W3C

CSS Multi-column Layout Module

Editor's Draft 8 October 2013

This version:
http://dev.w3.org/csswg/css3-multicol/
Latest version:
http://www.w3.org/TR/css3-multicol
Previous version:
http://www.w3.org/TR/2009/CR-css3-multicol-20091217/
Feedback:
www-style@w3.org with subject line “[css-multicol] … message topic …” (archives)
Editors:
Håkon Wium Lie, Opera Software, howcome@opera.com
Test Suite:
http://test.csswg.org/suites/css3-multicol/nightly-unstable/

Abstract

This specification describes multi-column layouts in CSS, a style sheet language for the web. Using functionality described in the specification, content can be flowed into multiple columns with a gap and a rule between them.

Status of this document

This is a public copy of the editors' draft. It is provided for discussion only and may change at any moment. Its publication here does not imply endorsement of its contents by W3C. Don't cite this document other than as work in progress.

The (archived) public mailing list www-style@w3.org (see instructions) is preferred for discussion of this specification. When sending e-mail, please put the text “css3-multicol” in the subject, preferably like this: “[css3-multicol] …summary of comment…

This document was produced by the CSS Working Group (part of the Style Activity).

This document was produced by a group operating under the 5 February 2004 W3C Patent Policy. W3C maintains a public list of any patent disclosures made in connection with the deliverables of the group; that page also includes instructions for disclosing a patent. An individual who has actual knowledge of a patent which the individual believes contains Essential Claim(s) must disclose the information in accordance with section 6 of the W3C Patent Policy.

This document has been a Working Draft in the CSS Working Group for several years. Multi-column layouts are traditionally used in print. On screen, multi-column layouts have been considered experimental, and implementation and use experience was deemed necessary in order to proceed. Several implementations have occurred over the past years, and this specification incorporates useful feedback from implementors as well as authors and users.

The specification was updated in April 2011 to correct a contradiction between the text and the pseudo-algorithm in section 3.4. The pseudo-algorithm was corrected and also made easier to read. The wording of a few other sections was improved in places, without changes to the functionality. In January, 2012, some examples and the description of the ‘column-fill’ property was revised.

This document will remain Candidate Recommendation at least until 12 May 2011. See the CR exit criteria.

Table of contents

1. Introduction

(This section is not normative.)

This module describes multi-column layout in CSS. By using functionality described in this document, style sheets can declare that the content of an element is to be laid out in multiple columns.

On the Web, tables have also been used to describe multi-column layouts. The main benefit of using CSS-based columns is flexibility; content can flow from one column to another, and the number of columns can vary depending on the size of the viewport. Removing presentation table markup from documents allows them to more easily be presented on various output devices including speech synthesizers and small mobile devices.

Multi-column layouts are easy to describe in CSS. Here is a simple example:

body { column-width: 12em }

In this example, the body element is set to have columns at least ‘12em’ wide. The exact number of columns will depend on the available space.

The number of columns can also be set explicitly in the style sheet:

body { column-count: 2 }

In this case, the number of columns is fixed and the column widths will vary depending on the available width.

The shorthand ‘columns’ property can be used to set either, or both, properties in one declaration.

In these examples, the number of columns, the width of columns, and both the number and width are set, respectively:

body { columns: 2 }
body { columns: 12em }
body { columns: 2 12em }

However, as described below, setting both the width and number of columns rarely makes sense.

Another group of properties introduced in this module describe gaps and rules between columns.

body { 
  column-gap: 1em;
  column-rule: thin solid black;
}

The first declaration in the example above sets the gap between two adjacent columns to be 1em. Column gaps are similar to padding areas. In the middle of the gap there will be a rule which is described by the ‘column-rule’ property.

The values of the ‘column-rule’ property are similar to those of the CSS border properties. Like ‘border’, ‘column-rule’ is a shorthand property.

In this example, the shorthand ‘column-rule’ declaration from the above example has been expanded:

body { 
  column-gap: 1em;
  column-rule-width: thin;
  column-rule-style: solid;
  column-rule-color: black;
}

The ‘column-fill’ and ‘column-span’ properties give style sheets a wider range of visual expressions in multi-column layouts.

In this example, columns are set to be balanced, i.e., to have approximately the same length. Also, h2 elements are set to span across all columns.

div { column-fill: balance }
h2 { column-span: all }

This specification introduces ten new properties, all of which are used in the examples above.

To indicate where column breaks should (or should not) appear, new keyword values are introduced.

In this example, h1 elements will always have a column break before them, but the formatter will try to avoid column breaks inside and after the element.

h1 { 
  break-before: column; 
  break-inside: avoid-column; 
  break-after: avoid-column;
}

If all column properties have their initial value, the layout of an element will be identical to a multi-column layout with only one column.

2. The multi-column model

A multi-column element (or multicol element for short) is an element whose ‘column-width’ or ‘column-count’ property is not ‘auto’ and therefore acts as a container for multi-column layout.

In the traditional CSS box model, the content of an element is flowed into the content box of the corresponding element. Multi-column layout introduces a new type of container between the content box and the content, namely the column box (or column for short). The content of a multicol element is flowed into its column boxes.

Column boxes in a multi-column element are arranged into rows. Like table cells, the column boxes in a row are ordered in the inline direction of the multicol element. The column width is the length of the column box in the inline direction. The column height is the length of the column box in the block direction. All column boxes in a row have the same column width, and all column boxes in a row have the same column height. Within each row in the multi-column element, adjacent column boxes are separated by a column gap, which may contain a column rule. All column gaps in the same row are equal. All column rules in the same row are also equal, if they appear; column rules only appear between columns that both have content.

In the simplest case a multicol element will contain only one row of columns, and the height of each column will be equivalent to the used height of the multi-column element's content box.

Column gaps (yellow) and column rules (green) are shown in this sample rendition of a multi-column element with padding (blue). The blue and yellow is present for illustrational purposes only. In actual implementations these areas will be determined by the background.

Ab cde fgh i jkl. Mno
pqr stu vw xyz. A bc
def g hij klm nopqrs
tuv wxy z. Abc de fg
hi jklmno. Pqrstu vw
x yz. Abc def ghi jkl.
M nop qrst uv wx yz.
Ab cde fgh i jkl. Mno
pqr stu vw xyz. A bc
def g hij klm nopqrs

tuv wxy z. Abc de fg
hi jklmno. Pqrstu vw
x yz. Abc def ghi jkl.
M nop qrst uv wx yz.
Ab cde fgh i jkl. Mno
pqr stu vw xyz. A bc
def g hij klm nopqrs
tuv wxy z. Abc de fg
hi jklmno. Pqrstu vw
x yz. Abc def ghi jkl.

M nop qrst uv wx yz.
Ab cde fgh i jkl. Mno
pqr stu vw xyz. A bc
def g hij klm nopqrs
tuv wxy z. Abc de fg
hi jklmno. Pqrstu vw
x yz. Abc def ghi jkl.
M nop qrst uv wx yz.
Ab cde fgh i jkl. Mno
Pqr stu vw xyz.

If the multi-column element is paginated, the height of each row is constrained by the page and the content continues in a new row of column boxes on the next page; a column box never splits across pages.

The same effect occurs when a spanning element divides the multi-column element: the columns before the spanning element are balanced and shortened to fit their content. Content after the spanning element then flows into a new row of column boxes.

Ab cde fgh i jkl. Mno
pqr stu vw xyz. A bc


M nop qrst uv wx yz.
Ab cde fgh i jkl. Mno
pqr stu vw xyz. A bc
def g hij klm nopqrs
tuv wxy z. Abc de fg
hi jklmno. Pqrstu vw

def g hij klm nopqrs
tuv wxy z. Abc de fg


x yz. Abc def ghi jkl.
M nop qrst uv wx yz.
Ab cde fgh i jkl. Mno
pqr stu vw xyz. A bc
def g hij klm nopqrs
tuv wxy z. Abc de fg

hi jklmno. Pqrstu vw
x yz. Abc def ghi jkl.


hi jklmno. Pqrstu vw
x yz. Abc def ghi jkl.
M nop qrst uv wx yz.
Ab cde fgh i jkl. Mno
pqr stu vw xyz.

A spanning element

Column boxes are block container boxes. That is, column boxes behave like block-level, table cell, and inline-block boxes as per CSS 2.1, section 10.1, item 2 [CSS21]. However, column boxes do not establish block container boxes for elements with ‘position: fixed’ or ‘position: absolute’.

In this example, the width of the image is set with these rules:

img { display: block; width: 100% }

Given that the width is calculated relative to the column box, the image will be as wide as the column box:

Ab cde fgh i jkl. Mno
pqr stu vw xyz. A bc






def g hij klm nopqrs
tuv wxy z. Abc de fg

hi jklmno. Pqrstu vw
x yz. Abc def ghi jkl.
M nop qrst uv wx yz.
Ab cde fgh i jkl. Mno
pqr stu vw xyz. A bc
def g hij klm nopqrs
tuv wxy z. Abc de fg
hi jklmno. Pqrstu vw
x yz. Abc def ghi jkl.
M nop qrst uv wx yz.

Ab cde fgh i jkl. Mno
pqr stu vw xyz. A bc
def g hij klm nopqrs
tuv wxy z. Abc de fg
hi jklmno. Pqrstu vw
x yz. Abc def ghi jkl.
M nop qrst uv wx yz.
Ab cde fgh i jkl. Mno
pqr stu vw xyz.

Floats that appear inside multi-column layouts are positioned with regard to the column box where the float appears.

In this example, this CSS fragment describes the presentation of the image:

img { display: block; float: right }

Ab cde fgh i jkl. Mno
pqr stu vw xyz. A bc
def g
hij klm
nopq
rs tuv
wxy x
yz. Ab
cde fgh i jkl. Mno
pqr stu vw xyz. A bc

def g hij klm nopqrs
tuv wxy z. Abc de fg
hi jklmno. Pqrstu vw
x yz. Abc def ghi jkl.
M nop qrst uv wx yz.
Ab cde fgh i jkl. Mno
pqr stu vw xyz. A bc
def g hij klm nopqrs
tuv wxy z. Abc de fg
hi jklmno. Pqrstu vw

x yz. Abc def ghi jkl.
M nop qrst uv wx yz.
Ab cde fgh i jkl. Mno
pqr stu vw xyz. A bc
def g hij klm nopqrs
tuv wxy z. Abc de fg
hi jklmno. Pqrstu vw
x yz. Abc def ghi jkl.
M nop qrst uv wx yz.

The black box represents the image.

A multi-column element establishes a new block formatting context, as per CSS 2.1 section 9.4.1.

A top margin set on the first child element of a multicol element will not collapse with the margins of the multicol element.

Nested multi-column elements are allowed, but there may be implementation-specific limits.

It is not possible to set properties/values on column boxes. For example, the background of a certain column box cannot be set and a column box has no concept of padding, margin or borders. Future specifications may add additional functionality. For example, columns of different widths and different backgrounds may be supported.

Multicol elements with column heights larger than the viewport may pose accessibility issues.

2.1. Properties and values

This specification follows the CSS property definition conventions from [CSS21]. The <color> value type is defined by [CSS3COLOR].

In addition to the property-specific values listed in their definitions, all properties defined in this specification also accept the inherit keyword as their property value. For readability it has not been repeated explicitly.

3. The number and width of columns

Finding the number and width of columns is fundamental when laying out multi-column content. These properties are used to set the number and width of columns:

A third property, ‘columns’, is a shorthand property which sets both ‘column-width’ and ‘column-count’.

Other factors, such as explicit column breaks, content, and height constraints, may influence the actual number and width of columns.

3.1. column-width

Name: column-width
Value: <length> | auto
Initial: auto
Applies to: non-replaced block-level elements (except table elements), table cells, and inline-block elements
Inherited: no
Percentages: N/A
Media: visual
Computed value: the absolute length, zero or larger
Animatable: as length

This property describes the width of columns in multicol elements.

auto
means that the column width will be determined by other properties (e.g., ‘column-count’, if it has a non-auto value).
<length>
describes the optimal column width. The actual column width may be wider (to fill the available space), or narrower (only if the available space is smaller than the specified column width). Specified values must be greater than 0.

For example, consider this style sheet:

div {
  width: 100px;
  column-width: 45px;
  column-gap: 0;
  column-rule: none;
}

There is room for two 45px wide columns inside the 100px wide element. In order to fill the available space the actual column width will be increased to 50px.

Also, consider this style sheet:

div {
  width: 40px;
  column-width: 45px;
  column-gap: 0;
  column-rule: none;
}

The available space is smaller than the specified column width and the actual column width will therefore be decreased.

To ensure that ‘column-width’ can be used with vertical text, column width means the length of the line boxes inside the columns.

The reason for making ‘column-width’ somewhat flexible is to achieve scalable designs that can fit many screen sizes. To set an exact column width, the column gap and the width of the multicol element (assuming horizontal text) must also be specified.

3.2. column-count

Name: column-count
Value: <integer> | auto
Initial: auto
Applies to: non-replaced block-level elements (except table elements), table cells, and inline-block elements
Inherited: no
Percentages: N/A
Media: visual
Computed value: specified value
Animatable: as integer

This property describes the number of columns of a multicol element.

auto
means that the number of columns will be determined by other properties (e.g., ‘column-width’, if it has a non-auto value).
<integer>
describes the optimal number of columns into which the content of the element will be flowed. Values must be greater than 0. If both ‘column-width’ and ‘column-count’ have non-auto values, the integer value describes the maximum number of columns.

Example:

body { column-count: 3 }

3.3. columns

Name: columns
Value: <‘column-width’> || <‘column-count’>
Initial: see individual properties
Applies to: non-replaced block-level elements (except table elements), table cells, and inline-block elements
Inherited: no
Percentages: N/A
Media: visual
Computed value: see individual properties
Animatable: see individual properties

This is a shorthand property for setting ‘column-width’ and ‘column-count’. Omitted values are set to their initial values.

Here are some valid declarations using the ‘columns’ property:

columns: 12em;      /* column-width: 12em; column-count: auto */
columns: auto 12em; /* column-width: 12em; column-count: auto */
columns: 2;         /* column-width: auto; column-count: 2 */
columns: 2 auto;    /* column-width: auto; column-count: 2 */
columns: auto;      /* column-width: auto; column-count: auto */
columns: auto auto; /* column-width: auto; column-count: auto */

3.4. Pseudo-algorithm

The pseudo-algorithm below determines the used values for ‘column-count’ (N) and ‘column-width’ (W) when . There is one other variable in the pseudo-algorithm: U is the used width of the multi-column element.

The used width U of the multi-column element can depend on the element's contents, in which case it also depends on the computed values of the ‘column-count’ and ‘column-width’ properties. This specification does not define how U is calculated. Another module (probably the Basic Box Model [CSS3BOX] or the Intrinsic & Extrinsic Sizing Module [CSS3-SIZING]) is expected to define this.

The floor(X) function returns the largest integer Y ≤ X.

(01)  if ((column-width = auto) and (column-count = auto)) then
(02)      exit; /* not a multicol element */
(03)  if column-width = auto then
(04)      N := column-count
(05)  else if column-count = auto then
(06)      N := max(1, 
(07)        floor((U + column-gap)/(column-width + column-gap)))
(08)  else
(09)      N := min(column-count, max(1, 
(10)        floor((U + column-gap)/(column-width + column-gap))))

And:

(11)  W := max(0, ((U + column-gap)/N - column-gap))

In paged media, user agents may perform this calculation on a per-page basis.

The used value for ‘column-count’ is calculated without regard for explicit column breaks or constrained column heights, while the actual value takes these into consideration.

In this example, the actual column-count is higher than the used column-count due to explicit column breaks:

div { width: 40em; columns: 20em; column-gap: 0 }
p { break-after: column }

<div>
  <p>one
  <p>two
  <p>three
</div>

The computed column-count is auto, the used column-count is 2 and the actual column-count is 3.

The actual column-count may be lower than the used column-count. Consider this example:

div { 
  width: 80em; 
  height: 10em; 
  columns: 20em; 
  column-gap: 0; 
  column-fill: auto;
}

<div>foo</div>

The computed column-count is auto, the used column-count is 4, and the actual column-count is 1.

3.5. Stacking context

All column boxes in a multi-column element are in the same stacking context and the drawing order of their contents is as specified in CSS 2.1. Column boxes do not establish new stacking contexts.

4. Column gaps and rules

Column gaps and rules are placed between columns in the same multicol element. The length of the column gaps and column rules is equal to the column height. Column gaps take up space. That is, column gaps will push apart content in adjacent columns (within the same multicol element).

A column rule is drawn in the middle of the column gap with the endpoints at opposing content edges of the multicol element. Column rules do not take up space. That is, the presence or thickness of a column rule will not alter the placement of anything else. If a column rule is wider than its gap, the adjacent column boxes will overlap the rule, and the rule may possibly extend outside the box of the multicol element. Column rules are painted in the inline content layer, but below all inline content inside the multicol element. Column rules are only drawn between two columns that both have content.

4.1. column-gap

Name: column-gap
Value: <length> | normal
Initial: normal
Applies to: multicol elements
Inherited: no
Percentages: N/A
Media: visual
Computed value: absolute length or ‘normal
Animatable: as length

The ‘column-gap’ property sets the gap between columns. If there is a column rule between columns, it will appear in the middle of the gap.

The ‘normal’ value is UA-specific. A value of ‘1em’ is suggested.

Column gaps cannot be negative.

4.2. column-rule-color

Name: column-rule-color
Value: <color>
Initial: currentColor
Applies to: multicol elements
Inherited: no
Percentages: N/A
Media: visual
Computed value: the same as the computed value for the ‘color’ property [CSS3COLOR]
Animatable: as color

This property sets the color of the column rule. The <color> values are defined in [CSS3COLOR].

4.3. column-rule-style

Name: column-rule-style
Value: <border-style>
Initial: none
Applies to: multicol elements
Inherited: no
Percentages: N/A
Media: visual
Computed value: specified value
Animatable: no

The ‘column-rule-style’ property sets the style of the rule between columns of an element. The <border-style> values are defined in [CSS21] and the values are interpreted as in the collapsing border model.

The ‘none’ value forces the computed value of column-rule-width to be ‘0’.

4.4. column-rule-width

Name: column-rule-width
Value: <border-width>
Initial: medium
Applies to: multicol elements
Inherited: no
Percentages: N/A
Media: visual
Computed value: absolute length; ‘0’ if the column rule style is ‘none’ or ‘hidden
Animatable: as length

This property sets the width of the rule between columns. Negative values are not allowed.

4.5. column-rule

Name: column-rule
Value: <‘column-rule-width’> || <‘column-rule-style’> || [ <‘column-rule-color’> ]
Initial: see individual properties
Applies to: multicol elements
Inherited: no
Percentages: N/A
Media: visual
Computed value: see individual properties
Animatable: see individual properties

This property is a shorthand for setting ‘column-rule-width’, ‘column-rule-style’, and ‘column-rule-color’ at the same place in the style sheet. Omitted values are set to their initial values.

In this example, the column rule and the column gap have the same width. Therefore, they will occupy exactly the same space.

body { 
  column-gap: 1em;
  column-rule-width: 1em;
  column-rule-style: solid;
  column-rule-color: black;
}

If a tall image is moved to a column on the next page to find room for it, its natural column may be left empty. If so, the column is still considered to have content for the purpose of deciding if the column rule should be drawn.

5. Column breaks

When content is laid out in multiple columns, the user agent must determine where column breaks are placed. The problem of breaking content into columns is similar to breaking content into pages, which is described in CSS 2.1, section 13.3.3 [CSS21].

Three new properties are introduced to allow column breaks to be described in the same properties as page breaks: ‘break-before’, ‘break-after’, and ‘break-inside’. These properties take the same values as ‘page-break-before’, ‘page-break-after’, and ‘page-break-inside[CSS21]. In addition, some new keyword values are added.

5.1. break-before’, ‘break-after’, ‘break-inside

Name: break-before
Value: auto | always | avoid | left | right | page | column | avoid-page | avoid-column
Initial: auto
Applies to: block-level elements
Inherited: no
Percentages: N/A
Media: visual
Computed value: specified value
Animatable: no
Name: break-after
Value: auto | always | avoid | left | right | page | column | avoid-page | avoid-column
Initial: auto
Applies to: block-level elements
Inherited: no
Percentages: N/A
Media: visual
Computed value: specified value
Animatable: no
Name: break-inside
Value: auto | avoid | avoid-page | avoid-column
Initial: auto
Applies to: block-level elements
Inherited: no
Percentages: N/A
Media: visual
Computed value: specified value
Animatable: no

These properties describe page/column break behavior before/after/inside the generated box. These values are normatively defined in [CSS21]:

auto
Neither force nor forbid a page/column break before (after, inside) the generated box.
always
Always force a page break before (after) the generated box.
avoid
Avoid a page/column break before (after, inside) the generated box.
left
Force one or two page breaks before (after) the generated box so that the next page is formatted as a left page.
right
Force one or two page breaks before (after) the generated box so that the next page is formatted as a right page.

This specification adds the following new values:

page
Always force a page break before (after) the generated box.
column
Always force a column break before (after) the generated box.
avoid-page
Avoid a page break before (after, inside) the generated box.
avoid-column
Avoid a column break before (after, inside) the generated box.

When a page or column break splits a box, the box's margins, borders, and padding have no visual effect where the split occurs. However, the margin immediately after a forced page/column break will be preserved. A forced page/column break is a break that does not occur naturally.

In the future, new properties may describe alternate ways to handle margins, borders and padding around page/column breaks.

In this example, forced column breaks appear before h2 elements and after img elements:

.multicol { column-width: 8em }
.multicol h2 { break-before: column; margin-top: 2em }
.multicol img { break-after: column }

The top margin of h2 elements will be preserved since the column break is forced.

In this example, the formatter will try avoid column breaks inside p elements:

p { break-inside: avoid-column }

6. Spanning columns

The ‘column-span’ property makes it possible for an element to span across several columns.

6.1. column-span

Name: column-span
Value: none | all
Initial: none
Applies to: in-flow block-level elements
Inherited: no
Percentages: N/A
Media: visual
Computed value: specified value
Animatable: no

This property describes how many columns an element spans across. Values are:

none
The element does not span multiple columns.
all
The element spans across all columns of the nearest multicol ancestor in the same block formatting context. The element spans across all columns. Content in the normal flow that appears before the element is automatically balanced across all columns before the element appears. The element establishes a new block formatting context.

An element that spans more than one column is called a spanning element and the box it creates is called a spanner.

In this example, an h2 element has been added to the sample document after the sixth sentence (i.e., after the word "jkl."). This styling applies:

h2 { column-span: all; background: silver } 

By setting ‘column-span’ to ‘all’, all content that appear before the h2 element is shown before the h2 element.

Ab cde fgh i jkl. Mno
pqr stu vw xyz. A bc


M nop qrst uv wx yz.
Ab cde fgh i jkl. Mno
pqr stu vw xyz. A bc
def g hij klm nopqrs
tuv wxy z. Abc de fg
hi jklmno. Pqrstu vw

def g hij klm nopqrs
tuv wxy z. Abc de fg


x yz. Abc def ghi jkl.
M nop qrst uv wx yz.
Ab cde fgh i jkl. Mno
pqr stu vw xyz. A bc
def g hij klm nopqrs
tuv wxy z. Abc de fg

hi jklmno. Pqrstu vw
x yz. Abc def ghi jkl.


hi jklmno. Pqrstu vw
x yz. Abc def ghi jkl.
M nop qrst uv wx yz.
Ab cde fgh i jkl. Mno
pqr stu vw xyz.

An H2 element

A spanning element takes up more space than the element would take up otherwise. When space is limited, it may be impossible to find room for the spanning element. In these cases, user agents may treat the element as if ‘none’ had been specified on this property.

In this example, the H2 element appears later in the content, and the height of the multicol element is constrained. Therefore, the H2 element appears in the overflow and there is not room to make the element spanning. As a result, the element appears as if ‘column-span: none’ was specified.

Ab cde fgh i jkl. Mno
pqr stu vw xyz. A bc
def g hij klm nopqrs
tuv wxy z. Abc de fg
hi jklmno. Pqrstu vw

x yz. Abc def ghi jkl.
M nop qrst uv wx yz.
Ab cde fgh i jkl. Mno
pqr stu vw xyz. A bc
def g hij klm nopqrs

tuv wxy z. Abc de fg
hi jklmno. Pqrstu vw
x yz. Abc def ghi jkl.
M nop qrst uv wx yz.
Ab cde fgh i jkl. Mno

pqr stu vw xyz.

An H2 element
A bc def g hij klm
nopqrs tuv wxy z.

This example is similar to the previous example, except that the H2 element appears naturally in the last column. Still, there is not enough room to make the element spanning.

Ab cde fgh i jkl. Mno
pqr stu vw xyz. A bc
def g hij klm nopqrs
tuv wxy z. Abc de fg
hi jklmno. Pqrstu vw

x yz. Abc def ghi jkl.
M nop qrst uv wx yz.
Ab cde fgh i jkl. Mno
pqr stu vw xyz. A bc
def g hij klm nopqrs

tuv wxy z. Abc de fg
hi jklmno.

An H2 element

A bc def g hij klm
nop w rstu vw xyz.

In paged media spanning elements are honored on all pages. In this example, the first three paragraphs have column breaks after them. An spanning H2 element appears after the fourth paragraph. This would appear on the first page:

Ab cde fgh i jkl. Mno
pqr stu vw xyz.

Ab cde fgh i jkl. Mno
pqr stu vw xyz. A bc
def g hij klm nopqrs
tuv wxy z.

Ab cde fgh i jkl mno.
Pq rstu vwxyz.

This would appear on the second page:

Ab cde fgh i jkl. Mno
pqr stu vw xyz. A bc


M nop qrst uv wx yz.
Ab cde fgh i jkl. Mno
pqr stu vw xyz. A bc
def g hij klm nopqrs
tuv wxy z. Abc de fg
hi jklmno. Pqrstu vw

def g hij klm nopqrs
tuv wxy z. Abc de fg


x yz. Abc def ghi jkl.
M nop qrst uv wx yz.
Ab cde fgh i jkl. Mno
pqr stu vw xyz. A bc
def g hij klm nopqrs
tuv wxy z. Abc de fg

hi jklmno. Pqrstu vw
x yz. Abc def ghi jkl.


hi jklmno. Pqrstu vw
x yz. Abc def ghi jkl.
M nop qrst uv wx yz.
Ab cde fgh i jkl. Mno
pqr stu vw xyz.

An H2 element

Spanners create new block formatting contexts, but their margins can be changed by their surroundings. In this example, two spanners naturally end up at the top of a page. The top margin of the first spanner is truncated due to adjoining an unforced break. The margins between the two spanners collapse with each other. However, the bottom margin of the second spanner does not collapse with the top margin of the subsequent element.

h2 { 
  margin: 0.5em 0;
  column-span: all; 
  background: silver 
} 
p { margin-top: 1em }






Ab cde fgh i jkl. Mno
pqr stu vw xyz. A bc
def g hij klm nopqrs
tuv wxy z. Abc de fg
hi jklmno. Pqrstu vw





x yz. Abc def ghi jkl.
M nop qrst uv wx yz.
Ab cde fgh i jkl. Mno
pqr stu vw xyz. A bc
def g hij klm nopqrs
tuv wxy z. Abc de fg





hi jklmno. Pqrstu vw
x yz. Abc def ghi jkl.
M nop qrst uv wx yz.
Ab cde fgh i jkl. Mno
pqr stu vw xyz.

An H2 element
Another H2 element

7. Filling columns

There are two strategies for filling columns: columns can either be balanced, or not. If columns are balanced, user agents should try to minimize variations in column height, while honoring forced breaks, ‘widows’ and ‘orphans’, and other properties that may affect column heights. If columns are not balanced, they are filled sequentially; some columns may end up partially filled, or with no content at all.

7.1. column-fill

Name: column-fill
Value: auto | balance
Initial: balance
Applies to: multicol elements
Inherited: no
Percentages: N/A
Media: see below
Computed value: specified value
Animatable: no

The values are:

balance
Balance content equally between columns, as far as possible. In paged media, only the last page is balanced.
balance-all
Balance content equally between columns, as far as possible. In paged media, all pages are balanced.
auto
fill columns sequentially

In continuous media, this property does not have any effect in overflow columns.

In this example, an article only has one short paragraph which fits on three lines. The three lines are displayed in three different columns due to column balancing.

article { width: 60em; height: auto; columns: 4; column-fill: balance }

Ab cde fgh i jkl. Mno

pqr stu vw xyz. A bc

def g hij klm.

In this example, column balancing is turned off:

article { width: 60em; height: auto; columns: 4; column-fill: auto }

As a result, the first column is filled with all content:

Ab cde fgh i jkl. Mno
pqr stu vw xyz. A bc
def g hij klm.

In this example, an article has two paragraphs: first a long one, then a shorter one. This code is applied:

article { width: 60em; height: auto; columns: 4; column-fill: balance }
p { break-after: column }

The shortest column height possible contains five lines of text. After the column height has been established, columns are filled sequentially. As a result, the third column is as high as the first two columns, while the last column ends up being significantly shorter.

Ab cde fgh i jkl. Mno
pqr stu vw xyz. A bc
def g hij klm nopqrs
tuv wxy z. Abc de fg
hi jklmno. Pqrstu vw

x yz. Abc def ghi jkl.
M nop qrst uv wx yz.
Ab cde fgh i jkl. Mno
pqr stu vw xyz. A bc
def g hij klm.

Ab cde fgh i jkl. Mno
pqr stu vw xyz. A bc
def g hij klm nopqrs
tuv wxy z. Abc de fg
hi jklmno. Pqrstu vw

x yz. Abc def ghi jkl.
M nop qrst uv wx yz.

article { width: 60em; height: auto; columns: 4; column-fill: balance }

In this example, an article starts with an unbreakable figure which sets the column height. Subsequent content is filled sequentially into the remaining columns:

Ab cde fgh i jkl. Mno
pqr stu vw xyz. A bc
def g hij klm nopqrs
tuv wxy z. Abc de fg
hi jklmno. Pqrstu vw
x yz. Abc def ghi jkl.
M nop qrst uv wx yz.

Ab cde fgh i jkl. Mno
pqr stu vw xyz. A bc
def g hij klm nopqrs
tuv wxy z. Abc de fg
hi jklmno.

8. Overflow

8.1. Overflow inside multicol elements

Floated or in-flow content that extends into column gaps or neighboring columns — e.g., long words or images — is not clipped and may therefore cause overflow.

In this example, the black image is wider than the column:

Lorem ipsum dolor
sit amet. Nam at jus.






Sed imp er di et ris.
Cur abi tur et sapen.

Lorem ipsum dolor
sit amet. Nam at jus.
Sed imp er di et ris.
Cur abi tur et sapen.
Vivamus a metus.
Aenean at risus
pharetra ante luctu
feugiat quis enim.
Cum sociis natoque
penatibus et magni.

Lorem ipsum dolor
sit amet. Nam at jus.
Sed imp er di et ris.
Cur abi tur et sapen.
Vivamus a metus.
Aenean at risus
pharetra ante luctu
feugiat quis enim.
Cum sociis natoque
penatibus et magni.

8.2. Pagination and overflow outside multicol elements

Content and column rules that extend outside column boxes at the edges of the multi-column element are clipped according to the ‘overflow’ property.

A multicol element can have more columns than it has room for due to:

Columns that appear outside the multicol element in continuous media are called overflow columns.

In this example, the height of the multi-column element has been constrained to a maximum height. Also, the style sheet specifies that overflowing content should be visible:

div { 
  max-height: 5em;
  overflow: visible;
}

As a result, the number of columns is increased.

Ab cde fgh i jkl. Mno
pqr stu vw xyz. A bc
def g hij klm nopqrs
tuv wxy z. Abc de fg
hi jklmno. Pqrstu vw

x yz. Abc def ghi jkl.
M nop qrst uv wx yz.
Ab cde fgh i jkl. Mno
pqr stu vw xyz. A bc
def g hij klm nopqrs

tuv wxy z. Abc de fg
hi jklmno. Pqrstu vw
x yz. Abc def ghi jkl.
M nop qrst uv wx yz.
Ab cde fgh i jkl. Mno

pqr stu vw xyz. A bc
def g hij klm nopqrs
tuv wxy z. Abc de fg
hi jklmno. Pqrstu vw
x yz. Abc def ghi jkl.

In paged media, the overflow content goes into column on subsequent pages. Given the same content as in the previous example and a page box that only has room for five lines of formatted text, this would appear on the first page:

Ab cde fgh i jkl. Mno
pqr stu vw xyz. A bc
def g hij klm nopqrs
tuv wxy z. Abc de fg
hi jklmno. Pqrstu vw

x yz. Abc def ghi jkl.
M nop qrst uv wx yz.
Ab cde fgh i jkl. Mno
pqr stu vw xyz. A bc
def g hij klm nopqrs

tuv wxy z. Abc de fg
hi jklmno. Pqrstu vw
x yz. Abc def ghi jkl.
M nop qrst uv wx yz.
Ab cde fgh i jkl. Mno

Assuming column balancing, this would appear on the second page:

pqr stu vw xyz. A bc
def g hij klm nopqrs

tuv wxy z. Abc de fg
hi jklmno. Pqrstu vw

x yz. Abc def ghi jkl.

In this example, explicit column breaks are generated after paragraphs:

p { 
  break-after: column;
}

As a result, the number of columns increases and the extra columns are added in the inline direction:

Ab cde fgh i jkl. Mno
pqr stu vw xyz.

Ab cde fgh i jkl. Mno
pqr stu vw xyz. A bc
def g hij klm nopqrs
tuv wxyz. Abc defghi
jklmno pqrstu vwxyz.

Ab cde fgh i jkl mno.

Pqr stu vw xyz. A bc
def g hij klm nopqrs
tuv wxy z.

In paged media, extra columns are shown on the next page. Given the same code as the previous example, the last paragraph appears on the second page. This would appear on the first page:

Ab cde fgh i jkl. Mno
pqr stu vw xyz.

Ab cde fgh i jkl. Mno
pqr stu vw xyz. A bc
def g hij klm nopqrs
tuv wxyz. Abc defghi
jklmno pqrstu vwxyz.

Ab cde fgh i jkl mno.

This would appear on the second page:

Pqr stu vw xyz. A bc

def g hij klm nopqrs

tuv wxy z.

Due to column balancing, the last paragraph is split across three columns.

9. Conformance

Conforming UAs must flow the content of an element into several columns according to this specification.

The conformance requirements are expressed with a combination of descriptive assertions and RFC 2119 terminology. The key words "MUST", "MUST NOT", "REQUIRED", "SHALL", "SHALL NOT", "SHOULD", "SHOULD NOT", "RECOMMENDED", "MAY", and "OPTIONAL" in the normative parts of this document are to be interpreted as described in RFC 2119. However, for readability, these words do not appear in all uppercase letters in this specification. All of the text of this specification is normative except sections explicitly marked as non-normative, examples, and notes. [RFC2119]

9.1. CR exit criteria

As described in the W3C process document, a Candidate Recommendation (CR) is a specification that W3C recommends for use on the Web. The next stage is Recommendation, when the specification is sufficiently implemented.

For this specification to be proposed as a W3C Recommendation, the following conditions shall be met. There must be at least two independent, interoperable implementations of each feature. Each feature may be implemented by a different set of products, there is no requirement that all features be implemented by a single product. For the purposes of this criterion, we define the following terms:

independent
each implementation must be developed by a different party and cannot share, reuse, or derive from code used by another qualifying implementation. Sections of code that have no bearing on the implementation of this specification are exempt from this requirement.
interoperable
passing the respective test case(s) in the official CSS test suite, or, if the implementation is not a Web browser, an equivalent test. Every relevant test in the test suite should have an equivalent test created if such a user agent (UA) is to be used to claim interoperability. In addition if such a UA is to be used to claim interoperability, then there must one or more additional UAs which can also pass those equivalent tests in the same way for the purpose of interoperability. The equivalent tests must be made publicly available for the purposes of peer review.
implementation
a user agent which:
  1. implements the specification.
  2. is available to the general public. The implementation may be a shipping product or other publicly available version (i.e., beta version, preview release, or nightly build). Non-shipping product releases must have implemented the feature(s) for a period of at least one month in order to demonstrate stability.
  3. is not experimental (i.e., a version specifically designed to pass the test suite and is not intended for normal usage going forward).

A minimum of sixth months of the CR period must have elapsed. This is to ensure that enough time is given for any remaining major errors to be caught.

Features will be dropped if two or more interoperable implementations are not found by the end of the CR period.

Features may/will also be dropped if adequate/sufficient (by judgment of CSS WG) tests have not been produced for those feature(s) by the end of the CR period.

Acknowledgments

This document is based on several older proposals and comments on older proposals. Contributors include Øyvind Stenhaug, Sylvain Galineau, Giovanni Campagna, David Hyatt, David Singer, David Woolley, Elika Etemad, Björn Höhrmann, Joost de Valk, Peter-Paul Koch, Shelby Moore, Till Halbach, Cédric Savarese, Andy Clarke, Robert O'Callahan, Markus Mielke, Alex Mogilevsky, Sergey Genkin, Michael Day, Melinda Grant, Kevin Lawver, Anton Prowse, L. David Baron, Bert Bos, Dave Raggett, Chris Wilson, Robert Stevahn, Peter Linss, Chris Lilley, Steve Zilles, Tantek Çelik, Daniel Glazman and Ian Hickson.

References

Normative references

[CSS21]
Bert Bos; et al. Cascading Style Sheets Level 2 Revision 1 (CSS 2.1) Specification. 7 June 2011. W3C Recommendation. URL: http://www.w3.org/TR/2011/REC-CSS2-20110607/
[CSS3COLOR]
Tantek Çelik; Chris Lilley; L. David Baron. CSS Color Module Level 3. 7 June 2011. W3C Recommendation. URL: http://www.w3.org/TR/2011/REC-css3-color-20110607/
[RFC2119]
S. Bradner. Key words for use in RFCs to Indicate Requirement Levels. Internet RFC 2119. URL: http://www.ietf.org/rfc/rfc2119.txt

Other references

[CSS3-SIZING]
Tab Atkins Jr.; Elika J. Etemad. CSS Intrinsic & Extrinsic Sizing Module Level 3. 27 September 2012. W3C Working Draft. (Work in progress.) URL: http://www.w3.org/TR/2012/WD-css3-sizing-20120927/
[CSS3BOX]
Bert Bos. CSS basic box model. 9 August 2007. W3C Working Draft. (Work in progress.) URL: http://www.w3.org/TR/2007/WD-css3-box-20070809

Index

Property index

Property Values Initial Applies to Inh. Percentages Media
break-after auto | always | avoid | left | right | page | column | avoid-page | avoid-column auto block-level elements no N/A visual
break-before auto | always | avoid | left | right | page | column | avoid-page | avoid-column auto block-level elements no N/A visual
break-inside auto | avoid | avoid-page | avoid-column auto block-level elements no N/A visual
column-count <integer> | auto auto non-replaced block-level elements (except table elements), table cells, and inline-block elements no N/A visual
column-fill auto | balance balance multicol elements no N/A see below
column-gap <length> | normal normal multicol elements no N/A visual
column-rule <‘column-rule-width’> || <‘column-rule-style’> || [ <‘column-rule-color’> ] see individual properties multicol elements no N/A visual
column-rule-style <border-style> none multicol elements no N/A visual
column-rule-width <border-width> medium multicol elements no N/A visual
columns <‘column-width’> || <‘column-count’> see individual properties non-replaced block-level elements (except table elements), table cells, and inline-block elements no N/A visual
column-span none | all none in-flow block-level elements no N/A visual
column-width <length> | auto auto non-replaced block-level elements (except table elements), table cells, and inline-block elements no N/A visual