What is the difference between block, inline, and inline-block display values in CSS?

What is the difference between block, inline, and inline-block display values in CSS?

CSS is the cornerstone of web design, governing how web content is presented on screen. With numerous properties and values at its disposal, understanding their nuances can make a world of difference in web development. Among them, the display property plays a pivotal role. Let’s delve into three of its critical values: block, inline, and inline-block.


The CSS display property dictates the layout behavior of an element in the rendering model. In simpler terms, it establishes how an element occupies space and interacts with its surroundings on a web page. Making an informed decision on which display value to use can lead to intuitive layouts, streamlined designs, and optimal user experiences.

Block-level elements


Block-level elements are akin to building blocks in a construction project. They take up the full width available, akin to a horizontal block, regardless of the content they encase. What’s more, they create a clear distinction by forcing a line break both before and after themselves.

Common Examples

Some of the familiar block-level elements you’ll encounter include:

  • <div>
  • <h1> to <h6>
  • <p>
  • <ul>
  • <li>

Key Characteristics

  • Full Width Occupation: Regardless of the content, they expand to occupy the entire width of their parent container.
  • New Line Starts: They always begin on a new line and ensure the following element starts on the next line too.
  • Dimension Control: Setting width and height directly affects the element’s dimensions.
  • Margins and Paddings: Both horizontal and vertical margins and paddings are effective, and they can influence the space between block elements.

Inline-level elements


In contrast, inline-level elements are more like words in a sentence; they situate themselves within the content flow. They do not start a new line and only span as much width as the content they encapsulate necessitates.

Common Examples

Here are a few typical inline-level elements:

  • <span>
  • <a>
  • <img>
  • <strong>
  • <em>

Key Characteristics

  • Within Content Flow: They fit snugly amidst the content, seamlessly integrating without breaking the flow.
  • Width and Height Ignored: Assigning width and height typically has no effect.
  • Margins and Paddings: While horizontal margins and paddings apply, vertical ones don’t impact spacing. Instead, they might overflow surrounding content.

Inline-block elements


Imagine combining the best of both block and inline elements, and you get inline-block. These elements flow within content, like inline elements, but retain the ability to have dimensions, akin to block elements.

Key Characteristics

  • Placed Inline: Despite having block-like properties, they’re placed in line with the content.
  • Dimension Application: Width and height values can be set and will directly affect the element’s dimensions.
  • Margins and Paddings: Both horizontal and vertical margins and paddings are recognized, allowing for greater layout control.
  • Vertical Alignment: Unlike block elements, inline-block elements can be vertically aligned with respect to their neighboring inline or inline-block elements using the vertical-align property.

Use Cases and Scenarios

One of the fundamental aspects of web design is understanding how HTML elements are displayed on the page. The CSS display property plays a crucial role in this, and it offers a few key values: block, inline, and inline-block. So, when should you use each?


Block-level elements, as the name suggests, take up the full width of their parent container, pushing the subsequent content to the next line. They are perfect for creating sections, dividers, or containers that stack vertically. For instance, when you’re trying to wrap a group of related elements or when you want to set up the main structural components of your site, like headers, footers, and main content areas, block is your go-to choice.

Examples: <div>, <h1>, <p>, <section>


On the other hand, inline elements take up only as much width as necessary and don’t push subsequent content to a new line. They are ideal for styling within text (like making a word bold or italic) or having multiple elements side by side. Imagine you have a paragraph and you want a part of that text to have a different style, you’ll use an inline element.

Examples: <span>, <a>, <strong>, <em>


Inline-block combines the characteristics of both. Elements with inline-block can sit side by side (like inline elements) but can also have specific width and height set (like block elements). This is particularly useful for elements that need to sit in a row but also have specific dimensions, such as buttons or items in a horizontal menu.

Practical Examples and Code Snippets

To visualize the differences:

<!-- Block -->
<div>This is a block element.</div>

<!-- Inline -->
<p>This is a <span>inline element</span> inside a paragraph.</p>

<!-- Inline-block -->
<button style="display: inline-block;">This is an inline-block button</button>

Real-world Use Cases

  • Block: Main content sections, headers, footers, and modal windows.
  • Inline: Highlighted text within paragraphs, links within text, and inline icons.
  • Inline-block: Navigation menus, horizontally aligned buttons, and toolbars.

Browser Compatibility

The block, inline, and inline-block values have been around for a long time and are supported in all modern browsers. Older versions of Internet Explorer (IE6 and below) had issues with inline-block. If you need to support these older browsers, you can use a workaround by setting display: inline and applying zoom: 1.

Common Mistakes and Pitfalls

  1. Confusion between Inline and Inline-block: Developers often forget that inline elements can’t have a set width/height, leading to unexpected design outcomes.
  2. Vertical Alignment: inline-block elements can sometimes have alignment issues. Use vertical-align: middle or other values to adjust this as needed.

Related CSS Properties

While block, inline, and inline-block are foundational, CSS has evolved to introduce more layout techniques:

  • Flex: Allows for more complex layouts with elements in a container, aligning and distributing space within them even when sizes are unknown. Great for building components and grid layouts. Read more about flexbox.
  • Grid: Perfect for two-dimensional layouts, both rows, and columns. Offers precise placement and alignment. Explore grid.
  • Table: Useful for tabular data. It can also be repurposed for grid-like layouts, but it’s best to use it for its semantic purpose.


Understanding the nuances between block, inline, and inline-block is crucial for every web developer. It forms the basis of laying out and styling elements. As you advance in your web development journey on codedamn, experimenting with these properties will solidify your grasp on them.

Further Reading and Resources

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