The Benefits of Using CSS Grid for Web Form Layout


Form layout and design is a fundamental yet frustrating part of web design and development. Ask anyone who’s ever tried to style a <select> box or align a label consistently in all browsers.

In 2016 I wrote “Make Forms Fun with Flexbox”, which identified how several form difficulties could be solved with Flexbox. A key benefit was HTML source order consistency, with the <label> always following its associated field tag in a container:

<div>
  <input id="name" name="name" type="text" />
  <label for="name">name</label>
</div>

<div>
  <select id="experience" name="experience"><!-- options --></select>
  <label for="experience">experience</label>
</div>

<div>
  <input id="html" name="html" type="checkbox" />
  <label for="html">HTML</label>
</div>

Flexbox could then be used to:

  • reposition the label if necessary — that is, move it to the left of the field on text inputs, select boxes, and textareas
  • vertically align the label and field.

It also became possible to style labels based on the state of their field using adjacent sibling selectors — for example, applying bold to a label when its associated checkbox is checked:

input:checked + label {
  font-weight: bold;
}

Flawed Flexboxed Forms

Unfortunately, there are a number of problems using Flexbox to lay out a form. Flexbox creates a one-dimensional layout where each item follows another and wraps to a new line when necessary. Field/label pairs must be placed in container elements with display: flex; applied to guarantee each appears on a new row.

It was also necessary to define a fixed label width, such as 10em. If a long label required more room, its text would either overflow or resize the element and push the field out of alignment with others.

Finally, forms are normally laid out in a grid. Shouldn’t we be using CSS Grid now that it’s fully supported in all mainstream browsers? Absolutely!

Development Approach

Most CSS Grid articles demonstrate the concepts and may provide graceful degradation fallbacks for older browsers. That approach is ideal when the layout is mostly decorative — for example, positioning page content, headers, footers and menus. It rarely matters when oldBrowserX shows linear blocks in an unusual order because the page content remains usable.

Form layout is more critical: a misaligned label could lead the user to enter information in the wrong box. For this reason, this tutorial takes a progressive enhancement approach:

  1. An initial floated layout will work in all browsers including IE8+ (which doesn’t support Flexbox either). It will not be perfect, but floats never were!
  2. Enhance the layout using CSS Grid in all modern browsers.

The examples below contain very few CSS classes, and styling is applied directly to HTML elements. That’s not the BEM way, but it is intentional to keep the code clean and understandable without distractions.

You could consider using similar code as the base for all forms on your site.

The HTML

A typical HTML form can be kept clean, since there’s no need for containing (<div>) elements around field/label pairs:

<form action="get">
  <fieldset>
    <legend>Your web development skillset</legend>

    <div class="formgrid">

      <input id="name" name="name" type="text" />
      <label for="name">name</label>

      <select id="experience" name="experience">
        <option value="1">1 year or less</option>
        <option value="2">2 years</option>
        <option value="3">3 - 4 years</option>
        <option value="5">5 years or more</option>
      </select>
      <label for="experience">experience</label>

      <input id="html" name="html" type="checkbox" />
      <label for="html">HTML</label>

      <input id="css" name="css" type="checkbox" />
      <label for="css">CSS</label>

      <input id="javascript" name="javascript" type="checkbox" />
      <label for="javascript">JavaScript</label>

      <textarea id="skills" name="skills" rows="5" cols="20"></textarea>
      <label for="skills">other skills</label>

      <button type="submit">SUBMIT</button>

    </div>

  </fieldset>
</form>

The only additional element is <div class="formgrid">. Browsers can’t apply display: grid or display: flex to fieldset elements. That may eventually be fixed, but an outer container is currently required.

The post The Benefits of Using CSS Grid for Web Form Layout appeared first on SitePoint.



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