Overview of This Lesson

Media queries are a powerful tool when it comes to responsive web design. You can use a media query to change the layout and styling of elements on a page when the screen size or orienation changes, or even when you print a document. For example, if you wanted to print these pages, it won't include the navigation bar inside each sub-topic, since they're not needed in a printed page. I also change the colour scheme to make certain items easier to see on paper. On my main pages, I even change single column layout to a multi-column layout when the page is viewed on a wide screen.


Before doing this tutorial, it is recommended that you first read about responsive design. It's also helpful if you understand the basics of Flexbox layouts and Grid layouts.

Intro to Media Queries

A media query gives you more control over your page when the user is on smaller devices. It allows you to apply certain styles only when a set of criteria is met, such as the width of the screen, the screen's orientation, or if the page is being printed on a printer.


Below is an example of a media query in an external CSS file. This query defines some styling for any screen device that has a width of 480px or higher. For a device with a screen that is 480px or higher, the element(s) with the class "flex-box" will switch to a flexbox column layout and align flex items on the cross axis so that they stretch their widths to fit the column width.

@media screen and (min-width: 480px) {
  .flex-box {
    flex-direction: column;
    align-items: stretch;

Media queries start with the @media rule and are followed by the criteria you want. These criteria include media types and media features. You can write complex logical expressions using logical operators. Let's take a look at each in the next few sections.

Media Types

Media types allow you to define the type of media or device that a media query should apply to. The styles defined in the media query will only apply to that type or device. For example, you can specify that a media query only apply to digital screens, or only to a printed document.

The current media types are as follows:

For example, a media query that starts with:

@media only print { ... }

will apply only to documents that are printed or in the browser's print preview mode.

Media Features

Media features allow you to define styles for devices with certain features or characteristics, such as screen size, orientation, aspect ratio, resolution, whether or not JavaScript is supported, and several other features.

Features generally have a value associated with them and must be enclosed in parentheses, e.g.

(resolution: 150dpi)

There are many media features you can apply to a media query. You can see a complete list at MDN: @media -- Media Features but here are a few common ones:

Logical Operators

Adding logical operators to your media query criteria allows you to join multiple criteria together. For example, you can specify that a media query apply when viewed on a screen AND when the screen is of a certain size, or you can apply a query when a document is printed OR it's viewed on a monochrome device. Valid logical operators are:

AND Operator

The and operator joins criteria where all criteria must be true in order for the styles in the media query to apply. For example:

@media print and (orientation: landscape)

means that the styling applies to documents that are printed in landscape mode. Both criteria must be true: the document must be printed (or in print preview) and it must be in landscape mode.

OR Operator

The comma is the "or" operator: You can use it when you want to list 2 or more criteria where at least one of thoes criteria must be true. Examples:

@media (orientation: landscape), (min-width: 1098px) { ... }

This query will apply if the page is viewed in landscape mode or on any media type that is 1098px or more in width.

@media print and (orientation: landscape), print and (min-width: 900px) { ... }

This query will apply styling if the document is being printed (or print-previewed) in landscape mode, OR the document is being printed with a width of 900px or higher.

NOT Operator

The not operator is used to negate a criteria. This operator must be the first item in the media query (after the only operator, see below), and it must be followed by a specific media type. For example:

@media not screen and (width: 1098px)

This criteria says to "apply this query only if the screen is NOT equal to 1098 pixels". (Note I've introduced an additional media feature: width)

When using the not operator, note that it applies to an entire criteria. For example:

@media not screen and (orientation: portrait)

The criteria screen and (orientation: portrait) is true if it's a screen in portrait mode. Adding the not operator negates this criteria, so that the query only applies if this criteria is false. In other words, this query will NOT apply if the device is a screen in portrait mode. However, if the page/document is printed (media type print), or it's a screen in landscape mode, the criteria is true and the query will apply.

When using multiple criteria separated by commas, the not operator only applies to the criteria in which it's used, for example:

@media not print and (monochrome), screen and (monochrome) { ... }

In this example, the query will apply styles to a document that is NOT printing in monochome or it's on a device that has a monochrome screen.

ONLY Operator

The only operator is used to indicate that the entire query must match in order to apply any styling (or in other words, "only if you understand the whole query"). We use it to keep older browsers from breaking the page if they don't support media queries. The "only" operator must be the very first word in the media query and MUST be followed by a specific media type. Example:

@media screen and (min-width: 480px) { ... }

Without the "only" operator, an older browser will only see the "screen" criteria in the above example and not the rest. As a result, it will apply the styling to all screens, regardless of the screen width. By adding only, an older browser won't apply the styles at all because it doesn't understand the entire query.

@media only screen and (min-width: 480px) { ... }

Using Media Queries

So where do you place media queries? You have 2 options:

  1. In a separate CSS file that is applied when a media query matches.
  2. In the same CSS file as other CSS styles, where it will only be applied if the query matches.

Separate CSS File Example:

You might prefer keeping your styles for desktop/laptop devices different from those for tablets and smart phones. This can come in handy if you have a set of styles that you like to use for several different sites, and/or you have a completely different set of style rules for larger screens and smaller screens. To make this work, you use a normal <link> element for your stylesheets, and add the media query in the media attribute:

<link rel="stylesheet" href="css/main.css">
<link rel="stylesheet" href="css/tablet.css"
    media="only screen and (min-width: 768px)">
<link rel="stylesheet" href="css/desktop.css"
    media="only screen and (min-width: 1098px)">

In the above example, the main stylesheet is main.css and will be applied to any device that has a screen that's less than 768 pixels wide. The second <link> references tablet.css, which will be applied on screens that are 768 pixels or greater, unless they're 1098 pixels or greater, in which case the last stylesheet, desktop.css, is applied.

This approach works well when you have a completely different stylesheet for different device sizes. If you're only changing a few things like the layout of the page or switching elements between block and inline display, you should instead use a single CSS file with a media query inside it.

Same CSS File Example

For minor changes to a page's styles, you can place a media query inside the same CSS file as the rest of your styles. The media query goes inside the @media rule with it's own code block:

/* assumes a container on the page with 
class="flex-box" to act as the flex container

by default, set flex container to a single, non-wrapping 
column where items stretch to fit the width, 
set minimum width for divs to be 200 pixels */
.flex-box {
  align-items: stretch;
  display: flex;
  flex-flow: column nowrap;
  justify-content: flex-start;

.flex-box > div {
  font-size: 1.1em;
  min-width: 200px;

/* for wider screens, switch to a wrapping row and 
space out the elements, minimum width of divs can be a bit 
wider and have larger font size */                
@media screen and (min-width: 768px) {
  .flex-box {
      align-items: flex-start;
      align-content: space-between;
      flex-flow: row wrap;
  .flex-box > div {
    font-size: 1.5em;
    min-width: 400px;

In the above example, we set up a flex box with a column layout and set the flex items to a minimum width of 200px. When the screen width becomes 768px or more, the main flex box container is changed to a wrapping row layout, and flex box items are made larger.

This approach to media queries is easier when you are changing the layout of the main container and perhaps the behaviour and fize of some items. When using the separate files approach discussed earlier, you'll have to remember to change all your CSS files when making changes that have nothing to do with responsive design. When using this approach in a single CSS file, you don't have to edit multiple files when changing the page's appearance.


  1. Copy the HTML and CSS from the following CodePen into a project called /exercise1: Media Query Exercise 1 CodePen. Add a media query that changes the layout of the page when the screen width is 1098 pixels or more, so that it looks like the image below:
    the aside element is sitting on the left side of its contianer, the article is on the right side; the article takes up most of the width; the header and footer span across the whole width
    Desired result for Exercise 1

    (check your solution to exercise 1)

  2. Copy the code from this codepen for exercise 2 into a project called /exercise 2. Modify the CSS by using a media query to show the row of buttons instead of the selection list and GO button when the page is displayed on a screen that is 768 pixels or more wide.

    (check your solution to exercise 2)

  3. Copy the code from this codepen for exercise 3 into a project called /exercise 3. Add the code to change the appearance as described below:
    • By default, the layout should be a single column and the sets of links should appear in a wrapping row.
      a single column with the header, container of navigation, first article, second article, footer; the links are in rows that wrap
      Desired result for exercise 3a
    • When the screen is 1098 pixels or more wide, display the page as shown in the image below:
      the navigation container on the right side, the header spans across two side-by-side articles; header and articles are to the left of the navigation container; footer spans across the bottom of everything
      Desired result for exercise 3b

    There are two solutions: one with grid template columns, one with grid areas: exercise 3 solution with grid template columns, exercise 3 solution with grid areas