Steve Rydz

thinking outside the box (model)

The CSS box model has always been a pain to work with, until a couple of years ago when the box-sizing property started landing in browsers. Finally we could add padding and borders to components without completely breaking the layout of our pages.

This property was so well received that many developers began adding it to their boilerplates by default, typically as follows:

*, *:before, *after {
  box-sizing: border-box;

This ensures that every element on the page border-box, however there is one catch. What if you need to change the box-sizing property, for example if you were using a third-party component that had been styled using the default content-box model? Surely you just reset that property on that component and all will be fine?

.third-party-component {
  box-model: content-box;

Doing this will reset the third-party-component div to content-box, but any elements inside it will still be using border-box. So how do we fix this? We could just set the box-sizing property on every element likely to be nested within that component, but that could get messy very quickly.

A better solution is to avoid this problem in the first place by setting the box-sizing property as follows:

html {
  box-sizing: border-box;

*, *:before, *:after {
  box-sizing: inherit;

This way, each element will inherit the box-sizing property of its parent, which means by default any element will have the box-sizing value of border-box, but if it’s reset to content-box at any point, such as in our example above, any children will also use the same value.

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