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Managing User Focus with :focus-visible

Fri, 04/05/2024 - 12:13pm

This is going to be the 2nd post in a small series we are doing on form accessibility. If you missed the first post, check out Accessible Forms with Pseudo Classes. In this post we are going to look at :focus-visible and how to use it in your web sites!

Focus Touchpoint

Before we move forward with :focus-visible, let’s revisit how :focus works in your CSS. Focus is the visual indicator that an element is being interacted with via keyboard, mouse, trackpad, or assistive technology. Certain elements are naturally interactive, like links, buttons, and form elements. We want to make sure that our users know where they are and the interactions they are making.

Remember don’t do this in your CSS!

:focus { outline: 0; } /*** OR ***/ :focus { outline: none; }

When you remove focus, you remove it for EVERYONE! We want to make sure that we are preserving the focus.

If for any reason you do need to remove the focus, make sure there is also fallback :focus styles for your users. That fallback can match your branding colors, but make sure those colors are also accessible. If marketing, design, or branding doesn’t like the default focus ring styles, then it is time to start having conversations and collaborate with them on the best way of adding it back in.

What is focus-visible?

The pseudo class, :focus-visible, is just like our default :focus pseudo class. It gives the user an indicator that something is being focused on the page. The way you write :focus-visible is cut and dry:

:focus-visible { /* ... */ }

When using :focus-visible with a specific element, the syntax looks something like this:

.your-element:focus-visible { /*...*/ }

The great thing about using :focus-visible is you can make your element stand out, bright and bold! No need to worry about it showing if the element is clicked/tapped. If you choose not to implement the class, the default will be the user agent focus ring which to some is undesirable.

Backstory of focus-visible

Before we had the :focus-visible, the user agent styling would apply :focus to most elements on the page; buttons, links, etc. It would apply an outline or “focus ring” to the focusable element. This was deemed to be ugly, most didn’t like the default focus ring the browser provided. As a result of the focus ring being unfavorable to look at, most authors removed it… without a fallback. Remember, when you remove :focus, it decreases usability and makes the experience inaccessible for keyboard users.

In the current state of the web, the browser no longer visibly indicates focus around various elements when they have focus. The browser instead uses varying heuristics to determine when it would help the user, providing a focus ring in return. According to Khan Academy, a heuristic is, “a technique that guides an algorithm to find good choices.”

What this means is that the browser can detect whether or not the user is interacting with the experience from a keyboard, mouse, or trackpad and based on that input type, it adds or removes the focus ring. The example in this post highlights the input interaction.

In the early days of :focus-visible we were using a polyfill to handle the focus ring created by Alice Boxhall and Brian Kardell, Mozilla also came out with their own pseudo class, :moz-focusring, before the official specification. If you want to learn more about the early days of the focus-ring, check out A11y Casts with Rob Dodson.

Focus Importance

There are plenty of reasons why focus is important in your application. For one, like I stated above, we as ambassadors of the web have to make sure we are providing the best, accessible experience we can. We don’t want any of our users guessing where they are while they are navigation through the experience.

One example that always comes to mind is the Two Blind Brothers website. If you go to the website and click/tap (this works on mobile), the closed eye in the bottom left corner, you will see the eye open and a simulation begins. Both the brothers, Bradford and Bryan Manning, were diagnosed at a young age with Stargardt’s Disease. Stargardt’s disease is a form of macular degeneration of the eye. Over time both brothers will be completely blind. Visit the site and click the eye to see how they see.

If you were in their shoes and you had to navigate through a page, you would want to make sure you knew exactly where you were throughout the whole experience. A focus ring gives you that power.


The demo below shows how :focus-visible works when added to your CSS. The first part of the video shows the experience when navigating through with a mouse the second shows navigating through with just my keyboard. I recorded myself as well to show that I did switch from using my mouse, to my keyboard.

Video showing how the heuristics of the browser works based on input and triggering the focus visible pseudo class.

The browser is predicting what to do with the focus ring based on my input (keyboard/mouse), and then adding a focus ring to those elements. In this case, when I am navigating through this example with the keyboard, everything receives focus. When using the mouse, only the input gets focus and the buttons don’t. If you remove :focus-visible, the browser will apply the default focus ring.

The code below is applying :focus-visible to the focusable elements.

:focus-visible { outline-color: black; font-size: 1.2em; font-family: serif; font-weight: bold; }

If you want to specify the label or the button to receive :focus-visible just prepend the class with input or button respectively.

button:focus-visible { outline-color: black; font-size: 1.2em; font-family: serif; font-weight: bold; } /*** OR ***/ input:focus-visible { outline-color: black; font-size: 1.2em; font-family: serif; font-weight: bold; } Support

If the browser does not support :focus-visible you can have a fall back in place to handle the interaction. The code below is from the MDN Playground. You can use the @supports at-rule or “feature query” to check support. One thing to keep in mind, the rule should be placed at the top of the code or nested inside another group at-rule.

<button class="button with-fallback" type="button">Button with fallback</button> <button class="button without-fallback" type="button">Button without fallback</button> .button { margin: 10px; border: 2px solid darkgray; border-radius: 4px; } .button:focus-visible { /* Draw the focus when :focus-visible is supported */ outline: 3px solid deepskyblue; outline-offset: 3px; } @supports not selector(:focus-visible) { .button.with-fallback:focus { /* Fallback for browsers without :focus-visible support */ outline: 3px solid deepskyblue; outline-offset: 3px; } } Further Accessibility Concerns

Accessibility concerns to keep in mind when building out your experience:

  • Make sure the colors you choose for your focus indicator, if at all, are still accessible according to the information documented in the WCAG 2.2 Non-text Contrast (Level AA)
  • Cognitive overload can cause a user distress. Make sure to keep styles on varying interactive elements consistent
Browser Support

This browser support data is from Caniuse, which has more detail. A number indicates that browser supports the feature at that version and up.

DesktopChromeFirefoxIEEdgeSafari864*No8615.4Mobile / TabletAndroid ChromeAndroid FirefoxAndroidiOS Safari12312412315.4 Links

Managing User Focus with :focus-visible originally published on CSS-Tricks, which is part of the DigitalOcean family. You should get the newsletter.

The Power of :has() in CSS

Fri, 03/29/2024 - 4:07pm

Hey all you wonderful developers out there! In this post we are going to explore the use of :has() in your next web project. :has() is relatively newish but has gained popularity in the front end community by delivering control over various elements in your UI. Let’s take a look at what the pseudo class is and how we can utilize it.


The :has() CSS pseudo-class helps style an element if any of the things we’re searching for inside it are found and accounted for. It’s like saying, “If there’s something specific inside this box, then style the box this way AND only this way.”

:has(<direct-selector>) { /* ... */ }

“The functional :has() CSS pseudo-class represents an element if any of the relative selectors that are passed as an argument match at least one element when anchored against this element. This pseudo-class presents a way of selecting a parent element or a previous sibling element with respect to a reference element by taking a relative selector list as an argument.”

For a more robust explanation, MDN does it perfectly The Styling Problem

In years past we had no way of styling a parent element based on a direct child of that parent with CSS or an element based on another element. In the chance we had to do that, we would need to use some JavaScript and toggle classes on/off based on the structure of the HTML. :has() solved that problem.

Let’s say that you have a heading level 1 element (h1) that is the title of a post or something of that nature on a blog list page, and then you have a heading level 2 (h2) that directly follows it. This h2 could be a sub-heading for the post. If that h2 is present, important, and directly after the h1, you might want to make that h1 stand out. Before you would have had to write a JS function.

Old School Way – JavaScript const h1Elements = document.querySelectorAll('h1'); h1Elements.forEach((h1) => { const h2Sibling = h1.nextElementSibling; if (h2Sibling && h2Sibling.tagName.toLowerCase() === 'h2') { h1.classList.add('highlight-content'); } });

This JS function is looking for all the h1’s that have a h2 proceeding it, and applying a class of highlight-content to make the h1 stand out as an important article.

New and improved with modern day CSS coming in hot! The capabilities of what we can do in the browser have come a long way. We now can take advantage of CSS to do things that we traditionally would have to do with JavaScript, not everything, but some things.

New School Way – CSS h1:has(+ h2) { color: blue; } Throw Some :has() On It!

Now you can use :has() to achieve the same thing that the JS function did. This CSS is checking for any h1 and using the sibling combinator checking for an h2 that immediately follows it, and adds the color of blue to the text. Below are a couple use cases of when :has() can come in handy.

:has Selector Example 1 HTML <h1>Lorem, ipsum dolor.</h1> <h2>Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet.</h2> <p>Lorem, ipsum dolor sit amet consectetur adipisicing elit. Eius, odio voluptatibus est vero iste ad?</p> <!-- WITHOUT HAS BELOW --> <h1>This is a test</h1> <p>Lorem, ipsum dolor sit amet consectetur adipisicing elit. Eius, odio voluptatibus est vero iste ad?</p> CSS h1:has(+ h2) { color: blue; } :has Selector Example 2

A lot of times we as workers on the web are manipulating or working with images. We could be using tools that Cloudinary provides to make use of various transformations on our images, but usually we want to add drop shadows, border-radii, and captions (not to be confused with alternative text in an alt attribute).

The example below is using :has() to see if a figure or image has a figcaption element and if it does, it applies some background and a border radius to make the image stand out.

HTML <section> <figure> <img src="https://placedog.net/500/280" alt="My aunt sally's dog is a golden retreiver." /> <figcaption>My Aunt Sally's Doggo</figcaption> </figure> </section> CSS figure:has(figcaption) { background: #c3baba; padding: 0.6rem; max-width: 50%; border-radius: 5px; } Can I :has() that?

You can see that :has() has great support across modern browsers.

This browser support data is from Caniuse, which has more detail. A number indicates that browser supports the feature at that version and up.

DesktopChromeFirefoxIEEdgeSafari105121No10515.4Mobile / TabletAndroid ChromeAndroid FirefoxAndroidiOS Safari12312412315.4 :has() in the Community!

I reached out to my network on Twitter to see how my peers were using :has() in their day-to-day work and this is what they had to say about it.

“One example I have is styling a specific SVG from a 3rd party package in @saucedopen because I couldn’t style it directly.”

This is what Nick Taylor from OpenSauced had to say about using :has(). svg:has(> #Mail) { stroke-width: 1; }

Lol the last time I used it I was building keyboard functionality into a tree view, so I needed to detect states and classes of sibling elements, but it wasn’t in Firefox yet so I had to find another solution. &#x1fae0;

Abbey Perini from Nexcor Food Safety Technologies, Inc.

It is great to see how community members are using modern CSS to solve real world problems, and also a shout out to Abbey using it for accessibility reasons!

Things to Keep in Mind

There are a few key points to keep in mind when using :has() Bullet points referenced from MDN.

  • The pseudo-class takes on specificity of the most specific selector in its argument
  • If the :has() pseudo-class itself is not supported in a browser, the entire selector block will fail unless :has() is in a forgiving selector list, such as in :is() and :where()
  • The :has() pseudo-class cannot be nested within another :has() 
  • Pseudo-elements are also not valid selectors within :has() and pseudo-elements are not valid anchors for :has()

Harnessing the power of CSS, including advanced features like the :has() pseudo-class, empowers us to craft exceptional web experiences. CSS’s strengths lie in its cascade and specificity…the best part, allowing us to leverage its full potential. By embracing the capabilities of CSS, we can drive web design and development forward, unlocking new possibilities and creating groundbreaking user interfaces.


The Power of :has() in CSS originally published on CSS-Tricks, which is part of the DigitalOcean family. You should get the newsletter.

Accessible Forms with Pseudo Classes

Fri, 03/22/2024 - 8:52am

Hey all you wonderful developers out there! In this post, I am going to take you through creating a simple contact form using semantic HTML and an awesome CSS pseudo class known as :focus-within. The :focus-within class allows for great control over focus and letting your user know this is exactly where they are in the experience. Before we jump in, let’s get to the core of what web accessibility is.

Form Accessibility?

You have most likely heard the term “accessibility” everywhere or the numeronym, a11y. What does it mean? That is a great question with so many answers. When we look at the physical world, accessibility means things like having sharps containers in your bathrooms at your business, making sure there are ramps for wheel assisted people, and having peripherals like large print keyboards on hand for anyone that needs it.

The gamut of accessibility doesn’t stop there, we have digital accessibility that we need to be cognizant of as well, not just for external users, but internal colleagues as well. Color contrast is a low hanging fruit that we should be able to nip in the bud. At our workplaces, making sure that if any employee needs assistive tech like a screen reader, we have that installed and available. There are a lot of things that need to be kept into consideration. This article will focus on web accessibility by keeping the WCAG (web content accessibility guidelines) in mind.

MDN (Mozilla Developer Network)

The :focus-within CSS pseudo-class matches an element if the element or any of its descendants are focused. In other words, it represents an element that is itself matched by the :focus pseudo-class or has a descendant that is matched by :focus. (This includes descendants in shadow trees.)

This pseudo class is really great when you want to emphasize that the user is in fact interacting with the element. You can change the background color of the whole form, for example. Or, if focus is moved into an input, you can make the label bold and larger of an input element when focus is moved into that input. What is happening below in the code snippets and examples is what is making the form accessible. :focus-within is just one way we can use CSS to our advantage.

How To Focus

Focus, in regards to accessibility and the web experience, is the visual indicator that something is being interacted with on the page, in the UI, or within a component. CSS can tell when an interactive element is focused.

“The :focus CSS pseudo-class represents an element (such as a form input) that has received focus. It is generally triggered when the user clicks or taps on an element or selects it with the keyboard’s Tab key.”

MDN (Mozilla Developer Network)

Always make sure that the focus indicator or the ring around focusable elements maintains the proper color contrast through the experience.

Focus is written like this and can be styled to match your branding if you choose to style it.

:focus { * / INSERT STYLES HERE /* }

Whatever you do, never set your outline to 0 or none. Doing so will remove a visible focus indicator for everyone across the whole experience. If you need to remove focus, you can, but make sure to add that back in later. When you remove focus from your CSS or set the outline to 0 or none, it removes the focus ring for all your users. This is seen a lot when using a CSS reset. A CSS reset will reset the styles to a blank canvas. This way you are in charge of the empty canvas to style as you wish. If you wish to use a CSS reset, check out Josh Comeau’s reset.

*DO NOT DO what is below!

:focus { outline: 0; } :focus { outline: none; }
Look Within!

One of the coolest ways to style focus using CSS is what this article is all about. If you haven’t checked out the :focus-within pseudo class, definitely give that a look! There are a lot of hidden gems when it comes to using semantic markup and CSS, and this is one of them. A lot of things that are overlooked are accessible by default, for instance, semantic markup is by default accessible and should be used over div’s at all times.

<header> <h1>Semantic Markup</h1> <nav> <ul> <li><a href="/">Home</a></li> <li><a href="/about">About</a></li> </ul> </nav> </header> <section><!-- Code goes here --></section> <section><!-- Code goes here --></section> <aside><!-- Code goes here --></aside> <footer><!-- Code goes here --></footer>

The header, nav, main, section, aside, and footer are all semantic elements. The h1 and ul are also semantic and accessible.

Unless there is a custom component that needs to be created, then a div is fine to use, paired with ARIA (Accessible Rich Internet Applications). We can do a deep dive into ARIA in a later post. For now let’s focus…see what I did there…on this CSS pseudo class.

The :focus-within pseudo class allows you to select an element when any descendent element it contains has focus.

:focus-within in Action!
HTML <form> <div> <label for="firstName">First Name</label><input id="firstName" type="text"> </div> <div> <label for="lastName">Last Name</label><input id="lastName" type="text"> </div> <div> <label for="phone">Phone Number</label><input id="phone" type="text"> </div> <div> <label for="message">Message</label><textarea id="message"></textarea> </div> </form> CSS form:focus-within { background: #ff7300; color: black; padding: 10px; }

The example code above will add a background color of orange, add some padding, and change the color of the labels to black.

The final product looks something like below. Of course the possibilities are endless to change up the styling, but this should get you on a good track to make the web more accessible for everyone!

Another use case for using :focus-within would be turning the labels bold, a different color, or enlarging them for users with low vision. The example code for that would look something like below.

HTML <form> <h1>:focus-within part 2!</h1> <label for="firstName">First Name: <input name="firstName" type="text" /></label> <label for="lastName">Last Name: <input name="lastName" type="text" /></label> <label for="phone">Phone number: <input type="tel" id="phone" /></label> <label for="message">Message: <textarea name="message" id="message"/></textarea></label> </form> CSS label { display: block; margin-right: 10px; padding-bottom: 15px; } label:focus-within { font-weight: bold; color: red; font-size: 1.6em; }

:focus-within also has great browser support across the board according to Can I use.


Creating amazing, accessible user experience should always be a top priority when shipping software, not just externally but internally as well. We as developers, all the way up to senior leadership need to be cognizant of the challenges others face and how we can be ambassadors for the web platform to make it a better place.

Using technology like semantic markup and CSS to create inclusive spaces is a crucial part in making the web a better place, let’s continue moving forward and changing lives.

Check out another great resource here on CSS-Tricks on using :focus-within.

Accessible Forms with Pseudo Classes originally published on CSS-Tricks, which is part of the DigitalOcean family. You should get the newsletter.

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