CSS3 Media Queries – Conditional Directives for Different Media Types

Buy ebook

CSS Mine

Get my e-book focusing on CSS3 and
modern web UI development.

Learn more

The principle is simple: a certain number of CSS declarations will apply only if Media Queries conditions have been met.

Together with fluid layout and fluid media, Media Queries form the three pillars of classic responsive web design.

You might know CSS2 media type conditions, such as: @media print { … }. CSS3 Media Queries extend this idea with media types.


You can insert Media Queries directly into a CSS file:

@media (_conditions_) {
    css code which will apply
    if _conditions_ are met

Or into HTML where the reference to a CSS file is:

<link rel="stylesheet"
  href="mobile.css" media="max-width: 480px">

Minimal/Maximal Height/Width

A typical Media Query looks like this:

@media (max-width: 480px) {
 .container {
    width: auto

The declaration of .container will apply if the viewport width (the visible area of a web page) does not exceed 480 pixels.

Alternatively, you can detect the width of the display screen using: @media (max-device-width: 480px). Unlike using max-width, window resize will not affect it.

Now, let’s get back to the remaining queries based on viewport dimensions. It is not hard to tell what they will look like:

@media (min-width: 100px) { … }
@media (max-height: 100px) { … }
@media (min-height: 100px) { … }

You can try out a live example of Media Queries here: cdpn.io/e/aCBAr.

Logical Operators

You can compose Media Queries using the and operator and thus layer and combine them with media types:

@media screen and (min-width: 400px)
  and (max-height: 600px) { … }

The or operator can be substituted with a comma:

@media (max-width: 400px), print { … }

The not operator is used to negate the result.

Additional Properties for Querying

Detection of high-resolution displays such as Retina, Amoled and other:

    (-webkit-min-device-pixel-ratio: 1.5),
    (min-resolution: 144dpi) {
        background-image: url(image_hd.png);

If the device-pixel-ratio is 1.5 or greater, image_hd.png will be loaded.

There are numerous pixel aspect ratios available (1.25, 1.5, 2, 3, 4). Therefore, I recommend using an SVG vector format instead of bitmap images where possible.

Detecting device orientation. Is the orientation portrait or landscape?

@media (orientation: portrait) { ... }
@media (orientation: landscape) { ... }

Screen aspect ratio condition

@media screen and (device-aspect-ratio: 16/9) { ... }

These are the most common types of queries; however, there are a lot more of them.

Browser Support

IE8 does not support even the simplest Media Query. Fortunately, there are several strategies for handling them without becoming discouraged. But for those strategies, responsive web design could never have come to life in the first place. So if you are scared now, pull yourself together and let’s move on.

Below are three strategies for dealing with the fact that IE8 does not support Media Queries.

  1. Use a Respond.js polyfill. This is well tested and fast enough. Plus, it is used by a very popular framework - Bootstrap.
  2. Declare CSS so IE8’s shortcomings are not a problem. Declare CSS for desktop by default and then put the declarations for smaller displays into Media Queries.
  3. Make use of a CSS preprocessor and then use body classes or compile an extra file for handling older Internet Explorers.




On today’s frontend UI development

UI development transformations

Tools, technologies and workflows

Fallback strategies

CSS3 reference guide


Text properties

Background properties

Border properties

Box properties

Media Queries

CSS transforms

CSS animations

CSS3 Layout

Another CSS3 Properties

Non-standard properties



Buy ebook

CSS Mine

Get my e-book focusing on CSS3 and
modern web UI development.

Learn more