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How to lint HTML using CSS

believer profile image Rickard Laurin ・2 min read

The following CSS rules will help you highlight potential semantic and accessibility (a11y) issues you might have on your website.

Missing alt attributes

The alt attribute provides a fallback for images that aren't able to load. The attribute is also important for a11y since screen readers will read the text to the user.

Rule of thumb: When choosing alt strings for your images, imagine what you would say when reading the page to someone over the phone without mentioning that there's an image on the page.

Images without semantic meaning should have the alt attribute set to "".

/* Find images with missing alt attributes */
img:not([alt]) {
  outline: 2px dotted red;              
}

Links without a destination

This trick will highlight links that do not have an href attribute, an empty href, or an href set to #.

/* Links that go nowhere */
a:is(:not([href]), [href=""], [href="#"]) {
  outline: 2px dotted red; 
}

Tabindex that's not 0 or -1

Elements that use the tabindex attribute with a value other than 0 or -1 might disrupt the natural flow of the website. This might make navigating especially difficult for people who rely on assistive technology.

/* Potential tabindex problems */
[tabindex]:not([tabindex="0"], [tabindex="-1"]) {
  outline: 2px dotted red;
}

Invalid children in lists

According to MDN, <li> is the only element, apart from <script> and <template>, that is semantically allowed inside <ul> and <ol>. This trick helps you spot any invalid elements.

/* Invalid list elements */
:is(ul,ol) > *:not(li) {
  outline: 2px dotted red;
}

Images with missing width and height

Images that are missing width and height might cause page load jank and Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS) when the images are loaded.

/* Images without width and height */
img:not([width]):not([height]) {
  filter: blur(20px);
}

Discussion

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Some nice tips. Whenever I see the outline property mentioned for stuff like this, I think back to the earlier part of my career and can't actually believe how often I would use border: 1px solid red; to help diagnose layout issues and just resigning myself to it potentially causing more layout issues as the boxes expanded by 2px in every direction!