Tag: Inputs

Better Form Inputs for Better Mobile User Experiences

Here’s one simple, practical way to make apps perform better on mobile devices: always configure HTML input fields with the correct type, inputmode, and autocomplete attributes. While these three attributes are often discussed in isolation, they make the most sense in the context of mobile user experience when you think of them as a team. 

There’s no question that forms on mobile devices can be time-consuming and tedious to fill in, but by properly configuring inputs, we can ensure that the data entry process is as seamless as possible for our users. Let’s take a look at some examples and best practices we can use to create better user experiences on mobile devices.

Use this demo to experiment on your own, if you’d like.

Using the correct input type

This is the easiest thing to get right. Input types, like email, tel, and url, are well-supported across browsers. While the benefit of using a type, like tel over the more generic text, might be hard to see on desktop browsers, it’s immediately apparent on mobile.

Choosing the appropriate type changes the keyboard that pops up on Android and iOS devices when a user focuses the field. For very little effort, just by using the right type, we will show custom keyboards for email, telephone numbers, URLs, and even search inputs

Text input type on iOS (left) and Android (right)
Email input type on iOS (left) and Android (right)
URL input type on iOS (left) and Android (right)
Search input type on iOS (left) and Android (right)

One thing to note is that both input type="email" and input type="url" come with validation functionality, and modern browsers will show an error tooltip if their values do not match the expected formats when the user submits the form. If you’d rather turn this functionality off, you can simply add the novalidate attribute to the containing form.

A quick detour into date types

HTML inputs comprise far more than specialized text inputs — you also have radio buttons, checkboxes, and so on. For the purposes of this discussion, though, I’m mostly talking about the more text-based inputs

There is a type of input that sits in the liminal space between the more free-form text inputs and input widgets like radio buttons: date. The date input type comes in a variety of flavors that are well-supported on mobile, including date, time, datetime-local, and month. These pop up custom widgets in iOS and Android when they are focused. Instead of triggering a specialized keyboard, they show a select-like interface in iOS, and various different types of widgets on Android (where the date and time selectors are particularly slick). 

I was excited to start using native defaults on mobile, until I looked around and realized that most major apps and mobile websites use custom date pickers rather than native date input types. There could be a couple reasons for this. First, I find the native iOS date selector to be less intuitive than a calendar-type widget. Second, even the beautifully-designed Android implementation is fairly limited compared to custom components — there’s no easy way to input a date range rather than a single date, for instance. 

Still, the date input types are worth checking out if the custom datepicker you’re using doesn’t perform well on mobile. If you’d like to try out the native input widgets on iOS and Android while making sure that desktop users see a custom widget instead of the default dropdown, this snippet of CSS will hide the calendar dropdown for desktop browsers that implement it:

::-webkit-calendar-picker-indicator {   display: none; }
Date input type on iOS (left) and Android (right)
Time input type on iOS (left) and Android (right)

One final thing to note is that date types cannot be overridden by the inputmode attribute, which we’ll discuss next.

Why should I care about inputmode?

The inputmode attribute allows you to override the mobile keyboard specified by the input’s type and directly declare the type of keyboard shown to the user. When I first learned about this attribute, I wasn’t impressed — why not just use the correct type in the first place? But while inputmode is often unnecessary, there are a few places where the attribute can be extremely helpful. The most notable use case that I’ve found for inputmode is building a better number input.

While some HTML5 input types, like url and email, are straightforward, input type="number" is a different matter. It has some accessibility concerns as well as a somewhat awkward UI. For example, desktop browsers, like Chrome, show tiny increment arrows that are easy to trigger accidentally by scrolling.

So here’s a pattern to memorize and use going forwards. For most numeric inputs, instead of using this: 

<input type="number" />

…you actually want to use this:

<input type="text" inputmode="decimal" />

Why not inputmode="numeric" instead of inputmode="decimal"

The numeric and decimal attribute values produce identical keyboards on Android. On iOS, however, numeric displays a keyboard that shows both numbers and punctuation, while decimal shows a focused grid of numbers that almost looks exactly like the tel input type, only without extraneous telephone-number focused options. That’s why it’s my preference for most types of number inputs.

iOS numeric input (left) and decimal input (right)
Android numeric input (left) and decimal input (right)

Christian Oliff has written an excellent article dedicated solely to the inputmode attribute.

Don’t forget autocomplete

Even more important than showing the correct mobile keyboard is showing helpful autocomplete suggestions. That can go a long way towards creating a faster and less frustrating user experience on mobile.

While browsers have heuristics for showing autocomplete fields, you cannot rely on them, and should still be sure to add the correct autocomplete attribute. For instance, in iOS Safari, I found that an input type="tel" would only show autocomplete options if I explicitly added a autocomplete="tel" attribute.

You may think that you are familiar with the basic autocomplete options, such as those that help the user fill in credit card numbers or address form fields, but I’d urge you to review them to make sure that you are aware of all of the options. The spec lists over 50 values! Did you know that autocomplete="one-time-code" can make a phone verification user flow super smooth?

Speaking of autocomplete…

I’d like to mention one final element that allows you to create your own custom autocomplete functionality: datalist. While it creates a serviceable — if somewhat basic — autocomplete experience on desktop Chrome and Safari, it shines on iOS by surfacing suggestions in a convenient row right above the keyboard, where the system autocomplete functionality usually lives. Further, it allows the user to toggle between text and select-style inputs.

On Android, on the other hand, datalist creates a more typical autocomplete dropdown, with the area above the keyboard reserved for the system’s own typeahead functionality. One possible advantage to this style is that the dropdown list is easily scrollable, creating immediate access to all possible options as soon as the field is focused. (In iOS, in order to view more than the top three matches, the user would have to trigger the select picker by pressing the down arrow icon.)

You can use this demo to play around with datalist:

And you can explore all the autocomplete options, as well as input type and inputmode values, using this tool I made to help you quickly preview various input configurations on mobile.

In summary

When I’m building a form, I’m often tempted to focus on perfecting the desktop experience while treating the mobile web as an afterthought. But while it does take a little extra work to ensure forms work well on mobile, it doesn’t have to be too difficult. Hopefully, this article has shown that with a few easy steps, you can make forms much more convenient for your users on mobile devices.

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Value Bubbles for Range Inputs

Range inputs in HTML are like this:

<input type="range" name="quantity" min="1" max="10">

In browsers that support them, they look like this:

Now that’s great and all. You could use it for anything where you want to collect a number from a user that has an enforced minimum and maximum value.

But notice anything weird? All by itself, that range input doesn’t communicate to the user what number they will actually be submitting. Now if your input is something like “How are you feeling? Left for sad, right for happy.” – then fine, you probably don’t need to show the user a number. But I would wager it’s more common that you’ll need to show the number than not show it.

To be fair, the spec says:

The input element represents a control for setting the element’s value to a string representing a number, but with the caveat that the exact value is not important, letting UAs provide a simpler interface than they do for the Number state.

But c’mon, just because we want a cool slider doesn’t automatically mean we should prevent the user from knowing the submitted value. I wouldn’t necessarily say browsers should alter their UI control to show that number. I am saying we should build that ourselves!

This is the perfect use case for the <output> tag, which is specifically for values calculated by form elements. Here is a super simple implementation of how you might use it:

<input type="range" name="foo"> <output for="foo" onforminput="value = foo.valueAsNumber;"></output>

Update! New version with Vanilla JavaScript that also works better.

Our goal here is to display a “bubble” that shows the current value of a range input.

Setting the value of our “bubble” from the value of the input is a matter of pulling the range value and plopping it in the bubble:

range.addEventListener("input", () => {   bubble.innerHTML = rangel.value; });

The trick is positioning the bubble along the range input so it slides alongside the “thumb”. To do that, we’ll need to calculate what % the bubble needs to be scooted to the left. So let’s make a function to do that to keep things a smidge cleaner:

range.addEventListener("input", () => {   setBubble(range, bubble); });  function setBubble(range, bubble) {   const val = range.value;   const min = range.min ? range.min : 0;   const max = range.max ? range.max : 100;   const newVal = Number(((val - min) * 100) / (max - min));   bubble.innerHTML = val;    // Sorta magic numbers based on size of the native UI thumb   bubble.style.left = newVal = "%"; }

Here we’re making sure we account for the range inputs min and max attributes and calculating a % position between 0-100 based on the current value in that range. Not all ranges are the default 0-100 numbers, so say a range was at value 50 in a range of 0 to 200, that would be 25% of the way. This accounts for that.

But it has one annoying flaw: the bubble is too far to the left at the start and too far to the right at the end. On range inputs, the thumb doesn’t hang off the left edge so it’s center is at the start, and same at the end. Like a scrollbar, the edges of the thumb stop within the track.

We can use some magic numbers there that seem to work decently well across browsers:

// Sorta magic numbers based on size of the native UI thumb   bubble.style.left = `calc($ {newVal}% + ($ {8 - newVal * 0.15}px))`;

Here’s that final demo:

I was inspired to poke around with this because reader Max Globa wrote in with their version which I’ll post here:

A cool aspect of Max’s version is that the range input is CSS-styled, so the exact size of the thumb is known. There are some numbers that feel rather magic in the JavaScript math, but at least they are based on real numbers set in the CSS about the size of the thumb.

Other Versions

Dave Olsen ported the (original) idea to not have a dependency on jQuery. Here’s that version:


Sean Stopnik:


simurai:


Vincent Durand:


Don’t forget range input can have datalists which put little notches on them which is kinda cool.


Ana Tudor has a massive collection, many of which indicate the current value through their design.

😬 Old Version from Original Version of this Post (jQuery, plus doesn’t work as well)

Just leaving this in here for historical reasons.

Let’s pull in our friend jQuery and get our CSS on. This goal is below. Any range input, any time, any min/max/step – we put a bubble above it showing the current value.

Let’s style the output element first. We’ll absolutely position it above the input. That gives us the ability to adjust the left value as well, once we figure out with JavaScript what it should be. We’ll fancy it up with gradients and border-radius, and even add a little pointer triangle with a pseudo-element.

output {    position: absolute;   background-image: linear-gradient(top, #444444, #999999);   width: 40px;    height: 30px;    text-align: center;    color: white;    border-radius: 10px;    display: inline-block;    font: bold 15px/30px Georgia;   bottom: 175%;   left: 0;   margin-left: -1%; } output:after {    content: "";   position: absolute;   width: 0;   height: 0;   border-top: 10px solid #999999;   border-left: 5px solid transparent;   border-right: 5px solid transparent;   top: 100%;   left: 50%;   margin-left: -5px;   margin-top: -1px; }

Now what we need to do is watch all range inputs for a change in their value. Our goal is to shift the left position of the bubble in pace with the slider. That’s not the simplest thing in the world, being that sliders can be of any width and any minimum or maximum value. We’re going to have to do a little math. Here’s all the jQuery JavaScript, commented up:

// DOM Ready $ (function() {  var el, newPoint, newPlace, offset;    // Select all range inputs, watch for change  $ ("input[type='range']").change(function() {      // Cache this for efficiency    el = $ (this);        // Measure width of range input    width = el.width();        // Figure out placement percentage between left and right of input    newPoint = (el.val() - el.attr("min")) / (el.attr("max") - el.attr("min"));        // Janky value to get pointer to line up better    offset = -1.3;        // Prevent bubble from going beyond left or right (unsupported browsers)    if (newPoint < 0) { newPlace = 0; }    else if (newPoint > 1) { newPlace = width; }    else { newPlace = width * newPoint + offset; offset -= newPoint; }        // Move bubble    el      .next("output")      .css({        left: newPlace,        marginLeft: offset + "%"      })      .text(el.val());  })  // Fake a change to position bubble at page load  .trigger('change'); });

The one gross part in there is that 1.3 value. I was trying to line up the tip of the bubble’s triangle with the center of the slider. It’s not easy, because the slider’s center is never 100% left or right. That value isn’t perfect, nor perfectly implemented, but it’s better than not having it.

As a bonus, browsers that don’t support the range input still get the bubble action.

The above code depends on the range inputs having a specified min and max value. If they don’t it kinda breaks. I think it would be weird to use a range input without specifying these things, although if you don’t it seems they default to 0 and 100. To bulletproof this, you’d grab each attribute, test it, and if it didn’t look right fix it. Something like:

var minValue, maxValue; if (!el.attr("min")) { minValue = 0; } else { minValue = el.attr("min"); }

…then use the minValue variable in the math. And do similar for max. Anyway, here’s the live demo:

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Auto-Growing Inputs & Textareas

By default, <input> and <textarea> elements don’t change size based on the content they contain. In fact, there isn’t any simple HTML or CSS way to make them do that. Kinda funny, as that seems like a reasonable use-case. But of course, there are ways, my friend. There are always ways.

I was thinking about this after Remy Sharp blogged about it recently in the context of inline <input> elements.

Non-input elements expand naturally

It’s weird to me that there is no way to force an input element to mimic this behavior, but alas.

We can make any element editable and input-like with the contenteditable attribute:

<span    class="input"    role="textbox"    contenteditable>     99 </span>

That <span> will naturally grow to be the width it needs to be for the content it contains. If it was a <div> or any other element that is block-level, it would also expand vertically as needed.

But are non-input elements accessible?

I’m not entirely sure. Notice I put role="textbox" on the element. That’s just a best-guess based on some docs.

Even if that’s helpful…

  1. What about the fact that forms can be submitted with the Enter key?
  2. What about the idea that form data is often serialized and sent along, while the code that’s doing it probably isn’t looking for a span?
  3. Does it actually read the same as an input in a screen reader?
  4. What other things¹ do inputs naturally do that I’m not thinking of?

As attracted as I am to the idea that we can get auto-resizing for free from the browser by using non-input elements, I’m also a little worried about (my) unknown usability and accessibility risk.

Resizing actual input elements

So let’s say we stick with <input> and <textarea>. Can we make them resize-able even though it’s not particularly natural?

One idea I had is to wrap the input in a relative inline parent and absolutely position it inside. Then, with JavaScript, we could sync the input value with a hidden span inside that wrapper, pushing the width wider as needed.

For textareas, one classic technique is to count the number of line-breaks, use that to set the height, then multiply it by the line-height. That works great for preformatted text, like code, but not at all for long-form paragraph-like content.

Here are all these ideas combined.

Other ideas

Shaw has a little JavaScript one-liner that is very clever. The JavaScript sets a data-* attribute on the element equal to the value of the input. The input is set within a CSS grid, where that grid is a pseudo-element that uses that data-* attribute as its content. That content is what stretches the grid to the appropriate size based on the input value.

Your ideas

I absolutely know that you fellow web nerds have solved this six ways to Sunday. Let’s see ’em in the comments.

  1. Eric Bailey hit me up with a few thoughts off the top of his head: (1) There’s no accessible name. (2) It probably won’t work with voice control. (3) It will get ignored in High Contrast Mode.

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What to Use Instead of Number Inputs

You might reach for <input type="number> when you’re, you know, trying to collect a number in a form. But it’s got all sorts of issues. For one, sometimes what you want kinda looks like a number, but isn’t one (like how a credit card number has spaces), because it’s really just a string of numbers. Even more importantly, there are a variety of screen reader problems.

Hanna Laakso documents the problems for GOV.UK. This is what they landed on:

<input type="text" inputmode="numeric" pattern="[0-9]*">

The inputmode attribute is pretty great, and we have a deep dive on that.

Phil Nash came to (almost) same exact conclusion, and blogged about improving the experience of a two-factor auth code input on the Twilio blog:

<input   type="text"   name="token"   id="token"   inputmode="numeric"   pattern="[0-9]*"   autocomplete="one-time-code" />

That last attribute is interesting and new to me. It means you get this super extra useful experience on browsers that support it:

iOS screen with a numeric input and a text message offering to auto-fill the two-factor auth

There are other autocomplete values, as Phil writes:

There are many autocomplete values available, covering everything from names and addresses to credit cards and other account details. For sign up and login there are a few autocomplete values that stand out as useful hints: usernameemailnew-passwordcurrent-password.

Browsers and password managers have very good heuristics to find login forms on web pages, but using the username and current-password values make it very obvious. 

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Custom Styling Form Inputs With Modern CSS Features

It’s entirely possible to build custom checkboxes, radio buttons, and toggle switches these days, while staying semantic and accessible. We don’t even need a single line of JavaScript or extra HTML elements! It’s actually gotten easier lately than it has been in the past. Let’s take a look.

Here’s where we’ll end up:

Things sure have gotten easier than they were!

The reason is that we can finally style the ::before and ::after pseudo-elements on the <input> tag itself. This means we can keep and style an <input> and won’t need any extra elements. Before, we had to rely on the likes of an extra <div> or <span>, to pull off a custom design.

Let’s look at the HTML

Nothing special here. We can style our inputs with just this HTML:

<!-- Checkbox --> <input type="checkbox">  <!-- Radio --> <input type="radio">  <!-- Switch --> <input type="checkbox" class="switch">

That’s it for the HTML part, but of course it’s recommended to have name and id attributes, plus a matching <label> element:

<!-- Checkbox --> <input type="checkbox" name="c1" id="c1"> <label for="c1">Checkbox</label>  <!-- Radio --> <input type="radio" name="r1" id="r1"> <label for="r1">Radio</label>  <!-- Switch --> <input type="checkbox" class="switch" name="s1" id="s1"> <label for="s1">Switch</label>

Getting into the styling 

First of all, we check for the support of appearance: none;, including it’s prefixed companions. The appearance property is key because it is designed to remove a browser’s default styling from an element. If the property isn’t supported, the styles won’t apply and default input styles will be shown. That’s perfectly fine and a good example of progressive enhancement at play.

@supports(-webkit-appearance: none) or (-moz-appearance: none) {   input[type='checkbox'],   input[type='radio'] {     -webkit-appearance: none;     -moz-appearance: none;   } }

As it stands today, appearance  is a working draft, but here’s what support looks like:

This browser support data is from Caniuse, which has more detail. A number indicates that browser supports the feature at that version and up.

Desktop

Chrome Firefox IE Edge Safari
82* 74* No 79* TP*

Mobile / Tablet

Android Chrome Android Firefox Android iOS Safari
79* 68* 76* 13.3*

Like links, we’ve gotta consider different interactive states with form elements. We’ll consider these when styling our elements:

  • :checked
  • :hover
  • :focus
  • :disabled

For example, here’s how we can style our toggle input, create the knob, and account for the :checked state:

/* The toggle container */ .switch {   width: 38px;   border-radius: 11px; }  /* The toggle knob */ .switch::after {   left: 2px;   top: 2px;   border-radius: 50%;   width: 15px;   height: 15px;   background: var(--ab, var(--border));   transform: translateX(var(--x, 0)); }  /* Change color and position when checked */ .switch:checked {   --ab: var(--active-inner);   --x: 17px; }  /* Drop the opacity of the toggle knob when the input is disabled */ .switch:disabled:not(:checked)::after {   opacity: .6; }

We are using the <input> element like a container. The knob inside of the input is created with the ::after pseudo-element. Again, no more need for extra markup!

If you crack open the styles in the demo, you’ll see that we’re defining some CSS custom properties because that’s become such a nice way to manage reusable values in a stylesheet:

@supports(-webkit-appearance: none) or (-moz-appearance: none) {   input[type='checkbox'],   input[type='radio'] {     --active: #275EFE;     --active-inner: #fff;     --focus: 2px rgba(39, 94, 254, .25);     --border: #BBC1E1;     --border-hover: #275EFE;     --background: #fff;     --disabled: #F6F8FF;     --disabled-inner: #E1E6F9;   } }

But there’s another reason we’re using custom properties — they work well for updating values based on the state of the element! We won’t go into full detail here, but here’s an example how we can use custom properties for different states.

/* Default */ input[type='checkbox'], input[type='radio'] {   --active: #275EFE;   --border: #BBC1E1;   border: 1px solid var(--bc, var(--border)); }  /* Override defaults */ input[type='checkbox']:checked, input[type='radio']:checked {   --b: var(--active);   --bc: var(--active); }    /* Apply another border color on hover if not checked & not disabled */ input[type='checkbox']:not(:checked):not(:disabled):hover, input[type='radio']:not(:checked):not(:disabled):hover {   --bc: var(--border-hover); }

For accessibility, we ought to add a custom focus style. We are removing the default outline because it can’t be rounded like the rest of the things we’re styling. But a border-radius along with a box-shadow can make for a rounded style that works just like an outline.

input[type='checkbox'], input[type='radio'] {   --focus: 2px rgba(39, 94, 254, .25);   outline: none;   transition: box-shadow .2s; }  input[type='checkbox']:focus, input[type='radio']:focus {   box-shadow: 0 0 0 var(--focus); }

It’s also possible to align and style the <label> element which directly follows the <input> element in the HTML:

<input type="checkbox" name="c1" id="c1"> <label for="c1">Checkbox</label>
input[type='checkbox'] + label, input[type='radio'] + label {   display: inline-block;   vertical-align: top;   /* Additional styling */ }  input[type='checkbox']:disabled + label, input[type='radio']:disabled + label {     cursor: not-allowed; }

Here’s that demo again:

Hopefully, you’re seeing how nice it is to create custom form styles these days. It requires less markup, thanks to pseudo-elements that are directly on form inputs. It requires less fancy style switching, thanks to custom properties. And it has pretty darn good browser support, thanks to @supports.

All in all, this is a much more pleasant developer experience than we’ve had to deal with in the past!

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Color Inputs: A Deep Dive into Cross-Browser Differences

In this article, we’ll be taking a look at the structure inside <input type='color'> elements, browser inconsistencies, why they look a certain way in a certain browser, and how to dig into it. Having a good understanding of this input allows us to evaluate whether a certain cross-browser look can be achieved and how to do so with a minimum amount of effort and code.

Here’s exactly what we’re talking about:

But before we dive into this, we need to get into…

Accessibility issues!

We’ve got a huge problem here: for those who completely rely on a keyboard, this input doesn’t work as it should in Safari and in Firefox on Windows, but it does work in Firefox on Mac and Linux (which I only tested on Fedora, so feel free to yell at me in the comments if it doesn’t work for you using another distribution).

In Firefox on Windows, we can Tab to the input to focus it, press Enter to bring up a dialog… which we then cannot navigate with the keyboard!

I’ve tried tabbing, arrow keys, and every other key available on the keyboard… nothing! I could at least close the dialog with good old Alt + F4. Later, in the bug ticket I found for this on Bugzilla, I also discovered a workaround: Alt + Tab to another window, then Alt + Tab back and the picker dialog can be navigated with the keyboard.

Things are even worse in Safari. The input isn’t even focusable (bug ticket) if VoiceOver isn’t on. And even when using VoiceOver, tabbing through the dialog the inputs opens is impossible.

If you’d like to use <input type='color'> on an actual website, please let browsers know this is something that needs to be solved!

How to look inside

In Chrome, we need to bring up DevTools, go to Settings and, in the Preferences section under Elements, check the Show user agent shadow DOM option.

How to view the structure inside an input in Chrome.

Then, when we return to inspect our element, we can see inside its shadow DOM.

In Firefox, we need to go to about:config and ensure the devtools.inspector.showAllAnonymousContent flag is set to true.

How to view the structure inside an input in Firefox.

Then, we close the DevTools and, when we inspect our input again, we can see inside our input.

Sadly, we don’t seem to have an option for this in pre-Chromium Edge.

The structure inside

The structure revealed in DevTools differs from browser to browser, just like it does for range inputs.

In Chrome, at the top of the shadow DOM, we have a <div> wrapper that we can access using ::-webkit-color-swatch-wrapper.

Inside it, we have another <div> we can access with ::-webkit-color-swatch.

Screenshot of Chrome DevTools showing the shadow DOM of the <input type='color'>. Right at the top, we have a div which is the swatch wrapper and can be accessed using ::-webkit-color-swatch-wrapper. Inside it, there’s another div which is the swatch and can be accessed using ::-webkit-color-swatch. This div has the background-color set to the value of the parent color input.”/><figcaption>Inner structure in Chrome.</figcaption></figure>
<p>In Firefox, we only see one <code><div></code>, but it’s not labeled in any way, so how do we access it?</p>
<p>On a hunch, given this <code><div></code> has the <code>background-color</code> set to the input’s <code>value</code> attribute, just like the <code>::-webkit-color-swatch</code> component, I tried <code>::-moz-color-swatch</code>. And it turns out it works!</p>
<figure><img src=this issue from 2016. Pre-Chromium Edge apparently doesn’t allow us to style whatever is inside this input. Well, that’s a bummer.

How to look at the browser styles

In all browsers, we have the option of not applying any styles of our own and then looking at the computed styles.

In Chrome and Firefox, we can also see the user agent stylesheet rule sets that are affecting the currently selected element (though we need to explicitly enable this in Firefox, as seen in the previous section).

Screenshot collage of Chrome DevTools and Firefox DevTools showing where to look for user agent styles: Elements > Styles in Chrome and Inspector > Styles in Firefox.”/><figcaption>Checking browser styles in Chrome and Firefox.</figcaption></figure>
<p>This is oftentimes more helpful than the computed styles, but there are exceptions and we should still always check the computed values as well.</p>
<p>In Firefox, we can also see the CSS file for the <code>form</code> elements at <code>view-source:resource://gre-resources/forms.css</code>.</p>
<figure><img src=
Checking browser styles in Firefox.

The input element itself

We’ll now be taking a look at the default values of a few properties in various browsers in order to get a clear picture of what we’d really need to set explicitly in order to get a custom cross-browser result.

The first property I always think about checking when it comes to <input> elements is box-sizing. The initial value of this property is border-box in Firefox, but content-box in Chrome and Edge.

Comparative screenshots of DevTools in the three browsers showing the computed values of box-sizing for the actual input.
The box-sizing values for <input type='color'> compared in Chrome, Firefox and Edge (from top-to-bottom).

We can see that Firefox is setting it to border-box on <input type='color'>, but it looks like Chrome isn’t setting it at all, so it’s left with the initial value of content-box (and I suspect the same is true for Edge).

In any event, what it all means is that, if we are to have a border or a padding on this element, we also need to explicitly set box-sizing so that we get a consistent result across all these browsers.

The font property value is different for every browser, but since we don’t have text inside this input, all we really care about is the font-size, which is consistent across all browsers I’ve checked: 13.33(33)px. This is a value that really looks like it came from dividing 40px by 3, at least in Chrome.

Comparative screenshots of DevTools in the three browsers showing the font values for the actual input.
The font values for <input type='color'> compared in Chrome, Firefox and Edge (from top-to-bottom).

This is a situation where the computed styles are more useful for Firefox, because if we look at the browser styles, we don’t get much in terms of useful information:

Screenshot of what we get if we look at the browser styles where the font was set for Firefox. The value for the font is -moz-field, which is an alias for the look of a native text field. Expanding this to check the longhands shows us empty instead of actual values.
Sometimes the browser styles are pretty much useless (Firefox screenshot).

The margin is also consistent across all these browsers, computing to 0.

Comparative screenshots of DevTools in the three browsers showing the margin values for the actual input.
The margin values for <input type='color'> compared in Chrome, Firefox and Edge (from top-to-bottom).

The border is different for every single browser. In both Chrome and Edge, we have a solid 1px one, but the border-color is different (rgb(169, 169, 169) for Chrome and rgb(112, 112, 112) for Edge). In Firefox, the border is an outset 2px one, with a border-color of… ThreeDLightShadow?!

Comparative screenshots of DevTools in the three browsers showing the border values for the actual input.
The border values for <input type='color'> compared in Chrome, Firefox and Edge (from top-to-bottom).

What’s the deal with ThreeDLightShadow? If it doesn’t sound familiar, don’t worry! It’s a (now deprecated) CSS2 system value, which Firefox on Windows shows me to be rgb(227, 227, 227) in the Computed styles tab.

Screenshot of Computed panel search in Firefox on Windows, showing that the ThreeDLightShadow keyword computes to rgb(227, 227, 227).
Computed border-color for <input type='color'> in Firefox on Windows.

Note that in Firefox (at least on Windows), the operating system zoom level (SettingsSystemDisplayScale and LayoutChange the size of text, apps and other items) is going to influence the computed value of the border-width, even though this doesn’t seem to happen for any other property I’ve checked and it seems to be partially related to the border-style.

Screenshot showing the Windows display settings window with the zoom level options dropdown opened.
Zoom level options on Windows.

The strangest thing is the computed border-width values for various zoom levels don’t seem to make any sense. If we keep the initial border-style: outset, we have:

  • 1.6px for 125%
  • 2px for 150%
  • 1.7px for 175%
  • 1.5px for 200%
  • 1.8px for 225%
  • 1.6px for 250%
  • 1.66667px for 300%

If we set border-style: solid, we have a computed border-width of 2px, exactly as it was set, for zoom values that are multiples of 50% and the exact same computed values as for border-style: outset for all the other zoom levels.

The padding is the same for Chrome and Edge (1px 2px), while Firefox is the odd one out again.

Comparative screenshots of DevTools in the three browsers showing the padding values for the actual input.
The padding values for <input type='color'> compared in Chrome, Firefox and Edge (from top-to-bottom).

It may look like the Firefox padding is 1px. That’s what it is set to and there’s no indication of anything overriding it — if a property is overridden, then it’s shown as grey and with a strike-through.

Screenshot of Firefox DevTools highlighting how the border set on input[type='color'] overrides the one set on input and the look (grey + strike-through) of overridden properties.
Spotting overrides in Firefox.

But the computed value is actually 0 8px! Moreover, this is a value that doesn’t depend on the operating system zoom level. So, what the hairy heck is going on?!

Screenshot of Firefox DevTools showing how the computed padding value on <input type='color'> isn’t the one that was set on input, even if no override seems to be happening.”/><figcaption>Computed value for <code>padding</code> in Firefox doesn’t match the value that was set on input.</figcaption></figure>
<p>Now, if you’ve actually tried inspecting a color input, took a close look at the styles set on it, and your brain works differently than mine (meaning you do read what’s in front of you and don’t just scan for the one thing that interests you, completely ignoring everything else…) then you’ve probably noticed there is something overriding the <code>1px</code> padding (and <a href=should be marked as such) — the flow-relative padding!

Screenshot of Firefox DevTools showing the flow-relative padding overriding the old padding due to higher specificity of selector (input[type='color'] vs. input).
Flow-relative padding overrides in Firefox.

Dang, who knew those properties with lots of letters were actually relevant? Thanks to Zoltan for noticing and letting me know. Otherwise, it probably would have taken me two more days to figure this one out.

This raises the question of whether the same kind of override couldn’t happen in other browsers and/or for other properties.

Edge doesn’t support CSS logical properties, so the answer is a “no” in that corner.

In Chrome, none of the logical properties for margin, border or padding are set explicitly for <input type='color'>, so we have no override.

Concerning other properties in Firefox, we could have found ourselves in the same situation for margin or for border, but with these two, it just so happens the flow-relative properties haven’t been explicitly set for our input, so again, there’s no override.

Even so, it’s definitely something to watch out for in the future!

Moving on to dimensions, our input’s width is 44px in Chrome and Edge and 64px in Firefox.

Comparative screenshots of DevTools in the three browsers showing the width values for the actual input.
The width values for <input type='color'> compared in Chrome, Firefox and Edge (from top-to-bottom).

Its height is 23px in all three browsers.

Comparative screenshots of DevTools in the three browsers showing the height values for the actual input.
The height values for <input type='color'> compared in Chrome, Firefox and Edge (from top-to-bottom).

Note that, since Chrome and Edge have a box-sizing of content-box, their width and height values do not include the padding or border. However, since Firefox has box-sizing set to border-box, its dimensions include the padding and border.

Comparative screenshots of DevTools in the three browsers showing the layout boxes.
The layout boxes for <input type='color'> compared in Chrome, Firefox and Edge (from top-to-bottom).

This means the content-box is 44pxx23px in Chrome and Edge and 44xpxx19px in Firefox, the padding-box is 48pxx25 in Chrome and Edge and 60pxx19px in Firefox and the border-box is 50pxx27px in Chrome and Edge and 64pxx23 in Firefox.

We can clearly see how the dimensions were set in Chrome and I’d assume they were set in the same direct way in Edge as well, even if Edge doesn’t allow us to trace this stuff. Firefox doesn’t show these dimensions as having been explicitly set and doesn’t even allow us to trace where they came from in the Computed tab (as it does for other properties like border, for example). But if we look at all the styles that have been set on input[type='color'], we discover the dimensions have been set as flow-relative ones (inline-size and block-size).

Screenshot of the Firefox user agent styles showing flow relative dimensions being set on input[type='color'].
How <input type='color'> dimensions have been set in Firefox.

The final property we check for the normal state of the actual input is background. Here, Edge is the only browser to have a background-image (set to a top to bottom gradient), while Chrome and Firefox both have a background-color set to ButtonFace (another deprecated CSS2 system value). The strange thing is this should be rgb(240, 240, 240) (according to this resource), but its computed value in Chrome is rgb(221, 221, 221).

Comparative screenshots of DevTools in the three browsers showing the background values for the actual input.
The background values for <input type='color'> compared in Chrome, Firefox and Edge (from top-to-bottom).

What’s even stranger is that, if we actually look at our input in Chrome, it sure does look like it has a gradient background! If we screenshot it and then use a picker, we get that it has a top to bottom gradient from #f8f8f8 to #ddd.

Screenshot of the input in Chrome. A very light, almost white, grey to another light, but still darker grey gradient from top to bottom can be seen as the background, not the solid background-color indicated by DevTools.
What the actual input looks like in Chrome. It appears to have a gradient, in spite of the info we get from DevTools telling us it doesn’t.

Also, note that changing just the background-color (or another property not related to dimensions like border-radius) in Edge also changes the background-image, background-origin, border-color or border-style.

Animated gif. Shows the background-image, background-origin, border-color, border-style before and after changing the seemingly unrelated background-color - their values don't get preserved following this change.
Edge: side-effects of changing background-color.

Other states

We can take a look at the styles applied for a bunch of other states of an element by clicking the :hov button in the Styles panel for Chrome and Firefox and the a: button in the same Styles panel for Edge. This reveals a section where we can check the desired state(s).

Screenshot collage highlighting the buttons that bring up the states panel in Chrome, Firefox and Edge.
Taking a look at other states in Chrome, Firefox, Edge (from top to bottom).

Note that, in Firefox, checking a class only visually applies the user styles on the selected element, not the browser styles. So, if we check :hover for example, we won’t see the :hover styles applied on our element. We can however see the user agent styles matching the selected state for our selected element shown in DevTools.

Also, we cannot test for all states like this and let’s start with such a state.

:disabled

In order to see how styles change in this state, we need to manually add the disabled attribute to our <input type='color'> element.

Hmm… not much changes in any browser!

In Chrome, we see the background-color is slightly different (rgb(235, 235, 228) in the :disabled state versus rgb(221, 221, 221) in the normal state).

Chrome DevTools screenshot showing the background being set to rgb(235, 235, 228) for a :disabled input.
Chrome :disabled styling.

But the difference is only clear looking at the info in DevTools. Visually, I can tell tell there’s a slight difference between an input that’s :disabled and one that’s not if they’re side-by-side, but if I didn’t know beforehand, I couldn’t tell which is which just by looking at them, and if I just saw one, I couldn’t tell whether it’s enabled or not without clicking it.

Disabled and enabled input side by side in Chrome. There is a slight difference in background-color, but it's pretty much impossible to tell which is which just by looking at them.
Disabled (left) versus enabled (right) <input type='color'> in Chrome.

In Firefox, we have the exact same values set for the :disabled state as for the normal state (well, except for the cursor, which realistically, isn’t going to produce different results save for exceptional cases anyway). What gives, Firefox?!

Comparison of styles set in Firefox for <input type='color'> in its normal state and its :disabled state. The padding and border set in the :disabled case are exactly the same as those set in the normal case.”/><figcaption>Firefox <code>:disabled</code> (top) versus normal (bottom) styling.</figcaption></figure>
<p>In Edge, both the <code>border-color</code> and the <code>background</code> gradient are different.</p>
<figure><img src=
Edge :disabled styling (by checking computed styles).

We have the following styles for the normal state:

border-color: rgb(112, 112, 112); background-image: linear-gradient(rgb(236, 236, 236), rgb(213, 213, 213));

And for the :disabled state:

border-color: rgb(186, 186, 186); background-image: linear-gradient(rgb(237, 237, 237), rgb(229, 229, 229));

Clearly different if we look at the code and visually better than Chrome, though it still may not be quite enough:

Disabled and enabled input side by side in Edge. There is a slight difference in background-image and a bigger difference in border-color, but it still may be difficult to tell whether an input is enabled or not at first sight without having a reference to compare.
Disabled (left) versus enabled (right) <input type='color'> in Edge.
:focus

This is one state we can test by toggling the DevTools pseudo-classes. Well, in theory. In practice, it doesn’t really help us in all browsers.

Starting with Chrome, we can see that we have an outline in this state and the outline-color computes to rgb(77, 144, 254), which is some kind of blue.

Chrome DevTools screenshot showing an outline for an input having <code>:focus</code>.”/><figcaption>Chrome <code>:focus</code> styling.</figcaption></figure>
<p>Pretty straightforward and easy to spot.</p>
<p>Moving on to Firefox, things start to get hairy! Unlike Chrome, toggling the <code>:focus</code> pseudo-class from DevTools does nothing on the input element, though by focusing it (by tab click), the <code>border</code> becomes blue and we get a <code>dotted</code> rectangle within — but there’s no indication in DevTools regarding what is happening.</p>
<figure><img src=
What happens in Firefox when tabbing to our input to :focus it.

If we check Firefox’s forms.css, it provides an explanation for the dotted rectangle. This is the dotted border of a pseudo-element, ::-moz-focus-inner (a pseudo-element which, for some reason, isn’t shown in DevTools inside our input as ::-moz-color-swatch is). This border is initially transparent and then becomes visible when the input is focused — the pseudo-class used here (:-moz-focusring) is pretty much an old Firefox version of the new standard (:focus-visible), which is currently only supported by Chrome behind the Experimental Web Platform features flag.

Firefox DevTools screenshot where the inner dotted rectangle on :focus comes from: it is set as a transparent border on the ::-moz-focus-inner pseudo-element and it becomes visible when the input should have a noticeable :focus indicator.
Firefox: where the inner dotted rectangle on :focus comes from.

What about the blue border? Well, it appears this one isn’t set by a stylesheet, but at an OS level instead. The good news is we can override all these styles should we choose to do so.

In Edge, we’re faced with a similar situation. Nothing happens when toggling the :focus pseudo-class from DevTools, but if we actually tab to our input to focus it, we can see an inner dotted rectangle.

Animated gif. Shows how, on :focus, our input gets an inner dotted rectangle.
What happens in Edge when tabbing to our input to :focus it.

Even though I have no way of knowing for sure, I suspect that, just like in Firefox, this inner rectangle is due to a pseudo-element that becomes visible on :focus.

:hover

In Chrome, toggling this pseudo-class doesn’t reveal any :hover-specific styles in DevTools. Furthermore, actually hovering the input doesn’t appear to change anything visually. So it looks like Chrome really doesn’t have any :hover-specific styles?

In Firefox, toggling the :hover pseudo-class from DevTools reveals a new rule in the styles panel:

Screenshot of Firefox DevTools showing the rule set that shows up for the :hover state.
Firefox :hover styling as seen in DevTools.

When actually hovering the input, we see the background turns light blue and the border blue, so the first thought would be that light blue is the -moz-buttonhoverface value and that the blue border is again set at an OS level, just like in the :focus case.

Animated gif. Shows that, on actually hovering our <input type='color'>, it gets a light blue background and a blue border.”/><figcaption>What actually happens in Firefox on <code>:hover</code>.</figcaption></figure>
<p>However, if we look at the computed styles, we see the same <code>background</code> we have in the normal state, so that blue <code>background</code> is probably really set at an OS level as well, in spite of having that rule in the <code>forms.css</code> stylesheet.</p>
<figure><img src=
Firefox: computed background-color of an <input type='color'> on :hover.

In Edge, toggling the :hover pseudo-class from DevTools gives our input a light blue (rgb(166, 244, 255)) background and a blue (rgb(38, 160, 218)) border, whose exact values we can find in the Computed tab:

Screenshot of Edge DevTools showing the computed value for background-color and border-color in the :hover state.
Edge: computed background-color and border-color of an <input type='color'> on :hover.
:active

Checking the :active state in the Chrome DevTools does nothing visually and shows no specific rules in the Styles panel. However, if we actually click our input, we see that the background gradient that doesn’t even show up in DevTools in the normal state gets reversed.

Screenshot of the input in :active state in Chrome. A very light, almost white, grey to another light, but still darker grey gradient from bottom to top can be seen as the background, not the solid background-color indicated by DevTools.
What the actual input looks like in Chrome in the :active state. It appears to have a gradient (reversed from the normal state), in spite of the info we get from DevTools telling us it doesn’t.

In Firefox DevTools, toggling the :active state on does nothing, but if we also toggle the :hover state on, then we get a rule set that changes the inline padding (the block padding is set to the same value of 0 it has in all other states), the border-style and sets the background-color back to our old friend ButtonFace.

Screenshot of Firefox DevTools showing the rule set that shows up for the :active state.
Firefox :active styling as seen in DevTools.

In practice, however, the only thing that matches the info we get from DevTools is the inline shift given by the change in logical padding. The background becomes a lighter blue than the :hover state and the border is blue. Both of these changes are probably happening at an OS level as well.

Animated gif. Shows that, on actually clicking our <input type='color'>, it gets a light blue background and a blue border in addition to sliding 1 pixel in the inline direction as a result of changing the inline padding.”/><figcaption>What actually happens in Firefox in an <code>:active</code> state.</figcaption></figure>
<p>In Edge, activating the <code>:active</code> class from DevTools gives us the exact same styles we have for the <code>:hover</code> state. However, if we have both the <code>:hover</code> and the <code>:active</code> states on, things change a bit. We still have a light blue <code>background</code> and a blue <code>border</code>, but both are darker now (<code>rgb(52, 180, 227)</code> for the <code>background-color</code> and <code>rgb(0, 137, 180)</code> for the <code>border-color</code>):</p>
<figure><img src=
The computed background-color and border-color of an <input type='color'> on :active viewed in Edge.

This is the takeaway: if we want a consistent cross-browser results for <input type='color'>, we should define our own clearly distinguishable styles for all these states ourselves because, fortunately, almost all the browser defaults — except for the inner rectangle we get in Edge on :focus — can be overridden.

The swatch wrapper

This is a component we only see in Chrome, so if we want a cross-browser result, we should probably ensure it doesn’t affect the swatch inside — this means ensuring it has no margin, border, padding or background and that its dimensions equal those of the actual input’s content-box.

In order to know whether we need to mess with these properties (and maybe others as a result) or not, let’s see what the browser defaults are for them.

Fortunately, we have no margin or border, so we don’t need to worry about these.

Chrome DevTools screenshot showing the margin and border values for the swatch wrapper.
The margin and border values for the swatch wrapper in Chrome.

We do however have a non-zero padding (of 4px 2px), so this is something we’ll need to zero out if we want to achieve a consistent cross-browser result.

Chrome DevTools screenshot showing the padding values for the swatch wrapper.
The padding values for the swatch wrapper in Chrome.

The dimensions are both conveniently set to 100%, which means we won’t need to mess with them.

Chrome DevTools screenshot showing the size values for the swatch wrapper.
The size values for the swatch wrapper in Chrome.

Something we need to note here is that we have box-sizing set to border-box, so the padding gets subtracted from the dimensions set on this wrapper.

Chrome DevTools screenshot showing the <code>box-sizing</code> value for the swatch wrapper.”/><figcaption>The <code>box-sizing</code> value for the swatch wrapper in Chrome.</figcaption></figure>
<p>This means that while the <code>padding-box</code>, <code>border-box</code> and <code>margin-box</code> of our wrapper (all equal because we have no <code>margin</code> or <code>border</code>) are identical to the <code>content-box</code> of the actual <code><input type='color'></code> (which is <code>44px</code>x<code>23px</code> in Chrome), getting the wrapper’s <code>content-box</code> involves subtracting the <code>padding</code> from these dimensions. It results that this box is <code>40px</code>x<code>15px</code>.</p>
<figure><img src=
The box model for the swatch wrapper in Chrome.

The background is set to transparent, so that’s another property we don’t need to worry about resetting.

Chrome DevTools screenshot showing the background values for the swatch wrapper.
The background values for the swatch wrapper in Chrome.

There’s one more property set on this element that caught my attention: display. It has a value of flex, which means its children are flex items.

Chrome DevTools screenshot showing the display value for the swatch wrapper.
The display value for the swatch wrapper in Chrome.

The swatch

This is a component we can style in Chrome and Firefox. Sadly, Edge doesn’t expose it to allow us to style it, so we cannot change properties we might want to, such as border, border-radius or box-shadow.

The box-sizing property is one we need to set explicitly if we plan on giving the swatch a border or a padding because its value is content-box in Chrome, but border-box in Firefox.

Comparative screenshots of DevTools in the two browsers showing the computed values of box-sizing for the swatch component.
The box-sizing values for the swatch viewed in Chrome (top) and Firefox (bottom).

Fortunately, the font-size is inherited from the input itself so it’s the same.

Comparative screenshots of DevTools in the two browsers showing the computed values of font-size for the swatch component.
The font-size values for the swatch viewed in Chrome (top) and Firefox (bottom).

The margin computes to 0 in both Chrome and Firefox.

Comparative screenshots of DevTools in the two browsers showing the computed values of margin for the swatch component.
The margin values for the swatch viewed in Chrome (top) and Firefox (bottom).

This is because most margins haven’t been set, so they end up being 0 which is the default for <div> elements. However, Firefox is setting the inline margins to auto and we’ll be getting to why that computes to 0 in just a little moment.

Screenshot of Firefox DevTools.
The inline margin for the swatch being set to auto in Firefox.

The border is solid 1px in both browsers. The only thing that differs is the border-color, which is rgb(119, 119, 119) in Chrome and grey (or rgb(128, 128, 128), so slightly lighter) in Firefox.

Comparative screenshots of DevTools in the two browsers showing the computed values of border for the swatch component.
The border values for the swatch viewed in Chrome (top) and Firefox (bottom).

Note that the computed border-width in Firefox (at least on Windows) depends on the OS zoom level, just as it is in the case of the actual input.

The padding is luckily 0 in both Chrome and Firefox.

Comparative screenshots of DevTools in the two browsers showing the computed values of padding for the swatch component.
The padding values for the swatch viewed in Chrome (top) and Firefox (bottom).

The dimensions end up being exactly what we’d expect to find, assuming the swatch covers its parent’s entire content-box.

Comparative screenshots of DevTools in the two browsers showing the box model for the swatch component.
The box model for the swatch viewed in Chrome (top) and Firefox (bottom).

In Chrome, the swatch parent is the <div> wrapper we saw earlier, whose content-box is 4pxx15px. This is equal to the margin-box and the border-box of the swatch (which coincide as we have no margin). Since the padding is 0, the content-box and the padding-box for the swatch are identical and, subtracting the 1px border, we get dimensions that are 38pxx13px.

In Firefox, the swatch parent is the actual input, whose content-box is 44pxx19px one. This is equal to the margin-box and the border-box of the swatch (which coincide as we have no margin). Since the padding is 0, the content-box and the padding-box for the swatch are identical and, subtracting the 1px border, we get that their dimensions are 42pxx17px.

In Firefox, we see that the swatch is made to cover its parent’s content-box by having both its dimensions set to 100%.

Comparative screenshots of DevTools in the two browsers showing the size values for the swatch component.
The size values for the swatch viewed in Chrome (top) and Firefox (bottom).

This is the reason why the auto value for the inline margin computes to 0.

But what about Chrome? We cannot see any actual dimensions being set. Well, this result is due to the flex layout and the fact that the swatch is a flex item that’s made to stretch such that it covers its parent’s content-box.

Chrome DevTools screenshot showing the flex value for the swatch wrapper.
The flex value for the swatch wrapper in Chrome.

Final thoughts

Phew, we covered a lot of ground here! While it may seem exhaustive to dig this deep into one specific element, this is the sort of exercise that illustrates how difficult cross-browser support can be. We have our own styles, user agent styles and operating system styles to traverse and some of those are always going to be what they are. But, as we discussed at the very top, this winds up being an accessibility issue at the end of the day, and something to really consider when it comes to implementing a practical, functional application of a color input.

Remember, a lot of this is ripe territory to reach out to browser vendors and let them know how they can update their implementations based on your reported use cases. Here are the three tickets I mentioned earlier where you can either chime in or reference to create a new ticket:

The post Color Inputs: A Deep Dive into Cross-Browser Differences appeared first on CSS-Tricks.

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