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Displaying links horizontally

From: CSS: Styling Navigation

Video: Displaying links horizontally

In this exercise, we are going to focus on displaying our links horizontally. Now since there are multiple ways to build a horizontal menu, I am going to demo a couple of techniques that allow us to do that, talk about some of the issues surrounding them, and then discuss what my preferred technique is. To do that, I'm working on the horizontal.htm file, this time from the 04_02 directory, but we're just sort of picking up right where we left off. Again, first order of business is to get those links displaying horizontally rather than vertically, which is the default.

Displaying links horizontally

In this exercise, we are going to focus on displaying our links horizontally. Now since there are multiple ways to build a horizontal menu, I am going to demo a couple of techniques that allow us to do that, talk about some of the issues surrounding them, and then discuss what my preferred technique is. To do that, I'm working on the horizontal.htm file, this time from the 04_02 directory, but we're just sort of picking up right where we left off. Again, first order of business is to get those links displaying horizontally rather than vertically, which is the default.

Now the key to this is the list item element itself, list items by default are displayed in browsers as block-level elements. Now what that means is that these elements are stacked one on top of another which is why they're displayed vertically. In order to get them to display horizontally we need to sort of change that someway. So the first technique I am going to show you guys is to change the display property. So just below the existing selector here I am just going to do a selector that targets the list item, so the li. And I am going to go up, and I am going to change the li to display: inline, rather than having the browser display it as a block- level element, I'm telling the browser that from now on for these particular list items it needs to display them as inline level elements.

Let's take a look at that in the browser and see the result. Now, rather than stacking one on top of each other, because these are inline level elements, they are displaying all on one single line and they will keep doing that for as long as they have room. Problem solved, right? Well, there are always problems regardless of the technique that you are using, and I want to show you what the problems are here when we start using inline level list items. I have clicked on the page. I am just going to start tabbing through these links. As I tab to the links, notice how the links are highlighting. The only active area of the link is of course shrink-wrapped right to the content.

Now we are used to that, right? In the past, when we were creating our vertical menus, one of the first things that we did was take our anchor elements and change their display to block. And that's going to be the instinctive reaction as to what the next step would be here. Let me show you what happens when you do that. If I go down into my styles and create another selector, that's going to target the links inside that list. Let's just say I change the display to block and then give it a width and height, so you can make sure you can see it. We'll do a height of 50 pixels as well.

I am going to do a background color of red. This would be a normal step. Now I have got them all displayed horizontally. I will display the links as block-level elements so that I can start controlling width, height, padding, margin, and things like that. All right, so let's see what happens. I am going to refresh my page. We just told the browser that the links themselves should display as block-level elements. What do block-level elements do? They stack one on top of the other, and so because of that, even though we have displayed the list items as inline level element, now all of a sudden, the links are going right back to displaying as block-level elements.

If we want to control those things like padding and margins and things like that within our links, they need to actually display as block-level elements. So are we sunk? Well, we are not necessarily sunk. If I come back into my list items, and I change their display to what's known as inline-block, I save that and refresh, you can see that now they stack right back on top of each other. So what in the world is going on there? Well, inline-block is a display property that not a lot of people use, but it's very, very handy.

Essentially, what it does is it tells the browser that I want this particular element to display as an inline level element, but I want to be allowed to set block-level properties on it like margins and padding and things like that. So now the block-level elements are sitting inside of them the same way they would if the list items were still block-levels. I know it's hard to wrap your head around that. Just trust me that this works. You could have also gone in and applied the inline-block to the anchor elements as well, and that would have worked.

The only problem with this particular technique in using inline-block is that on older versions of Internet Explorer, inline-block is only allowed on elements that should display as inline as default. So there are a lot of things that you need to think about there. This is one way to tackle that particular technique. And as you're probably guessing, it's not my favorite. Let me show you what my favorite technique would be. What I am going to do is I am just going to get rid of this list item selector altogether, and I am going to go back up to my ul, li, and just underneath list-style I am going to go ahead and add float of left.

This time, instead of using display: inline to display the links horizontally, I'm floating them to the left. Now if I save this and go back and preview this in my browser, I can see that now all the links are still displaying horizontally. I don't have any spacing between them now, and that's because I don't have any default margins or padding between them. But they're all displaying exactly the way I want them to in terms of being horizontal to that. That doesn't mean that floats are without problems, containing floats is difficult often the parent container elements will collapse on themselves. We are going to take a look at how to deal with that in just a little bit.

And floating elements can often sort of mess up the layout and comes after them, so a lot of times you have to clear those floats as well. So both of these techniques can have their pros and cons. The way I look at it is like this. Display: inline is perfect if you don't really need to control the exact width, height, and box model properties of the links inside the horizontal menu. If that's the case, display: inline works fantastic. On the other hand, if you do need that control, then the float method is probably the better method to use, but just be aware that you have to deal with some of the peculiarities of the float method as well.

There you have it. Those are two techniques that give you almost exactly the same results. My personal preference is floating my horizontal menu elements as opposed to using the inline methods. And that's simply because I really like to have more control over the formatting of the individual link items. Knowing how both of these methods work is really important so that you can use your own judgment about which one that you prefer and which one is right for a given situation.

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This video is part of

Image for CSS: Styling Navigation
CSS: Styling Navigation

53 video lessons · 16633 viewers

James Williamson
Author

 
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  1. 3m 8s
    1. Welcome
      42s
    2. What you should know before watching this course
      1m 12s
    3. Using the exercise files
      1m 14s
  2. 35m 25s
    1. Organizing menus with lists
      4m 26s
    2. Ensuring accessibility
      9m 3s
    3. Using the nav element
      7m 30s
    4. Creating block-level links
      3m 8s
    5. Lab: Structuring navigation
      4m 11s
    6. Solution: Structuring navigation
      7m 7s
  3. 48m 42s
    1. Exploring link style considerations
      9m 2s
    2. Using global link styles
      9m 56s
    3. Styling link states
      10m 57s
    4. Indicating external links
      10m 4s
    5. Styling image links
      8m 43s
  4. 52m 5s
    1. Stripping default list styling
      4m 34s
    2. Defining link dimensions
      6m 0s
    3. Setting link styling
      3m 36s
    4. Aligning links vertically
      4m 11s
    5. Controlling link spacing
      2m 30s
    6. Styling menus with borders
      2m 32s
    7. Creating rollovers
      4m 45s
    8. Restricting link styling
      3m 31s
    9. Lab: Creating a vertical menu
      11m 44s
    10. Solution: Creating a vertical menu
      8m 42s
  5. 54m 58s
    1. Stripping list styling
      3m 35s
    2. Displaying links horizontally
      6m 14s
    3. Clearing floats
      6m 12s
    4. Controlling link sizing and spacing
      3m 11s
    5. Styling links
      7m 16s
    6. Creating rollovers
      5m 52s
    7. Indicating current pages
      4m 43s
    8. Controlling cursor states
      2m 46s
    9. Lab: Creating horizontal menus
      6m 45s
    10. Solution: Creating horizontal menus
      8m 24s
  6. 55m 35s
    1. Overview of dropdown menus
      1m 17s
    2. Structuring submenus
      5m 56s
    3. Styling submenus
      6m 4s
    4. Creating submenu rollovers
      3m 28s
    5. Positioning submenus
      5m 43s
    6. Controlling submenu display
      5m 5s
    7. Creating persistent hover states
      5m 53s
    8. Animating menus with CSS transitions
      6m 29s
    9. Lab: Dropdown menus
      6m 51s
    10. Solution: Dropdown menus
      8m 49s
  7. 58m 7s
    1. Creating CSS-only buttons
      8m 39s
    2. Creating special effects for buttons
      4m 2s
    3. Enhancing buttons with gradients
      7m 40s
    4. Overview of CSS sprites
      3m 30s
    5. Using CSS sprites for icons
      14m 30s
    6. Styling block-level links
      8m 38s
    7. Lab: Enhancing navigation with CSS
      5m 26s
    8. Solution: Enhancing navigation with CSS
      5m 42s
  8. 6m 29s
    1. Additional resources
      6m 29s

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