teaching machines

CS 318 Lab 10 – Absolute and Relative Positioning

Dear students,

There’s immense power in the position property. It is your vehicle for anchoring elements relative to another, animating them on user interactions, providing a heads-up display that is always on screen, and achieving a fluid layout that can bend and flex with the browser window. Today we will explore absolute and relative positioning.

Let’s introduce these with a short example from last night’s Oscars. We’d like to make a page that shows a readable blurb of text, but when the viewer mouses over the movie name, an image of the movie’s poster pops up. Here’s our first go:

Best Picture went to Moonlight<img src="http://t3.gstatic.com/images?q=tbn:ANd9GcT53B_Wizqekgv5U9fetXZc_7FmMFzp5MpeEodcyTOiugrjV7iP" width="200">.
Best Supporting Actress went to Viola Davis in Fences<img src="http://t0.gstatic.com/images?q=tbn:ANd9GcRt-j2EYdJQHgR4kf077h3lHPz_h6-JHBIDYv7v-sB1x5lD6rj6" width="200">.

Let’s first get the images out the flow of text. We’ll add them into a class called popup:

Best Picture went to Moonlight<img src="http://t3.gstatic.com/images?q=tbn:ANd9GcT53B_Wizqekgv5U9fetXZc_7FmMFzp5MpeEodcyTOiugrjV7iP" width="200" class="popup">.
Best Supporting Actress went to Viola Davis in Fences<img src="http://t0.gstatic.com/images?q=tbn:ANd9GcRt-j2EYdJQHgR4kf077h3lHPz_h6-JHBIDYv7v-sB1x5lD6rj6" width="200" class="popup">.

Then let’s add absolute positioning to bust them free:

.popup {
  position: absolute;

Does this put them where we want them? No. Absolute positioning anchors an element against in closest ancestor that has non-static positioning. For us, that’s body. We want to anchor it against the movie title. We need an element for the title, which we’ll drop into class movie:

Best Picture went to <span class="movie">Moonlight<img src="http://t3.gstatic.com/images?q=tbn:ANd9GcT53B_Wizqekgv5U9fetXZc_7FmMFzp5MpeEodcyTOiugrjV7iP" width="200" class="popup"></span>.
Best Supporting Actress went to Viola Davis in <span class="movie">Fences<img src="http://t0.gstatic.com/images?q=tbn:ANd9GcRt-j2EYdJQHgR4kf077h3lHPz_h6-JHBIDYv7v-sB1x5lD6rj6" width="200" class="popup"></span>.

We also need to give it non-static positioning. We don’t want it to be bust free from its parent element as is done with absolute, so we use the milder relative:

.movie {
  position: relative;

Since we don’t set top, right, bottom, or left, the movie span just appears in its usually location.

How do the movie posters look now? They clobber the text. Let’s tweak popup to shove them down below the text:

.popup {
  position: absolute;
  top: 18pt;
  left: 0;

Better? Let’s do one more thing. Let’s hide the posters, but in a bit we’ll display them when the viewer hovers over the text. Let’s also make the text look like a link:

.movie {
  position: relative;
  color: blue;
  text-decoration: underline: 

.popup {
  position: absolute;
  top: 18pt;
  left: 0;
  visibility: hidden;

How do we handle the mouse hovering? We can use the hover pseudoselector:

.movie:hover {
  color: red;

Then we can use a descendent selector to toggle the visibility:

.movie:hover .popup {
  visibility: visible;

Here’s your TODO list for next time:

  • Read chapter 7 in your book. On a quarter sheet, share 2-3 questions or observations from your reading. Consider having one of them be a layout for one of your project’s pages. Identify the main structural divs and their float, clear, or position values.

See you then!



First create a lab10 directory. Add a partners.html and include your first names and last initials.

Bulletin Board

Create a bulletin board that shows three Polaroid photos of animals:

The Polaroid effect is not in the original images, but we’ll use CSS to add it in. Here’s your checklist:

  • Find and download three animal images. Use an image editor to crop them square.
  • Design your page in board.html.
  • Make all elements use the border-box sizing policy with this CSS rule:
    * {
      box-sizing: border-box;
    Consider this an automatic first step in all your CSS endeavors.
  • Add in a repeating background of a cork bulletin board. Like this one.
  • Add in three divs with class photo.
  • Give each photo three child elements: an animal img, a pushpin img, and a div of class label containing the animal’s name.
  • Manipulate the photos’ spatial properties to produce a Polaroid-like white frame. Notice the asymmetry. Size all images to be identical. Place them all on the same line, but space them apart from one another.
  • Resize the pushpin image to a reasonable scale using CSS.
  • Position the pushpin at the top center of each photo. Use absolute positioning, which anchors an element against its closest non-static parent element. So, make photo non-static—use relative positioning instead. Then, anchor the image’s left, right, and top to 0 units away from the parent. The image should appear in the upper-left. Center it by setting the left and right margins to auto.
  • Style the animal’s name to make it look like it was written in permanent marker. Search the internet for “free Sharpie fonts”, download one, and move it to your lab10 directory. Declare this new font in your CSS with @font-face:
    @font-face {
      font-family: Marker;
      src: url(filename.ttf);
    Replace filename.ttf with the actual name of your font file. Then style label to use this font with font-family: Marker.
  • Position the labels using absolute positioning so that they are centered within the bottom strip of the Polaroid frame. Pin them to the left, right, and bottom boundaries of their parents. Set the font size to be a little smaller than the height of the strip. We usually use pt units for sizing text, but px units work better here because you probably used a px value to size the frame. Tweak the bottom offset to vertically center the label.
  • Add a drop shadow to the photos. Place the light source at the upper-left to match the lighting of the pushpin.
  • Perturb the photos so they aren’t so uniform. The photos should already have relative positioning. Give each a unique ID. Then individually adjust their top and left values to offset them a bit from their gridded location. Rotate them using the transform property:
    transform: rotate(5deg);


Create a page that shows a staff listing like this:

Note how when the mouse hovers over a photo, it depresses. We can do that with CSS!

Here’s your checklist:

  • Locate a collection of four headshots from an organization of your choosing. There’s probably no need to download the images. Just copy out the URLs.
  • To turn the photo into a circular cutout, we’ll need the image to be in the background rather than as an img element. Create a single div of class photo and with a unique ID, and set its background image to one of your headshots.
  • Arrange photo as an inline block.
  • Size photo to be 200×200 pixels. Set the size of the background image to match. You could use 200px as the image size, but if you resize photo later, you’ll need to also update the background size to keep it in sync. So, use a relative measure instead: 100%.
  • Produce the circular cropping using border-radius. Again, 100px would do the job, but we’d like to avoid repeating these numbers. What percentage should you use?
  • Add the remaining three headshots. Arrange the photos in 2×2 grid of divs. Space them apart.
  • Add a drop shadow to photo. Make it light and fuzzy, as we will make it crisper in the next step when the image is hovered over to give a buttonish feel.
  • “Push” the image in when the mouse hovers over it. For this, we’ll use a CSS pseudoselector:
    .photo:hover {
    This lets us apply rules to the photo class that take effect only when the mouse hovers over it. What rules do we want to affect? Let’s first make the shadow darker, smaller, and less fuzzy, as it would appear if the picture was pushed closer to the page.
  • The shadow isn’t enough to feel like we’re pushing the image in. Let’s also offset the image a little to the right and down. First, give photo relative positioning. Then in the hover rule, perturb its top and left offsets a bit.
  • Now let’s add names. Nest divs inside each of the photos, give them class name, and set their content to the people’s names. Increase the font size, make the font sans serif, set the color to something light, and add a darker text shadow to add contrast.
  • To layer the names above the images, give them absolute positioning. Anchor them to the left, right, and bottom boundaries of their parents. Offset the bottom so that the name straddles the image’s frame. Center the text horizontally.


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