Approaches for a CSS Masonry Layout

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Chris Coyier on (Updated on )

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Masonry layout, on the web, is when items of an uneven size are laid out such that there aren’t uneven gaps. I would guess the term was coined (or at least popularized) for the web by David DeSandro because of his popular Masonry JavaScript library, which has been around since 2010.

JavaScript library. Nothing against JavaScript, but it’s understandable we might not want to lean on it for doing layout. Is there anything we can do in CSS directly these days? Sorta.

Is vertical order with ragged bottoms OK?

If it is, then CSS columns will do just fine.

Flexbox can do vertical columns with ragged endings too

But it’s not quite as clever, because you’ll need to set a height of some kind to get it to wrap the columns. You’ll also have to be explicit about widths rather than having it decide columns for you.

But it’s doable and it does auto space the gaps if there is room.

Do you need a clean bottom edge? A Flexbox/JavaScript combo can help.

Jamie Perkins originally wrote this, then Janosh Riebesell re-wrote it and, now I’m porting it here.

It totally messes with the order and requires the children to be flexy about their height, but it does the trick:

Is horizontal line masonry OK?

If it’s just the uneven brick-like look you’re after, then horizontal masonry is way easier. You could probably even float stuff if you don’t care about the ragged edge. If you wanna keep it a block… flexbox with allowed flex-grow is the ticket.

You’d think CSS grid could help

CSS grid is very amazing and useful in a CSS developer’s everyday life, but it’s not really designed for masonry style layouts. CSS grid is about defining lines and placing things along those lines, where masonry is about letting elements end where they may, but still exerting some positional influence.

Balázs Sziklai has a nice example of auto-flowing grids that all stack together nicely, with pretty good horiziontal ordering:

But you can see how strict the lines are. There is a way though!

Grid + JavaScript-manipulated row spans

Andy Barefoot wrote up a great guide. The trick is setting up repeating grid rows that are fairly short, letting the elements fall into the grid horizontally as they may, then adjusting their heights to match the grid with some fairly light math to calculate how many rows they should span.

Rahul Arora went down this road as well:

Both of these are pretty cool in that the DOM order and visual order are sensical.

Order-shifted elements in a Flexbox layout

Normally when you think of using order to move things around in a flexbox or grid layout, you’re in dangerous territory, as tab order will likely follow the DOM order, which no longer matches the expected tabbing order because visually things have moved all around. In this demo by Diederik van Leeuwen, order is used to make what starts out as a column-oriented flexbox but manipulated into being horizontally ordered with some clever JavaScript.

DOM-shifted elements in a CSS columns layout

What people generally want is column-stacking (varied heights on elements), but with horizontal ordering. That last grid demo above handles it pretty well, but it’s not the only way.

Jesse Korzan tackled it with CSS columns. It needs JavaScript as well to get it done. In this case, it shifts the elements in the DOM to order them left-to-right while providing a horizontal stack using a CSS columns layout. This introduces a bit of an accessibility problem since the visual order (left-to-right) and source order (top-to-bottom) are super different & dash; though perhaps fixable with programmatic tabindex?

There’s also the original library and variations

Float away, my pretties.

And it’s newer, hipper verion: Colcade!

And here’s MagicGrid, in which a flexbox layout is lightly manipulated with a JavaScript lib:

CSS Houdini!

Houdini is broken up into different APIs that are all shipping at different times. The Paint and Typed OM APIs are the furthest along, but there is some support for the Layout API, which is incredibly exciting as it unlocks possibilities like masonry layout.flex-gro

Here’s a demo from Google: