CSS-ing with Attribute Selectors

This post will be given as a lightning talk with It's posted here so folks can read along.

Attribute selectors are my favorite selectors.

Their specificity is as low as a class. But unlike class — which only supports space-delimited strings with escaped special characters — attribute selectors give you complete control of your selection.

They're so powerful, you can even use them to surgically dissect a class selector.

In five minutes, I'll show you five ways to make practical use of attribute selectors.

First, the syntax #

Attribute selectors can target any attribute. href from an <a> tag, src from an <img> tag, aria- and data- attributes, you name it!

As syntax goes, attribute selectors wrap the name of the target attribute in brackets.

[href] { color: red };

This line turns anything with an href attribute red.

We have to be careful because other elements like <link> also have an href attribute. Combining attributes selectors with other selectors is a common for scoping intent.

a[href] { color: red };

While <links href> is display:none by default, it's a good practice to be explicit with attribute selectors.

Style attributes by value #

So how do we make attribute selectors useful?

We can use them to identify placeholder links by scoping our href selector to anchors with empty or "#" href attributes.

{ color: red }

= selects an exact match for the attribute value. As shown above, we need to add a case for every exact match we want.

But there are other matching techniques.

We can match the beginning of a value as well. Let's add another case for insecure http links:

{ color: red }

^= matches any value that start with the provided string.

Conversely, there's a $= matcher but I don't find it terribly useful. There can be any manner of appendages at the end of a URL.

Fortunately, there is a *= matcher to match a character set anywhere in the attribute value.

Let's use it to turn urls with a fragment identifier green:

a[href^="http:"] { color: red }
+ a[href*="#"] { color: green }

Warning! This selector is inclusive of URLS that only have a pound value, too! Meaning are placeholder links have also turned green.

Not to fear, we can solve this by ensuring that the most specific rule is declared last:

+ a[href*="#"] { color: green }
a[href^="http:"] { color: red }
- a[href*="#"] { color: green }

Style by state #

Styling by attribute means we can style by state as well. Consider the disabled attribute on an input. We can use that to style input[type="text"][disabled].

We can take this approach even further, using aria attributes. One aria label used for navs is aria-current. Let's use it to style mark and style the current page:

color: fuchsia;

Build your own language with data attributes #

Up to this point, we've only used standard element attributes. We can take that further with data attributes.

data is a an attribute prefix that may be used to safely create and utilize new attributes in your code.

Let's wrap all of our debugging selectors into a new data attribute selector: data-debug-links.

+ [data-debug-links] {
a[href*="#"] { color: green }

a[href^="http:"] { color: red }
+ }

Now we can enable or disable this link debugging style by adding the data-dubug-links selector to a descendent.

There's so much more! #

Thanks for watching this quick intro to to data attribute selectors. There is so much more I wish I could share, but I can't.

If you'd like to learn how this can be used to build application stylesheets, checkout my post at

And if you'd like to see the CSS framework I'm building with it, checkout And if you'd like to help me build it. Checkout my YouTube streaming channel at