CSS Houdini: CSS Typed Object Model

If you work with CSS in JS you will soon discover that all values CSS gives the JS parser are strings that you must parse to get the data you need to continue processing the styles. This is when you use the element.style.attribute syntax.

// Element styles.
el.style.opacity = 0.3;
typeof el.style.opacity === 'string' // Ugh. A string!?

// Stylesheet rules.
document.styleSheets[0].cssRules[0].style.opacity = 0.3;

The CSS Typed Object Model (Typed OM) adds types, methods, and an object model to CSS values. Instead of strings, values are exposed as JavaScript objects to facilitate performant (and sane) manipulation of CSS.

Instead of using element.style, you’ll be accessing styles through a new .attributeStyleMap property for elements and a .styleMap property for stylesheet rules. Both return a StylePropertyMap object.

The functionality of the Stylesheet version of the

// Element styles.
// Set element style
el.attributeStyleMap.set('opacity', 0.3);
// Get the element style's value
// list all style attributes for element
// What kind of element is the value for the element?
typeof el.attributeStyleMap.get('opacity').value

// Stylesheet rules.
const stylesheet = document.styleSheets[0];
stylesheet.cssRules[0].styleMap.set('background', 'blue');

So, why should we care?

  • Numerical values are always returned as numbers, not strings, so you do less work and get consistent results
  • Value clamping & rounding. Typed OM rounds and/or clamps values so they’re within the acceptable ranges for a property
  • Better performance. The browser has to do less work serializing and deserializing string values
  • We can use Javascript error handling for our CSS
  • CSS property names in Typed OM are always strings, matching what you actually write in CSS

Basic Usage: Feature Detection

I’m always one to code defensively. To make sure that the browser supports CSS Typed OM we can use something like the code below to make sure that the browser will work with the code we want to use. If it doesn’t then we can fall back to using the current object model (el.style.attribute).

if (window.CSS && CSS.number) {
  // Work with CSS Typed OM.
  el.attributeStyleMap.set('opacity', 0.3);
} else {
  el.style.opacity = '0.3';

Setting Single Value Attributes

The basic thing to do is to set and retrieve values. Using the attributeStyleMap to set up the values for attributes.

Typed OM provides convenient methods to make it easier to create typed values without having to use strings. Note that some of these values are part of specifications currently under development and may have little or no support among current browsers.

The values in the current Typed OM specification are:

  • Length
    • CSS.em();
    • CSS.ex();
    • CSS.ch();
    • CSS.ic();
    • CSS.rem();
    • CSS.lh();
    • CSS.rlh();
    • CSS.vw();
    • CSS.vh();
    • CSS.vi();
    • CSS.vb();
    • CSS.vmin();
    • CSS.vmax();
    • CSS.cm();
    • CSS.mm();
    • CSS.Q();
    • CSS.in();
    • CSS.pt();
    • CSS.pc();
    • CSS.px();
  • angle
    • CSS.deg();
    • CSS.grad();
    • CSS.rad();
    • CSS.turn();
  • time
    • CSS.s();
    • CSS.ms();
  • frequency
    • CSS.Hz();
    • CSS.kHz();
  • resolution
    • CSS.dpi();
    • CSS.dpcm();
    • CSS.dppx();
  • flex
    • CSS.fr();

For more information about the units listed above check the CSS Values and Units Level 4 specification.

You can also use strings. The parser will convert it to numbers under the hood. The two declarations below are equivalent.

el.attributeStyleMap.set('margin-top', CSS.px(10));
el.attributeStyleMap.set('margin-top', '10px');

Complex Numeric Values

There are times when you need to represent more than a single value, for example when doing something like calc(1em + 10px).

We can get more complex values by using mathematical functions that are part of the Typed OM. The Spec makes the following arithmetic functions available that will return either a typed value or a calc() function depending on the parameters passed.

  • add();
  • sub();
  • mul();
  • div();
  • min();
  • max();
// Multiply 2 values, keep the unit
// {value: 180, unit: "deg"}

// Pick the bigger of the two values
// "max(50%, 50vw)"

// Add to numbers of the same unit
// {value: 3, unit: "px"}

// multiple values:
CSS.s(1).sub(CSS.ms(200), CSS.ms(300)).toString()
// "calc(1s + -200ms + -300ms)"

// or pass a `CSSMathSum`:
const sum = new CSSMathSum(CSS.percent(100), CSS.px(20)));
CSS.vw(100).add(sum).toString() // "calc(100vw + (100% + 20px))"

CSS Math Values

The values created by cssMathValue objects contain one or more mathematical expressions. Notice how we use the toString() method to explicitly convert the values to strings that we can feedback to CSS for it to work consistently.

Also, note that unless we usually get a calc() function that we can drop into the stylesheets to continue manipulating or leave in the stylesheet as the final value.

new CSSMathSum(CSS.vw(100), CSS.px(-10)).toString();
// "calc(100vw + -10px)"

new CSSMathNegate(CSS.px(42)).toString()
// "calc(-42px)"

new CSSMathInvert(CSS.s(10)).toString()
// "calc(1 / 10s)"

new CSSMathProduct(CSS.deg(90), CSS.number(Math.PI/180)).toString();
// "calc(90deg * 0.0174533)"

new CSSMathMin(CSS.percent(80), CSS.px(12)).toString();
// "min(80%, 12px)"

new CSSMathMax(CSS.percent(80), CSS.px(12)).toString();
// "max(80%, 12px)"

Keyword Values

There are values that are not represented by a number + unit combination, like the values for display or inherited. Use CSSKeyWordValue in those cases.

el.attributeStyleMap.set('display', new CSSKeywordValue('initial'));
el.attributeStyleMap.get('display').value // 'initial'
el.attributeStyleMap.get('display').unit // undefined

Retrieving values: attributeStyleMap versus computedStyleMap

We can then retrieve the value (without a unit) or the unit itself.

el.attributeStyleMap.get('margin-top').value  // 10
el.attributeStyleMap.get('margin-top').unit // 'px'

There are situations where the element may have more than a single value like background-image. In this situation, get will only give us the first value for the attribute. Fortunately, we have a getAll method that would return all the values in a map.


Computed Styles versus Attribute Styles

attributeStyleMap gives you the value you entered but this presents one interesting case for me. What happens when we give it a percentage or other relative values like em or rem?

We can use different units defined outside the Typed OM like window.getComputedStyle() to get the resulting value of a property after all parent object values are calculated.

The difference between window.getComputedStyle() (outside the Typed OM) and element.computedStyleMap() (part of the Typed OM) is that the window.getComputedStyle() method gets the value after all calculations have been done. If we need to get the value as we’re working with it then we can use the element.computedStyleMap() method.

CSS Transforms

CSS Transforms are created with aCSSTransformValue objects passing an array of transform values (e.g. CSSRotate, CSScale, CSSSkew, CSSSkewX, CSSSkewY). As an example, say you want to re-create this CSS:

transform: rotateZ(45deg) scale(0.5) translate3d(10px,10px,10px);

Translated into Typed OM:

const transform =  new CSSTransformValue([
  new CSSRotate(CSS.deg(45)),
  new CSSScale(CSS.number(0.5), CSS.number(0.5)),
  new CSSTranslate(CSS.px(10), CSS.px(10), CSS.px(10))

In addition to its verbosity (lolz!), CSSTransformValue has some cool features. It has a boolean property to differentiate 2D and 3D transforms and a .toMatrix() method to return the DOMMatrix representation of a transform:

new CSSTranslate(CSS.px(10), CSS.px(10)).is2D // true
new CSSTranslate(CSS.px(10), CSS.px(10), CSS.px(10)).is2D // false
new CSSTranslate(CSS.px(10), CSS.px(10)).toMatrix() // DOMMatrix

Custom Properties

CSS var() become a CSSVariableReferenceValue object in the Typed OM. Their values get parsed into CSSUnparsedValue because they can take any type (px, %, em, rgba(), etc).

const foo = new CSSVariableReferenceValue('--foo');
// foo.variable === '--foo'

// Fallback values:
const padding = new CSSVariableReferenceValue(
    '--default-padding', new CSSUnparsedValue(['8px']));

If you want to get the value of a custom property, there’s a bit of work to do:

  body {
    --foo: 10px;
  const styles = document.querySelector('style');
  const foo = styles.sheet.cssRules[0].styleMap.get('--foo').trim();
  console.log(CSSNumericValue.parse(foo).value); // 10

CSS Positions

CSSPositionValue objects represent a space-separated list of values, like those used by object-position.

const position = new CSSPositionValue(CSS.px(5), CSS.px(10));
el.attributeStyleMap.set('object-position', position);

console.log(position.x.value, position.y.value);
// → 5, 10

CSS Images

CSSImageValue objects represent one or more values for images, like those used in background-image, list-style-image, and border-image-source. As we discussed earlier these elements may return one or more images as the value so we need to retrieve them with element.attributeStyleMap.getAll() to make sure we capture all the images used in the element.

Parsing values

The Typed OM introduces parsing methods to the web platform! This means you can finally parse CSS values programmatically, before trying to use it! This new capability is a potential lifesaver for catching early bugs and malformed CSS.

Parse a full style:

const css = CSSStyleValue.parse(
    'transform', 'translate3d(10px,10px,0) scale(0.5)');
// → css instanceof CSSTransformValue === true
// → css.toString() === 'translate3d(10px, 10px, 0) scale(0.5)'

Parse values into CSSUnitValue:

CSSNumericValue.parse('42.0px') // {value: 42, unit: 'px'}

// But it's easier to use the factory functions:
CSS.px(42.0) // '42px'

Error handling

Because we’re working with Javascript to

try {
  const css = CSSStyleValue.parse('transform', 'translate4d(bogus value)');
  // use css
} catch (err) {

Links and Resources