Responsive Styling Using Attribute Selectors

Responsive Styling Using Attribute Selectors

One of the challenges we face when implementing class-based atomic styling is that it often depends on a specific breakpoint for context.

<div class="span-12"></div> <!-- we want this for small screens -->
<div class="span-6"></div> <!-- we want this for medium screens -->
<div class="span-4"></div> <!-- we want this for large screens -->

It’s common to use a prefix to target each breakpoint:

<div class="sm-span-12 md-span-6 lg-span-4"></div>

This works well until we start adding multiple classes. That’s when it becomes difficult to keep a track what relates to what and where to add, remove. or change stuff.

<div class=" sm-span-12 md-span-6 lg-span-4 sm-font-size-xl md-font-size-xl lg-font-size-xl md-font-weight-500 lg-font-weight-700">
</div>

We can try to make it more readable by re-grouping:

<div class=" sm-span-12 sm-font-size-xl 
 md-span-6 md-font-size-xl md-font-weight-500 
 lg-span-4 lg-font-size-xl lg-font-weight-700">
</div>

We can add funky separators (invalid class names will be ignored):

<div class=" [ sm-span-12 sm-font-size-xl ],[ md-span-6 md-font-size-xl md-font-weight-500 ],[ lg-span-4 lg-font-size-xl lg-font-weight-700 ]">
</div>

But this still feels messy and hard to grasp, at least to me.

We can get a better overview and avoid implementation prefixes by grouping attribute selectors instead of actual classes:

<div data-sm="span-12 font-size-lg" data-md="span-6 font-size-xl font-weight-500" data-lg="span-4 font-size-xl font-weight-700"
>
</div>

These aren’t lost of classes but a whitespace-separated list of attributes we can select using [attribute~="value"], where ~= requires the exact word to be found in the attribute value in order to match.

@media (min-width: 0) { [data-sm~="span-1"] { /*...*/ } [data-sm~="span-2"] { /*...*/ } /* etc. */ }
@media (min-width: 30rem) { [data-md~="span-1"] { /*...*/ } data-[md~="span-2"] { /*...*/ } /* etc. */ }
@media (min-width: 60rem) { [data-lg~="span-1"] { /*...*/ } [data-lg~="span-2"] { /*...*/ } /* etc. */ }

It may be a bit odd-looking but I think translating atomic classes to  attributes is fairly straightforward (e.g. .sm-span-1 becomes [data-sm~="span-1"]). Plus, attribute selectors have the same specificity as classes, so we lose nothing there. And, unlike classes, attributes can be written without escaping special characters, like /+.:?.

That’s all! Again, this is merely an idea that aims to make switching declarations in media queries easier to write, read and manage. It’s definitely not a proposal to do away with classes or anything like that.

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