Centering content without a container

Sep 30 2018

Using a .container or .wrapper with a fixed width on it is a popular way to center content on the screen. Something like this:

.container {
  max-width: 1200px;
  margin: 0 auto;

It works wonderfully, but now that we have grid, I’ve stopped creating .container on my site. They aren’t needed. It’s just extra markup for nothing.

Here is a very simple example of what I might be doing when using grid:

See the Pen Very simple layout with grid, without by Kevin (@kevinpowell) on CodePen.

This works fantastically. But if someone is on a browser that doesn’t support grid, it will look pretty bad, especially on large screens where the text will just fill the width of the browser.

Calc() to the rescue!

Luckily, calc() allows us forgo the .container completely, and get the exact same results.

I came across this trick in Lea Verou’s excellent CSS Secrets book. If you haven’t read it, I strongly recommend you check it out. In the book she doesn’t use it as a grid fallback, but when I came across an old CodePen of mine where I’d used it, I thought it’d be perfect for this!

Instead of relying on my container, I can use calc() to control the padding in a creative way:

.section {
  padding: 0 calc(50% - 400px);

Breaking down this calc()

The 50% part of this is setting the padding to 50% on the left, and 50% on the right. So it effectively makes the padding 100%, squishing the content into the middle.

Then we subtract away from that 50%. In this case I’m subtracting 400px. But remember, that 400px will subtract from the left and the right, so it gives me a total of 800px.

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Here it is in action (I’ve made the total size smaller so it’s easier to see on smaller screens):

See the Pen Very simple layout without a container by Kevin (@kevinpowell) on CodePen.

Cool, right? It’s not as good as the grid layout, but it’s an awesome fallback that doesn’t rely on more markup being used, which is a huge bonus.

Using it as a fallback to a grid layout

I’m going to start using this as my fallback from now on. It’s really awesome as it only takes one line to write!

For the fallback, I’d write it first, then use a feature query to set my grid layout:

.section {
  padding: 10vh calc(50% - 400px);

@supports (display: grid) {
  .section {
    display: grid;
    padding: 10vh 0;
    grid-template-columns: minmax(1em, 1fr) minmax(200px, 800px) minmax(1em, 1fr);

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While creating my YouTube videos, I come across a lot of fun snippits of information and little known CSS properties that aren't really worth building full videos about. I share the cool little things I run across (like you read in this post), as well as some design tips and tricks, with a new post every Sunday. Sign up below to never miss a post.

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