Quick Tip - CSS position absolute vs fixed

January 1, 2020

Positioning in CSS can be a tricky business. A common issue however is between deciding to use position:"fixed" or position:"absolute". Here’s a tip to help with that.

The position CSS property is used to specify how you want an element to be placed on a web page. There are five possible values, static, relative, sticky, fixed and absolute.

When trying to decide between absolute and fixed - for a content that should be ‘fixed’ to a spot, it’s important to identify the context we want this element to appear.

Fixed Postioning

With fixed positioning, the element is always fixed to a location relative to the browser’s display or viewport. Like having a navbar always stuck to the bottom or top of the screen. This element is completely removed from the normal flow of the page.

.fixed-item {
    position:fixed;
    top:0;
    right:0;
}

Absolute Positioning

If we however want it to be ‘fixed’ to a spot relative to another element or as a child of another element, we go with absolute along with the top, left, right or bottom attributes as needed. This parent element however needs to have position set to relative.

<div class="parent-item">
    This div element is the parent
    <div class="absolute-item">This div element is set to absolute</div>
</div>
.parent-item {
    position: relative;
}

.absolute-item {
    position:absolute;
    top: 10px;
    left: 10px;
}

Are there other things you look out for when trying to choose which positioning property to use? Please share in the comments. Thanks for reading :)


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