Introducing the CSS3 Multi-Column Module

While most computer shows are wider than tall, most web websites are the exact opposite: longer than huge. Inside the monetary device of screen-estate, vertical area is expensive. Must you have been a piece of content material subject material, you most likely can want to be above the fold, right kind? Horizontal area, alternatively, is quite affordable; we often don’t even know what to do with it.

At the somewhat not unusual 1024×768 visual display unit solution, most fixed-layout web websites don’t use all available area to the left and right kind of their content material subject material. Flexible layouts make a better use of horizontal area, alternatively battle to deal with usable line-lengths. Usability pros have urged us that there are merely such a large amount of words you will have to put on a line. Between 8 and 12 words seems to be the easiest line length. Print media, specifically newspapers, don’t hesitate to use even shorter lines. Why? Because of they can, by the use of laying out text during a lot of columns.

As a web designer, you can get ready a text so it flows into a lot of well-balanced columns. Or at least you can be ready to check out. Then again as you realize, the web is not a medium that provides you with absolute control over the overall display of data. Your nicely crafted markup may end up badly if your visitors, for example, use a different font duration or turn footage off. Similarly, while you switch from static HTML pages to database-driven content material subject material, you lose regardless of small ability you had to building your text. Your markup, accordingly, needs to care for content material subject material of unknown duration.

In truth, this problem is not new. Quite a few people have regarded as the problem, along side the members of the W3C.

The CSS3 multi-column module#section1

The W3C multi-column module is a CSS level-three operating draft, proposed by the use of the W3C to extend the existing CSS box kind. The module’s intent is to allow content material subject material to go with the flow into a few columns inside of an element. It provides new CSS properties that allow the designers specify in what choice of columns an element will have to be rendered. The browser takes care of formatting the text so that the columns are balanced.

Introducing the CSS3 Multi-Column Module

The proposed new CSS properties are:

  • ‘column-count’, to make a decision the number of columns into which the content material subject material of the phase will go with the flow.
  • ‘column-width’, to provide an explanation for the optimal width of each column.
  • ‘column-gap’, to set the padding between columns.
  • ‘column-rule’, to stipulate a border between columns.

You’ll be able to be told additional about the ones, and a couple of other new properties throughout the W3C operating draft.

Multi-column implementations#section2

While the draft used to be as soon as published in 2001, it is however far from being a final recommendation, let alone carried out. Or is it?

Implementations throughout the browser#section3

The developers operating on Gecko 1.8 (Mozilla & Co.) offered the principle native implementation of the module in April this 12 months, and the recent free up of the Firefox 1.5 beta (consistent with Gecko 1.8) does indisputably strengthen parts of the CSS3 Multi-Column module.

We will be able to very best hope that additional browser developers will apply.

Scripting implementations#section4

Other inventive web developers have silently worked their way around the limitations of the CSS box kind for quite some time. The World Usher in Tribune, for example, is using a JavaScript-driven multi-column construction for its knowledge articles. Michael van Ouwerkerk, once more in 2002, wrote a JavaScript that splits the content material subject material of an element and rearranges it into a lot of columns. (Doubtless others have used equivalent approaches.)

One can certainly do very good problems with JavaScript (and the report object kind), and reworking markup to succeed in a multi-column construction happens to be one amongst them.

With this in ideas, let’s take a greater take a look on the ones new CSS3 properties from the W3C specification:

  • Column-count: That’s how over and over again a JavaScript needs to split content material subject material into left floating parts.
  • Column-width: That’s the width of each newly created phase.
  • Column-gap: That’s a left (or right kind) padding for the ones parts.
  • Column-rule: That’s a left (or right kind) border.

Since such JavaScript would process the internet web page after it is rendered, each and every factor that used to be as soon as a topic, font-size, footage on/off, is already sorted. Moreover, if JavaScript is not available, the construction would not be altered (in several words, it’s going to degrade nicely).

An intervening time measure for experimentation#section5

Since it can be carried out, and since I wouldn’t be writing this newsletter if I had no longer the rest to show for it, proper right here it is:  a (maximum regularly) cross-browser JavaScript implementation of the CSS3 multi-column module. (View example.)

The implementation is an unobtrusive, stand-alone piece of code that acts as a JavaScript parser for this CSS3 extension. You don’t need any knowledge of JavaScript to use it, merely upload the record for your internet website online and link it for your internet web page:

<script type="text/JavaScript" src="css3-multi-column.js"></script>

You’ll be able to then get began using the CSS3 properties to your stylesheets as you most likely can do for every other CSS.


There are some limitations even supposing that you need to grasp. First, the browser-based CSS parser is designed to fail to remember about properties that it does not strengthen. To avoid this, this implementation is decided by means of a somewhat simple parser written in JavaScript. This parser cannot take care of difficult constructions, like cascading regulations spread during different selectors. Keep it simple. This following types, for example, may well be suitable:

.article {   column-count: 2;   column-gap: 20px; }

Secondly, the JavaScript cuts and moves content material subject material from one column to each different. There are naturally somewhat a couple of parts that may’t or will have to not be divided up: footage for example, however moreover tables, headings, and so on. The algorithm tries to care for the ones content material subject material types, alternatively can smash or yield unexpected leads to a few circumstances. You are welcome to document any problem with the rendered construction and we’ll try to enhance it as we move.


The script has been tested in IE6, Firefox 1.0.4, Netscape 7.1, Safari 1.2 and a few.0, and Opera 8 (even supposing the Opera exams indicate a dishonest to crash).

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