Misunderstanding @tailwindcss/typography costs me 2 hours

Minh-Phuc Tran on Jan 2, 2021

tailwindcss

css

webdev

beginners

After falling in love with Tailwind CSS, I incorporated it into my website. However, there's one thing that is both nice and annoying about Tailwind CSS is that it has a very opinionated CSS reset, which clears pretty much all default styles. I understand Tailwind creators' rationale for it, having everything reset to "no style" means all styles are consciously implemented by you, there's no surprise. So, I said "Okay, I guess I have to implement my own 'default style' then.".

Why having default style?

There's a reason why browsers had default styles:

Imagine going back to the time when there was no CSS, only HTML.

HTML was first created to write and share stories, that's why we had h1, h2, h3, p, strong, em, etc, and because of their meanings (heading, paragraphs, strong, emphasized, etc), there should visual way to express these meanings to readers (who don't know HTML tags).

This style of writing is still mainstream on the web, most contents on the web are still articles with headings, paragraphs, images, etc. Markdown was also created to make this type of writing easier, every Markdown token is basically a mapping to an HTML tag.

So, for a blog, these default styles are a must.

What does the implementation look like?

Implementing default styles isn't difficult, however it takes time to make things look good, especially for edge cases when these elements are stacked or nested together. Here is my very simple one that took me ~2 hours:

CSS3
@layer base {
  main {
    @apply container max-w-2xl mx-auto my-10 px-4 lg:px-0;
  }
  h1,
  h2,
  h3,
  h4,
  h5,
  h6 {
    @apply font-medium pt-5 mb-2;
  }
  h1 {
    @apply text-5xl;
  }
  h2 {
    @apply text-4xl;
  }
  h3 {
    @apply text-3xl;
  }
  h4 {
    @apply text-2xl;
  }
  h5 {
    @apply text-xl;
  }
  h6 {
    @apply text-lg;
  }
  p {
    @apply font-normal text-base mb-4;
  }
  blockquote {
    @apply bg-gray-100 my-6 pt-4 pb-px px-3 border-l-8 border-gray-300;
  }
  ol,
  ul {
    @apply mb-4 pl-8;
  }
  ol {
    @apply list-decimal;
  }
  ul {
    @apply list-disc;
  }
  ol ol,
  ol ul,
  ul ol,
  ul ul {
    @apply mb-0;
  }
  ul ul,
  ol ul {
    list-style-type: circle;
  }
  pre {
    @apply mb-4 p-5 overflow-auto;
    background: #f5f2f0; /* for consistency with Prismjs theme */
  }
  code {
    @apply bg-gray-100 text-sm font-bold p-1 rounded-sm;
  }
  code:before,
  code:after {
    @apply font-normal text-xs;
    content: "`";
  }
  pre code {
    @apply bg-transparent font-normal p-0;
  }
  pre code::before,
  pre code:after {
    content: none;
  }
  hr {
    @apply my-4;
  }
  a {
    @apply text-blue-500;
  }
  img {
    max-width: 100%;
    vertical-align: middle;
  }
}

Tailwind's team implemented these styles . Surprise?

After having implemented the above styles, I was okay but wasn't really happy about how it looked, so I went around to see what others did for some inspiration.

And, I found people suggesting the official plugin @tailwindcss/typography. I'd already known that Tailwind CSS supported plugins and also knew it was the only official plugin. However, because of the name, I thought it was something for us to customize fonts, which wasn't my problem. But guess what, @tailwindcss/typography was built exactly for the above reason - to provide "good" default styles for typical writing HTML tags . All you need to do is install @tailwindcss/typography, put that into the tailwindcss.config.js#plugins, and add class prose to your document top-level tag.

HTML5
<article class="prose">
  <h1>Heading 1</h1>
  <p>Lorem ipsum</p>
  <!-- ... All tags inside will by styled properly-->
</article>

The plugin supports a good amount of common scenarios: nested lists, lists with paragraphs, code blocks, and even tables (which I didn't have time to implement). It also allows developers to extend and customize default styles quite easily.

So, comparing @tailwindcss/typography with my implementation was a no-brainer. And I guess I've wasted 2 hours of my time because of the name. Anyway, I learned a hard lesson that I'll remember for the rest of my life:

Typography is not just about font styles. Typography is about making written content legible, readable and appealing when displayed.

Subscribe to the newsletter

Get emails from me about software development, SaaS, and early access to new articles.