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Using CSS Grid where appropriate

Published Jul 31, 2017
Using CSS Grid where appropriate

This article is originally published on Silvestar Bistrović Blog.

Recently I've redesigned my blog, as some of you could notice. During this process, I decided it is time to learn more about CSS Grid and actually use it. Here's what I learned.

Using CSS Grid

Every time I'm doing a new (re)design, I usually start with the header. The first component in a header is navigation. My website architecture is not complicated, just a few pages, blog category and posts.

<header class="header">
  <ul class="nav">
    <li class="nav__item">
      <a class="nav__link" href="/link/to/nav/item">Item 1</a>
    </li>
    <li class="nav__item">
      <a class="nav__link" href="/link/to/nav/item">Item 2</a>
    </li>
    <li class="nav__item">
      <a class="nav__link" href="/link/to/nav/item">Item 3</a>
    </li>
    <li class="nav__item">
      <a class="nav__link" href="/link/to/nav/item">Item 4</a>
    </li>
  </ul>
</header>

I wanted to try CSS Grid here, so I started by adding display: grid on my ul element. At first, I wasn't sure how many elements will be in the menu, 4 or 5. But I had to know that information in order to define my grid-template-columns. Or do I?

I discovered there's a property that could help me in this specific situation. And it is called grid-auto-flow.

The grid-auto-flow CSS property controls how the auto-placement algorithm works, specifying exactly how auto-placed items get flowed into the grid.

I'll set this property to column and grid will be smart enough to add new columns as necessary.

.nav {
  display: grid;
  grid-auto-flow: row;
}     
@media screen and (min-width: $mq-mobile) {
  .nav {
    grid-auto-flow: column;
  }
}

To create a responsive menu, I've added a media query for a smaller screen and stacked items one below other using grid-auto-flow: row. Now I could use either 4 or 5 elements in my navigation. Everything works.

CSS Grid - navigation example 1

Using CSS Grid items

Then new problems arrived. I wanted to create a Hexo theme and share it with the community, just like I did with hexo-codepen and hexo-caniuse plugins.

In order to do that, I wanted to provide developers with an option to add as many menu elements as needed. And then things started to get complicated.

I thought it would be a good idea to allow a maximum of 4 elements per row in the header navigation. If there are more than 4 elements, place them in the new row.

I was playing around with various CSS Grid properties to achieve desired behavior but nothing worked with grid-auto-flow.

Then I've tried a different approach: instead of trying to define a grid, I'll try to position grid items individually. I'll place first grid item in the first column of the first row and then second grid item in the second column of the first row and so on.

@media screen and (min-width: 320px) {
  .nav__item:nth-child(1) {
    grid-area: 1 / 1 / 2 / 2;
  }
  .nav__item:nth-child(2) {
    grid-area: 1 / 2 / 2 / 3;
  }
  .
  ..
  ...
}

CSS Grid is smart enough to create a grid from provided grid-area properties. It wasn't the best solution and certainly not the most elegant one, but it worked.

CSS Grid - navigation example 2

Using CSS Grid correctly

I couldn't be satisfied with that kind of a solution. By looking at the compiled CSS, I realized that the file was too big because of all those nth-child pseudo classes. I had to dig deeper.

After studying every grid property I finally got the answer. I should create desired grid, but use auto for sizing.

.nav {
  display: grid;
  grid-auto-flow: row;
}
@media screen and (min-width: 320px) {
  .nav {
    grid-template-columns: repeat(4, auto);
    grid-template-rows: repeat(2, auto);
  }
}

I've defined 4 columns and 2 rows and the result looks the same.

CSS Grid - navigation example 3

Using flexbox as fallback

CSS Grid isn't fully supported yet.

Can I Use css-grid?

I needed a decent fallback for CSS grid. Because I'm a huge fan of Flexbox and because the support for Flexbox is pretty good, it was natural to create a fallback to Flexbox.

Can I Use flexbox?

I first heard about this method when Vitaly Friedman from Smashing Magazine had a workshop in Osijek earlier this year. The principle is that we should first define Flexbox and than add CSS Grid using @supports rule.

.nav {
  display: flex;
  flex-wrap: wrap; 
}
.nav__item {
  flex: 0 0 auto;
  width: 100%;
}
@media screen and (min-width: $mq-mobile) {
  .nav__item {
    width: calc(100% / 4);
  }
}
// use grid if supported
@supports (display:grid) and (grid-auto-flow: row) {
  .nav {
    display: grid;
    grid-auto-flow: row;
  }
  @media screen and (min-width: 320px) {
    .nav {
      grid-template-columns: repeat(4, auto);
      grid-template-rows: repeat(2, auto);
    }
  }
}

To prevent Edge from using CSS Grid, I've added grid-auto-flow: row rule. This property has no support in Edge.

The result is still the same, with an exception of cross browser support.

Flexbox - navigation example 4

A lesson learned

I've learned a lot by building a navigation using CSS Grid. The biggest lesson here is to use CSS Grid where appropriate. And building navigation using CSS Grid is certainly not appropriate, in my opinion.

Final thoughts

I really enjoyed building a navigation component using many different techniques. There are many ways how components could be built and there is no correct or wrong solution, as long as it works. That's why I love CSS.

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