Holy Grail Layout

The Holy Grail Layout is a classic CSS problem with various solutions presented over time. If you're unfamiliar with the history of the Holy Grail layout, this A List Apart article offers a pretty good summary and links to a few of the more well-known solutions.

At its core, the Holy Grail Layout is a page with a header, footer, and three columns. The center column contains the main content, and the left and right columns contain supplemental content like ads or navigation.

Most CSS solutions to this problem aim to meet a few goals:

Unfortunately, because of the nature of these goals and the original limitations of CSS, none of the classic solutions to this problem were ever able to satisfy all of them.

With Flexbox, a complete solution is finally possible.

The HTML

<body class="HolyGrail">
  <header>...</header>
  <div class="HolyGrail-body">
    <main class="HolyGrail-content">...</main>
    <nav class="HolyGrail-nav">...</nav>
    <aside class="HolyGrail-ads">...</aside>
  </div>
  <footer>...</footer>
</body>

The CSS

Geting the center content row to stretch and the footer to stick to the bottom is solved with the same technique shown in the Sticky Footer example. The only difference is the center row of the Holy Grail layout (.HolyGrail-body) needs to be display:flex in order to properly arrange its children.

.HolyGrail {
  display: flex;
  min-height: 100vh;
  flex-direction: column;
}

.HolyGrail-body {
  display: flex;
  flex: 1;
}

Styling three equal-height columns with a fluid center and fixed-width sidebars is just as easy:

.HolyGrail-content {
  flex: 1;
}

.HolyGrail-nav, .HolyGrail-ads {
  /* 12em is the width of the columns */
  flex: 0 0 12em;
}

.HolyGrail-nav {
  /* put the nav on the left */
  order: -1;
}

Being Responsive

The Holy Grail layout came from an era of Web design when pretty much everyone was browsing on a computer. But with the increasing number of mobile devices and the rising popularity of responsive design, the Holy Grail layout has gone mostly out of fashion.

Either way, with Flexbox, creating a mobile-first and mobile-friendly version of the Holy Grail layout is easy. The gist is to simply make the center section flex-direction:column by default and then flex-direction:row for larger screens.

Here's a complete example that is responsive and mobile-first. You can also resize this browser window to see it in action.

.HolyGrail,
.HolyGrail-body {
  display: flex;
  flex-direction: column;
}

.HolyGrail-nav {
  order: -1;
}

@media (min-width: 768px) {
  .HolyGrail-body {
    flex-direction: row;
    flex: 1;
  }
  .HolyGrail-content {
    flex: 1;
  }
  .HolyGrail-nav, .HolyGrail-ads {
    /* 12em is the width of the columns */
    flex: 0 0 12em;
  }
}

View the full source for the HolyGrail component used in this demo on Github.