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Keith J. Grant

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Atlanta, GA
United States

CSS in Depth

JavaScript, CSS, UX, & the open web

Memorizing Alignment Properties

Do you often find yourself looking up a Flexbox cheat sheet? Wish you could just commit all those properties to memory and be done with it? Here’s how I memorized them.

Learn “flex”

If you’ve worked with flexbox much, you might already have this one committed to memory. The flex property is itself shorthand for three other properties: flex-grow, flex-shrink, and flex-basis. But most of the time, the shorthand is all you need (and is even preferable).

If you’re not familiar with this shorthand yet, learn it first. Learn only it. Don’t worry about any of the rest until you get this down.

Justify = horizontal

In Microsoft Word, if you “justify” text, you control how the text is spaced out horizontally. It spaces to be flush against the left and right sides.

In the same way, justify-content is used on a flex container to control how its flex items are spaced horizontally.

Align = vertical

You know there’s a vertical-align property, right? Maybe it didn’t ever do what you expected it do, but you know it’s there. The same way, the align-* properties control vertical alignment.

  • align-content controls how the rows of flex items align vertically within the flex container. (This generally only applies when you have flex-wrap enabled.)
  • align-items controls how the flex items align themselves vertically within each row.
  • align-self on a single flex item controls how that item is aligned vertically within a row, overriding its parent’s align-items setting.

One caveat

If you can remember this rule, you’ll have a lot more of flexbox ready from memory. Note that these swap if you change the flex direction to “column” or “column reverse”. Technically speaking, justify-content spaces along the main axis, and align-* properties space along the cross axis. But learn the default behavior, as it is the most common scenario; and know that rotating these axes changes it.

As a bonus, these properties also apply to CSS Grid as well. Grid also brings in a justify-items and justify-self property to fill out the set. These work much like their align-* counterparts, but on the horizontal plane.

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