How to use the Position and Display CSS Attributes

April 17, 2020

Display and Position are two of the most used CSS properties, each accepting a variety of arguments. Below are some of the most common applications of these properties.

Display Property

The two main options here to understand are block and inline.

Block elements

An element with display: block will take up the entire width of the container or page. These elements will always take up their own line by default, even if they have sibling elements.

Inline elements

An element with display: inline will be as wide as it’s content by default, and can fit on the same line with many other elements that share this property. For an inline element, margin and padding values will only be respected if they are left or right. Since this element is “in line”, any styles such as margin-top or padding-bottom styles will not be applied.

Inline-block elements

An alternative option is display: inline-block, which is the same as display: inline except that left and right margins and paddings are also applied.

Each element on the page defaults to a certain display value depending on the browser.

Element Typical Default Value
<div> block
<h1> block
<p> block
<input /> inline-block
<image /> inline-block
<a> inline

Flexbox and Grid

These properties were introduced to CSS more recently to solve layout problems and arrive at current best practices.


An element with display: flex applied to it will be a flexbox container. This means that it’s children elements will be lined out horizontally in a row as flexbox defaults to flex-direction: row. If this value is changed to flex-direction: column, its children will be lined out vertically in a column.


This property is particularly useful if you want to have more than one element on a line, anywhere in the page.


More details about Flexbox can be found here


This property is similar to flex, as applying display: grid to an element will make it a grid container. With CSS Grid, we can specify the number and size of the columns and rows in our grid. We can also specify the row and column gaps, along with numerous other options to making complex grid structures.

Position Property

The position property is useful if you plan to take an element out of the standard document flow, or make it an anchor for another element that is.


By default, html elements are included in the document according to box-model rules. The default position value for every element is static.


An element with position: relative behaves the same as a static element, except that it’s children may use it as a reference anchor. In order to use position absolute or fixed it is necessary that one of their parent (or ancestor) elements are position: relative.


An element with position: absolute is removed from the normal document flow. By applying at least one of the properties: top, right, bottom, or left with a certain length amount, the element will be placed relative to the first parent element having position: relative.


This property is particularly useful for elements that are offset or “out of place”, but still a certain distance away from a parent element.


An element with position: fixed leaves the document flow like absolute, except that a fixed element will not moved when the user scrolls. This is especially useful for Navbar or Sidebar elements that should always be on the screen.


This is a hybrid element behaving like a position: relative element until the viewport reaches a certain specified top height where the element will become position: fixed. This position value can cause issues, however it is useful when you have content in the middle of your page that you would like to become fixed. position: sticky can be seen in the sidebar of many websites where content such as a newsletter signup or ad sticks to the screen.


There are still numerous other values for display and position which have not been covered here, however this combination of property values will be used in the vast majority of cases in web development.

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