Vertical Centering in CSS
By Michael Bianco A.K.A. iloveitaly : 22 February 2005

Centering elements vertically is a real pain in CSS, and there is no straightforward solution for it. I will attempt to give you some solutions to this common CSS problem in following tutorial. All the code for the examples used in this tutorial can be viewed by simply viewing the source code for the page, or downloading the source .

Most beginners looking at a CSS Property List would say, "Hey, the property vertical-align looks like exactly what I am looking for to vertically align my content." Well, if you ever tried to use vertical-align to try to accomplish that task, you have probably figured out that it does not do what you would think it would. That is, vertical-align is NOT the equivalent of a table tag's valign property. The CSS vertical-align property aligns the element in relation to its small outer container, or in geeky terms, in relation to the inline container box (for more information check out this page). Here is a example that illustrates this behavior:

Hello, here is some text that is vertically aligned.

[ here is what the vertical-align property does ]

If you select the text you can see that it is in the middle of the 'box for the text', the text is vertically aligned. Unfortunately you can not use this property 'as is' to vertically align an element, for example, that is inside a div. As with almost everything on the web, there is a way around this unwanted behavior. Values of this property have slightly different meanings in the context of tables. Please consult the section on table height algorithms for details. This basically means that the property behaves differently when applied to a table. Lets test it out by using this property on a table:

This should be at the bottom

[ testing out the vertical align property on a table element ]

It works! Using vertical-align you can change the vertical position of the content in a table. But, we are modern web-developers and don't use ugly table based layouts anymore, so what do we do? We emulate a table. Set the CSS display property to table-cell, and you have CSS centering in almost any element. Here is an example:

This should be centered

[ testing out the vertical align property on a table element. Does not work in IE ]

I have had the best luck using em's as a measurement when trying to find the correct line-height value.

I don't test on browsers that weren't made that recently. I've tested all the code in this tutorial in the following browsers:
  • FireFox 1.0
  • Safari 1.2
  • IE 6.0 SP1 (all tricks work except the vertical-align w/display:table-cell trick)

So this concludes my first shot at making a tutorial. Hopefully you've found this information useful and will be able to put to good use until support for CSS3 finally comes around which will provide a much easier way to vertically align content.

If you have any questions, or need clarification on something, don't hesitate to ask in the kirupa forums!

Michael Bianco
MAB Web Design



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