DEV Community

Cover image for Basic Responsive Websites
Danielle Ellis
Danielle Ellis

Posted on

Basic Responsive Websites

In this blog, I will share some general concepts of how to implement a responsive design to your website that it is easy to follow. Creating a responsive website can be a bit confusing at first, but once you understand the basic foundations you will be good to go!

What is a Responsive Website?

Responsive Websites allow websites and pages to display on all devices and screen sizes by automatically adapting to the screen, whether it's a desktop, laptop, tablet, or smartphone. We do this by working with CSS using various settings to deliver the best experience to users. To better understand we will discuss the basic concepts of Media Queries and CSS Units.

Media Queries

Media Queries are conditions that you apply to your CSS. You tell the browser to add or remove specific css rules depending on the capabilities of a device. As the screen size changes, we need rearrange our layout. Typically, it would be structured vertically as the screen size decreases.

The syntax for a media query looks like this:

@media <media-type> and (expressions) {
     CSS code;
Enter fullscreen mode Exit fullscreen mode
  • @media tells the browser that we are starting a media query.
  • media-type describes the kind of device rules we will apply to. For ex: we can place media-type "screen" here. This is an optional input. If we do not use it the rules will be used for all devices.
  • (expression) can be a be the width or orientation of the device.
  • Inside the media query we can specify some css rules that should be applied

Here is an real-life example of Media Query:

@media (max-width: 500px) {
  .Projects .Container .img
    width: 80%;
    padding-right: 20%
Enter fullscreen mode Exit fullscreen mode

In this example we did not use the optional media-type. Instead we have the expression max-width: 500px (our breaking point) which tells the browser that the rules inside our media query should be limited to devices that have a screen width of 500px or smaller. Inside our media query we have our regular css code with values of your choice.

CSS Units

CSS Units determine the size of a property you're setting for an element or its content.

Here is an example of a CSS unit:

font-size: 16px;
Enter fullscreen mode Exit fullscreen mode

The font-size is the property, 16px is the value of the property. Px is a css unit called pixel.

CSS Units can be categorized by Absolute Units and Relative Units:

Fixed Value Scaled Values
does not scale when the screen size changes they scale relative to something else
Ex: px (pixels) Ex: Relative to their parent (%), viewport (vw, vh), font size (em, rem)

Relative Units is what will help us build responsive websites. Let's discuss in detail about the most common units.

Relative to their parent(%):

.App .Parent {
  background-color: blue;
  width: 100%
.App .Child {
  background-color: yellow;
  width: 50%
Enter fullscreen mode Exit fullscreen mode
  • In the example, inside a parent div, we have a child div. The child div will be 50% of the parent div. Parent-Child Div

Viewport (vw, vh)

  • The viewport is the user's visible area. Whether it is a desktop or a smartphone. vw stands for viewport width. vh stands for viewport height. For example: 100vh is 100% of the viewport height (100% height of a smartphone or 100% height of a desktop).

Font size (em, rem)

  • em - are relative to the font size (always x times of the parent). For instance, 1em is equal to the font-size of the parent. 2em is twice the font size of the parent. 3em is 3 times the font size of the parent.
<div className="Parent">
  <h1>Main Title</h1>
  <h2>Next Title</h2>

.App .Parent {
.App .Parent h1 {
  font-size: 3em;
.App .Parent h2 {
  font-size: 2em;
Enter fullscreen mode Exit fullscreen mode

In our Parent div we have a font size of 16px. In our h1 we have a font size of 3em which is 3 times the font size of its parent with 16px. Therefore our h1 has 48px (16px*3em) and our h2 has 32px (16px*2em).

Screen Shot 2021-10-03 at 7.32.16 PM

  • rem - are relative to the roots html font size. If the root html is not defined then it will be equal to the default font size of the browser (16px usually). This is a more preferred method.
html {
  font-size: 20px;
.App .Parent h1 {
  font-size: 3rem;
.App .Parent h2 {
  font-size: 2rem;
Enter fullscreen mode Exit fullscreen mode

In this example the root font-size is 20px. Our h1 is 3 times the root (20px*3rem).

Applying Relative Units

In order to apply these relative units for responsive websites, we can go into our CSS file and change our absolute units to relative units where it is needed. We can also add media queries throughout our css file. Now that you understand the basic concepts of making responsive websites try it out. For more complex websites, more concepts will need to be applied. There are many resources you can use for further details such as: YouTube videos and popular sites such as Udemy, Codecademy, Treehouse, etc.

Top comments (0)