Bradley Taunt
UI & UX Developer

Tabbed content without JavaScript


Creating tabs is a fairly trivial and common practice in web design, but many times it requires JavaScript to properly implement. Fortunately it is possible to create tabbed content with only using CSS.

View live demo


Sidenote:

While this method is semantic and accessible, you might consider using a pre-existing plugin for tabbed data.

This component tends to feel a little "stiff" compared to more fleshed out variations available. This pure CSS version is better suited as a fallback for when users have disabled JavaScript.

The final product (embedded demo)

This is what we will be building:

You really think you can fly that thing? Yes, Yes, without the oops! You're a very talented young man, with your own clever thoughts and ideas. Do you need a manager? Life finds a way. Life finds a way. Eventually, you do plan to have dinosaurs on your dinosaur tour, right?

God creates dinosaurs. God destroys dinosaurs. God creates Man. Man destroys God. Man creates Dinosaurs. Checkmate... Is this my espresso machine? Wh-what is-h-how did you get my espresso machine?

So you two dig up, dig up dinosaurs? Remind me to thank John for a lovely weekend.

Yeah, but John, if The Pirates of the Caribbean breaks down, the pirates don’t eat the tourists. Jaguar shark! So tell me - does it really exist? I gave it a cold? I gave it a virus. A computer virus. Yeah, but your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn't stop to think if they should.

The HTML

The skeleton for this component is fairly basic - we just need the following structure:

  1. Parent element for each tab item
  2. Default radio input
  3. Label linked to corresponding input
  4. Inner content associated with each tab item
<!-- Simple main container for all elements -->
<div class="tabs">

    <!-- Parent container holding for individual tab item -->
    <div class="tab-item">

        <!-- Default radio input -->
        <input class="tab-input" type="radio" name="tabs" id="tab-1">

        <!-- Label connected to radio input via `id` and `for` attributes -->
        <label class="tab-label" for="tab-1">Tab 1</label>

        <!-- Full inner content of current tab item -->
        <div class="tab-content">Content goes here</div>

    </div>

</div>

Full HTML for reference:

<div class="tabs">

    <div class="tab-item">
        <input class="tab-input" type="radio" name="tabs" id="tab-1">
        <label class="tab-label" for="tab-1">Tab 1</label>
        <div class="tab-content">Content goes here</div>
    </div>

    <div class="tab-item">
        <input class="tab-input" type="radio" name="tabs" id="tab-2">
        <label class="tab-label" for="tab-2">Tab 2</label>
        <div class="tab-content">Content goes here</div>
    </div>

    <div class="tab-item">
        <input class="tab-input" type="radio" name="tabs" id="tab-3">
        <label class="tab-label" for="tab-3">Tab 3</label>
        <div class="tab-content">Content goes here</div>
    </div>

</div>

The CSS

First, we need to set each input, label and inner content into their own parent containers:

/* Main parent that holds all contents */
.tabs {
    height: 100%;
    min-height: 250px;
    position: relative;
}

/* Each tab items (includes heading & content) */
.tab-item {
    display: inline;
}

Next, we will hide the default radio input and design our labels to resemble a basic web tab element. The z-index property on the label is important for how we will be stacking our content on the z-axis (labels above inner content for example).

/* Hide the default radio inputs */
.tab-input {
    position: absolute;
    visibility: hidden;
}

/* The main tab headings */
.tab-label {
    background: white;
    box-shadow: inset 0 -4px 4px rgba(0,0,0,0.02);
    color: lightgrey;
    cursor: pointer;
    display: inline-block;
    font-weight: 600;
    margin: 0 5px 0 0;
    padding: 10px 20px;
    position: relative;
    text-align: center;
    z-index: 0;
}

The main inner content of each tab needs to have an absolute position set as it’s default, since the one currently selected will switch to relative on mobile (more on that in a moment):

/* The inner tab content */
.tab-content {
    background: white;
    bottom: 0;
    box-shadow: 0 6px 8px rgba(0,0,0,0.02);
    left: 0;
    overflow: scroll;
    padding: 20px;
    position: absolute;
    right: 0;
    top: 50px;
    z-index: 0;
}

The final step is just telling the browser to style both the label and inner content of the currently selected radio input:

/* Style the currently selected tab label */
.tab-input:checked + .tab-label {
    border: 1px solid #eee;
    border-bottom: 0;
    box-shadow: 0 -6px 8px rgba(0,0,0,0.02);
    color: #268bd2;
    z-index: 2;
}

/* Show the currently selected tab content */
.tab-input:checked ~ .tab-content {
    border: 1px solid #eee;
    z-index: 1;
}

It’s as simple as that! For reference, here is the entire CSS file for easier access:

/* Main parent that holds all contents */
.tabs {
    height: 100%;
    min-height: 250px;
    position: relative;
}

/* Each tab items (includes heading & content) */
.tab-item {
    display: inline;
}

/* Hide the default radio inputs */
.tab-input {
    position: absolute;
    visibility: hidden;
}

/* The main tab headings */
.tab-label {
    background: white;
    box-shadow: inset 0 -4px 4px rgba(0,0,0,0.02);
    color: lightgrey;
    cursor: pointer;
    display: inline-block;
    font-weight: 600;
    margin: 0 5px 0 0;
    padding: 10px 20px;
    position: relative;
    text-align: center;
    z-index: 0;
}

/* The inner tab content */
.tab-content {
    background: white;
    bottom: 0;
    box-shadow: 0 6px 8px rgba(0,0,0,0.02);
    left: 0;
    overflow: scroll;
    padding: 20px;
    position: absolute;
    right: 0;
    top: 50px;
    z-index: 0;
}

/* Style the currently selected tab label */
.tab-input:checked + .tab-label {
    border: 1px solid #eee;
    border-bottom: 0;
    box-shadow: 0 -6px 8px rgba(0,0,0,0.02);
    color: #268bd2;
    z-index: 2;
}

/* Show the currently selected tab content */
.tab-input:checked ~ .tab-content {
    border: 1px solid #eee;
    z-index: 1;
}

Don’t forget about mobile

With only a few extra lines of CSS we can ensure that our custom tabs will stack on top of each other and look solid on mobile devices:

@media(max-width:38em) {
    .tab-label {
        display: block;
        width: 100%;
    }
    .tab-content {
        display: none;
    }
    .tab-input:checked ~ .tab-content {
        bottom: auto;
        display: block;
        position: relative;
        top: auto;
    }
}

One minor caveat

Even though I’m a pretty big fan of implementing tabs this way, there is a small drawback:

The height of the inner content doesn’t grow dynamically since it defaults as absolute, so a min-height or height value is required on the parent element. This could become a problem in certain situations where you don’t have the luxury of setting a static height.

Other than that, enjoy building some JavaScript-free tabs!