OS Specific Fonts in CSS

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Chris Coyier on (Updated on )

I’m not sure what the exact use case was, but Sam Stephenson recently asked me:

My immediate thought was to use the old trick where you put the User Agent in a data-attribute on the root element that you can select off of.

var doc = document.documentElement;
doc.setAttribute('data-useragent', navigator.userAgent);

Then set the fonts as needed. In this case, setting Lucida Grande for OS X but Helvetica Neue for the latest version.

html {
  font-family: sans-serif;  

html[data-useragent*='Mac OS X'] {
  font-family: "Lucida Grande","Lucida Sans Unicode", Tahoma, sans-serif;

html[data-useragent*='Mac OS X 10_10'] {
  font-family: "HelveticaNeue-Light", "Helvetica Neue Light", "Helvetica Neue", Helvetica, Arial, "Lucida Grande", sans-serif; 
  font-weight: 300;

Which basically works. It’s UA-sniffing which is bad, but we aren’t doing anything particularly mission critical here such that we would put our site or the web at risk.

Sam tried another path and got pretty fancy. Here, he creates an iframe (so there is no interfering styles), inserts a button element (which should have the system font on it by default), and tests the styles on it.

(function() {
  window.addEventListener("DOMContentLoaded", function() {
    getSystemFontFamily(function(systemFontFamily) {
      var cssText = ".system-font { font-family: " + systemFontFamily + " }";
      var element = createStyleElement(cssText);
      document.head.insertBefore(element, document.head.firstChild);

  function getSystemFontFamily(callback) {
    withHiddenFrame(function(document) {
      var button = document.createElement("button");

  function withHiddenFrame(callback) {
    var frame = document.createElement("iframe");
    frame.style.cssText = "width: 0; height: 0; visibility: hidden";
    frame.onload = function() {

  function createStyleElement(cssText) {
    var element = document.createElement("style");
    element.type = "text/css";
    if (element.styleSheet) {
      element.styleSheet.cssText = cssText;
    } else {
    return element;

On Yosemite (10.10.1) you’ll get:

.system-font { 
  font-family: '.HelveticaNeueDeskInterface-Regular';

Weird name, but it works.

In 10.9 you get:

.system-font { 
  font-family: '.LucidaGrandeUI';

Again, weird name, but works.

Tab Atkins suggested that CSS should be able to do this with essentially font-family: sans-serif;, but it just doesn’t work that way unfortunately. You’d get Helvetica in 10.9, not Lucida Grande.

Tab also suggested trying @font-face. By setting multiple local() values for the src property, it works!

@font-face {
  font-family: "MacSystem";

body {
  font-family: "MacSystem", sans-serif;

The trick there is to pick the “rarest” one first. As I type this on Yosemite 10.10.1, it font-family: ".LucidaGrandeUI"; works, so it has to be second in the list for this to work.

You could extend this idea to Linux and Windows and stuff too, I’m sure, and make a big ol’ @font-face declaration that covers all the ground. If anyone is so inclined, feel free to post it and I’ll link it up here.

Update September 2016

Lots of sites are starting to use a local font stack that tries to use whatever the “system font” is. That font stack looks like:

Used by GitHub:

body {
  font-family: -apple-system, BlinkMacSystemFont, "Segoe UI", Roboto, Helvetica, Arial, sans-serif, "Apple Color Emoji", "Segoe UI Emoji", "Segoe UI Symbol";

Used by WordPress admin and Medium interface:

body {
  font-family: -apple-system,BlinkMacSystemFont,"Segoe UI",Roboto,Oxygen-Sans,Ubuntu,Cantarell,"Helvetica Neue",sans-serif;