Web Applications

Important! !important is a danger sign

Until recently I had never seen the CSS keyword !important used in a production site. However just recently I have seen it in use and also had to use it myself to fix a few cascade issues.

CSS selectors work by assigning a “magic number” that indicates how specific the selector is in relation to the other selectors. Important works by boosting that number by a magnitude or ignoring all other selectors entirely. You can read the exact rules in the specification.

Important is really powerful and as a result you never want to use it. It’s kind of like the CSS A-Bomb, if you ever have to use it, something has gone wrong. The biggest problem with !important is that it can “lock” a style element and make it hard to override it in other cascades. Inevitably this becomes a problem because there is pretty much nothing in CSS that can be regarded as universal in the appearance and rendering of a website.

This then leads to other stylesheets also using !important in their selectors to overcome the earlier !important. This limits their reuse as they now, in turn, export their overly powerful rules and therefore require yet more !important use and so on and so on until every selector has !important on it.

Stylesheets should try to have as weak as possible selectors (without going overboard and perhaps applying some styling information too liberally). This makes them more generally useful as often people only dislike a few elements in a style or an individual page only has a few components that do not gel well with the general style.

I think !important should never be used when creating CSS. There are perhaps two exceptions I can think of: firstly client styles, you know best, fill your boots; secondly, stylesheets that you know represent the real bottom of a cascade. For example an optional stylesheet that renders the site in monochrome can reasonably be expected to represent the final word in a cascade.


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