margin-left (CSS property)

Spec
Inherited Initial Version
No 0 CSS1
Browser support (more…)
IE5.5+ FF1+ SA1.3+ OP9.2+ CH2+
Buggy Full Full Full Full

Syntax

margin-left: { length | percentage | auto | inherit } ;

Description

This property defines the horizontal distance from the left border edge of the element concerned to the edge of its containing block, or the element that’s horizontally adjacent to it.

If the element to the side is floated, or absolutely positioned, the margin will pass through it, because floats and absolute elements are removed from the flow. The margin will only be affected by static elements (or elements for which position is set to relative, and which have no coordinates) in the normal flow of the document—this includes the containing block itself.

Refer to the sections on the CSS box model, collapsing margins, containing blocks, and floating and clearing to understand exactly how margins work for all elements. The section on inline formatting also explains how margins affect inline elements.

Example

This style rule assigns a margin of 20 pixels to the left of paragraphs within the element with ID "example":

#example p {
  margin-left: 20px;
}

Value

The property takes a CSS length (px, pt, em, and so on), the keyword auto, or a percentage of the width of the element’s containing block. Note that even for the top and bottom margins the percentage value will refer to the width of the containing block.

If the containing block’s width depends on the element to which percentage margins are applied, the resulting layout is undefined in CSS2.1. More verbosely this would be apparent for floated or absolutely positioned elements without an explicit width set, where a child element has margin expressed as a percentage. The parent element needs to know the dimensions of the child element to compute its own width (shrink-wrapping the contents), but the child box element also needs to know the parent's width to compute its margin (and hence its dimensions).

Negative values are allowed for margins (although implementation-specific limits may apply), and have the effect of pulling the element in the direction of the margin specified. This may cause the element to overlap other elements, which may, of course, be the desired effect. In cases where overlap occurs, we can determine the elements’ stacking levels by applying z-index values to them. In the case of non-positioned or floated elements, a z-index only takes effect when a position is set to relative for the elements, as a z-index can be applied only to positioned elements.

Negative margins on floats are handled differently and the details are covered in Floating and Clearing.

When you use the value auto, you’re allowing the browser to calculate the margins for you automatically. In most cases, the calculated value will default either to zero or to the distance required to reach the parent element’s edge. In the case of a block element that has a specified width, left and right margins to which a value of auto is applied will be set to be equal. This will effectively center the element in the available space.

If margins are over-constrained—that is, the total of their specified dimensions is greater than the available content space—the browser will reset one of the margins to auto to overcome the problem.

Compatibility

Internet Explorer Firefox Safari Opera Chrome
5.5 6.0 7.0 8.0 1.0 1.5 2.0 3.0 3.5 1.3 2.0 3.1 4.0 9.2 9.5 10.0 2.0
Buggy Buggy Buggy Buggy Full Full Full Full Full Full Full Full Full Full Full Full Full

Internet Explorer version 5.5 (and version 6 in quirks mode) does not support the centering of a block element that has a specified width by setting its left and right margins to auto.

In Internet Explorer versions up to and including 6, the left or right margins are doubled on floated elements that touch their parents’ side edges. The margin value is doubled on the side that touches the parent. A simple fix for this problem is to set display to inline for the floated element.

If the value of the horizontal negative margins are greater or equal to the sum of the width, padding, and borders of the element, the width of the element effectively becomes zero. Some older browsers (for example, Mozilla 1.6 and earlier versions) will appear to ignore the position of the element, much as they would an absolute element. This causes issues where following elements may not correctly clear the element in question. However, most modern browsers don’t experience this issue.

Internet Explorer for Windows versions up to and including 7 don’t support the value inherit.

Internet Explorer for Windows version 8 doesn’t use the computed value of the parent’s margin when the keyword inherit is used (see James Hopkins for test case).

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