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[css-grid] Could a simpler subgrid lead to more implementer interest?

From: Francois Remy <frremy@microsoft.com>
Date: Wed, 20 Jan 2016 19:05:51 +0000
To: "Eric A. Meyer" <eric@meyerweb.com>, "fantasai@inkedblade.net" <fantasai@inkedblade.net>, www-style list <www-style@w3.org>
Message-ID: <BN3PR0301MB08839CC8F0FD5FE75974E84ED6C20@BN3PR0301MB0883.namprd03.prod.outlook.com>
Hi www-style,

While I read a lot of drama around subgrid being essential to grid layouts and yet actively dismissed by implementers, I wanted to provide some helpful feedback about why I didn't consider implementing subgrids in my css grid polyfill, as those reasons may be also relevant to other implementers. I wanted to provide as well a simpler subgrid alternative that eases most of my concerns and could possibly lead to a better balance between expected usefulness of subgrids and the implementation effort required for them. Comments are of course welcome!

So, what is so difficult about subgrids?

1.       Since subgrids can contain subgrids, technically it is possible to have to align on the main grid all descendants of the grid container through nested subgrids

2.       Each subgrid layer can have its own padding and margin, so you have to keep track of possibly a high amount of information to layout correctly the descendants in the main grid

3.       Worse, when mistakes happen and subgrids have to resort to an implicit grid, they can potentially imbalance the whole main grid stack, and create completely buggy layouts, since there are no strong boundaries on the edges of the subgrid. Technically, I am pretty sure a subgrid item can even force to create an implicit grid track on the main grid.

In general, I believe subgrids are too powerful, force implementations to cover a lot of edge cases which ultimately make the whole thing a pain to implement. Firstly, dealing with the implicit grid in subgrids is a pain, as well as margin and paddings. Secondly, the layout of subgrids cannot be done, even partially, in parallel with the main grid, since the tracks have no inner definition on the subgrid, which means the entire layout has to be defined on the parent grid, that's awful if you have more than one possible item variant. Finally, there are a lot of second-order issues you have to deal with. What do you do when subgrids have different row-gaps? What do you do about positioned elements and their anchors? Technically they are laid out in the main grid but they are also children of their parents who could have position:relative... Those questions are not easy to answer and I am not sure the spec answers them all.

Meanwhile, I see only two reasons to use subgrids, one which is usually possible to achieve using display:contents and one which is usually possible to achieve using a flexbox, but none are easily achieved using those hacks in more complex cases. I welcome new use cases to validate my perspective on this, though:

1.       Semantic grouping of elements belonging to the same grid
This is the label/input example that has been shown before, where you want to group your input inside your label for semantic purpose, but want the input to be laid out on the parent grid. In this case, you should be able to use "display:contents" to solve those use cases, but maybe not always if you rely on a more complex pattern where you need to stack things on top of your input, like a validation message.


2.       Subtrack alignment of items
In this example, I want items sharing the same semantic being on the same track to have the same height, and align with each other. To make this concrete: given the following product-demo grid featuring a title (gray), an image (yellow) and a description (red), I want that if any of the title of the products on the first line to wrap in two lines, then all title zones of the items on the same line grow to a two-line height so that the images continue to align visually. Same for descriptions: if any of the description is bigger than the others, the other should grow so the boxes and backgrounds around the descriptions matches. It would be possible to deal with the description-grow-to-fit using a vertical flexbox, but you cannot do that per section using just flex.

The common feature between those two layouts is that the grouping element can be considered like a grid-item on its own, but we want to sub-align its children among themselves.

The reduced-subgrid proposal I would like to make is the following one: when the grid items have been put into their row/column positions, for each set of track where more than one reduced-subgrid element lies, the width and height of the subgrid tracks is automatically increased to the maximum width or height among the corresponding track for all items in the track set which feature the exact same explicit grid layout. Implicit grids, margin, and padding are considered as some kind of subgrid tracks and will be normalized equally (sorry, this is unclear but I don't know how to explain it using words, pictures will help).

Here is an example of what I propose:

             H1 ...
             FIGURE ...
             P ...
             H1 ...
             FIGURE ...
             P ...
       ...(4 more times)...

..ProductGrid { display: grid; grid-template-columns: 33% 33% 33%; }
..ProductGrid > .ProductGridItem {
    display: reduced-subgrid;
    grid-template-rows: auto auto auto;
    grid-template-columns: 1fr;
    padding: 10px;
..ProductGrid > .ProductGridItem > H1 { grid-row: 1 }
..ProductGrid > .ProductGridItem > IMG { grid-row: 2 }
..ProductGrid > .ProductGridItem > P { grid-row: 3 }

The first part of the layout consists in putting the ProductGridItem into cells of the ProductGrid.
The second part is to notice that for the first row, there are three reduced-subgrids sharing the same sub-row structure: padding-1-2-3-padding. The height of each padding-top is then normalized to the max padding-top among those three products (here all are 10px), then the height of the heading rows is set to the tallest heading row, ditto for all following rows and the bottom padding.

This produces the #2 use case I presented before. Producing the #1 use case (LABEL>INPUT column align) using the same methodology doesn't look difficult.

The advantage is that we limit the syncing to one level. Syncing can happen recursively but only one level at a time. This removes some possibilities (if you want to sync the height of each FIGURE>IMG and FIGURE>FIGCAPTION in #2, you can't using my methodology without using display:contents and splitting the FIGURE row in two rows, one for the IMG and one for the FIGCAPTION) but it makes the whole thing way easier to implement. Another advantage is that if an author makes any mistake, the product which has to introduce implicit grid cells will have a different grid layout and will not participate in the alignment, reducing the damage to itself. Since it cannot escape its own cell in the parent grid, it cannot mess up the layout of other grid items by using cells they would otherwise have used.

All in all, this is a tradeoff I would be willing to make to have most subgrid use cases solved in CSS Grid L1 rather than just seeing no implementation of subgrid at all.

What are your thoughts about that? Do you have important use cases which cannot be solved using my reduced-subgrid proposal you want to share? Are you a grid implementer that has other issues with subgrids that are not solved by my proposal?

Best regards,

PS: If anything written here is unclear to you, please ask for clarification. I tried my best to make sense, but the topic isn't easy to talk through using words.
PS2: Sorry, yes, I know, I used an HTML email. Please bear with me...

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Received on Thursday, 21 January 2016 18:45:39 UTC

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