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Anirudh Varma
Anirudh Varma

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Flexbox - Align Items vs Align Content.

This post was originally posted on my blog

Flexbox is awesome. If you have worked with modern CSS, whether you are rolling your own or using a frameworks like Bootstrap & Foundation, chances are you are using Flexbox for layout and alignment.

To align or to justify..that is the question

For a very long time, I have been trying to figure out what is the difference between align-items, align-content & justify-content and how they work or more importantly when they work.

TL;DR

  • If you have set your flex-direction to row, then justify-content works on the horizontal axis and align-* properties work on the vertical axis.
  • If you have set your flex-direction to column, then align-* properties work on the horizontal axis and justify-content works on the vertical axis.

See the Pen Align items vs Justify Content by Anirudh Varma
(@thebigfatpanda12) on CodePen.

What separates align-items and align-content?

  • align-items effect the alignment of items on the current line.
  • align-content effects the alignment accross lines of a flex-container. This means that this property has no effect on single-line containers.

The rest of the article is just a brain dump of everything I learned while trying to figure out the above.

Nomenclature

  • Flex Container: An element on which the display value is set to flex.
  • Flex Items: Direct children of the flex containers are called flex items.
  • Main Axis: The axis defined by the flex-direction property.

-- flex-direction:row means that elements inside the flex container are aligned next to each other. Technically, these elements are aligned along the inline-axis (just like inline elements).

-- flex-direction:column means that elements are aligned along the vertical axis i.e. below each other. Technically called the block-axis (just like block elements)

  • Cross Axis: The axis perpendicular to the main axis is called the cross axis.

  • Single-line Container: Flex containers whose flex-wrap property is set to nowrap. By default every flex container is a single-line container.

  • Multi-line Containers: Flex containers whose flex-wrap property is set to wrap

TL;DR with Nomenclature

Now that we know the jargon, we can rewrite the TL;DR as-

  • justify-content works on the Main Axis and align-* properties work on the Cross Axis.
  • justify-content and align-items are similar in their behviour, the difference being that justify-content works on the the main axis while align-items works on the cross axis.
  • align-content works only on multi-line containers and has no effect on single line containers.

Sources

  1. w3.org documentation on Flexbox is pretty comprehensive and a good read.
  2. MDN Flexbox documentation.

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