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Using css3 calc in an attribute value to compute its value at runtime


The CSS calc value in css is relatively new but pretty powerful.The calc value lets you do two important things

  • Perform computation across units.
  • Compute dimentions at runtime.

The calc attribute value can be used anywhere a length, frequency, angle, time, number, or integer value is required.

Before you adopt it in your application, make sure its browser compatibility matches your business requirements.

Basic example

Consider the following snippet

<div class="outer">
  <div class="inner"></div>

And the following snippet of CSS

.outer {
  width: 500px;
  height: 100px;
  background: #dadada;

.inner {
  width: calc(100% - 40px);
  height: 50px;
  margin: auto;
  border: 1px solid blue;

Instead of specifying width directly, we can now compute the width on the fly depending upon the rendered width of the parent. Therfore in this case, the inner div has a width which is 40px less than width of the outer div. And we were able to neatly center align it using a margin of auto.

Here’s the Jsfiddle of the above code.

Creating a chronological timeline

I have always wanted to create a timeline with connectors. Until now, this wasnt possible without doing hacks. But the new calc property makes is so much simpler.

Consider this html structure

<div class="chronology">
    <div class="event">
        <div class="connector"></div>
        <div class="event-details">
            <div class="col-1">
                <div class="baloon">1965</div>
            <div class="col-2">
                <div class="headline">Touch screen technology was invented by E.A. Johnson</div>

Our chronology container can contain several chronological events. Each event has a connector, and two columns. The first colum holds the ballon with the date of the event and the second column holds the description of the event.

Here’s the css that will make this work

.chronology {
    margin: 20px;
.event {
    float: left;
    position: relative;
    padding-bottom: 20px;
.baloon {
    border-radius: 50%;
    color: #768696;
    height: 42px;
    width: 42px;
    text-align: center;
    font-size: 15px;
    margin: 0 30px;
    line-height: 2.6em;
    font-weight: bold;
    border: 2px solid #8A97ED;
    box-sizing: border-box;
.connector {
    position: absolute;
    left: 51px;
    top: 42px;
    width: 2px;
    height: calc(100% - 42px);
    background-color: #8A97ED;
.event-details {
    display: block;
[class|="col"] {
    box-sizing: border-box;
    float: left;
    margin-left: 0;
.col-2 {
    width: 270px;
    position: relative;
.headline {
    width: 250px;

The most important thing in this example was the connector. We needed to subtract the height of the baloon from the connector and position it at just below the baloon so that it extends till the end of the parent event.

Check out this Jsfiddle Demo for the above code.

For the curious among you, here’s the full list of the events that I was trying to map into this visualization.

Ryan Sukale

Ryan is just a regular guy next door trying to manage his life and finances.