading stylesheets? Surely not CSS, for that is the name of the document. For example in PHP, you write a PHP script, you don’t write a PHP – there’s a subtle but important difference in the names. Even in the one programming language that could somehow bridge the gap, Javascript, you still write a javascript script.

It gets nerdier

Quoting from the W3 site:

This short tutorial is meant for people who want to start using CSS and have never written a CSS style sheet before.

In it’s un-acronymed form:

This short tutorial is meant for people who want to start using cascading stylesheets  and have never written a cascading stylesheets style sheet before.

This would indicate that a cascading stylesheets style sheet is a type of style sheet. But a novel is a kind of book, though it isn’t written in ‘Novel’, so it doesn’t enable us to deduce that the name of the language of style sheets is, somewhat clumsily, Cascading stylesheets.

I’m not seriously suggesting that CSS does of the utmost importance need a proper name, but I think the web design community could easily adopt a three word name with the same acronym.

I say easily, but I’ve failed to think of one. I think it shoudl have selectors in it though.

Does it matter how you organise a stylesheet?

Sunday, February 22nd, 2009

A thought just struck me that it really doesn’t matter very much. If you use firebug (which I think most front-end developers should), then you can easily find out which lines in which stylesheets affect which page elements.

I still do order my stylesheets (roughly) in the order elements appear on the web page, but I don’t think I’ll ever agonise about whether there is a better way to do it any more.

Happy valentine’s

Saturday, February 14th, 2009

The funniest thing just happened:

I was adding this as my facebook status in one of the study pods at the library:
“Rhys is wondering why the amsterdam library has lots of signs up saying “2,000+ dicks”. 2,000 people and some dicks? More than 2,000 dicks?”

Just then a middle-aged man with his elderly father poked his head in to the pod and said in dutch something which must have been along the lines of “And look, father, in this modern library there are plenty of places where people such as this young genius can study hard”

Could there be a  better illustration of how the internet lowers our level of thought. From now on I will only have studious facebook messages.

On another note, I’m trying to choose a php framework to learn to use (akelos is the frontrunner), and used the website to help me. Two interesting aspects of it are:

  1. The site is wider than my screen. I guess it’s really as wide asmy screen, but they forgot to account for scroll bars. A rare example of a website aimed at the programming community that takes advantage of the fact that most of us (though alas not I) have massive screens.
  2. It uses tables for its layout. After working for a day converting a site made with Frontpage to standards compliant, semantic xHTML, and revelling in the difference between the sites when I turn CSS off, it saddens me that everyone isn’t doing it. I mean, it’s actually quite good fun.

Happy valentine’s day

New design

Wednesday, February 11th, 2009

Yes I know it’s not finished, but I’m quite happy I’ve managed to create a menu with angular areas just with css… no Flash required!

The return of position:fixed

Wednesday, February 11th, 2009

I always found it annoying when websites got an element (normally an advert) to stay on the screen even when you scrolled up and down athe page. But recently, with the advent of web applications, position:fixed could start to be more commonly used. Facebook’s messaging/notifications bar is the best (and only, if I’m honest) example I can think of; it’s discreet and contains features that it’s quite resaonable to expect you will always want to have to hand.

Along similar lines, I’ve edited my worpress template. Adding .submitbox{position:fixed;top:100px;} to your wp-admin.css means you never have to scroll around to publish a post.