Centering Content
      by Kris Gosser AKA Kristopher : 9 February 2005

In the good ol' days, using nested tables would get the trick done for centering your content. Unfortunately, that was (and still is) a painful experience for certain browsers and screen readers. This tutorial will give you some examples for what the pro's do to get their content centered.

Marginally Easy
This example focuses on the use of margins. Their value can be exact or relative. When a block level object expresses a margin value, the external CSS code looks like this:

div#idname {
margin: 1px;

This expression is telling the browser "The div tag with the id called 'idname' will have a margin of 1 pixel." It is extremely important to note that this means all four margins - the top, right, bottom, and left - will receive a value of 1 pixel. To be more precise, we can extend the values out a little more by doing this:

div#idname {
margin-top: 1px;
margin-right: 2px;
margin-bottom: 1px;
margin-left: 2px;

Whoa. That's way too much code. Did you know we can achieve the same thing in only one line? Here's how:

div#idname {
margin: 1px 2px 1px 2px;

It circulates from top to left in a clockwise motion. Therefore the code is literally saying, "The div tag with the id 'idname' will have a top margin of 1 pixel, right of 2 pixels, bottom of 1 pixel, and left of 2 pixels." Hmm...There's a pattern here: My top and bottom values are the same, as well as my left and right. This means we can condense our code even more!

div#idname {
margin: 1px 2px;

Sweet. So now my top and bottom margins are 1 pixel, and my left and right margins are 2 pixels.

What does this all mean, Kris?
Remember when I said earlier that margins can be relative, and not just fixed? Well, a relative left and right margin is our goal. If we can some how declare that our left and right sides have an equal numbered value, the cushion on both sides will be dynamically the same! Therefore, it'll be centered.

One last thing to remember is that you need to declare a width for the div, or else they browser won't know how much to put on either side. But you have probably already figured that out.

Lets take a look at our final code:

/* external CSS */
margin: 0 auto;
width: 550px;
<!-- (X)HTML code -->
<div id="container">
<p>this is centered!</p>

Tada! As long as the container div is the highest div containing any sort of content (hierarchy-wise), you'll be centered!

Developer's Notes

  • If you noticed, I always put "px" for "pixels" after my margin values. This isn't exactly necessary, but Internet Explorer for Mac sometimes changes the default suffix to something else, like "ems" or a percentage. Therefore I just put the "px" at the end because it's what I'm using, and I just want to be sure that's what's read.

  • Many people like to say that using the text-align: center; attribute works well. This is untrue in most cases. Just as it says, I recommend it for text only for accessibility reasons. Internet Explorer 5.1 for Mac completely ignores the statement all together. Secondly, this expression trickles down and is inherited by all subsequent elements. Any paragraphs, lists, or images will be centered. Consequently, you'll need to go through and declare the text alignment back to the left for all of these elements. That's way too much code and effort than that has to be!

  • For more information of if you have questions, feel free to visit our forums. You can also PM (send a private message) to me, Kristopher, via the forum. Have fun!

  Kris Gosser



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