CSS Wish List 2023

Published 1 year, 3 months past

Dave asked people to share their CSS wish lists for 2023, and even though it’s well into the second month of the year, I’m going to sprint wild-eyed out of the brush along the road, grab the hitch on the back of the departing bandwagon, and try to claw my way aboard. At first I thought I had maybe four or five things to put on my list, but as I worked on it, I kept thinking of one more thing and one more thing until eventually I had a list of (checks notes) sixt — no, SEVENTEEN?!?!?  What the hell.

There’s going to be some overlap with the things being worked on for Interop 2023, and I’m sure there will be overlap with other peoples’ lists.  Regardless, here we go.


Subgrid

Back in the day, I asserted Grid should wait for subgrid.  I was probably wrong about that, but I wasn’t wrong about the usefulness of and need for subgrid.  Nearly every time I implement a design, I trip over the lack of widespread support.

I have a blog post in my head about how I hacked around this problem for wpewebkit.org by applying the same grid column template to nested containers, and how I could make it marginally more efficient with variables.  I keep not writing it, because it would show the approach and improvement and then mostly be about the limitations, flaws, and annoyances this approach embodies.  The whole idea just depresses me, and I would probably become impolitic.

So instead I’ll just say that I hope those browser engines that have yet to catch up with subgrid support will do so in 2023.

Masonry layout

Grid layout is great, and you can use it to create a masonry-style layout, but having a real masonry layout mechanism would be better, particularly if you can set it on a per-axis basis.  What I mean is, you could define a bunch of fixed (or flexible) columns and then say the rows use masonry layout.  It’s not something I’m likely to use myself, but I always think the more layout possibilities there are, the better.

Grid track styles

For someone who doesn’t do a ton of layout, I find myself wanting to style grid lines a surprising amount.  I just want to do something like:

display: grid;
gap: 1em;
grid-rules-columns: 1px dotted red;

…although it would be much better to be able to style separators for a specific grid track, or even an individual grid cell, as well as be able to apply it to an entire grid all at once.

No, I don’t know exactly how this should work.  I’m an idea guy!  But that’s what I want.  I want to be able to define what separator lines look like between grid tracks, centered on the grid lines.

Anchored positioning

I’ve wanted this in one form or another almost since CSS2 was published.  The general idea is, you can position an element in relation to the edges of another element that isn’t a containing block.  I wrote about this a bit in my post on connector lines for wpewebkit.org, but another place it would have come in handy was with the footnotes on The Effects of Nuclear Weapons.

See, I wanted those to actually be sidenotes, Tufteee-styleee.  Right now, in order to make sidenotes, you have to stick the footnote into the text, right where its footnote reference appears  —  or, at a minimum, right after the element containing the footnote reference.  Neither was acceptable to me, because it would dork up the source text.

What I wanted to be able to do was collect all the footnotes as endnotes at the end of the markup (which we did) and then absolutely position each to sit next to the element that referenced them, or have it pop up there on click, tap, hover, whatever.  Anchored positioning would make that not just possible, but fairly easy to do.

Exclusions

Following on anchored positioning, I’d love to have CSS Exclusions finally come to browsers.  Exclusions are a way to mark an element to have other content avoid it.  You know how floats move out of the normal flow, but normal-flow text avoids overlapping them?  That’s an exclusion.  Now imagine being able to position an element by other means, whether grid layout or absolute positioning or whatever, and then say “have the content of other elements flow around it”.  Exclusions!  See this article by Rob Weychert for a more in-depth explanation of a common use case.

Element transitions

The web is cool and all, but you know how futuristic interfaces in movies have pieces of the interface sliding and zooming and popping out and all that stuff?  Element transitions.  You can already try them out in Chrome Canary, Batman, and I’d love to see them across the board.  Even more, I’d love some gentle, easy-to-follow tutorials on how to make them work, because even in their single-page form, I found the coding requirements basically impossible to work out.  Make them all-CSS, and explain them like I’m a newb, and I’m in.

Nested Selectors

A lot of people I know are still hanging on to preprocessors solely because they permit nested selectors, like:

main {
	padding: 1em;
	background: #F1F1F0;
	
	h2 {
		border-block-end: 1px solid gray;
	}
	p {
		text-indent: 2em;
	}
}

The CSS Working Group has been wrestling with this for quite some time now, because it turns out the CSS parsing rules make it hard to just add this, there are a lot of questions about how this should interact with pseudo-classes like :is(), there are serious concerns about doing this in a way that will be maximally future-compatible, and also there has been a whole lot of argument over whether it’s okay to clash with Sass syntax or not.

So it’s a difficult thing to make happen in native CSS, and the debates are both wide-ranging and slow, but it’s on my (and probably nearly everyone else’s) wish list.  You can try it out in Safari Technology Preview as I write this, so here’s hoping for accelerating adoption!

More and better :has()

Okay, since I’m talking about selectors already, I’ll throw in universal, full-featured, more optimized support for :has().  One browser doesn’t support compound selectors, for example.  I’ve also thought that maybe some combinators would be nice, like making a:has(> b) can be made equal to a < b.

But I also wish for people to basically go crazy with :has().  There’s SO MUCH THERE.  There are so many things we can do with it, and I don’t think we’ve touched even a tiny fraction of the possibility space.

More attr()

I’ve wanted attr() to be more widely accepted in CSS values since, well, I can’t remember.  A long time.  I want to be able to do something like:

p[data-size] {width: attr(data-width, rem);}

<p data-size="27">…</p>

Okay, not a great example, but it conveys the idea.  I also talked about this in my post about aligning table columns. I realize adding this would probably lead to someone creating a framework called Headgust where all the styling is jammed into a million data-*attributes and the whole of the framework’s CSS is nothing but property: attr() declarations for every single CSS property known to man, but we shouldn’t let that stop us.

Variables in media queries

Basically I want to be able to do this:

:root {--mobile: 35em;}

@media (min-width: var(--mobile)) {
	/* non-mobile styles go here */
}

That’s it.  This was made possible in container queries, I believe, so maybe it can spread to media (and feature?) queries.  I sure hope so!

Logical modifiers

You can do this:

p {margin-block: 1em; margin-inline: 1rem;}

But you can’t do this:

p {margin: logical 1em 1rem;}

I want to be able to do that.  We should all want to be able to do that, however it’s made possible.

Additive values

You know how you can set a bunch of values with a comma-separated list, but if you want to override just one of them, you have to do the whole thing over?  I want to be able to add another thing to the list without having to do the whole thing over.  So rather than adding a value like this:

background-clip: content, content, border, padding; /* needed to add padding */

…I want to be able to do something like:

background-clip: add(padding);

No, I don’t know how to figure out where in the list it should be added.  I don’t know a lot of things.  I just know I want to be able to do this.  And also to remove values from a list in a similar way, since I’m pony-wishing.

Color shading and blending

Preprocessors already allow you to say you want the color of an element to be 30% lighter than it would otherwise be.  Or darker.  Or blend two colors together.  Native CSS should have the same power.  It’s being worked on.  Let’s get it done, browsers.

Hanging punctuation

Safari has supported hanging-punctuation forever (where “forever”, in this case, means since 2016) and it’s long past time for other browsers to get with the program.  This should be universally supported.

Cross-boundary styles

I want to be able to apply styles from my external (or even embedded) CSS to a resource like an external SVG.  I realize this sets up all kinds of security and privacy concerns.  I still want to be able to do it.  Every time I have to embed an entire inline SVG into a template just so I can change the fill color of a logo based on its page context, I grit my teeth just that little bit harder.  It tasks me.

Scoped styling (including imports)

The Mirror Universe version of the previous wish is that I want to be able to say a bit of CSS, or an entire style sheet (embedded or external), only applies to a certain DOM node and all its descendants. “But you can do that with descendant selectors!” Not always.  For that matter, I’d love to be able to just say:

<div style="@import(styles.css);">

…and have that apply to that <div> and its descendants, as if it were an <iframe>, while not being an <iframe> so styles from the document could also apply to it.  Crazy?  Don’t care.  Still want it.

Linked flow regions(?)

SPECIAL BONUS TENTATIVE WISH: I didn’t particularly like how CSS Regions were structured, but I really liked the general idea.  It would be really great to be able to link elements together, and allow the content to flow between them in a “smooth” manner.  Even to allow the content from the second region to flow back into the first, if there’s room for it and nothing prevents it.  I admit, this is really a “try to recreate Aldus PageMaker in CSS” thing for me, but the idea still appeals to me, and I’d love to see it come to CSS some day.


So there you go.  I’d love to hear what you’d like to see added to CSS, either in the comments below or in posts of your own.


Comments (8)

  1. I. Agree. With. Every. Single. Wish. Of. Yours.

    Dear browser makers, hear this guy out!

  2. Late-breaking addition: I forgot to include hanging-punctuation in the original post, so I just now added it.

  3. Agree with a few things but not all. Element transitions, really ? meh, more of those moving things and devs not bothering to do something sensible for people sensitive to that…

    Wish browser makers made it the year where typogrphy is being pushed hard. You mention hanging punctuation, there are a few more, such as initial-letter, leading-trim and a few more. I suspect the developpers at Apple would be more than happy to have some competion in that field.

    Oh and I really really really wish th Safari / Webkit people would nuke their -webkit-scrollbar-* implemetation. Tomorrow, with extreme prejudice.

  4. While we’re wishing, I’ll just add:

    element::toggle { <props> }
    

    In practical terms, I guess this functionality needs very little in the way of description – toggle an element between two or more states. A simple enough wish, don’t you think?

    I recall seeing a post by Tab Atkins possibly in the early 00’s on this topic, and more recently, he has posted an Unofficial Proposal Draft for CSS Toggle – an interesting read.

    If I were creating a wish list, a CSS Toggle pseudoclass would certainly be on it.

    Lee James

  5. display: run-in (👈 Link to CanIUse)

    I mean, way back in the day it was THERE, and for some reason browser folks killed it. 😭

    Maybe I was the only one who thought making on-line glossaries was fun? 🤷🏼‍♂️ E.g., my long-dead: http://stockclerk-glossary-b.blogspot.com/?m=0. (If it looks “meh” on your phone, scroll to the bottom and click “View web version”. Also, you can no longer tap images to view a larger versions, because Google killed Picassa. That’s how old that site is.)

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  8. Strongly agree with almost all of those wishes (hanging punctuation — how cool it would be to have?!)

    And want to link back to my new article in which I explored the usage of anchor positioning for sidenotes — it is kinda possible, and if we would be ok with them behaving just as absolutely positioned elements, then we’re already covered, but if we’d want to have a bit more robust behavior, with the sidenotes also depending on other sidenotes, we’re currently limited and that would require hacks.

    But — also really glad someone bringing the use case of sidenotes up — this was one of my favorite layout tecnhiques that did not have an acceptable solution for a while, so using the anchor positioning for them was one of my first ideas to check.

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