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Cover image for How justify-content and align-items properties work.
Emmanuel Aiyenigba
Emmanuel Aiyenigba

Posted on

How justify-content and align-items properties work.

Yes CSS can be tricky sometimes and with the emergence flex-box and grid, it infact has become more trickier writing advanced CSS codes. I want to quickly work you through how the justify-content and align-items properties work in flex-box; when to use them and the output you should expect to get from them.

Now lets write a couple of div tags in our html and then use CSS flex-box on them so as to understand how justify-content and align-items properties work.

<div classname="container">
<div></div>
<div></div>
<div></div>
<div></div>
<div></div>
<div></div>
</div>
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Now we shall be using the CSS flex-box properties on these divs and also we would be giving them some colours so that they can be visible.

.container{
  display: flex;
}
.container > div{
  background: red;
  width: 30px;
  margin-left: .8rem;
}
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With these properties, our container div is going to display flex and since the CSS default flex-direction is row, when we add the justify-content property, the justification will happen along the horizontal axis while the align-items will happen along the vertical axis.

Now let's add these two properties and see their effects.

.container{
  display: flex;
  justify-content: center;
  align-items: center;
}
.container > div{
  background: red;
  width: 30px;
  margin-left: .8rem;
}
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Since the default CSS flex direction is row, the justify-content: center property moved the container to the center on the horizontal plane while the align-items: center property moved it to the center on the vertical plane.

Ahah! I can hear you ask "how will it look like if I set flex-direction to column?"
Now let's do that but with only the justify-content property and see for yourself what happens

.container{
  display: flex;
  flex-direction: column;
  justify-content: center;
}
.container > div{
  background: red;
  width: 30px;
  margin-left: .8rem;
}
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Since column favours the vertical plane, when you set the the flex-direction: column, the justify-content: center property centers the container element along the vertical plane (no longer the horizontal plane as it was when the flex-direction was set to row). Then, the align-items: center property will center the container element on the horizontal plane (as against the vertical plane when it the flex-direction was set to row).

Rule of thumb

  • the flex-direction property will determine what plane the justify-content and align-items properties will take effect. If set to column then the justify-content property will effect on the vertical plane while the align-items property will effect on the horizontal plane but if set to row then reverse is the case for the justify-content and align-items properties.

  • Flexbox should be used on the parent element alone. So also justify-content and align-items properties.

  • justify-self and align-items properties should be used for the child of the parent element, if need be.

Read more on CSS flexbox
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