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Articles Original Tutorials

Inherit ancestor font-size, for fun and profit

If you’ve been writing CSS for any length of time, you’re probably familiar with the em unit, and possibly the other type-relative units. We are going to refer to em for the rest of this post, but anything described works for all type-relative units.

As you well know, em resolves to the current font size on all properties except font-size, where it resolves to the parent font size. It can be quite useful for making scalable components that adapt to their context size.

However, I have often come across cases where you actually need to “circumvent” one level of this. Either you need to set font-size to the grandparent font size instead of the parent one, or you need to set other properties to the parent font size, not the current one.

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Articles Original Tutorials

Dark mode in 5 minutes, with inverted lightness variables

By now, you probably know that you can use custom properties for individual color components, to avoid repeating the same color coordinates multiple times throughout your theme. You may even know that you can use the same variable for multiple components, e.g. HSL hue and lightness:

:root {
	--primary-hs: 250 30%;
}

h1 {
	color: hsl(var(--primary-hs) 30%);
}

article {
	background: hsl(var(--primary-hs) 90%);
}

article h2 {
	background: hsl(var(--primary-hs) 40%);
	color: white;
}

Here is a very simple page designed with this technque:

Unlike preprocessor variables, you could even locally override the variable, to have blocks with a different accent color:

:root {
	--primary-hs: 250 30%;
	--secondary-hs: 190 40%;
}

article {
	background: hsl(var(--primary-hs) 90%);
}

article.alt {
	--primary-hs: var(--secondary-hs);
}

This is all fine and dandy, until dark mode comes into play. The idea of using custom properties to make it easier to adapt a theme to dark mode is not new. However, in every article I have seen, the strategy suggested is to create a bunch of custom properties, one for each color, and override them in a media query.

This is a fine approach, and you’ll likely want to do that for at least part of your colors eventually. However, even in the most disciplined of designs, not every color is a CSS variable. You often have colors declared inline, especially grays (e.g. the footer color in our example). This means that adding a dark mode is taxing enough that you may put it off for later, especially on side projects.

The trick I’m going to show you will make anyone who knows enough about color cringe (sorry Chris!) but it does help you create a dark mode that works in minutes. It won’t be great, and you should eventually tweak it to create a proper dark mode (also dark mode is not just about swapping colors) but it’s better than nothing and can serve as a base.

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Tutorials

Writable getters

Setters removing themselves are reminiscent of Ouroboros, the serpent eating its own tail, an ancient symbol. Media credit

A pattern that has come up a few times in my code is the following: an object has a property which defaults to an expression based on its other properties unless it’s explicitly set, in which case it functions like a normal property. Essentially, the expression functions as a default value.

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Tips Tutorials

Hybrid positioning with CSS variables and max()

Notice how the navigation on the left behaves wrt scrolling: It’s like absolute at first that becomes fixed once the header scrolls out of the viewport.

One of my side projects these days is a color space agnostic color conversion & manipulation library, which I’m developing together with my husband, Chris Lilley (you can see a sneak peek of its docs above). He brings his color science expertise to the table, and I bring my JS & API design experience, so it’s a great match and I’m really excited about it! (if you’re serious about color and you’re building a tool or demo that would benefit from it contact me, we need as much early feedback on the API as we can get! )

For the documentation, I wanted to have the page navigation on the side (when there is enough space), right under the header when scrolled all the way to the top, but I wanted it to scroll with the page (as if it was absolutely positioned) until the header is out of view, and then stay at the top for the rest of the scrolling (as if it used fixed positioning).