Kilian Valkhof

Building tools that make developers awesome.

:root isn’t global

CSS & HTML, 1 May 2023, 2 minute read

Most developers prefer to keep all their CSS custom properties in one place, and a pattern that has emerged in recent years is to put those on :root, a pseudo-class that targets the topmost element in your document (so that's always <html> on web pages). But just because they're in one place and in the topmost element, it doesn't mean they're global.

I first encountered this issue with ::backdrop: Backdrop doesn't inherit from anywhere but after a recent rendering engine update to Polypane I noticed that all my custom selection colors (also powered by CSS custom properties) suddenly stopped working.

Turns out, ::selection is also not supposed to inherit styles, and Chromium 111+ is running an experiment to see what effect changing that has. Polypane runs with experimental features turned on, and so my selection styles became broken.

This is going to catch a lot of people off-guard because I, like many others, expect CSS Custom properties defined on :root to just be available everywhere.

So if :root isn't global, what is?

Well, the jury's still out.

Discussions are happening in this GitHub issue: Custom properties on :root with a few options being discussed:

That last item would solve both the problems people run into (it not inheriting, and it potentially inheriting directly from :root so you can't overwrite custom properties in the cascade). I hope spec writers choose to do this regardless.

Specifically, I want/expect this to work:

p {
    --selection-bg: #0f0;
    &::selection {
        background: var(--selection-bg);

When it comes to "a place to store global variables" I have no strong opinion, though I think it's interesting to keep in mind that in JavaScript there is now window, global and globalThis because the naming across contexts didn't work.

In that light, :document or @document seem potentially problematic. For that reason, I like @global or :global (I haven't actually seen :global as a pseudo-class suggested yet, but it seems to be closest to how people expect things to work now).

In the mean time, you can use the suggestion I made in my ::backdrop post and replace :root { } with :root, ::backdrop, ::selection { }. Sorry about that.

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