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<pre class='metadata'>
Title: CSS Custom Properties for Cascading Variables Module Level 1
Status: ED
Work Status: Testing
Shortname: css-variables
Level: 1
Group: csswg
TR: https://www.w3.org/TR/css-variables-1/
ED: https://drafts.csswg.org/css-variables/
Previous Version: https://www.w3.org/TR/2015/CR-css-variables-1-20151203/
Previous Version: https://www.w3.org/TR/2014/WD-css-variables-1-20140506/
Previous Version: https://www.w3.org/TR/2013/WD-css-variables-1-20130620/
Previous Version: https://www.w3.org/TR/2013/WD-css-variables-20130312/
Previous Version: https://www.w3.org/TR/2012/WD-css-variables-20120410/
Editor: Tab Atkins Jr., Google, http://xanthir.com/contact, w3cid 42199
Abstract: This module introduces cascading variables as a new primitive value type that is accepted by all CSS properties, and custom properties for defining them.
Default Highlight: css
</pre>
<pre class=link-defaults>
spec:css-syntax-3; type:dfn; text:identifier
</pre>
<h2 id="intro">
Introduction</h2>
<em>This section is not normative.</em>
Large documents or applications
(and even small ones)
can contain quite a bit of CSS.
Many of the values in the CSS file will be duplicate data;
for example,
a site may establish a color scheme
and reuse three or four colors throughout the site.
Altering this data can be difficult and error-prone,
since it's scattered throughout the CSS file
(and possibly across multiple files),
and may not be amenable to Find-and-Replace.
This module introduces a family of custom author-defined properties known collectively as <a>custom properties</a>,
which allow an author to assign arbitrary values to a property with an author-chosen name,
and the ''var()'' function,
which allow an author to then use those values in other properties elsewhere in the document.
This makes it easier to read large files,
as seemingly-arbitrary values now have informative names,
and makes editing such files much easier and less error-prone,
as one only has to change the value once,
in the <a>custom property</a>,
and the change will propagate to all uses of that variable automatically.
<h2 id='defining-variables'>
Defining Custom Properties: the '--*' family of properties</h2>
This specification defines an open-ended set of properties called <a>custom properties</a>,
which, among other things, are used to define the <a lt="substitute a var()">substitution value</a> of ''var()'' functions.
<pre class='propdef'>
Name: --*
Value: <<declaration-value>>
Initial: (nothing, see prose)
Applies to: all elements
Inherited: yes
Computed value: specified value with variables substituted (but see prose for "invalid variables")
Animatable: no
</pre>
<p class=all-media>User Agents are expected to support this property on all media, including non-visual ones.</p>
A <dfn export>custom property</dfn> is any property
whose name starts with two dashes (U+002D HYPHEN-MINUS),
like '--foo'.
The <dfn>&lt;custom-property-name></dfn> production corresponds to this:
it's defined as any valid <a>identifier</a> that starts with two dashes,
except ''--'' itself,
which is reserved for future use by CSS.
<a>Custom properties</a> are solely for use by authors and users;
CSS will never give them a meaning beyond what is presented here.
<div class='example'>
Custom properties define variables,
referenced with the ''var()'' notation,
which can be used for many purposes.
For example, a page that consistently uses a small set of colors in its design
can store the colors in custom properties
and use them with variables:
<pre>
:root {
--main-color: #06c;
--accent-color: #006;
}
/* The rest of the CSS file */
#foo h1 {
color: var(--main-color);
}
</pre>
The naming provides a mnemonic for the colors,
prevents difficult-to-spot typos in the color codes,
and if the theme colors are ever changed,
focuses the change on one simple spot
(the custom property value)
rather than requiring many edits across all stylesheets in the webpage.
</div>
Unlike other CSS properties,
custom property names are <a>case-sensitive</a>.
<div class='example'>
While both '--foo' and --FOO are valid,
they are distinct properties -
using ''var(--foo)'' will refer to the first one,
while using ''var(--FOO)'' will refer to the second.
</div>
Custom properties are <strong>not</strong> reset by the 'all' property.
<span class='note'>We may define a property in the future that resets all variables.</span>
The <a spec=css-values>CSS-wide keywords</a> can be used in custom properties,
with the same meaning as in any another property.
Note: That is, they're interpreted at cascaded-value time as normal,
and are not preserved as the custom property's value,
and thus are not substituted in by the corresponding variable.
Note: While this module focuses on the use of <a>custom properties</a> with the ''var()'' function to create “variables”,
they can also be used as actual custom properties,
parsed by and acted on by script.
It's expected that the CSS Extensions spec [[CSS-EXTENSIONS]]
will expand on these use-cases and make them easier to do.
<h3 id='syntax'>
Custom Property Value Syntax</h3>
The allowed syntax for <a>custom properties</a> is extremely permissive.
The <<declaration-value>> production matches <em>any</em> sequence of one or more tokens,
so long as the sequence does not contain
<<bad-string-token>>,
<<bad-url-token>>,
unmatched <<)-token>>, <<]-token>>, or <<}-token>>,
or top-level <<semicolon-token>> tokens or <<delim-token>> tokens with a value of "!".
In addition, if the value of a <a>custom property</a> contains a ''var()'' reference,
the ''var()'' reference must be valid according to the specified ''var()'' grammar.
If not, the <a>custom property</a> is invalid and must be ignored.
Note: This definition,
along with the general CSS syntax rules,
implies that a custom property value never includes an unmatched quote or bracket,
and so cannot have any effect on larger syntax constructs,
like the enclosing style rule,
when reserialized.
Note: Custom properties can contain a trailing ''!important'',
but this is automatically removed from the property's value by the CSS parser,
and makes the custom property "important" in the CSS cascade.
In other words, the prohibition on top-level "!" characters
does not prevent ''!important'' from being used,
as the ''!important'' is removed before syntax checking happens.
Note: While <<declaration-value>> must represent at least one token,
that one token may be whitespace.
This implies that ''--foo: ;'' is valid,
and the corresponding ''var(--foo)'' call would have a single space as its substitution value,
but ''--foo:;'' is invalid.
<div class='example'>
For example, the following is a valid custom property:
<pre>
--foo: if(x > 5) this.width = 10;
</pre>
While this value is obviously useless as a <em>variable</em>,
as it would be invalid in any normal property,
it might be read and acted on by JavaScript.
</div>
The values of custom properties,
and the values of ''var()'' functions substituted into custom properties,
are <em>case-sensitive</em>,
and must be preserved in their original author-given casing.
(Many CSS values are <a>ASCII case-insensitive</a>,
which user agents can take advantage of by "canonicalizing" them into a single casing,
but that isn't allowed for custom properties.)
The initial value of a <a>custom property</a> is an empty value;
that is, nothing at all.
This initial value has a special interaction with the ''var()'' notation,
which is explained in the section defining ''var()''.
Custom properties are ordinary properties,
so they can be declared on any element,
are resolved with the normal inheritance and cascade rules,
can be made conditional with ''@media'' and other conditional rules,
can be used in HTML's <code>style</code> attribute,
can be read or set using the CSSOM, etc.
Notably, they can even be transitioned or animated,
but since the UA has no way to interpret their contents,
they always use the "flips at 50%" behavior
that is used for any other pair of values that can't be intelligently interpolated.
However, any <a>custom property</a> used in a ''@keyframes'' rule
becomes <dfn>animation-tainted</dfn>,
which affects how it is treated when referred to via the ''var()'' function in an animation property.
<div class='example'>
This style rule:
<pre>
:root {
--header-color: #06c;
}
</pre>
declares a <a>custom property</a> named '--header-color' on the root element,
and assigns to it the value "#06c".
This property is then inherited to the elements in the rest of the document.
Its value can be referenced with the ''var()'' function:
<pre>
h1 { background-color: var(--header-color); }
</pre>
The preceding rule is equivalent to writing ''background-color: #06c;'',
except that the variable name makes the origin of the color clearer,
and if ''var(--header-color)'' is used on other elements in the document,
all of the uses can be updated at once
by changing the '--header-color' property on the root element.
</div>
<div class='example'>
If a <a>custom property</a> is declared multiple times,
the standard cascade rules help resolve it.
Variables always draw from the computed value of the associated custom property on the same element:
<pre>
:root { --color: blue; }
div { --color: green; }
#alert { --color: red; }
* { color: var(--color); }
&lt;p><span style="color: blue">I inherited blue from the root element!</span>&lt;/p>
&lt;div><span style="color: green">I got green set directly on me!</span>&lt;/div>
&lt;div id='alert'>
<span style="color: red">While I got red set directly on me!</span>
&lt;p><span style="color: red">I'm red too, because of inheritance!</span>&lt;/p>
&lt;/div>
</pre>
</div>
<div class='example'>
A real-world example of <a>custom property</a> usage
is easily separating out strings from where they're used,
to aid in maintenance of internationalization:
<pre class='lang-css'>
:root,
:root:lang(en) {--external-link: "external link";}
:root:lang(de) {--external-link: "externer Link";}
a[href^="http"]::after {content: " (" var(--external-link) ")"}
</pre>
The variable declarations can even be kept in a separate file,
to make maintaining the translations simpler.
</div>
<h3 id='cycles'>
Resolving Dependency Cycles</h3>
<a>Custom properties</a> are left almost entirely unevaluated,
except that they allow and evaluate the ''var()'' function in their value.
This can create cyclic dependencies
where a custom property uses a ''var()'' referring to itself,
or two or more <a>custom properties</a> each attempt to refer to each other.
For each element,
create a directed dependency graph,
containing nodes for each <a>custom property</a>.
If the value of a <a>custom property</a> <var>prop</var>
contains a ''var()'' function referring to the property <var>var</var>
(including in the fallback argument of ''var()''),
add an edge between <var>prop</var> and the <var>var</var>.
<span class='note'>Edges are possible from a custom property to itself.</span>
If there is a cycle in the dependency graph,
all the <a>custom properties</a> in the cycle
must compute to their initial value
(which is a guaranteed-invalid value).
<div class='example'>
This example shows a custom property safely using a variable:
<pre>
:root {
--main-color: #c06;
--accent-background: linear-gradient(to top, var(--main-color), white);
}
</pre>
The '--accent-background' property
(along with any other properties that use ''var(--main-color)'')
will automatically update when the '--main-color' property is changed.
</div>
<div class='example invalid-example'>
On the other hand,
this example shows an invalid instance of variables depending on each other:
<pre>
:root {
--one: calc(var(--two) + 20px);
--two: calc(var(--one) - 20px);
}
</pre>
Both '--one' and '--two' now compute to their initial value,
rather than lengths.
</div>
It is important to note that
<a>custom properties</a> resolve any ''var()'' functions in their values at computed-value time,
which occurs <em>before</em> the value is inherited.
In general,
cyclic dependencies occur only when multiple custom properties on the same element refer to each other;
custom properties defined on elements higher in the element tree can never cause a cyclic reference with properties defined on elements lower in the element tree.
<div class='example'>
For example,
given the following structure,
these custom properties are <strong>not</strong> cyclic,
and all define valid variables:
<pre>
&lt;one>&lt;two>&lt;three />&lt;/two>&lt;/one>
one { --foo: 10px; }
two { --bar: calc(var(--foo) + 10px); }
three { --foo: calc(var(--bar) + 10px); }
</pre>
The &lt;one> element defines a value for '--foo'.
The &lt;two> element inherits this value,
and additionally assigns a value to '--bar' using the ''foo'' variable.
Finally,
the &lt;three> element inherits the '--bar' value
<em>after</em> variable substitution
(in other words, it sees the value ''calc(10px + 10px)''),
and then redefines '--foo' in terms of that value.
Since the value it inherited for '--bar' no longer contains a reference to the '--foo' property defined on &lt;one>,
defining '--foo' using the ''var(--bar)'' variable is not cyclic,
and actually defines a value that will eventually
(when referenced as a variable in a normal property)
resolve to ''30px''.
</div>
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-->
<h2 id='using-variables'>
Using Cascading Variables: the ''var()'' notation</h2>
The value of a <a>custom property</a> can be substituted into the value of another property
with the ''var()'' function.
The syntax of ''var()'' is:
<pre class='prod'>
<dfn>var()</dfn> = var( <<custom-property-name>> [, <<declaration-value>> ]? )
</pre>
The ''var()'' function can be used in place of any part of a value in any property on an element.
The ''var()'' function can not be used as
property names,
selectors,
or anything else besides property values.
(Doing so usually produces invalid syntax,
or else a value whose meaning has no connection to the variable.)
<div class='example'>
For example, the following code incorrectly attempts to use a variable as a property name:
<pre>
.foo {
--side: margin-top;
var(--side): 20px;
}
</pre>
This is <em>not</em> equivalent to setting ''margin-top: 20px;''.
Instead, the second declaration is simply thrown away as a syntax error
for having an invalid property name.
</div>
The first argument to the function is the name of the <a>custom property</a> to be substituted.
The second argument to the function, if provided,
is a fallback value,
which is used as the substitution value when the referenced <a>custom property</a> is invalid.
Note: The syntax of the fallback, like that of <a>custom properties</a>, allows commas.
For example, ''var(--foo, red, blue)'' defines a fallback of ''red, blue'';
that is, anything between the first comma and the end of the function is considered a fallback value.
<div class='example'>
The fallback value allows for some types of defensive coding.
For example,
an author may create a component
intended to be included in a larger application,
and use variables to style it
so that it's easy for the author of the larger application
to theme the component to match the rest of the app.
Without fallback,
the app author must supply a value for every variable that your component uses.
With fallback, the component author can supply defaults,
so the app author only needs to supply values for the variables they wish to override.
<pre>
/* In the component's style: */
.component .header {
color: var(--header-color, blue);
}
.component .text {
color: var(--text-color, black);
}
/* In the larger application's style: */
.component {
--text-color: #080;
/* header-color isn't set,
and so remains blue,
the fallback value */
}
</pre>
</div>
If a property contains one or more ''var()'' functions,
and those functions are syntactically valid,
the entire property's grammar must be assumed to be valid at parse time.
It is only syntax-checked at computed-value time,
after ''var()'' functions have been <a lt="substitute a var()">substituted</a>.
To <dfn export lt="substitute a var()|var() substitution">substitute a var()</dfn> in a property's value:
<ol>
<li>
If the <a>custom property</a> named by the first argument to the ''var()'' function is <a>animation-tainted</a>,
and the ''var()'' function is being used in:
* the 'animation' property or one of its longhands,
* the 'display' property, such that after substitution the property would have a value that suppresses the element's box (such as ''display/none'' or ''display/contents'')
treat the <a>custom property</a> as having its initial value for the rest of this algorithm.
<li>
If the value of the <a>custom property</a> named by the first argument to the ''var()'' function
is anything but the initial value,
replace the ''var()'' function by the value of the corresponding <a>custom property</a>.
<li>
Otherwise, if the ''var()'' function has a fallback value as its second argument,
replace the ''var()'' function by the fallback value.
If there are any ''var()'' references in the fallback,
<a lt="substitute a var()">substitute</a> them as well.
<li>
Otherwise,
the property containing the ''var()'' function is <a>invalid at computed-value time</a>.
Note: Other things can also make a property <a>invalid at computed-value time</a>.
</ol>
<div class=note>
Note that <a>var() substitution</a> takes place at the level of CSS tokens [[css-syntax-3]],
not at a textual level;
you can't build up a single token where part of it is provided by a variable:
<pre>
.foo {
--gap: 20;
margin-top: var(--gap)px;
}
</pre>
This is <em>not</em> equivalent to setting ''margin-top: 20px;'' (a length).
Instead, it's equivalent to ''margin-top: 20 px;'' (a number followed by an ident),
which is simply an invalid value for the 'margin-top' property.
Note, though, that ''calc()'' can be used to validly achieve the same thing, like so:
<pre>
.foo {
--gap: 20;
margin-top: calc(var(--gap) * 1px);
}
</pre>
</div>
''var()'' functions are <a lt="substitute a var()">substituted</a> at computed-value time.
If a declaration,
once all ''var()'' functions are substituted in,
is invalid,
the declaration is <a>invalid at computed-value time</a>.
<div class='example'>
For example,
the following usage is fine from a syntax standpoint,
but results in nonsense when the variable is substituted in:
<pre>
:root { --looks-valid: 20px; }
p { background-color: var(--looks-valid); }
</pre>
Since ''20px'' is an invalid value for 'background-color',
this instance of the property computes to ''transparent''
(the initial value for 'background-color')
instead.
If the property was one that's inherited by default,
such as 'color!!property',
it would compute to the inherited value
rather than the initial value.
</div>
<h3 id='invalid-variables'>
Invalid Variables</h3>
When a <a>custom property</a> has its initial value,
''var()'' functions cannot use it for substitution.
Attempting to do so
makes the declaration <a>invalid at computed-value time</a>,
unless a valid fallback is specified.
A declaration can be <dfn>invalid at computed-value time</dfn>
if it contains a ''var()'' that references a <a>custom property</a> with its initial value,
as explained above,
or if it uses a valid <a>custom property</a>,
but the property value,
after substituting its ''var()'' functions,
is invalid.
When this happens,
the computed value of the property is either
the property's inherited value
or its initial value
depending on whether the property is inherited or not, respectively,
as if the property's value had been specified as the ''unset'' keyword.
<div class='example'>
For example, in the following code:
<pre>
:root { --not-a-color: 20px; }
p { background-color: red; }
p { background-color: var(--not-a-color); }
</pre>
the &lt;p> elements will have transparent backgrounds
(the initial value for 'background-color'),
rather than red backgrounds.
The same would happen if the <a>custom property</a> itself was unset,
or contained an invalid ''var()'' function.
Note the difference between this
and what happens if the author had just written ''background-color: 20px'' directly in their stylesheet -
that would be a normal syntax error,
which would cause the rule to be discarded,
so the ''background-color: red'' rule would be used instead.
</div>
Note: The <a>invalid at computed-value time</a> concept exists
because variables can't "fail early" like other syntax errors can,
so by the time the user agent realizes a property value is invalid,
it's already thrown away the other cascaded values.
<h3 id=variables-in-shorthands>
Variables in Shorthand Properties</h3>
The use of ''var()'' functions in <a>shorthand properties</a> presents some unique difficulties.
For non-custom properties,
the value of a shorthand property is separated out into its component <a>longhand properties</a> at parse time,
and then the longhands themselves participate in the <a>cascade</a>,
with the shorthand more-or-less discarded.
If a ''var()'' functions is used in a shorthand, however,
one can't tell what values are meant to go where;
it may in fact be impossible to separate it out at parse time,
as a single ''var()'' function may substitute in the value of several longhands at once.
To get around this,
implementations must fill in longhands with a special, unobservable-to-authors <dfn export>pending-substitution value</dfn>
that indicates the shorthand contains a variable,
and thus the longhand's value is pending variable substitution.
This value must then be cascaded as normal,
and at computed-value time,
after ''var()'' functions are finally substituted in,
the shorthand must be parsed and the longhands must be given their appropriate values at that point.
<a>Pending-substitution values</a> must be serialized as the empty string,
if an API allows them to be observed.
Similarly,
while [[CSSOM]] defines that shorthand properties are serialized
by appropriately concatenating the values of their corresponding longhands,
shorthands that are specified with explicit ''var()'' functions
must serialize to the original, ''var()''-containing value.
For other shorthands,
if any of the longhand subproperties for that shorthand have <a>pending-substitution values</a>
then the serialized value of the shorthand must be the empty string.
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A:::A P::::::::::::::::P I::::::::I
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A:::::A A:::::A P::::::::P I::::::::I
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AAAAAAA AAAAAAAPPPPPPPPPP IIIIIIIIII
-->
<h2 id='apis'>
APIs</h2>
All <a>custom property</a> <a>declarations</a> have the <a for="CSS declaration" spec=cssom>case-sensitive flag</a> set.
Note: Custom properties do not appear on a CSSStyleDeclaration object in camel-cased form,
because their names may have both upper and lower case letters
which indicate distinct custom properties.
The sort of text transformation that automatic camel-casing performs is incompatible with this.
They can still be accessed by their proper name via <a method>getPropertyValue()</a>/etc.
<h3 id='serializing-custom-props'>
Serializing Custom Properties</h3>
Custom property names must be serialized with the casing as provided by the author.
Note: For non-custom properties,
property names are restricted to the ASCII range and are <a>ASCII case-insensitive</a>,
so implementations typically serialize the name lowercased.
<h2 id='changes'>
Changes since the May 6 2014 Last Call Working Draft</h2>
* Serialization of longhands when shorthand uses a variable was defined.
* Link to DOM's definition of "case-sensitive".
* Added example of using variables with '':lang()'' to do simple i18n.
* Clarified that usage of ''var()'' in a custom property must be valid per the ''var()'' grammar.
<h2 id="acks">
Acknowledgments</h2>
<p>
Many thanks to several people in the CSS Working Group for keeping the dream of variables alive over the years,
particularly Daniel Glazman and David Hyatt.
Thanks to multiple people on the mailing list for helping contribute to the development of this incarnation of variables,
particularly
Brian Kardell,
David Baron,
François Remy,
Roland Steiner,
and Shane Stephens.
Privacy and Security Considerations {#priv-sec}
===============================================
This specification defines a purely author-level mechanism for passing styling information around within a page they control.
As such, there are no new privacy or security considerations.