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CSS: Page Layouts introduces basic layout concepts, gives advice on how to create properly structured HTML based on prototypes and mockups, and goes into critical page layout skills such as floats and positioning. Author James Williamson shows how to combine these techniques to create fixed, fluid, and responsive layouts. Designers are also shown how to enhance their pages through the creative use of CSS techniques like multi-column text, opacity, and the background property. Exercise files are included with this course.
Now that we've had some time to become familiar with the concepts of using floats and how they affect surrounding elements, I want to show you a few common approaches for creating float-based layouts. I'm going to start with the most common layout, and that is a two-column layout. Now we're going to be doing three different versions of exactly the same layout. So the same HTML structure, we're just going to do it three different ways. And that's really to show you guys that often it's a personal choice as to how you control the layouts.
Okay, so we have three files that I've opened up here. If you look in the 03_06 directory, you're going to find 2col_v1, 2col_v2, and 2col_v3. Just go ahead and open all three of them up, so that you know the structure of the page that we're going to be working with here. Very simple structure, just some basic building blocks if you will. Inside the body we have a header, which is typical. We have a section, which is going to be our first column. We have an aside, which is the sidebar. It's going to form our second column. And then finally, at the bottom we have a footer.
So that's a pretty basic page layout: header at the top, two columns side to side, footer at the bottom. If I go back up to our body tag, I can see that the width of the page is set to a fixed value of 960 pixels. So what we're going to do is we're going to have a left column that is 640 pixels wide and a right column that is 300 pixels wide, and that's going to leave us with 20 pixels' worth of space between the two columns, or a 20-pixel gutter for you designers out there.
So the first method of doing this is what I call float one margin for the other. And so for our first column, column1, I'm going to come in and I'm going to go ahead and float column1 to the left. The next thing I'm going to do is give it a defined width, because we want our column to be a specific size. I'm going to give it a width of 600 pixels. Now I know I said, hey, the left column is going to be 640 pixels, so I'm also going to do some padding and the padding is going to be 20 pixels. So remember, 20 pixels to the left, 20 pixels to the right, of padding, adds up to a total of 640 pixels.
Okay, if I save this and preview this in one of my browsers, you can see what happens here. This is where the really important stuff goes. This is where the related content goes. So here's my left column. Here's my sidebar. Now the problem is the sidebar is coming up underneath, so we're basically seeing both that and the footer slide up underneath the left column here. So I'm going to go back into my code, and I'm going to start styling my column2. So for column2, what I'm going to do here is I'm going to set padding to 20 pixels as well, so a consistent padding all the way throughout.
And instead of setting a defined width on column2, what I'm going to do is I'm going to do a margin-left. What margin-left is going to do for me-- think about what's happening here. column2 is right now sliding up underneath column1. By applying a wide enough margin on the left-hand side, I'm creating enough empty room for that left-hand column to display. So what I'm going to do for the margin- left is a really big value, 660 pixels. That's 640 pixels for the width of the column on the left-hand side and then another 20 pixels for gutter space right there in the middle.
Now for our footer, one of the things we're always going to do for our footer is we're going to go ahead and clear that. So I'm just going to type in clear: both. Now the reason for that is you don't want the footer sliding up underneath the left column as well. So I'm going to save that, go back into my browser, refresh, and you can see, there's our two-column layout. Footer at the bottom, and then we have a ton of left margin over here for this column, and we give it just enough to create that extra 20 pixels' worth of space. So that's version 1. Now I'm going to go over to 2col_v2.htm, and we're going to start styling that one.
Okay, now for this one, we're going to float both columns, and we're going to float both of them to the left. So if I go down into my code for column1, it's going look very similar. I'm going to go ahead and float that to the left. I'm going to go ahead and give it a width of 600 pixels and give it padding of 20 pixels on both sides. So that gives us a total of 640 pixels, and we're floating that to the left. Now for column2, I'm going to come in also and float that column to the left.
The next thing I'm going to do is I'm going to give it a padding of 20 pixels as well, and this time I'm going to give it a width of 260 pixels. Now if you think about this, 260, and we've got 20, so it gives me 300 pixels worth of space there. I've got 640 pixels here. But the one thing I don't have is the gap, the gutter, the space between them. And when you're dealing with two elements floating side by side, one of the best ways to get that is just use a margin. So for column1, I'm going to come up and apply a margin-right of exactly the value we need, which is 20 pixels, so there's our gutter.
So if I save this and preview this in our browser as well, you can see it's working perfectly, except for the footer, which is now stretching all the way up underneath that. So remember, we always have to go down to that footer and clear it. And so I'm going to ahead and Clear Both. So if I save that and preview it again, now the footer is in its right place, and I've got my columns. Now the thing about using this approach where you're floating one to the left and then you float another one to the left, it works just fine, but the big problem here is going to be column drop.
Column drop happens when the content no longer fits within that space. So that could be content overflowing out of one of the columns. It could be that we just got the math wrong. So if I go back into this, if I just tweaked it a little bit, for example, if I come into the column2 and I change the width to 270 pixels that's just 10 pixels' worth of difference here, and I preview that, you can see the second column drops because now there's no longer any space for it over here. So using this type of a layout, you need to be very, very precise with your measurements and make sure that your content inside of this is going to adhere to those boundaries as well.
So let's do our last version, 2col_v3, and this happens to be my personal favorite. We're still going to float both of the columns, but we're going to float one to the left and we're going to float the other one to the right. So I'm going to scroll down and find column1. And for that, we're going to float that to the left, we're going to give it a defined width of 600 pixels, and we're going to give it a padding of 20 pixels. Now the thing I like about this is we're going to let the defined widths of the two columns determine how wide the gutter is.
We don't need to worry about margins. We don't need to worry about it because we're going to take column 2 and instead of floating it to the left, we're going to float that to the right. Next thing, we're going to do is we're just going to go ahead and give it 20 pixels' worth of padding, just as we did before, and we'll set the width to 260 pixels. But notice this time I'm not having to set any margin on it to sort of push it over in place. By floating it to the right, it's automatically going to snap to the right-hand side. And that of course means that if the body increases in size, the only thing that's really going to happen negatively is that my gutter is going to get a little bit wider. All right! The next thing I need to do is come down to my footer, just clear both, save that.
And if I preview this in my browser as well, you can see there is my two-column layout. Here's the method we just tried, there's the method of floating both of them to the left, and there's the method of floating one to the left and using margins. Now visually, if I tab through these, can you tell the difference? No, of course not. They look exactly the same, but they're using three very different methods to achieve the same layout. As I mentioned, I really do prefer that last method, but really this lesson isn't about what my preferences are; it was about showing you multiple techniques that you can use.
Now in many cases, the source order of your content, in terms of the order that it's encountered or the complexity of your page, might drive you to use one of these methods over another. Now most of the time, it's just personal preference, but by understanding exactly how these techniques work, you're going to be better prepared to react to circumstances where you have to be a little creative in order to achieve the correct results.
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