How to use CSS variables or CSS custom properties?

Published August 21, 2020

CSS custom properties or more commonly called CSS variables are a way to use CSS properties throughout a single CSS file using an identifier.

CSS variables work best when you have a lot of duplicate CSS properties and want to combine them into a single variable.

We can define CSS variables globally or scope to certain elements.

  • Variables should be in the format --your-variable-name where the symbol -- in front of it is mandatory.
  • To use the variable value in CSS you need to use the var() CSS function in elements.

Global CSS variables

  • To use CSS variables globally first you have to define a selector called :root.
  • Then you have to define your CSS variables inside this selector in the format --your-variable-name.
  • The -- symbol is mandatory to define a CSS variable.
/* :root selector */
:root {
  /* defining a global variable : --main-background-color */
  --main-background-color: #fff;
}

After defining this you can use the CSS global varible values in elements uisng the var() CSS function like this,

/* :root selector */
:root {
  /* defining a global variable : --main-background-color */
  --main-background-color: black;
}

/*using variable in h1 tag element using the var() CSS function*/
h1 {
  background-color: var(--main-background-color);
}

/* using the same varible in .article class elements */
.article {
  background-color: var(--main-background-color);
}

Scoped CSS variables

Scoped CSS variables can be defined in the element itself and not in the :root selector.

Let's define a scoped CSS variable --article-bg-color in the article class.

.article {
  --article-bg-color: #fff;
  background-color: var(--article-bg-color);
}

Now you may think why would I create a variable here when I can define the property directly.

Since CSS styles are cascaded, so scoped variables are passed down to the children elements also.

Suppose you have a p tag inside the .article class element.

You can use the -article-bg-color scoped variable inside that p tag also.

/* Scoped variable */
.article {
  --article-bg-color: #fff;
  background-color: var(--article-bg-color);
}

/* 
    Using Scoped variable 
    Inside the descenetent element p tag
    using the var() css function
*/

.article p {
  color: var(--article-bg-color);
}

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