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The power of inherit or how to animate pseudo elements

Luckily, I have time to watch screencasts from various conferences. Last few weeks I'm watching videos from Fronteers2012. They are all great and it worths checking out. However, there is something which I found really interesting. It's about animating pseudo elements.

The problem

As you may know only Firefox supports chaining of pseudo classes and elements. For example this doesn't work everywhere.

.box:hover:before {
    font-size: 20px;

Why you ever need this? If it was supported by all the browser, the developers may use this for animating pseudo elements. They are very often used for bullets or icons in front of elements in a list and it will be nice to add transitions there.

The solution

There is a of course a workaround. It involves the usage of inherit value. If you use it, you are basically saying "get the value from my parent element". For example:

<div class="wrapper">

.wrapper {
    color: #0F0;
.p {
    color: inherit;

The color of the text in the paragraph is the same as the one set to the wrapper. That's because we use inherit as a value.

Let's get a real use case. We have a div called .box and text inside it.

<div class="box">
    I'm a box

With pure CSS we are making an icon in front of the text.

.box:before {
    display: block;
    float: left;
    width: 15px;
    height: 15px;
    content: "";
    margin: 3px 12px 0 0;
    background-image: url('...');

This looks great, but we want to animate the bullet. The image used as a background looks like that:

CSS: the power of inherit

I.e. to animate it we just need to change the background-position property and move the background a bit. However, because we can't use .box:hover:before we need to use another approach. On mouse over we could change values on the .box class. The pseudo element is actually a child of it, so if we use inherit we will have an access to the value which we need. Here is what I'm talking about:

.box {
    background-position: 0 0;
.box:before {
    background-position: inherit;
.box:hover {
    background-position: 15px 0;

The background-position property by default is set to 0px 0px. If we hover the box it will become 15px 0px. And because the pseudo element inherits this value it will have the same 15px 0px applied. The box itself doesn't have background, which means that changing backgroud-position doesn't affect anything. Here is the solution in practice:

So, the idea is to find something which is not working for the container, but it is important for the pseudo element. For example, you may use top and left to move the icon. You know that these properties take affect only if you position the element absolutely or it is a fixed one.

.box {

.box:before {
    position: absolute;
    top: inherit;
    left: inherit;
.box:hover {
    top: 20px;
    left: 12px;

top and left doesn't move the box, but they move the bullet.


The credits of this smart solution goes to Roman Komarov. His talk is available at Vimeo.

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