Tag: Scrollbars

Scrollbars on Hover

First, scrollbars are a usability and accessibility thing. Second, a rule of thumb: if an area scrolls, it should have a visible scrollbar. But the web is a big place and I like tricks, so I’m going to cover the idea of only revealing them on hover. Even macOS itself¹ hides scrollbars by default, revealing them contextually and on interaction. Same on iOS, leading to confusing momements.

All that aside, here’s a way to hide scrollbars by default, only revealing them when the element is hovered. It was created by Thomas Gladdines, who also emailed me about it:

In quick testing on my machine, it works across Chrome, Firefox, and Safari, regardless of my macOS settings. So pretty robust.

The trick is that mask covers the scrollbar! So, if you create a mask that is exactly as wide as the scrollbar (here, I’m just guessing that 17px will cover it) and super duper tall (both of which should probably be calculated by a script), it can perfectly cover the scrollbar. You can even transition the position of the mask, faking a fading in/out effect. Very clever.

Notably, this is the real scrollbar of the element, and not a faked one. Faking one could be another approach. Ben Nadel covered how Slack does that. Their trick is to force the scrollbar to render in an area hidden by overflow, and make a virtual scrollbar that mimics the native one (which you’d then have more direct control over). It’s not forcing the scrollbar either, which is something else you can do if so motivated. And nothing about this prevents you from styling the scrollbar, which might actually have some benefits like specifying the exact width of it.

  1. As I write: If your device allows gestures, scroll bars are hidden until you start scrolling. Otherwise, they’re visible. ↩️

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Position Vertical Scrollbars on Opposite Side with CSS

Fair warning: I can’t say I recommend this in general because it breaks a very strong expectation of where scrollbars are, which are useful for a lots of folks, not to mention, a core accessibility feature for many.

But it is a fascinating CSS trick and the web is a big place with an unknowable magnitude of situations where sometimes weird solutions are needed.

Technique #1: Directional Trickery

The trick here is to have the scrolling parent element use direction: rtl (or the opposite of whatever your primary direction is), and have the inside of the scrolling element switch back to whatever your normal is.

Technique #2: Rotational Trickery

Messing with text direction for non text-direction purposes always feels a little scary to me, so this trick feels less hacky. The trick is to rotate the parent 180deg, and then the child back another 180deg so it’s upright again.

Because of the first rotation, the scrollbar ends up on the opposite side.

This one is especially awkward for two reasons:

  1. The scrolling element is scrolled to the bottom by default
  2. The scroll direction feels reversed with a scroll wheel. The scrollbar itself should behave somewhat as expected, but a trackpad or mouse scrollwheel will feel like the scroll direction has been reversed in that element.

More like an April Fool’s joke than something you’d really use. A viral tweet called it cursed, which, yes.


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Hide Scrollbars During an Animation

CSS still can’t animate to auto dimensions.

.dropdown {   transition: 0.2s;   height: 0; } .dropdown.open {   /* the height will change, but it won't animate. */   height: auto; }

There is JavaScript trickery you can try. Brandon Smith outlined several techniques here a little while back. My mind always goes to this solution just because it’s so simple:

.dropdown {   transition: 0.2s;   max-height: 0; } .dropdown.open {   /* 🎉 */   max-height: 400px; }

Now we have this 400px magic number which is really not ideal. But the fact that this works and is so simple makes it extremely appealing that I use it production all the time.

But the magic number isn’t the only problem. Another problem is scrollbars.

When we set max-height: 0;, we also need overflow: hidden; to make sure the dropdown is actually hidden when it is closed. When the dropdown is open, we should probably be using overflow: auto; so that we don’t accidentally cut off content in case the natural height of the dropdown is taller than the max-height after it expands. The use of overflow: auto; solves that problem while introducing another: during the expansion, our dropdown will always have scrollbars for at least part of the expansion, even if the final expansion height doesn’t need them. That’s awkward!

CSS trickery to the rescue.

We can still use overflow: auto; on the expanded state — we’ll just override it during the animation. As we learned in the great CSS specificity battle, @keyframes have an amazing ability to override anything while they are active. Let’s use them not to animate the opening, but just for this scrollbar-hiding functionality:

.dropdown {   max-height: 0;   overflow: hidden;   transition: max-height 1.2s ease-in-out; } .dropdown.open {   overflow: auto;   max-height: 400px;   animation: hide-scroll 1.2s backwards;   @keyframes hide-scroll {     from, to { overflow: hidden; }    } }

That does the trick!

Try adjusting the height to something less to see how you don’t see scrollbars during the animation but only at the end when they are needed. That causes a little bit of jerkiness when the scrollbar pops in, but that was acceptable in my case as it’s rare that it happens at all. If you absolutely wanted to stop the jerkiness, you’d probably apply a (custom) scrollbar at all times to the dropdown and perhaps adjust the styling of the scrollbar during the animation, if needed.


Credit here to Mr. Stephen Shaw of the fancy @keyframers for this trick. I yanked him in to help me figure it out while I was working on it for something on CodePen. We decided to turn the trick into a video for the CodePen channel showcasing Collab Mode, which we used to figure out the problem/solution:

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The Current State of Styling Scrollbars

If you need to style your scrollbars right now, one option is to use a collection of ::webkit prefixed CSS properties.

See the Pen CSS-Tricks Almanac: Scrollbars by Chris Coyier (@chriscoyier) on CodePen.

Sadly, that doesn’t help out much for Firefox or Edge, or the ecosystem of browsers around those.

But if that’s good enough for what you need, you can get rather classy with it:

See the Pen Custom Scrollbar styling by Devstreak (@devstreak) on CodePen.

There are loads of them on CodePen to browse. It’s a nice thing to abstract with a Sass @mixin as well.

There is good news on this front! The standards bodies that be have moved toward a standardizing methods to style scrollbars, starting with the gutter (or width) of them. The main property will be scrollbar-gutter and Geoff has written it up here. Hopefully Autoprefixer will help us as the spec is finalized and browsers start to implement it so we can start writing the standardized version and get any prefixed versions from that.

But what if we need cross-browser support?

(more…)

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