Floating Behavior

The CSS 2.1 specification provides eight precise rules restricting the positioning of floated objects , which are summarized here. If you need the details, go right to the source, at http://www.w3.org/TR/CSS21/visuren.html#float-position. Eric Meyer provides a useful translation and illustration of the rules in his book Cascading Style Sheets: The Definitive Guide (O’Reilly).

In addition to requiring that floated elements stay within the inner edge (or content area) of their containing blocks, there are a number of rules designed to prevent the overlapping of floated objects.


Browsers (even current standards-conformant browsers) may be inconsistent in the way they handle floated objects due to a certain amount of leeway in the specification and because they follow historical and expected practice. Be sure to test.

Floated elements in close proximity in the source document are not permitted to overwrite one another. Instead, the rules prescribe:

  • If elements are floated in the same direction, each subsequent floated object should move in that direction until it reaches the inner edge of the containing block or until it bumps into another floated element. This rule results in multiple floated elements accumulating against the targeted edge.

  • If there is not enough room for floated elements to appear side by side, then the second floated object should move down until there is enough room for it to display without overlapping the first object.

The effects of these rules ...

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