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How to Use the CSS gap Property — SitePoint

In this article, we’ll explore the uses of the CSS gap property, which makes it super easy to add space between elements, and solves a number of layout issues that have plagued developers over the years.

Table of Contents
  1. What Is gap For?
  2. Guidelines for Using the gap Property
  3. How to Use the gap Property with CSS Grid
  4. How to Use the gap Property with Flexbox
  5. How to Use the gap Property with Multi-column Layout
  6. Useful Things to Know about the gap Property
  7. Wrapping Up

What Is gap For?

The gap property allows us to add space between elements horizontally and vertically. We’ve always been able to do this with margin, of course. But using margin to space items apart can be a pain — especially when items wrap across lines — because there’s always that last item that will have unwanted margin.

The following Pen shows four divs spaced apart with right and bottom margin:

article > div {
  margin: 0 10px 10px 0;
}

Notice the background of the container sticking out along the right and across the bottom?

The gap property only puts space between items, which makes it so much easier for layout. Here’s the same layout as above, but this time using gap instead of margin:

article {
  display: grid;
  gap: 10px;
}

Now we don’t get the ugly, unwanted gap on the right and along the bottom. The gap is now just between items, and the items fit snugly within the their container.

We can use gap with three different layout modes: Grid, Flexbox, and multi-columns. We’ll look at each in turn below.

Guidelines for Using the gap Property

Using gap is as simple as writing gap: 10px. (We saw the result of doing that in the demo above.) But let’s look at what this means.

The gap property can take two values: a row value (that is, the space between rows of elements), and a column value (the space between columns of elements): gap: <row-gap> <column-gap>.

If we specify only one value, it will apply to any rows and columns.

We can just specify a column or row gap separately with the row-gap and column-gap properties.

Values for gap can be any length units (such as px, em, vw), percentage units, or even values calculated with the calc() function.

How to Use the gap Property with CSS Grid

We saw an example above of gap used with Grid layout. Let’s try another example with some different units:

article {
  display: grid;
  gap: 30px 1em;
}

This time, we have different units for row and column.

An extra bonus of gap is that it works seamlessly across responsive layouts. If we set a gap between two items, that gap will apply whether the items sit side-by-side or one above the other, as shown in the Pen below.

Press the 0.5x button at the bottom of the Pen above, or open the Pen in your browser and widen and narrow the viewport to see how the gap direction adjusts to the arrangement of the boxes. We’re benefitting here from the single value on the gap property, which can apply to rows and columns. If we don’t want the gap between rows on smaller screens, we could instead set column-gap: 10px. Try this in the Pen above.

For more on how to work with Grid layouts, check out our beginner’s guide to CSS Grid layout.

How to Use the gap Property with Flexbox

When Flexbox first hit the streets, it had no gap property, so we had to resort to the age-old, pain-inducing use of margins. Thankfully, using gap with Flexbox is now mainstream and well-supported in modern browsers.

We can use it in the same way we use it for Grid:

article {
  display: flex;
  gap: 2vw 1vw;
  flex-wrap: wrap;
}

In situations where our flex items responsively wrap, the gap settings will reflow as needed, and often won’t line up both vertically and horizontally, as shown in the Pen below.

If we want gaps to line up horizontally and vertically, it’s better to use Grid.

As with Grid, if we only want gaps between columns or rows, we can use column-gap and row-gap separately.

How to Use the gap Property with Multi-column Layout

Multi-column layout organizes content into columns, but by default those columns will have a gap of 1em set by the browser. We can use the gap property to set our preferred gap width:

article {
  column-count: 2;
  gap: 3em;
}

(Try removing the gap property in the Pen above and see what happens.)

Because we’re only working with columns here, just a column gap value is applied, as there’s no row for this value to be applied to.

Just for fun, let’s also add a vertical line between those columns:

article {
  column-count: 2;
  gap: 3em;
  column-rule: 1px solid #e7e7e7;
}

Note that column-rule is shorthand for column-rule-width, column-rule-style, and column-rule-color.

Useful Things to Know about the gap Property

The gap property for Grid layouts was initially called grid-gap, with the longhand forms of grid-row-gap and grid-column-gap. While those properties still work, it’s best to stick to using gap, as that now works with Grid, Flexbox and multi-columns.

Multi-column layouts have an older column-gap property, which also still works. But once again, it’s easier just to remember gap in all scenarios.

A gap can be set as a % value, but a percentage of what? It actually depends on a number of factors, and it can be somewhat hard to predict. You can explore this further in the specification. As a general rule, unless you really know what you’re doing it’s safer to avoid percentages with gap.

Alignment properties like justify-content and align-content also serve to space elements apart in Grid and Flexbox layouts, and in certain circumstances they’ll space items further apart than your gap value. The gap value is still useful, though, as it at least provides a minimum space between elements on smaller screens.

Why not space all elements with gap?

As noted above, gap solves some annoying issues associated with margin spacing. Those margin issues can also affect things like text. For example, if we space text elements — such as paragraphs and headings — with a bottom margin, we’ll get an unwanted margin after the final element, or if we use top margin, we might end up with an unwanted top margin on the first element. There are easy ways to deal with this in CSS, but it’s still a pain, and some developers have decided to use gap instead.

To use gap to space text elements, we simply set the text container to display: grid and add a gap value:

article {
  display: grid;
  gap: 1em;
}

The <h1>, <h2>, <p> and <ul> elements are all now grid items.

But should we do this? One downside is that the spacing is the same for all elements, and it can be more visually appealing to vary spacing between elements, especially around headings. Using gap for this is still an interesting idea, though. To explore this further, check out Kevin Powell’s really interesting video on using gap for spacing text.

Wrapping Up

The gap property is a handy tool for spacing items apart when using Grid, Flexbox and multi-column layouts. It saves us from having to use the messy margin hacks of old. It can be used in creative ways throughout a design, but don’t go overboard with it!

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