Chapter 3. Structure and the Cascade

Chapter 2 showed how document structure and CSS selectors allow you to apply a wide variety of styles to elements. Knowing that every valid document generates a structural tree, you can create selectors that target elements based on their ancestors, attributes, sibling elements, and more. The structural tree is what allows selectors to function and is also central to a similarly crucial aspect of CSS: inheritance.

Inheritance is the mechanism by which some property values are passed on from an element to its descendants. In determining which values should apply to an element, a user agent must consider not only inheritance but also the specificity of the declarations, as well as the origin of the declarations themselves. This process of consideration is what’s known as the cascade. We will explore the interrelation between these three mechanisms—specificity, inheritance, and the cascade—in this chapter.

Above all, regardless of how abstract things may seem, keep going! Your perseverance will be rewarded.


You know from Chapter 2 that you can select elements using a wide variety of means. In fact, it’s possible that the same element could be selected by two or more rules, each with its own selector. Let’s consider the following three pairs of rules. Assume that each pair will match the same element:

h1 {color: red;} body h1 {color: green;} h2.grape {color: purple;} h2 {color: silver;} html > body table tr[id="totals"] td ul > li {color: ...

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