CSS Overflow

When the content of an element overflows (doesn't fit) the element's box, the overflow attribute describes what happens.

Handling Overflowing Content

There are situations where the content of an element may exceed the dimensions of its box. This occurs when the specified width and height properties are insufficient to accommodate the content.

To address this, the CSS overflow property comes into play. It allows you to define how the content should behave when it overflows the element's box. There are four possible values for this property:

  • visible: The "visible" value is the default. It means that the content is not clipped and will be rendered outside the element's box, potentially overlapping other content.
  • hidden: With the "hidden" value, any content that exceeds the dimensions of the element's box is clipped, making the overflowed content invisible.
  • scroll: The "scroll" value clips the overflowing content like "hidden," but it also provides scrollbars to access the clipped content. This allows users to scroll and view the hidden parts of the content.
  • auto: When using the "auto" value, if the content exceeds the element's box, scrollbars will automatically appear to enable users to see the remaining content. If the content fits within the box, no scrollbars will be displayed.

CSS3 also introduces overflow-x and overflow-y properties, which enable independent control of vertical and horizontal clipping.

div {
    width: 250px;
    height: 150px;
    border: 1px solid blue;
div.scroll {            
    overflow: scroll;
div.hidden {
    overflow: hidden;

Handling Text Overflow in CSS3

CSS3 introduced a range of new features for modifying text content, although some of these properties have been in existence for a while. These properties offer precise control over how text is displayed in a web browser.

Hiding Overflow Text

When text cannot wrap, such as when the white-space property is set to nowrap for the containing element or when a single word is too long to fit, like a lengthy email address, text overflow can occur.

You can utilize the CSS3 text-overflow property to determine the display of the overflowing text. To indicate the overflow, you have the option to display or clip the excess text, or display an ellipsis or a custom string in place of the clipped text to convey it to the user. It accepts the values clip, ellipsis, and string.

p {
    width: 470px;
    padding: 10px;
    overflow: hidden;
    white-space: nowrap;
    background: #f2f2f2;
p.clipped {
    text-overflow: clip;
p.ellipses {
    text-overflow: ellipsis;

Warning: Most web browsers don't support the string value for the text-overflow attribute, therefore you should avoid it.

Breaking Overflow Text

Additionally, you can use the CSS3 word-wrap property to break a long word and force it to wrap onto a new line that extends beyond the boundaries of the containing element. It accepts the values normal and break-word.

p {
	width: 230px;
	padding: 10px;
	background: yellow;
	word-wrap: break-word;

Specify Word Breaking Rules

You can also specify the line breaking rules for text using the CSS3 word-break property. It accepts the values normal, break-all, and keep-all.

p.line1 {
	width: 170px;
	padding: 20px;
	background: yellow;
	word-break: break-all;
p.line2 {
	width: 170px;
	padding: 15px;
	background: skyblue;
	word-break: keep-all;


What is the purpose of the CSS overflow property?

The overflow property in CSS is used to control how content that overflows the boundaries of a container element is displayed. It specifies how the content should be handled when it exceeds the available space within the container.

What are the different values that can be used with the overflow property?

The overflow property can be assigned one of the following values:

  • visible: This is the default value. Content that overflows the container's boundaries is not clipped or hidden, and it may extend beyond the container's edges.
  • hidden: Content that exceeds the container's dimensions is clipped and not visible outside the container. This is often used to create hidden content or to prevent overflow from affecting the layout.
  • scroll: The container will always display scrollbars, regardless of whether overflow is present or not. If content overflows, scrollbars allow the user to navigate through the content that is hidden.
  • auto: Scrollbars are displayed only when necessary. If content overflows, scrollbars will appear to allow the user to scroll and see the hidden content.
  • overlay: This value is similar to auto, but it only displays scrollbars when content overflows. Unlike auto, it doesn't reserve space for scrollbars, which can prevent layout adjustments.

How does the overflow property interact with different types of content, like text and images?

The overflow property applies to all types of content within an element. For text, if the content exceeds the container's dimensions and overflow is set to hidden, the excess text will be clipped. Images, too, will be clipped if they exceed the container's dimensions and overflow is set to hidden. In both cases, scrollbars can be used to navigate through the clipped content if overflow is set to scroll or auto.

Can the overflow property be applied to inline elements?

No, the overflow property is generally not applicable to inline elements. It's more commonly used with block-level or inline-block elements. Inline elements, like spans or strong tags, do not have dimensions that can be exceeded, so applying overflow to them wouldn't have any visible effect.

How does the overflow property relate to CSS Flexbox and CSS Grid layouts?

Both CSS Flexbox and CSS Grid can be affected by the overflow property. If an element within a flex or grid container overflows, the behavior of the overflow property will determine how the overflow is handled. For example, you can control whether scrollbars appear or content is hidden using the overflow property within these layout systems.

How can I hide the horizontal overflow of a container while allowing vertical overflow to be scrollable?

To achieve this, you can use the following CSS:

.container {
  overflow-x: hidden; /* Hide horizontal overflow */
  overflow-y: scroll; /* Allow vertical overflow with scrollbars */

This code will hide any content that exceeds the container's width while allowing vertical content to be scrolled.

What is the difference between overflow: hidden and white-space: nowrap when dealing with text overflow?

Both overflow: hidden and white-space: nowrap can affect how text overflows within a container. However, they address different aspects of text overflow:

  • overflow: hidden: This property clips any content that exceeds the container's dimensions, whether it's text or other content. It hides the overflow entirely and does not display scrollbars. This can be useful when you want to hide excess content completely.
  • white-space: nowrap: This property prevents text from wrapping to the next line within the container. It ensures that all the text remains on a single line, and any overflow will extend beyond the container's boundaries. It doesn't hide the overflow but rather allows it to continue in a single line.

How can I create a scrollable area within a fixed-size container using the overflow property?

To create a scrollable area within a fixed-size container, you can use the following CSS:

.scrollable-container {
  width: 300px; /* Set a fixed width */
  height: 200px; /* Set a fixed height */
  overflow: auto; /* Allow both horizontal and vertical scrolling if content overflows */

The value auto indicate, scrollbars will appear when the content exceeds the container's dimensions, allowing users to scroll through the hidden content while keeping the container's size fixed.

When should you use the text-overflow: string value, and can you provide an example?

You should use the text-overflow: string value when you want to display a custom string or character when text overflows the container, instead of the default ellipsis. Here's an example:

.container {
width: 200px; /* Set a fixed width for the container */
overflow: hidden; /* Hide overflowed content */
white-space: nowrap; /* Prevent text from wrapping */
text-overflow: ' [Read More]'; /* Custom string for overflowed text */
border: 1px solid #ccc; /* Add a border for visibility */

In this example, the text-overflow property is set to ' [Read More]', so when the text overflows, it will display "[Read More]" instead of an ellipsis.

How does the text-overflow property interact with other CSS properties, like overflow and white-space?

The text-overflow property interacts with other CSS properties to control text behavior when it overflows its container. Here's a breakdown:

  • overflow: The overflow property with a value of hidden is often used in conjunction with text-overflow. It hides any content that exceeds the container's boundaries, allowing text-overflow to come into play when overflow occurs.
  • white-space: The white-space property is set to nowrap to prevent text from wrapping to a new line. This is important for text-overflow to work as intended because it ensures the text remains on a single line.


CSS overflow empowers developers to control content presentation when it exceeds space, offering options like scrollbars or hiding overflow for an enhanced user experience. Specifically, CSS3 text overflow addresses overflowing text, enabling solutions like truncating with an ellipsis (...) or wrapping onto additional lines for improved readability and layout flexibility. Whether discreetly controlling content with overflow hidden or enabling interactive scrolling with overflow scroll, understanding these CSS properties is crucial for crafting effective and visually pleasing interfaces.

The versatile overflow property in CSS empowers developers to control content behavior when it exceeds its container, offering options like hiding overflow, enabling scrolling, or applying ellipsis for text truncation. Whether it's managing extensive text with ellipsis, hiding overflow content entirely, or allowing scrolling through overflow scroll, CSS equips developers with the flexibility needed to tailor content presentation. Additionally, CSS overflow properties such as hidden or auto provide solutions for optimizing the display of various content types, enhancing the overall user experience.