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Advanced Tailwind: Container Queries

July 28, 2023
Advanced Tailwind: Container Queries

Tail­wind pro­vides a lot of val­ue for stan­dard­iz­ing design tokens and stylesheets. I’ve been using it in every web based project for the last year, and being able to share com­po­nents between projects and domains with­out restruc­tur­ing style sheets is an incred­i­ble boost to pro­duc­tiv­i­ty. Tailwind’s media queries, more specif­i­cal­ly, are one of my favorite fea­tures. With such ease you can define stan­dard­ized style behav­iors for dif­fer­ent screen sizes direct­ly in the className props:

<div className="sm:col-2 md:col-4 lg:col-8"/>

Tail­wind pro­vides a list of alias­es for these queries, which are by default mapped to stan­dard screen sizes. We can always extend this to match our own num­bers, of course.

So where’s the prob­lem? This post isn’t about media queries, but con­tain­er queries. I con­sid­er con­tain­er queries to be an advanced tech­nique for Tail­wind as it involves using plu­g­ins, and fits a spe­cif­ic use-case. Before I explain what a con­tain­er query is, let’s look at the prob­lem we’re try­ing to solve that media queries cannot.

Con­sid­er a web­site that has a user-con­trolled, resiz­able pan­el which is used for side-by-side views. This is often used for cross-ref­er­enc­ing web­sites where you can see mul­ti­ple, com­plete­ly dif­fer­ent pieces of con­tent at the same time. I put togeth­er a bare-bones exam­ple using Nex­tJs to illus­trate this below:

example of a not responsive resizable container

I cre­at­ed the pan­els using the react-resiz­able-pan­els library, and am just dis­play­ing the default Nex­tJs land­ing com­po­nent in both panels:

The issue is that the default Nex­tJs land­ing page includes media queries to han­dle mobile views! Why aren’t they being respect­ed when the pan­els are resized? Why do they look dumb when the pan­els are small? Look at the default code below and spot the media queries. They’re def­i­nite­ly there, but nothing’s happening!

screenshot of default NextJs landing page

This is sim­ply because Tail­wind media queries are based on the brows­er window’s size. They will nev­er change unless the brows­er win­dow is changed. They don’t know any­thing about the pan­el sizes. How do we get a media query to mon­i­tor the size of its par­ent div, instead of the brows­er win­dow? This is where con­tain­er queries come in, because this is exact­ly what they’re for.

Instal­la­tion #

Con­tain­er queries are a Tail­wind plu­g­in, so they need to be installed first by fol­low­ing these steps:

  1. npm install @tailwindcss/container-queries
  2. Add this to your tailwind.config.js file:
    plugins: [
     // ...

Usage #

Essen­tial­ly, we mark our media query alias­es with a new con­tain­er flag @container, or if you want a unique name in the case of more com­plex designs, you can write @container/{name}:

screenshot of using new container flag

This tells any child com­po­nents that if their media queries are also flagged, they will mon­i­tor only the parent’s size. See the @lg:flex flag in the div? The @ will make the lg: alias track the @container.

So with this new tech, we can just do a find-all on media queries in this com­po­nent, and add the @ mark­er. It will begin to look like this:

screenshot of improved NextJS Typescript code

After run­ning this now, we’ll see that our con­tent inside the pan­els are now respect­ing the par­ent com­po­nent sizes, and we didn’t have to rewrite our media queries at all! Aside from just adding a @ to each one.

animated GIF of the improved layout container

I think this is amaz­ing if you have a sim­i­lar use-case, and makes con­tain­er queries incred­i­bly easy to imple­ment. The next time you have to deal with resiz­able pan­els, or even just child com­po­nents that need a slight­ly more advanced twist on their styling, take a look at Tailwind’s con­tain­er query plugin!

You can check out the live exam­ple of con­tain­er queries run­ning with the pan­els here:

And the source code is here: https://​github​.com/​D​a​v​e​A​l​d​o​n​/​a​d​v​a​n​c​e​d​-​t​a​i​lwind

David Crawford
David Crawford
Software Developer

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