Matt Kirman

Equal height columns with pure CSS

A common problem when designing for the web is how to create equal height columns. The usual solution is to either resort to JavaScript or CSS absolute positioning, here I will show you how to create equal height columns with pure CSS using the margin, padding and float properties.


The HTML of our page is going to look something like this:

<div id="wrapper">
    <div id="content">
    <div id="sidebar">


Our page is going to be 500px wide, with a 300px content area and a 200px sidebar. The CSS:

#wrapper {
    margin: 0 auto;    /* Center the wrapper horizontally */
    overflow: hidden;
    width: 500px;

#content, #sidebar {
    margin-bottom: -10000px;
    padding-bottom: 100000px;

#content {
    float: right;
    width: 300px;

#sidebar {
    float: left;
    width: 200px;

The Demo

Putting this together you end up with something like this:

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipisicing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

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Why does this work?

The key to creating equal height columns using this method are the overflow: hidden selector on the wrapper and the large padding-bottom and negative margin-bottom. Any padding is hidden when setting the overflow of the container to hidden. Basically, this means that by setting a large enough padding-bottom then we can effectively stretch the background colour of the element to the bottom of the page. If 10000px isn’t enough then just make it even larger.

The large negative margin-bottom then tells the browser where to render the bottom of the box (I think. Don’t quote me on that). If we had set a height of the container this wouldn’t have worked, and without the negative margin-bottom we would have ended up with a container over 10000px tall.

When using this method always make sure that you set the margin-bottom to be equal and negative of the padding-bottom.

And the best bit of this method? If you decide that you now want your sidebar on the right, simply set float: right on the #sidebar and float: left on the #content.