KillerSites Blog

CSS 3 column layout – the holy grail!?

February 5, 2006

I recently was surfing the web and found myself on a popular web standards zealot website. The featured article referred to 3 column CSS based page layout as being the ‘Holy Grail’! My first reaction to this was: geez, how silly this is!

Indeed, a simple thing like a 3 column layout is a challenge – when you don’t use tables. As such, you can find many articles on many web standards zealot websites that attempt to solve this problem. All of them falling short, all of them requiring the use of hacks – hacks that can break and WILL break.


The article in question, though recent, still advocates/demonstrates the use of a hack to get it to work with the most popular browsers … they don’t learn, do they?

I say this because a few months ago, it was discovered by the web community that many commonly used CSS hacks will break in the new, fully standards compliant IE7 … thus breaking countless web standards zealot website’s. So much for saving time and the myth of forward compatibility.


It gets me ‘hot under the collar’ when I see articles that promote the use of CSS hacks – this is bad practice for obvious reasons.

I’ve been warning about this for some time before the IE7 problem. None of these web standards zealots payed me much attention before the IE7 problem came to light; and now after this problem has been well publicized, it seems that these people still have their heads in the sand!


Even in a perfect world, where all the browsers supported the standards perfectly, CSS page-level layout capabilities suck for many types of layouts … HTML tables are much easier to use.

That said, there is a CSS tables specification that works like HTML tables, but no browsers support it! There should be a ‘call to action’ to force browser makers to implement CSS tables.


Tables are grids, and grids are a proven tool for page layout that are used in programming languages (like Java) to create user interfaces. It’s about time that we web-nerds have access to this powerful and flexible system of page layout in CSS. For now, we can use HTML tables.

HTML tables may not be semantically correct, and they may bind your formatting to your page structure, but they will work in all browsers without the need for fragile hacks and they are really easy to use.


Web standards were created to make web design easier for web developers by having the browser makers build their browsers according to a standard specification – the web standards.

As soon as you have to work harder, and have to jump through hoops (use hacks) to make your pages work – the point of the  web standards is lost. It makes no sense to try and force web standards (in ultra-strict terms,) unless the browsers properly support the web standards – they don’t right now.