Scrollbars on Hover

Avatar of Chris Coyier
Chris Coyier on (Updated on )

Find and fix web accessibility issues with ease using axe DevTools Pro. Try for free!

First, scrollbars are a usability and accessibility thing. Second, a rule of thumb: if an area scrolls, it should have a visible scrollbar. But the web is a big place and I like tricks, so I’m going to cover the idea of only revealing them on hover. Even macOS itself¹ hides scrollbars by default, revealing them contextually and on interaction. Same on iOS, leading to confusing moments.

All that aside, here’s a way to hide scrollbars by default, only revealing them when the element is hovered. It was created by Thomas Gladdines, who also emailed me about it:

In quick testing on my machine, it works across Chrome, Firefox, and Safari, regardless of my macOS settings. So pretty robust.

The trick is that mask covers the scrollbar! So, if you create a mask that is exactly as wide as the scrollbar (here, I’m just guessing that 17px will cover it) and super duper tall (both of which should probably be calculated by a script), it can perfectly cover the scrollbar. You can even transition the position of the mask, faking a fading in/out effect. Very clever.

Notably, this is the real scrollbar of the element, and not a faked one. Faking one could be another approach. Ben Nadel covered how Slack does that. Their trick is to force the scrollbar to render in an area hidden by overflow, and make a virtual scrollbar that mimics the native one (which you’d then have more direct control over). It’s not forcing the scrollbar either, which is something else you can do if so motivated. And nothing about this prevents you from styling the scrollbar, which might actually have some benefits like specifying the exact width of it.

  1. As I write: If your device allows gestures, scroll bars are hidden until you start scrolling. Otherwise, they’re visible. ↩️