Getting Friends with CSS

Posted by Olena on June 30, 2019

Recently I’ve been thrown in the ocean with a tight dead line and almost no help on a project of styling a static web page to match a fancy design created by a graphic expert. Knowing little about css, I could not even imagine what a learning curve it would be!

The overall learning process was good and positive experience. Even though I am still in a process of learning I already have some tricks and tips to share. They helped me a lot - I wish I knew them in the beginning of my css adventure.

Trick#1. Red Borders to the Resque

Guessing all padding, marging, positions and sizing could give you are great misery - trust me, I’ve been there. To save yourself sanity simply use this short jQuery in a Dev Tool console. It really does the magic!

$( "*" ).css( "border", "3px solid red" )

A caution for experts: The all, or universal, selector is extremely slow, except when used by itself.

Trick#2. Font is a Shorthand Property

“Font” is a CSS shorthand property. Therefore, instead of writing all properties, you can just combine them all under one:

h1 {
 font-weight: bold;
 font-style: italic;
 font-size: 1rem;
// vs
h1 {

 font: italic lighter 1rem/150% Verdana, Helvetica, sans-serif;
// syntax
// font: font-style font-variant font-weight font-size/line-height font-family;

Trick#3. @supports for Browser Support

You can use @supports feature query to check for browser support. As an example: if you wish to use “display:flex” only when it’s actually supported you can set it up like so:

@supports (display: flex) {
 div {
   display: flex;

Trick#4. Lobotomized Owl Selector

Lobotomized owl selector is the one to know for both using and reading someone’s code:

* + * {
 margin-top: 2rem;

Useful for situations when you have multiple elements of the same kind that need some spacing, for example list or nav link items.

li + li {
 margin-top: 1rem;
// vs
li {
 margin-bottom: 1rem;
li:last-of-type {
  margin-bottom: 0;

Trick#5. Margins Overlap, But Only Sometimes

So space between the following elements will be 20px, not 40px:

<div style="margin-bottom:20px">foo</div>
<div style="margin-top:20px">foo</div>

However, there are exceptions! The margins don’t collapse in the following circumstances: floated elements

  • absolutely positioned elements
  • inline-block elements
  • elements with overflow set to anything other than visible (they do not collapse margins with their children.)
  • cleared elements (They do not collapse their top margins with their parent block’s bottom margin.) the root element

Trick#6. Opacity Can Change the z-index Stacking Order

Say you have 3 divs, each positioned absolutely, containing another element with increasing z-index number. Each next one will appear on top of the previous one. If you add z-index: 10 to the first one, it will now appear on top of the other two, which remain ordered as before. So far all good. Now add “opacity: 0.99” to the first div and watch it get stacked under the other two. :)


<div id="ontop" >
  <span class="red">z-index:10</span>
  <span class="green">z-index:2</span>
  <span class="blue">z-index:1</span>

<button id="foo">Add "opacity:0.99;" to red div</button>

/* #ontop {
  opacity: .99; 
} */

.red, .green, .blue {
  position: absolute;
  width: 100px;
  color: white;
  line-height: 100px;
  text-align: center;
span {
  opacity: .95;

.red {
  z-index: 10;
  top: 20px;
  left: 80px;
  background: red;

.green {
  z-index: 2;
  top: 80px;
  left: 20px;
  background: green;

.blue {
  z-index: 3;
  top: 100px;
  left: 100px;
  background: blue;

button {
  position: absolute;
  top: 230px;

document.getElementById('foo').onclick = function(){    
    document.getElementById('ontop').style.opacity = '0.99';

Trick#7. Height: 100% May Not Do What You Think It Does

Same goes for “height: 100%”, in many cases this does not do what the developer expects, because parent element’s height is not set. So for example:

  <div style=”height:100%;background:red;”></div>

This does not fill the whole page red. In order to do that, you’d need to set the height of both body and html to 100%.

More to find here.