Simple CSS column layout

A lot of designers are currently struggling to accomplish page layout that was simple to achieve using tables but is frustratingly difficult (if not impossible) with CSS. The following example shows a simple method to display a mutli-column content layout without having to worry about complex floats, margins, and padding.

It all begins with a simple unordered list with a line item and div for each column. We assign an id selector to each item that may have individual CSS styles applied to it (eg id="column1"). Then add a style sheet class for all items that share formatting (eg: class="r_column").

<ul>
  <li>
    <div id="column1" class="r_column">
      <p>First Column</p>
    </div>
  </li>
  <li>
    <div id="column2" class="r_column">
      <p>Second Column</p>
    </div>
  </li>
  <li>
    <div id="column3" class="r_column">
      <p>Third Column</p>
    </div>
  </li>
</ul>

The real magic occurs in the CSS where we make the list appear horizontally rather than vertically. Because of differences in browsers we have to set the margin and padding explicitly. The rest is explained in the code below.

ul {
        clear:both; // needed to clear the floated divs
}

ul li {
        padding: 0; // removes spacing between items
        margin: 0; // removes spacing between items
        display: inline; // makes the list side by side
        list-style:none; // removes the bullet from the list
}

div.r_column {
        margin: 0 5px; // set the space between items
        display: block; // needed to correctly render the div
        float:left; // make divs appear side by side
        width: 20em; // set the width of the column
}

Put it all together and we get:

  • First Column

  • Second Column

  • Third Column

Now isn't that about as simple as you can get?

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