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The Box Model


Dreamweaver CS5 Essential Training

with James Williamson

Video: The Box Model

Any discussion on CSS-based layouts should start with the box model. Understanding the box model is crucial to controlling page layout. Every element in your document is contained within a box, even the inline level elements. Browsers use an element's box properties to determine how much space it takes up on your page. Controlling these values gives us control over much of our layout. The box model is made up of five basic properties: an element's width, height, padding, border, and margins.
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  1. 2m 57s
    1. Welcome
      1m 8s
    2. Using the exercise files
      1m 49s
  2. 7m 50s
    1. What is Dreamweaver?
      3m 16s
    2. Learning web design
      2m 22s
    3. Current web standards
      2m 12s
  3. 43m 9s
    1. The Welcome screen
      4m 5s
    2. Windows and Mac interface differences
      2m 23s
    3. The Application toolbar
      4m 7s
    4. The Document toolbar
      4m 40s
    5. Arranging panels
      8m 19s
    6. Managing workspaces
      7m 32s
    7. The Properties Inspector
      5m 54s
    8. The Insert panel
      6m 9s
  4. 25m 45s
    1. Basic site structure
      3m 11s
    2. File naming conventions
      1m 49s
    3. Defining a new site
      4m 35s
    4. Managing sites
      4m 51s
    5. Managing files and folders
      6m 36s
    6. Working with browsers
      4m 43s
  5. 27m 21s
    1. Creating new documents
      5m 16s
    2. New document preferences
      3m 6s
    3. Setting accessibility preferences
      4m 56s
    4. Working with starter pages
      3m 46s
    5. Managing starter pages
      10m 17s
  6. 30m 2s
    1. Basic tag structure
      2m 15s
    2. Adding structure to text
      8m 20s
    3. Creating lists
      9m 59s
    4. Getting text into Dreamweaver
      5m 59s
    5. Importing Word documents
      3m 29s
  7. 1h 17m
    1. Understanding style sheets
      2m 16s
    2. The anatomy of a CSS rule
      1m 48s
    3. Setting CSS preferences
      6m 36s
    4. The CSS Styles panel
      10m 2s
    5. Controlling CSS through the Properties Inspector
      5m 14s
    6. Using the Code Navigator
      7m 21s
    7. Using CSS Enable
      6m 45s
    8. Understanding element selectors
      8m 11s
    9. Understanding class selectors
      8m 49s
    10. Understanding ID selectors
      5m 59s
    11. Understanding descendant selectors
      6m 51s
    12. Attaching external style sheets
      7m 44s
  8. 1h 47m
    1. Working with units of measurement
      7m 11s
    2. Declaring font families
      9m 39s
    3. Controlling font sizing
      9m 9s
    4. Controlling weight and style
      8m 0s
    5. Controlling line height
      8m 29s
    6. Controlling vertical spacing with margins
      12m 3s
    7. Controlling spacing with padding
      5m 39s
    8. Aligning text
      8m 26s
    9. Transforming text
      5m 36s
    10. Writing global styles
      15m 42s
    11. Writing targeted styles
      17m 37s
  9. 1h 32m
    1. Understanding image types
      5m 3s
    2. Managing assets in Dreamweaver
      12m 51s
    3. Setting image accessibility preferences
      4m 20s
    4. Setting external image editing preferences
      3m 52s
    5. Placing images on the page
      7m 37s
    6. Photoshop integration
      5m 54s
    7. Modifying Smart Objects
      5m 51s
    8. Alternate Photoshop workflows
      8m 8s
    9. Modifying image properties
      11m 14s
    10. Styling images with CSS
      7m 11s
    11. Using background graphics
      9m 3s
    12. Positioning background graphics
      11m 6s
  10. 55m 16s
    1. Link basics
      3m 37s
    2. Setting site linking preferences
      2m 14s
    3. Creating links in Dreamweaver
      11m 1s
    4. Absolute links
      5m 8s
    5. Using named anchors
      11m 19s
    6. Linking to named anchors in external files
      2m 44s
    7. Creating an email link
      5m 24s
    8. Creating CSS-based rollovers
      13m 49s
  11. 1h 34m
    1. CSS structuring basics
      2m 56s
    2. The Box Model
      13m 21s
    3. Understanding floats
      6m 53s
    4. Clearing and containing floats
      8m 56s
    5. Using relative positioning
      4m 8s
    6. Using absolute positioning
      7m 18s
    7. Creating structure with div tags
      12m 7s
    8. Styling basic structure
      10m 34s
    9. Creating a two-column layout
      10m 37s
    10. Using Live View and CSS Inspect
      7m 51s
    11. Using Browser Lab
      9m 39s
  12. 56m 22s
    1. Reviewing table structure
      7m 41s
    2. Importing tabular data
      5m 13s
    3. Creating accessible tables
      9m 56s
    4. Using thead and tbody tags
      4m 0s
    5. Basic table styling
      8m 45s
    6. Styling table headers
      7m 52s
    7. Styling column groups
      4m 22s
    8. Creating custom table borders
      5m 1s
    9. Styling table captions
      3m 32s
  13. 1h 43m
    1. How forms work
      3m 0s
    2. Reviewing form design
      3m 2s
    3. Creating accessible forms
      7m 33s
    4. Setting form properties
      4m 6s
    5. The fieldset and legend tags
      4m 32s
    6. Inserting text fields
      5m 58s
    7. Inserting list menu items
      5m 26s
    8. Inserting checkboxes
      7m 50s
    9. Inserting radio button groups
      6m 22s
    10. Inserting text areas
      4m 12s
    11. Inserting submit buttons
      3m 37s
    12. Basic form styling
      12m 0s
    13. Form element styling
      8m 52s
    14. Styling form layout
      11m 49s
    15. Adding form interactivity
      2m 47s
    16. Using Spry validation widgets
      12m 49s
  14. 1h 23m
    1. Planning for templates
      10m 51s
    2. Creating a new template
      10m 37s
    3. Using editable attributes
      13m 43s
    4. Creating optional regions
      6m 23s
    5. Creating new pages from a template
      9m 17s
    6. Applying templates to existing pages
      6m 9s
    7. Working with nested templates
      7m 56s
    8. Working with repeating regions
      12m 58s
    9. Modifying templates
      5m 41s
  15. 40m 14s
    1. Behaviors overview
      3m 47s
    2. Hiding and showing elements
      9m 18s
    3. Spry overview
      4m 4s
    4. Using Spry widgets
      11m 36s
    5. Adding Spry effects
      3m 6s
    6. Using the Widget Browser
      8m 23s
  16. 28m 18s
    1. Inserting Flash files
      5m 4s
    2. Setting properties for Flash
      6m 27s
    3. Dreamweaver and Flash integration
      6m 6s
    4. Encoding Flash video
      6m 10s
    5. Adding Flash video
      4m 31s
  17. 45m 28s
    1. Running site-wide reports
      6m 33s
    2. Checking for broken links
      5m 41s
    3. Checking for browser compatibility
      8m 3s
    4. Adding remote servers
      8m 0s
    5. Uploading files
      7m 20s
    6. Managing remote sites
      9m 51s
  18. 34s
    1. Goodbye

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Watch the Online Video Course Dreamweaver CS5 Essential Training
15h 22m Beginner Apr 30, 2010

Viewers: in countries Watching now:

In Dreamweaver CS5 Essential Training, Adobe Certified Instructor James Williamson explores the tools and techniques of Dreamweaver CS5, Adobe's web design and development software. This course covers both the ins and outs of Dreamweaver, as well as recommended best practices for crafting new web sites and files, the fundamentals of HTML and CSS, and how to ensure clean and accessible code. The course also includes how to use tools in Dreamweaver to create and style web pages, manage multiple sites, and add user interactivity with widgets and scripting. Exercise files are included with the course.

Topics include:
  • Defining and structuring a new site
  • Creating new web documents from scratch or from templates
  • Adding and formatting text
  • Understanding style sheet basics
  • Placing and styling images
  • Creating links to internal pages and external web sites
  • Controlling page layout with CSS
  • Building and styling forms
  • Reusing web content with templates
  • Adding interactivity
  • Working with Flash and video
James Williamson

The Box Model

Any discussion on CSS-based layouts should start with the box model. Understanding the box model is crucial to controlling page layout. Every element in your document is contained within a box, even the inline level elements. Browsers use an element's box properties to determine how much space it takes up on your page. Controlling these values gives us control over much of our layout. The box model is made up of five basic properties: an element's width, height, padding, border, and margins.

Backgrounds do take advantage of the box model. They display inside an element all the way to the element's borders, but they're not technically part of the box model itself. Not understanding the box model clearly can have serious consequences to your layout. Without understand the box model, you might think that an element's total width and height are determined by the width and height property. In fact, they're determined by a combination of the width, height, padding, and borders. Starting inside an element and working on our way out, we start with an element's width and height properties. Next is padding.

The padding keeps the element's contents away from the edge of the element itself. Then we have borders. Now, borders are optional. You can have different styles of borders, such as solid or dashed or dotted, but borders also have a width and a color. So the width of a border, an element's padding, and the width and height of that element all calculate together to form the total width and height of the element. Now what about margins, where do they come in? Well, margins don't technically calculate to the width and height of an element. However, they do help define the relationship between elements.

So, they're used to determine the amount of space between one element and another. Now, the best way to truly understand the box model is to go ahead and control those properties for yourself. So, let's dive in and set some values. So, here I have the box_model.htm file open. You can find this in the 10_02 folder. Before we start modify some properties, I want to take a moment to discuss the structure of the page. Currently, we have a paragraph, which is within a div tag with an ID of container. That's also found within the body tag.

We have some very basic CSS going on our page right now. So let's take a moment and see what we have. So if I go over to the CSS Styles panel, I can see that I have a rule right here targeting the paragraph inside the container. All I've got is a background color. It's that light tan background color that we're seeing here. Now the container div tag itself also has a background color. It's sort of a darker teal blue color, but we can't see that right now. The reason that we can't see it is because if you have a block-level element, it's going to expand to fill its entire container element.

So right now our inner paragraph, since there is no padding or borders or anything holding it away from the edge of the div tag, is going all the way to the edge of the div tag. Let's start setting some box model properties and see how it affects these two elements. The first thing I'm going to do is select the #container p selector. I'm going to go ahead and add a width and a height to it. So I'm going to add a property. I'm going to add width. I'm going to give it a width of 300 pixels. Then I'm going to add another property. I'm going to add height and give it a height of 300 pixels as well.

Now, while I'm typing this in, you can see that I'm just sort of typing these values. But when you define a new property, anytime you say Add Property-- let me hit Enter so I get my height. But anytime you hit Add Property, you get a pulldown menu. So if you don't feel like typing these properties in that we're talking about, you can add them that way as well. Okay, so we have a height of 300 pixels. We have a width of 300 pixels. Now, that has created a dramatic change in our paragraph and our container. Within our paragraph now, we see the 300x300 size of it.

We now begin to see some of the background color of the containing div tag. So, why don't we see all of it? Well, your paragraph is lining up to the top left-hand corner of the div tag itself. That's pretty standard in HTML. Child elements will align top left-hand corner to their parent elements, unless you do something to move them away from that position. So, our paragraph is just butting right up against the top left edge. However, we've defined a width for our paragraph, but we haven't defined a width for our containing div tag.

Because of that, the containing div tag is now expanding to fill its parent container, which in this case is the body tag. So whereas we've defined the width and height for the paragraph tag, we haven't defined one yet for the container. Its height is being determined by its contents, in this case, the paragraph. Its width is being defined by the body tag. Now let's add some box properties to our containing element and see how it affects our layout. So I'm going to go up to the #container ID selector. I'm going to add a property here. I want to go ahead and define a width for it as well.

So I'm going to go ahead and add a width. I'm going to give it a width of 300 pixels. That's exactly the same width we gave the paragraph. When I hit Return, you'll notice that our parent container disappears. Or does it? Well, we don't see the width anymore, but within Dreamweaver here, we are seeing something going on top and bottom. What's going on there? Well, not maybe what you think. I tell you what, go up to the document toolbar and turn on Live View. When we turn on Live View, oh, that's what we expect. We expected to see nothing, because now the parent container is exactly the same size as our paragraph.

So, how come Design View shows us a little bit of space up top and a little bit of space on the bottom? What Design View is doing is it's taking into consideration the default margins for your paragraph. Every element in a browser has default margins. With a paragraph, we get about 16 pixels worth of space above it, 23 pixels worth of space below it. So how come we wouldn't see that when a browser renders it? Well, that is a curious little property called vertical margin collapse.

When a vertical margin touches another vertical margin, they collapse to the highest of the two values. So if you have a paragraph with 20 pixels worth of margin below it, followed by another paragraph with 10 pixels worth of margin above it, you wouldn't get 30 pixels between the two of them. You'd only get 20, the higher of the two values. The reason for that is we don't want all of our elements to be double-spaced. We want them to be single-spaced. That's why vertical margins collapse. Now, it even gets more curious when you evolve a nested tag with the parent tag like we have here.

When you have a nested tag, if its margin touches the edge of the parent container with nothing in the way, no other content, no other padding, no other margins, then you get this margin collapse. That is something that has caused problems in more than one layout, I promise you that. Let's add a little bit something more to our container and see if it deals with this vertical margin collapse. I'm going to go up to the containing element. Let's add a little bit of padding to this. We're going to go ahead and add 20 pixels worth of padding all the way around.

Now when we switch over in Live View, I see 20 pixels worth of space to the left and to the right of the paragraph. At the top and bottom, well, now I'm seeing more than 20 pixels. Okay, what's going on there? Well, remember what I said earlier, vertical margins collapse when a nested element's margins go all the way up and touches the edge of its parent container. It can't do that anymore. Now we have 20 pixels of padding right here, which means the margin also touches that padding. margins and padding would add together.

Now we're getting probably about 36 to 40 pixels worth of space between the top of the paragraph and the top of its parent container. Layout can sometimes be a little tricky. So these are things that you have to understand when you're starting you use box model properties to control your elements. Okay, let's take this a little bit further. Let's examine how we can use our box model properties to achieve a very common technique in CSS-based layouts, and that is the centering of one element inside of another one. I'm going to make the container a tad bit wider. Let's see.

I'm going to go to my container and I'm going to go ahead and make these 600 pixels wide. So let's say we want to center that paragraph inside of its parent container. All we have to do to do that is to take advantage of margins. If I go back into my paragraph selector, I can add another property. The property I'm going to add here is margin. This time I'm going to use a little shorthand notation. A shorthand notation allows us to add just one margin value instead of having to add separate values for the top, bottom, right, and left.

So what I'm going to do is 0 and then a space. Then I'm going to type in the word "auto." Let's talk about what that's going to do. The zero, the first value, is going to represent the top and the bottom. So when you use margin and use two values like we're doing here, the first value applies to the top and the bottom of the element. The second value applies to the right and left. So what we're doing is we're taking that default margin that's causing that little bit of extra space up top and we're going to zero that out. Now the next thing we're doing is auto-margin for the left and right. Now what auto-margin basically does is it says okay, calculate the width of the parent, split it in two, put half of it on the right, half of it on the left.

What's that going to do for us? Well, let me hit Return. That's going to center the paragraph right in the middle of the containing element. Later on, we're going to use that technique to center our page layout on our page. Notice also what happened to the spacing above our paragraph. No longer are we seeing that extra spacing. We're just seeing those 20 pixels worth of padding that we put in. By zeroing out that top margin, we've eliminated that extra spacing that was causing that little awkward gap that we had up there. All right, let's add one more box model property. I'm going to go right down through our paragraph.

Let's add a border. So I'm going to add a property to this. I'm going to type in border. Once again, we'll do a shorthand notation here. By hitting Tab, that will move me over to the next dialog box. I'm going to type in 5 pixels. So we're going to do a fairly thick border here, solid, #fff, so white. So 5 pixels, solid, and white, and hit Return. So now we have a 5-pixel border all the way around our paragraph. We have auto-margins right and left. We're getting our space up top from the padding of the parent containing element.

Now, I don't like the way the text is butting right up against the paragraph. So let's go ahead and fix that while we're at it. So I'm going to go ahead and add a property to our paragraph. We'll add some padding. Let's add 20 pixels worth of padding all the way around our inner paragraph as well. So now we get the layout that we're looking for, sort of. We have 20 pixels worth of padding all the way around the interior of our paragraph. We have 5 pixels worth of a border. Then we have some auto-margins going over here on the right and the left-hand inside. So when we're factoring up the total width of our parent containing element, we have to take a lot into consideration here.

First, we have to take in the width of the containing element itself. Currently, that width is 600 pixels wide, but we also have to take a look at the padding inside of it as well. We have 20 pixels worth of padding and 600 pixels worth of width. So, 20 pixels on one side, and 20 pixels on the other side. That gives us a total width of 640 pixels. For the most part, your interior content won't disrupt that width unless it's going to equal more than that. If we were trying to calculate the size of our inner paragraph, we would see it's 300 pixels wide.

We have padding of 20 pixels, which would be 20 on the left, 20 on the right, so 340, total. Then our 5 pixels worth of border would equal 350. So in this case, the interior paragraph really isn't affecting the outer div tag. But those are things that you have to keep your eye on when you're doing and planning your layout. Often you're going to find yourself subtracting certain width values or adding certain values to it, just so you can achieve the proper layout. I want to illustrate what that can do to your layout here for just a moment. Let's say I go back up to our containing element and I tell it instead of being 600 pixels to go ahead and be 300 pixels. What happens? Well, that's what happens.

Notice that the inner paragraph no longer will fit. So even though the inner paragraph is told to be 300 pixels wide, it no longer fits because of the padding and the border that we have on it as well. So what happens is our elements overflow each other. That's really not what we want. So if we're going to try to figure out how to have exactly the same amount of space all the way around this, let's say 20 pixels all the way around our outer paragraph, we've got to factor out what the width of the paragraph is, including its padding and its borders, and add the proper amount of padding around our containing element.

Let me show you what I mean. So our nested paragraph is 300 pixels wide. We have 40 pixels worth of padding when you add up both sides. So that's 340 pixels. Then finally, we have 5 pixels worth of border. So it's another 10 pixels. So now we're up to 350 pixels. So we have 350 pixels from the side- to-side, but we also want 20 pixels on either side of it. So if I go up to my containing element, I can say all right, let's go ahead and be 350 pixels wide. And we have 20 pixels worth of padding on either side.

And we get exactly what we're looking for. So, now that we have a handle on our margins, borders, padding, height, and width, and how they can affect overall dimensions and relationships with other elements on the page, we can move on to talking about more layout-specific topics. Next up, we're going to be using the CSS float property for layout.

Find answers to the most frequently asked questions about Dreamweaver CS5 Essential Training .

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Q: After creating a website following the instructions in the course, the header background graphic appears correctly in all browsers except Internet Explorer 6 and Internet Explorer 7.  The graphic works properly in IE 8. What can be done to make the graphics appear in IE 6 and IE 7?
A: To make the header background graphic appear, wrap the header div tag in another div tag and give it an ID like “mainHeader.” The problem stems from a bug in Internet Explorer that prevents the browser from dealing with absolutely positioned elements that are right next to relatively positioned elements.  Following the steps above should solve the problem.
Q: In the tutorial, the author links the Tool Tip to the word "More" at the bottom of the thumbnail photo field. I can't figure out how to place the <a> "More" on the thumbnail photo field.
A: In the example, there is a paragraph that wraps an <img> tag and the word "More," which is surrounded by an anchor tag (<a>). The author uses CSS to make sure the parent div tag of the thumbs floats to the left, and is only wide enough for the image. This causes the link text to break down onto another line. Then, the instructor uses CSS to align the link text to the right of the <img>. The link itself is a void JavaScript function, ( javascript();). This gives you a "dummy" link without returning you to the top of the page as the "#" dummy link tends to do.
If you were manually typing the text in, you could select the image, hit the right arrow button, and begin typing. The text should then appear on screen.
Q: In this movie, you are making changes to the HTML in order to customize the text layout on your page (i.e. h1, h2, and h3 tags as well as strong and em tags). I'm wondering why you are not using CSS to do this (i.e. font-size, font-weight). Do you typically use one method, or is it customary to do use both in a layout, and if so, what guidelines would you suggest to determine which to use when?
A: We modify the page's structure through the use of h1, h2, and other heading tags. So when we are choosing heading levels, we're not concerning ourselves with typography; we're establishing page structure. A heading is chosen to denote the level of importance for the heading, not typography.
CSS should always be used for presentation, not HTML.
Q: In the “Understanding ID selectors” movie, the author states that only one ID tag can be used per page, but then he adds two ID tags. Can you please clarify this for me?
A: You can use as many IDs per page as you wish. They just must all use a unique name. Therefore if you assign an element the ID of "header" no other element on THAT page may use the same ID.
Q: I noticed that in this course, the instructor uses this code on his CSS external sheet: @charset "UTF-8"; I was under the impression that this code wasn't necessary. The site is unclear on the matter. Is it necessary? Is it a best practice? Is it an older form of CSS?
A: The characterset attribute is added automatically by Dreamweaver, and there’s no practical reason to remove it. While it's not needed (the HTML page should indicate which encoding to use for the page) it is helpful if the CSS file is ever imported or used on a page where the characterset isn't specified. Think of it as a safety net for characterset encoding. Not necessary, but not harmful either.
Q: I need to add captions below images that I insert in pages of text. I played all the lessons in Chapter 5 (Adding Text and Structure) but none dealt with captions. I hope the author has an answer or can refer me to a source.
A: In HTML 4 and XHTML 1 (which is what Dreamweaver CS5 uses by default), there wasn't really a way to add captions below your photos. Most web authors would "fake" captions by having paragraphs of text below their images and using CSS to position and style the captions in the desired manner. Many would use a class such as .imgCaption to control the styling. To do this you would essentially position the text underneath the image through CSS (often by grouping the image and the paragraph in a div tag) and italicizing the text.

However in HTML5, there are new elements that allow us to associate images and their captions, the figure and figcaption element. Our author James Williamson just finished a course on HTML5: Syntax, Structure, and Semantics which details how to use it.

HTML5 Doctor also has a nice article on the figure and figcaption elements at
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