My New Favorite Technique For Hiding Overflowing Text

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As web developers, we should build our sites so they accommodate variable lengths of text. You have to be sure that your markup looks just as good with a 50 character username as it does with a 5 character one. In the past, this was only possible by slicing text on the server side, or with JavaScript, but today we can do it only with CSS thanks to properties like max-width and text-overflow.

In this short tutorial, I will show you my new favorite technique which fades overflowing text gracefully into the background.

The Idea

By setting a max-width value, overflow:hidden and an :after pseudo element, we can achieve the effect that you can see in the demo. Here is what each of these will help us with:

  • The element will increase its width freely, until it hits the value set by max-width.
  • At that point, all excess text will be hidden thanks to the overflow:hidden property.
  • To prevent the text from breaking to a new line, we use white-space:nowrap.
  • To create a smooth transition between the text and the background color of the element, we will use an :after pseudo element. This element will have a linear-gradient that goes from transparent to the color of the background. This element is positioned to the right of the container, and becomes visible only when the element expands.

I find this technique better looking than the plain text-overflow:ellipsis as more of the text is actually shown, and it blends nicely with the design of the page. However it comes at the cost that it takes more lines of CSS, and you have to manually set the maximum width. In some cases, the extra effort is worth it when the goal is a cleaner design.

The Code

To set the stage, we should first write a few lines of HTML:


<input type="text" value="This text will expand" />
<h2><span id="elem" class="overflow-300"></span> and this will shift to the side.</h2>

The text input is only needed in order to give the visitor the ability to change the content easily, otherwise they would have to use their browser's developer tools. The element which has the overflow technique applied, is the #elem span. I have given it a class called overflow-300, which we will use to implement the technique in our CSS.


h2 span{
    vertical-align: top;

A thing to keep in mind, is that we can not set a width or max-width on an element which is set to display:inline (the default display of span elements). This necessitates that we give it a display of inline-block. And here is the technique itself:

    white-space: nowrap;

    position: absolute;

    margin-left: -40px;
    width: 40px;
    background:linear-gradient(to right, rgba(240, 244, 245, 0), rgba(240, 244, 245, 1));

If you were to change the max width of the element, you would also need to change the left value of the :after element.

Lastly, we have some jQuery that will listen for the text input event on the textbox, and update the contents of the span:



    var elem = $('#elem'),
        textbox = $('input[type=text]');

    textbox.on('input', function(){


With this, our sweet text overflow technique is ready! Do you have suggestions or other handy techniques? Share them in the comment section.

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It would have been better, if I was able to select entire text using <s>keyboard</s> mouse . Serves no purpose, rather than just a demo.

Ahmad Alfy

Recently I started using text-overflow: ellipsis; extensively because it's widely supported.