CSS Box Model

In a document, or a website, each element is represented by a regular box. Each of the rectangular boxes has four edges, the margin edge, border edge, padding edge, and content edge. Let’s take a look at the CSS Box Model.

Box Model Components

Image of CSS box model
Source: Wikipedia


  • width: This refers to the width of the content area of the element.
  • height: This refers to the height of the content area of the element
  • padding: Directly surrounding the content area of the element is the padding. The padding can be divided into four different properties, padding-top, padding-right, padding-bottom, and padding-left. Most web browsers give elements a default padding size of 0px.
  • border: The border is the space between the padding and margin. Developers can modify the border-color, border-style, and border-width of an element. These properties can also be specified to its 4 different edges border-top, border-right, border-bottom, and border-left. Most web browsers give elements a default border size of0px`.
  • margin: The margin is the outermost space directly surrounding the border. The margin can be divided into four different properties, margin-top, margin-right, margin-bottom, and margin-left. Most web browsers give elements a default margin size of 16px.

Some web browsers add default padding, border, and margin sizes. To ensure that elements appear in the exact same positioning on all browsers, developers often use the universal selector, *, to reset these property values to 0.

There are a variety of ways to customize the margin, border, and padding size based on the top, bottom, left, and right edges. Let’s take a look at a few examples in code:

div {
    /* This: */
    margin: 20px;
    /* Is the same as: */
    margin-top:20px;
    margin-right:20px;
    margin-bottom:20px;
    margin-left:20px;

    /* This: */
    padding: 10px 20px;
    /* Is the same as: */
    padding-top:10px;
    padding-right:20px;
    padding-bottom:10px;
    padding-left:20px;
}

h1 {
    /* This: */
    margin: 20px 10px 5px;
    /* Is the same as: */
    margin-top:20px;
    margin-right:10px;
    margin-bottom:5px;
    margin-left:10px;
}   

h2 {
    /* This: */
    margin: 10px 20px;
    /* Is the same as: */
    margin-top: 10px;
    margin-right: 20px;
    margin-bottom: 10px;
    margin-left: 20px;
}

:bangbang: Tip: For sizing, you can use a variety of units. The popular units are em, %, or px. Check out MDN Docs on CSS values and units.

You can learn more about the CSS Box Model on MDN Doc.

🐞 Debugging with Chrome Developer Tools

Using a Chrome browser? The DevTools on Chrome is a great resource to help you debug your code, visualize changes in HTML or CSS, and analyze positioning of elements based on the box model.


The DevTools in Chrome is very powerful. We highly recommend you take the time to check out Computational Journalism’s tutorials on elements of a webpage and Chrome DevTools documentation.

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