Create the accordion effect using CSS3

Recently I have been playing around with CSS transitions and animations as implemented in webkit based browsers such as Safari and Chrome. They have been submitted to the W3C for consideration in the CSS3 spec so hopefully we should see more browsers support this soon, Firefox 3.5 supports CSS transforms which was developed by the webkit people to work alongside CSS animations & transitions.

To continue my effort to accomplish tasks in CSS that are usually reserved for JavaScript, such as my Futurebox and CSS based iPhone orientation detection. I have developed a CSS based version of the popular “accordion effect” that utilises the webkit CSS transitions. Like the Futurebox demo I’m utilising the CSS3 :target pseudo class to know which item to show based the URI fragment identifier (the # in the url).

It should be noted that this works best in a webkit based browser such as Safari 3+, Chrome or iPhone. Other browsers that support the :target pseudo class will still function on the core level but won’t animate the showing and hiding. The following browsers have been tested and work with this demo.

  • Firefox 1.5+
  • Opera 9.6+
  • Safari 3+
  • Chrome 1+
  • IE6+ – IE solution

The xhtml

Section 1

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet...

Section 2

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet...


We setup the accordion using a definition list to create the foundation so we can show and hide the definition data (dd) tag when the user clicks the anchor link inside the definition title (dt) tag.


	padding: 10px;
	min-width: 960px;
	dl dt
		-webkit-border-radius: 5px;
		-moz-border-radius: 5px;
		border: 1px solid #cccccc;
		margin: 0;
		dl dt a
			color: #ffffff;
			font-weight: bold;
			text-decoration: none;
			padding: 10px;
			display: block;
	dl dd
		margin: 0;
		height: 0;
		overflow: hidden;
		-webkit-transition: height 1s ease;
		dl dd p
			padding: 10px;
			margin: 0;
	dl dd:target
		height: auto;
@media (-webkit-transition) {
	dl dd:target
		height: 6.667em;

Pretty simple CSS involved, the dd tag is hidden by setting the height to 0 and the overflow to hidden.

-webkit-transition: height 1s ease;

This property on the dd tag lets webkit browsers know we wish to transition the height value over 1 second period using the ease timing function this transition will only happen when the height of the dd tag is changed. We can also express this in a long hand version.

-webkit-transition-property: height;
-webkit-transition-duration: 1s;
-webkit-transition-timing-function: ease;

To change the height we use the :target pseudo class to set the height of the dd tag to auto so the right content will show based the URI fragment identifier. For webkit browsers it’s a little different.

Webkit media queries

In webkit browsers there are additional media queries available so we can target browsers that support the extended features such as transitions and not affect other browsers. In this demo I use the @media (transition) media query.

Webkit implements this feature by using their -webkit vendor extension so the media query looks like the following

@media (-webkit-transition) {
	dl dd:target
		height: 6.667em;

Unfortunately setting the height of the dd tag to auto will not make it animate although this would be ideal and much more capable of catering for different sized content it’s not possible at the moment. For now we have to set the height to an actual value, to keep the height in line with any text resizing I set the height using em based value so if the user has larger text the height will adjust and won’t cut of any content. The height is 80px we divide by the base font size, which is 12, and we get 6.667em.

What about IE

Unfortunately IE doesn’t support the :target pseudo class and won’t work as describe above, but that didn’t stop me! Take a look at working example that functions in IE6 and up.

This is quite hacky and involves a bit of IE conditional comments.

IE xhtml

Section 1

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet...


As you can see there is conditional comments so I can wrap the dt and dd tag in an anchor so we can get it functioning in IE using the following CSS. I also use the conditional comments to hide the anchor that appears in the dt tag only for IE browsers. IE6 was not functioning with just the anchor around the dd & dt so I added a div inside the anchor. In IE6 the first anchor would surround all the items, the div fixes that. Demo, demo files and example code has been updated to reflect that.


dl { text-decoration: none; }
	dl dd { display: none; }

/* Fix IE6 hover bug */
dl { background-color: #606061 !important; }

dl dt
	color: #ffffff;
	font-weight: bold;
	text-decoration: none;
	padding: 10px;
	display: block;
dl dd,
dl dd,
dl dd
	height: auto;
	color: #cccccc !important;
	display: block;

Pretty simple stuff, set the text-decoration so the content isn’t underlined. We need to hide the dd tag as it causes issues in IE7 and below when trying to hover over any items below the first section. Next a background-color is applied to the :hover pseudo class of the surrounding anchor to fix an issue in IE6 that won’t trigger a hover unless something like a background-color is applied it. To make it work in IE we utilise the :hover, :focus and :active pseudo classes. That way when the user hovers in IE the content gets revealed, we also simulate a “click” by using the :active pseudo class. The :focus pseudo class allows us to make it work by using keyboard navigation, tabbing to the anchor will reveal the content. All the mark-up is XHTML 1.0 Strict complaint.

I think this is a pretty good attempt and best of all it works in all major browser so it can be potentially be used in a production environment.

Post filed under: css.

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  1. Nicely done – especially the keyboard support and IE compatibility.

    I think it could be a good idea to note that using :target anywhere except for on the top of a page can make the page jump (since it’s scrolls to the element you’re targeting), and you might not want that behavior.

  2. mupet says:

    Another great CSS3 tutorial, i like it!

  3. Cedric Dugas says:

    Cool tutorial, but I still think that animation and transition should be a javascript thing, CSS should only be use as display

  4. @Cedric – I think there is certainly a place for CSS animations and they offer advantages over using javascript. e.g. animating a background-image on a navigation item, UI notifications etc. CSS animations a more reserved for adding visual “niceness” to an element.

  5. fantasai says:

    You can have browsers without :target support fall back to height: auto; by using dd:not(:target) instead of just dd.

    • Great idea, although it would be useless as all browsers who support :target also support :not and of course IE supports neither. Support for both these properties has been in Firefox since 1.0 and Safari since 1.3, Opera added support in 9.5 so it’s a pretty safe pseudo selector.

  6. Steve says:

    awesome tutorial. Is there a way to nest these controls? I gave it a quick whirl but could not get the interior set to expand properly.

    • @Steve – Cheers.

      Not really possible to nest these accordion menu’s because of the way the target pseudo class works. As soon as you click a nested item the parent item will lose it’s active styling because the fragment identifier has changed. Unfortunately there is no way to select a parent item using CSS so JavaScript would need to be used to have nested lists work.

  7. Ramon G says:

    great tutorial, but I was just wondering if this could be done by using the and

  8. Ramon says:

    I don’t know why it got cut off.
    You are using dl and dt tags. I was wondering if you could replace it with ol tags and li tags?
    Would it still work.

    • @Ramon – Yeah you’re not restricted to defintion lists you just need an anchor tag that points to the id of the item you wish to show, in your case you could do something like this:

      1. Section 1

        Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet...

      That way your hiding the paragraph and clicking the h3 will append the anchor to the url and trigger the styles for that :target id.

  9. JulienW says:

    Note it works also in recent firefox nightlies : just add a -moz-transition, and put “height: 6.667em” for everyone, and that’s it ! :)

    • @JulienW thanks for that, I did see that Firefox nightly added support for transitions which is great. We now have 3 major browsers that support it and a plethora of other webkit based browsers.

  10. Bhossain says:


    Thank you, it’s working fine.

  11. Meander365 says:

    Love these transitions, but not convinced that the user will be expecting to see previous accordian states when they hit the browsers back button. This could be a usability issue…

    • @Meander365 – That’s one of the drawbacks/features of the :target pseudo-class. But it’s how anchor tags have worked since their inception it’s just that we can now style those interactions and create visual feedback which is new to most users.

  12. David says:

    Thanks for this. It will come in handy in my future web designs.

    Is there a way of having a different amount of text in each section and maintaining the ‘ease’ transition?

    I have changed the “dl dd:target” to have “height: auto”, so that way, it shows all the text, no matter how long. However, this seems to get rid of the ease effect.

    • @David – You could have another container inside the dl that has the same height and just give it overflow: auto so if there is more content it will just show a scroll bar.

      As for closing all of them you’ll need to change the fragment indentifier to something that doesn’t match one on the demo page. Like I do on my futurebox article.

  13. David says:

    Is there a way of returning all sections to closed? or when you click on the section header again, that it closes? Thanks.

  14. Sean says:

    onClick=”document.getElementById(‘text-01′).style.height=’auto’, document.getElementById(‘text-01′).style.height=document.getElementById(‘text-01′).offsetHeight + ‘px'”

    try using that for adjustable height – it worked for me!

  15. shpyo says:

    for me… it’s now practical. To many conditions for IE

  16. johny why says:

    you IE 6 demo does not work consistently for me in IE 8. Should it? Sometimes sections get stuck open when mouse is not near them.

    also, FF requires clicking, is that correct behavior?

    • Johny, that is the intended behaviour for IE. If you click an accordion title it will stay open as I am using the :active pseudo-class, that way you can click to keep it open and you can move the mouse away from the anchor but still read the accordion contents.

      All other browsers, the ones that support the target pseudo-class, require you to click the title in order to open it as target relies on fragment identifiers in the address bar to take effect.

  17. I am trying to use this method for a collapsible monthly calendar with the months as my headings. When the page loads, it automatically scrolls down to the first anchor putting the target at the very top of the browser window, effectively hiding my page header and the month title.

    Is there a way to make the page only scroll when the expanded content extends beyond the open window? The months of January ~ May would be able to expand without the page scrolling, but as one clicks the later months, I would want the page to scroll down to the bottom of the expanded content. Make sense?

    Anyone got an answer? I have to avoid using JavaScript entirely with this.

    • @Terrence D – Unfortunately that is the intended behaviour of an in page anchor link. Without using javascript there is no real way around it.

  18. Iain says:

    Great tutorial, thanks! I’m using it to create a navigation menu but in IE7, as soon as I mouse over an href tag, the accordion closes. Is there a fix I can apply? Thanks again.

  19. Another great CSS3 tutorial, i like it!

  20. Jarrid says:

    I cant get this working in IE. Please email me and help!

  21. maybe i have a good one buddy,,come to my blog

  22. Matt says:

    Is there a way to default so the first item is open?

    • @Matt – Yes you can make any of them open by default by using the fragment identifier in the url. e.g In my demo adding #Section1 to the url will open the first one. The down side of that is if it appears below the fold or down further then the page will jump to that point.

  23. Matt says:

    Thanks – but is there another way such as changing a CSS property using Javascript? I can’t rely on the hash value as people may have already bookmarked the site without it.

  24. Matt says:

    I add this bit of jQuery, but the section remains open even when other sections are opened.

    • @Matt – The reason it’s always staying open is due to the fact you’ve added an inline style to the first dd tag which has the greatest specificity and overrides the target pseudo-class trying to set it back to zero when it’s not active. You’ll have to reset or remove the inline style when any of the other items are clicked.

  25. Fibrewire says:

    am i right in thinking it is impossible to add hyperlinks within the accordian sections when using IE,


    since that would be a hyperlink within what is fundamentally a hyperlink?

    • Links wouldn’t be able to be used inside the accordion for IE. I wouldn’t recommend using the IE solution as it has pretty poor UX. I would recommend to emulate target pseudo-class style functionality in IE with javascript.

  26. Kelsy says:

    It works great in safari but in IE it only shows what’s in the tags and everything else is lost. Is there a way to write a conditional comment without adding anymore html that would allow everything to stay expanded in IE without effecting the webkit transitions for other browsers?

    • @Kelsy – That is a good point and there is a easy solution that doesn’t require conditional comments or any extra markup and only requires one extra line of CSS.

      dl dd:not(:target) { height: 0; }

      All you have to do is remove the height: 0 from the dl dd style block and add a new one using the not. IE doesn’t understand the :not pseudo-class and since the height is no longer set to 0 on dl dd block all accordions in IE8 and down will be expanded.

      I’ve updated the demo and source files to have this change.

  27. Gerlach Firm says:

    Interesting effect, but not sure if i would use it over jQuery for the fact it will not animate in firefox. But very good tut thank you

  28. Gerlach Firm says:

    Very nice, maye i will try this instead of jQuery on my next project. Thank you

  29. strony www says:

    Great tutorial! What browsers supported CSS3?

  30. Alejandro says:

    For a crossbrowser CSS only horizontal accordion menu (optional slide behavior with CSS3 or SMIL for IE) check

  31. Andrew V says:

    Thanks for this! Is it possible to have the selection minimize once you select the bar after it’s expanded?

    • @Andrew V
      No due to the fact that :target pseudo-class relies on an in-page anchor, clicking the link again wouldn’t hide it. You would need to change or remove the fragment identifier in the URL.

  32. petra says:

    it works on Safari, but when i test it on Opera 11, the transition duration doesn’t work. so the dd content will opened directly with no transition duration. can you help me with this?

  33. web design says:

    simple and wonderful accordion effect.

  34. sawebdesigns says:

    great im really impress

  35. Noclegi says:

    Thank you very much this will help moving forward.

  36. Sweet says:

    It’s great effect. I love it:)

  37. take flight says:

    Is there a way to use this modify this code to make it work horizontally?

  38. Bram de Haan says:

    Beside the point of this great tutorial, but anyway one could include a pure CSS dropdown-icon:

    Section 1
    /* Dropdown-icon */
    .dropdown-icon { 
      border-color: #EEE transparent transparent; 
      border-right: 5px dashed transparent; 
      border-style: solid dashed dashed; 
      border-width: 5px 5px 0; 
      display: inline-block; 
      font-size: 0; 
      height: 0; 
      left: 6px; 
      line-height: 0; 
      position: relative; 
      top: 0; 
      width: 0; 
  39. Shawn says:

    I was curious if besides reloading the page, there is a way to load all pleats of the accordion closed. My thing is that I need to have the accordion start off closed and then I need the pleats to close when folks click other pleats, but also, I was hoping to have this set up so that it can close if someone clicks the pleat again. I think that someone else asked a similar question, but I didn’t fully follow the response.


    • Ryan Seddon says:


      Unfortunately due to the nature of anchor links clicking it again won’t remove the anchor from the address bar which the :target pseudo-class relies upon. That sort of functionality would require javascript.

  40. Micha says:

    Hi Ryan,

    sorry for my English I’m from Germany1

    very Nice Tutorial but i have a little problem. I created a list which is larger than my display. If i click on one of the sections my page skips down to the section and this is not very nice.

    I hope you can help me! THANKS A LOT

  41. Fabiola Singh says:

    hello, I implement your accordion in my page, looks good but i have one concern, for some reason the firsts links is hidden, if you try to click on the 2nd o 3rd section i have to move the mouse and scrool up to find the text.

    Thanks for your help.

  42. daniel says:

    I’m having a crack at html5/css3. every example for an accordian results is the page jumping around each time the transition is started,doesn’t work with height:auto; and the extras required for ie are a joke.

    has anyone found a solution for this?

    this is a good tutorial thanks for the efforts, but a terrible solution. html5 is definitely not the flash killer it claims to be.

  43. Very great implementation . You’ve created great tutorials.

    Thanks for sharing!

  44. #nycmixing says:

    Great code!

    I tested your first code in IE9 and it works fine, but all of the windows expand in IE7 versus your second code which only opens windows when you hover over them. Do you have a fix for IE7 for your first code. I’m trying to integrate a CSS accordion that will keep a window open even when the mouse is no longer hovering, but will close when another category is clicked.

    Thank you.

  45. Gilberto Cocchi says:

    Nice, but works only when already defined the height you wanted, that’s bad.
    Mine version of accordion works with variable height, waiting from browser to calculate that. Also handle orientation change etc.
    Works well on webkit browsers, also implemented for browsers that does not support CSS3.

  46. Ali says:

    Very nice accordion example. Thanks for tutorial.

  47. Michael says:

    Hey, I was wondering how can I set individual heights for each drop down?

  48. Olivia says:

    Hi Ryan, this is great.
    How would you do that with the nth-child() sector? or the class name. Like Michael I am in the need to set individual heights…

    • Ryan Seddon says:

      @Olivia – Simplest way would be to add class names to set individual heights on the content.

      dl dd:target.container-1 {
          height: 100px

      You’d do that for each one that requires it’s own height.

      Alternatively I’d recommend looking at my other implementation of bootstrap plugins in CSS. The accordion (collapse) version can handle varying heights in content without having to set individual classes.

  49. Tom says:

    I am trying to make the section title background color change when it is targeted. I have tried varying combinations when dl dd is target and i am able to change the background of each section but not the section title. Could someone please help? I am trying to go from #2d2d2d to #d72130 when it is clicked. THANK YOU!