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The outline property in CSS draws a line around the outside of an element. It’s similar to border except that:

  1. It always goes around all the sides, you can’t specify particular sides
  2. It’s not a part of the box model, so it won’t affect the position of the element or adjacent elements (nice for debugging!)

Other minor facts include that it doesn’t respect border-radius (makes sense I suppose as it’s not a border) and that it isn’t always rectangular. If the outline goes around an inline element with different font-sizes, for instance, Opera will draw a staggered box around it all.

It is often used for accessibility reasons, to emphasize a link when tabbed to without affecting positioning and in a different way than hover.

a:focus {
  outline: 1px dashed red;


outline: [ <outline-width> || <outline-style> || <outline-color> ] | inherit

It takes the same properties as border, but with “outline-” instead.

The above shorthand could have been written:

a:focus {
  outline-width: 1px;
  outline-style: dashed;
  outline-color: red;


  • You can’t set an outline on just one (or two, or three) sides of an elements. All sides only. There is no such thing as outline-top, outline-right, outline-bottom, or outline-left like there is with border.
  • Try opening up the console on any website and running document.head.insertAdjacentHTML("beforeend", "<style>* { outline: 1px solid red; }</style>"); – you’ll see a lot of the sites structure that way.
  • outline is used for :focus styles by default. Remember if you ever remove outline styles, like a:focus { outline: 0; }, you need to add them back in using some other kind of visually distinct style.

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