CSS :focus-within

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Using :hover to display additional information or elements is a very useful technique but a big drawback to using the hover pseudo-class is that they are usually not accessibility-friendly. Not everyone uses a mouse and some users have visual impairments, so they rely on screen readers or the keyboard -- two functionality that don't technically hover.

Luckily the CSS spec gives us a gift to pair with :hover: :focus-within. With :focus-within developers can modify styles of elements when an element or its children has keyboard focus!

Consider the following HTML template with default CSS styling:

<ul id="sports">
  <li>
    <label>
      <input type="checkbox" name="sports[]">
      Soccer
      <button class="remove">Remove</button>
    </label>
    <!-- ... -->
  </li>
</ul>
#sports .remove {
  display: none;
}

#sports li:hover .remove {
  display: inline-block;
}

With the code above, hovering over a list item would show the "remove" button. That's great for mouse users but totally useless for keyboard users. Let's fix that using :focus-within:

#sports .remove {
  display: none;
}

#sports li:hover .remove,
#sports li:focus-within .remove {
  display: inline-block;
}

Once focus hits the checkbox, the focus is technically within the list item and thus we can employ :focus-within to show the "remove" button.

Accessibility is something that gets considered last but shouldn't be an afterthought; in a way, :focus-within is a useful ally even when accessibility was an afterthought. Even when considering accessibility up front, :focus-within should be in every developer's toolbox!

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Discussion

  1. I think there’s a missing :hover part of your demonstration above. The remove button will never show on hover as the code is currently written.

    I love demo’s – so I put one together here:
    https://codepen.io/aaronsaray/pen/mZMwRo

  2. The second declaration in this selector:

    #sports li:hover .remove,
    #sports li:focus-within .remove {
      display: inline-block;
    }
    

    …will cause the hover (the one it does support) to not work at all in Internet Explorer 11 — a browser still used by many folks who rely on JAWS or cannot afford new equipment or are trapped in old locked-down corporate environments.

    May be best to split those up into two declarations and perhaps script a thing for IE11 that puts a class (maybe named focus-within) on the container:

    #sports li:hover .remove,
    #sports li.focus-within .remove {
      display: inline-block;
    }
    
    #sports li:focus-within .remove {
      display: inline-block;
    }
    
  3. Maria Blair

    It’s a great CSS rule, thank you for sharing it, but unfortunately it’s not supported in EI or Edge… or many other mobile browsers: https://caniuse.com/#search=%3Afocus-within
    I usually combine my :hover rules with :focus.

  4. That’s pretty cool! It’s a shame that IE11 and even some version of Edge don’t support this – it’s really helpful. I had never heard of it before.

  5. Brandon

    Hi!
    I’m going to be using focus-within to address some accessibility concerns. In order to support IE11, I’m going to try this polyfill: https://www.npmjs.com/package/focus-within-polyfill

    Thank you for your article!

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