Combining fluid and fixed elements

As a first quick tutorial, I want to demonstrate an easy way to combine a fluid and a fixed element on the same row. This is something that is encountered more and more often, now that we constantly design responsively for the mobiles and it is easy to achieve with only a couple of css rules.

The old way

A really easy way to achieve this is using tables. You just assign a fixed width on one column and the browser takes care of the width of the other column by itself. Your code would look something like this

<table style="width: 100%;">
      <td>Fluid column</td>
      <td style="width: 300px;">Fixed Column</td>

(see that inline css style? try to avoid that!)

Now this method has 2 serious drawbacks. First of all, it’s non semantic. Tables should be using to present tabular data and not create your layout for you. And second, if you need a second row, with a different fixed width, you need to define another table. Oh and the code is really really ugly.

The better way

Now, there is a better way to do that. The theory behind this method is float both elements, give the one a fixed width, and give the other full row width and enough negative margin, so that it can “pull” the fixed element in the same line, essentially covering part of it. Of course, that part that would be covered should not have content inside it, so we’ll use some padding to make sure of that.

Now, lets start with some code. To make it a bit more practical, lets suppose we are trying to create a row where we have a fixed-width description for an element and the form element itself, which covers the rest of the width. And the example will have the fixed element to the right side, but it is pretty simple to reverse it. First the HTML.

<div class="row with-description clearfix">
   <div class="fluid">
       <input type="text" value="" placeholder="here is your fluid element" />
   <div class="fixed">
       And here is your fixed description

As we can see, this is a lot cleaner than the table implementation earlier. We have a row container, and 2 elements, with the classes .fixed and .fluid. Nothing much to discuss here, everything is pretty straight-forward. And now the CSS:

.row, .row input {
   width: 100%;

.fluid {
   -webkit-box-sizing: border-box; 
   -moz-box-sizing: border-box;
   box-sizing: border-box;

   width: 100%;
   float: left;

.fixed {
   float: right;

.with-description .fluid {
   margin-right: -300px;
   padding-right: 310px;
.with-description .fixed {

Now first of all, we need to define the containers width, which we set to 100%. The .fluid and .fixed elements are of course floated. And the fluid has 100% width as well. Note the box sizing here, which ensured that even if we add padding to the .fluid element, the width will still be 100% and not go over it.

And now, we have the .with-description class. This is where the actual numbers of the fixed class are defined, so you could have multiple of these classes. For example .with-description keeps a 300px fixed column, because we need text in there, but you could have a .with-thumb class keeping only 100px for a thumbnail. How does it work? Of course .fixed element is missing it’s width, so we add it. And we give the exact same negative margin on the .fluid element to pull the 2 elements on the same line. Notice that the padding is not exactly 300px. You can put more if you want to leave a gutter between the 2 elements, and in this case we leave 10px.

And that’s it! You can play with the numbers a bit, or can even move the fixed column to the left pretty easily. And this is definitely a lot cleaner than the table implementation. However, this only works on IE8+, because of the box-sizing usage. To make it work in older browsers, you simply need a wrapper around the .fluid class and putting the padding there instead.

You can find and download the code here

10 Responses to Combining fluid and fixed elements
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