Flexbox: Tables of the Future?

This post was originally written for my work engineering blog. Check us out and see some interesting articles from my coworkers at goats.scripted.com.

The greatest CSS gif of all time

What is flexbox?

Most websites design around grid systems. A long, long time ago, in Internet years, this was done using frames and actual table grids. Then we all moved on to floats and percentage widths. The Holy Grail layout was often a mess of different solutions. Flexbox is a CSS layout mode that gives you complete control over the components you put in your grid, allowing you to keep sizing organized both inside and outside the box, as well as providing a unified layout styling no matter what screen size you view the components on.

How we use flexbox at Scripted

Flexbox is used at Scripted in a number of locations. Most of our marketplace pages are large grids of cards, and each card is itself a grid. In order to accommodate lots of information about each blog idea, we need to be able to keep sizing consistent with inconsistent data. Our CSS is compiled so we are able to make mixins for flexbox that do the heavy lifting (and solve a lot of cross-browser compatibility issues) for us on the fly.

Flexbox in actionFlexbox in action

On the page above, for example, each card uses our standard flex layout. We added the option of a column direction, meaning information should flow down the page, and each component in an individual card should stack. For the overall grid layout of an unknown number of cards, we use the standard with an additional wrap option so cards flow to new lines when we run out of space (versus trying to crowd them onto a single line).

Why not flexbox?

Unfortunately, like with most newer web standards, support and implementation haven’t had time to unify. For example, Internet Explorer — because it’s always the example with new designs — implemented an outdated flexbox interpretation in older versions. Even with current flexbox standards, different browsers render flexbox styles differently.

Other concerns, especially for sites trying to use flexbox for their overall layout, is the speed of rendering. While it’s a few years old, Ben Frain’s look at the speed of table CSS versus flexbox is a good start. Rerunning the tests now shows some better numbers for flexbox layouts.

We still use table layouts for assets that we want to just work; some of our feature charts are examples of this.

Other resources

While it still has some quirks, depending on your project and your commitment to polyfills, flexbox is a powerful tool to build some really nice layouts. To get started building your own, Sketching with CSS has the ultimate flexbox cheat sheet. And of course, Mozilla Developer Network has a full rundown of flexbox layouts and links to many tutorials.