Create a responsive grid layout with no media queries, using CSS Grid

— 7 minute read

Embracing the flexible nature of the web gives us powerful, resilient front-ends, where instead of using specific sizes, we give elements sensible boundaries and let them auto-fill where possible. I embrace this mentality as much as possible and roll utilities out like this one for grid layouts:

See the Pen Piccalilli CSS Utility — Issue#6 — Responsive gridwith no media queries — Example by Andy Bell (@andybelldesign) on CodePen.

It’s a fully responsive grid that uses no media queries to work across all viewports and it’s all thanks to CSS Grid.

How it works permalink

First of all, let’s take a look at the code:

.auto-grid {
--auto-grid-min-size: 16rem;

display: grid;
grid-template-columns: repeat(auto-fill, minmax(var(--auto-grid-min-size), 1fr));
grid-gap: 1rem;
}

CSS Grid is incredibly powerful for layout but usually, this type of flexible layout utility should use Flexbox—by proxy of its flexibility. The reason we use grid for this particular utility, though, is the magic that is minmax. This handy function is what allows us to clamp our sizes to maintain just the right amount of control.

What the CSS above does is lay out your grid items with a fixed minimum width. It then expands to fill remaining available space where it can, because we use a fractal unit (1fr) for its max width value. The remaining available space is split up equally between the items inside .auto-grid, so by using 1fr as the max value for each item, we use x% of the remaining available space per item. This means that if there are 10 items, x is equal to 10% of the remaining available space. This is how we get that nice flexibility with a light seasoning of absolute control that we’re after.


🔥 Pro tip: The --auto-grid-min-size Custom Property powers the minimum width. I set this as a Custom Property because I never know where this layout will appear—so by making the min-width easily configurable, it can be modified to work in specific contexts. This is handy for design system work.


How can we improve this layout utility? permalink

Because this .auto-grid utility will keep trying to fill remaining available space, it’s useful to either give the layout itself a maximum width or wrap it with a shared .wrapper utility. I prefer the latter approach because I work with design systems/components libraries a lot, so I’m very reticent to explicitly size a particular element, unless I absolutely have to.

HTML permalink

<div class="wrapper">
<ul class="auto-grid">
<!-- items go here -->
</ul>
</div>

CSS permalink

.wrapper {
max-width: 65rem;
margin-left: auto;
margin-right: auto;
padding: 0 1rem;
}

Example permalink

See the Pen Piccalilli CSS Utility — Issue#6 — Responsive gridwith no media queries — Wrapper by Andy Bell (@andybelldesign) on CodePen.

Making the .wrapper a separate utility means we can use it wherever we need it. Some good ol’ portability!

Because the .wrapper has a max-width set, it’ll support all viewports, too, without using media queries. The padding provides a gutter, so at tiny viewports, you get a 1rem sized gap at each side, which is ideal. The .wrapper is a responsive design power utility.

Progressive enhancement permalink

CSS Grid support, at the time of writing is 92.33%, so the vast majority of browsers have support for it. We can improve our code to provide a default experience for the minority of users that don’t have support for it with a minimum viable experience, though.

See the Pen Piccalilli CSS Utility — Issue#6 — Responsive gridwith no media queries — Progressive enhancement by Andy Bell (@andybelldesign) on CodePen.

In my opinion, the minimum viable experience of this context is stacked items with some vertical margin between each one:

.auto-grid {
--auto-grid-min-size: 16rem;
}

.auto-grid > * {
max-width: 400px;
}

.auto-grid > * + * {
margin-top: 1rem;
}

@supports (display: grid) {
.auto-grid {
display: grid;
grid-template-columns: repeat(auto-fill, minmax(var(--auto-grid-min-size), 1fr));
grid-gap: 1rem;
}

.auto-grid > * {
max-width: unset;
}

.auto-grid > * + * {
margin-top: unset;
}
}

As the code block demonstrates, the minimum viable experience removes that default style using @supports which detects CSS Grid support. This sample will work fine all the way back to super old IE browser versions. You could even use floats and Flexbox if you absolutely wanted a grid-like layout for all browsers. You could also use the Scroll Track Utility as a happy medium.

Utilising the forgiving nature of CSS to build up, rather than fix and break down will very likely result in you writing better, lighter code, so finding the lowest-tech approach to compatibility issues is only ever going to be a good thing.

Wrapping up permalink

I use this snippet of CSS a tonne and also use the .wrapper, extensively in every project that I work on. Hopefully this post has demonstrated the power of modern CSS and how we can write very little to achieve a lot.

Even the progressively enhanced version that supports all browsers is tiny. It’s so much tinier than writing hacks and specific browser CSS!

If you do end up using this utility, let me know on Twitter. I’d love to see these utilities provide real value for people.


🙌 Big thanks to the amazing teaching of Rachel Andrew where I learned tricks like this and a tonne more about CSS Grid.

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I’m Andy, a freelance web designer

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