As you advance as a developer, you are more likely to use technologies that help you do more by writing less code. A solid frontend framework like Tailwind CSS is one way to accomplish that.

In this article, we’ll learn about Tailwind CSS — a CSS framework that aids in building and designing web pages. We’ll start by explaining how to install and integrate Tailwind CSS in your project, see some practical applications, and also how you can create your custom styles and plugins.

Excited? Let’s begin!

Check Out Our Video Guide to Using Tailwind CSS To Build Websites

What Is Tailwind CSS?

tailwind-css-homepage
Tailwind CSS.

Tailwind CSS is a utility-first CSS (Cascading Style Sheets) framework with predefined classes that you can use to build and design web pages directly in your markup. It lets you write CSS in your HTML in the form of predefined classes.

We’ll define what a framework is and what we mean by “utility-first CSS” to help you better understand what Tailwind CSS is all about.

What Is a Framework?

As a general programming term, a framework is a tool that provides reusable and ready-made components built from the features of an already existing tool. The overall purpose of creating frameworks is to increase development speed by doing less work.

Now that we’ve established the meaning of a framework, it should help you understand that Tailwind CSS is a tool built upon CSS features. All the framework’s functionalities were derived from CSS styles composed as classes.

What Is a Utility-First CSS Framework?

When we say utility-first CSS, we refer to classes in our markup (HTML) with predefined functionalities. This implies that you only have to write a class with predefined styles attached to it, and those styles will be applied to the element.

In a case where you are working with vanilla CSS (CSS without any framework or library), you would first give your element a class name and then attach different properties and values to that class, which will, in turn, apply styling to your element.

We’ll show you an example. Here, we’ll create a button with rounded corners and a text that says “Click me.” This is what the button will look like:

A rectangular black button with slightly rounded corners and white text that reads "Click me".
Our button.

We’ll first do this using vanilla CSS, and then using utility classes available in Tailwind CSS.

With Vanilla CSS

<button class="btn">Click me</button>

We’ve given button tags the class btn, which will be styled using an external stylesheet. That is:

.btn {
  background-color: #000;
  color: #fff;
  padding: 8px;
  border: none;
  border-radius: 4px;
}

With Tailwind CSS

<button class="bg-black p-2 rounded">Click me</button>

This is all required to achieve the same effect as the example with vanilla CSS. No external stylesheet where you have to write the styles was created because each class name we used already has a predefined style.

Prerequisites for Using Tailwind CSS

Before using Tailwind CSS, there are some prerequisites that you should consider meeting to use the framework’s features without difficulties. Here are a few of them:

Where Can Tailwind CSS Be Used?

You can use Tailwind CSS in frontend web projects, including JavaScript frameworks like React.js, Next.js, Laravel, Vite, Gatsby, etc.

Pros and Cons of Tailwind CSS

Here are some of the advantages of using Tailwind CSS:

  1. Faster development process
  2. Helps you practice your CSS more as the utilities are similar
  3. All utilities and components are easily customizable
  4. The overall file size for production is usually small
  5. Easy to learn if you already know CSS
  6. Good documentation for learning

Some of the disadvantages of using Tailwind CSS include:

  1. Your markup might look disorganized for large projects because all the styles are in the HTML files.
  2. It isn’t easy to learn if you don’t understand CSS well.
  3. You are forced to build everything from scratch, including your input elements. When you install Tailwind CSS, it removes all default CSS styles.
  4. Tailwind CSS is not the best option if you are looking to minimize time spent developing your website’s frontend and mainly focusing on the backend logic.

When to Use Tailwind CSS

Tailwind CSS is best used to speed up the development process by writing less code. It comes with a design system that helps maintain consistency across various design requirements like padding, spacing, and so forth; with this, you do not have to worry about creating your design systems.

You can also use Tailwind CSS if you are looking to use a framework that is easily configurable because it does not force you to use components (navigation bars, buttons, forms, and so forth) in the same way all the time; you get to choose what your components should look like. But you should never use Tailwind if you have not learned and practiced CSS.

Similarities and Differences Between Tailwind CSS and Other CSS Frameworks

Here are a few similarities:

  1. They help you get work done faster.
  2. They come with predefined classes.
  3. They were built upon CSS rules.
  4. They’re both easy to learn and use with a working knowledge of CSS.

 

Now let’s look at some of the differences:

  1. Tailwind is different from most frameworks because you have to create your components. For example, Bootstrap has components like navigation bars, buttons, and so forth, but with Tailwind, you have to build all that yourself.
  2. Some frameworks like Bootstrap are not easily customizable, so you are forced to use their design patterns. In Tailwind, you control the flow of everything.
  3. In-depth knowledge of CSS is required to use Tailwind. Writing class names is not enough, since you must combine them as though you were writing vanilla CSS to achieve the same result. All you need to know in most other frameworks is what component will be built out when you use a class name.

How to Get Started With Using Tailwind CSS

Before installing Tailwind CSS and integrating it in your project, make sure that:

  1. You have Node.js installed on your computer to make use of the Node package manager (npm) in the terminal.
  2. Your project is all set up with your files created.

This is what our project structure looks like at the moment:

-Tailwind-tutorial
    -public
        -index.html
        -styles.css
    -src
        -styles.css

Next, start up a terminal for your project and run the following commands:

    npm install -D tailwindcss

The above command will install the Tailwind CSS framework as a dependency. Next, generate your tailwind.config.js file by running the command below:

    npm install -D tailwindcss

The tailwind.config.js file will be empty when created, so we’ve to add some lines of code:

module.exports = {
  content: ["./src/**/*.{html,js}", "./public/*.html"],
  theme: {
    extend: {},
  },
  plugins: [],
};

The file paths provided in the content array will enable Tailwind to purge/remove any unused styles during build time.

The next thing to do is to add the “@tailwind” directives to your CSS file in the src folder — this is where Tailwind generates all of its predefined utility styles for you:

@tailwind base;
@tailwind components;
@tailwind utilities;

The last thing to do is to start the build process by running this command in your terminal:

    npx tailwindcss -i ./src/styles.css -o ./public/styles.css --watch

In the code above, we’re telling Tailwind that our input file is the stylesheet in the src folder and that whatever styles we’ve used have to be built into the output file in the public folder. --watch allows Tailwind to watch your file for changes for an automatic build process; omitting it means we’ve to run that script every time we want to build our code and see the desired output.

Want to do more while writing less code? 👀 A solid frontend framework is one way to accomplish that. Start with Tailwind CSS 👨‍💻Click to Tweet

Using Tailwind CSS

Now that we’ve installed and set up Tailwind CSS for our project, let’s see some examples to understand its application fully.

Flexbox Example

To use flex in Tailwind CSS, you need to add a class of flex and then the direction of the flex items:

    <div class="flex flex-row">
      <button> Button 1 </button>
      <button> Button 2 </button>
      <button> Button 3 </button>
    </div>
Three buttons aligned horizontally using Tailwind CSS's flex-row utility class.
Our three purple buttons.

Using flex-row-reverse will reverse the order in which the buttons appear.

flex-col stacks them above each other. Here is an example:

    <div class="flex flex-col">
      <button> Button 1 </button>
      <button> Button 2 </button>
      <button> Button 3 </button>
    </div>
Three buttons aligned vertically using Tailwind CSS's flex-col utility class.
Our three purple buttons.

Just like the previous example, flex-col-reverse reverses the order.

Grid Example

When specifying columns and rows in the grid system, we take a different approach by passing in a number that will determine how the elements will occupy available space:

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<div class="grid grid-cols-3">
      <button> Button 1 </button>
      <button> Button 2 </button>
      <button> Button 3 </button>
      <button> Button 4 </button>
      <button> Button 5 </button>
      <button> Button 6 </button>
    </div>
Six buttons distributed equally in columns using Tailwind CSS's grid-cols utility class.
Our six purple buttons.

Colors

Tailwind comes with a lot of predefined colors. Each color has a set of different variations, with the lightest variation being 50 and the darkest being 900.

Here is a picture of multiple colors and their HTML hex codes to illustrate this

Tailwind CSS's color variants for Red, Orange, and Amber
Customizing colors from Tailwind’s default palette. (Image source)

We’ll give an example of how you can do this using the red color above to give a button element a background color:

<button class="bg-red-50">Click me</button>
<button class="bg-red-100">Click me</button>
<button class="bg-red-200">Click me</button>
<button class="bg-red-300">Click me</button>
<button class="bg-red-400">Click me</button>
<button class="bg-red-500">Click me</button>
<button class="bg-red-600">Click me</button>
<button class="bg-red-700">Click me</button>
<button class="bg-red-800">Click me</button>
<button class="bg-red-900">Click me</button>

This syntax is the same for all colors in Tailwind except for black and white, which are written the same way but without the use of numbers: bg-black and bg-white.

To add text color, you use the class text-{color}:

<p class="text-yellow-600">Hello World</p>

Padding

Tailwind already has a design system that would help you keep a consistent scale across your designs. All you have to know is the syntax for applying each utility.

The following are utilities for adding padding to your elements:

  • p denotes padding across the whole element.
  • py denotes padding padding-top and padding-bottom.
  • px denotes padding-left and padding-right.
  • pt denotes padding-top.
  • pr denotes padding-right.
  • pb denotes padding-bottom.
  • pl denotes padding-left

To apply them to your elements, you’d have to use the appropriate numbers provided by Tailwind — a bit similar to the numbers that represented color variants in the last section. Here’s what we mean:

<button class="p-0">Click me</button>
<button class="pt-1">Click me</button>
<button class="pr-2">Click me</button>
<button class="pb-3">Click me</button>
<button class="pl-4">Click me</button>

Margin

The predefined utilities for padding and margin are very similar. You have to replace the p with an m:

  • m
  • my
  • mx
  • mt
  • mr
  • mb
  • ml

How to Create a Tailwind CSS Plugin

Even though Tailwind CSS has loads of utilities and design systems already built for you, it’s still possible that you may have a particular functionality that you would like to add to extend what Tailwind can be used for. Tailwind CSS allows us to do this by creating a plugin.

Let’s get our hands dirty by creating a plugin that adds the aqua color and a rotate utility that rotates an element 150º on the X-axis. We’ll make these utilities in the tailwind.config.js file using a little bit of JavaScript.

const plugin = require("tailwindcss/plugin");

module.exports = {
  content: ["./src/**/*.{html,js}", "./public/*.html"],
  theme: {
    extend: {},
  },
  plugins: [
    plugin(function ({ addUtilities }) {
      const myUtilities = {
        ".bg-aqua": { background: "aqua" },
        ".rotate-150deg": {
          transform: "rotateX(150deg)",
        },
      };
      addUtilities(myUtilities);
    }),
  ],

};

Now, let’s break this down. The first thing we did was to import Tailwind’s plugin function:

const plugin = require("tailwindcss/plugin");

Then we went on to create our plugins in the plugins array:

  plugins: [
    plugin(function ({ addUtilities }) {
      const newUtilities = {
        ".bg-aqua": { background: "aqua" },
        ".rotate-150deg": {
          transform: "rotateX(150deg)",
        },
      };
      addUtilities(newUtilities);
    }),
  ],

You might have to rerun the build script after making your plugin.

Now that the plugins have are ready, we can test them:

<button class="bg-aqua rotate-150deg">Click me</button>

If you did everything right, you should have a button with an aqua color with the text rotated to 150º on the X-axis.

Your secret weapon for building and designing web pages? 👀 Tailwind CSS 😌Click to Tweet

Summary

Frameworks are an invaluable option when it comes to speeding up your workflow. They help you build good-looking and professional web pages while maintaining consistency in design. Tailwind CSS provides many utility-forward CSS classes to help take your web design and development to the next level.

This article taught us what Tailwind CSS is and what makes it a framework. We then looked at the installation process and saw a few examples that showed how we could create our custom plugins to extend the existing functionality.

If you’ve followed up to this point, then you now have a basic but solid understanding of how Tailwind works. To get better at using such a utility-first framework, though, you must keep practicing and increase your knowledge of CSS if you don’t have a solid foundation already.

Have you used Tailwind CSS or another CSS framework in the past? Share your thoughts in the comments section!


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