Stacking context example 3

Description

This last example shows problems that arise when mixing several positioned elements in a multi-level HTML hierarchy and when z-index values are assigned using class selectors.

Let's take as an example a three-level hierarchical menu made from several positioned div elements. Second-level and third-level div elements appear when a user hovers or clicks on their parents. Usually this kind of menu is script-generated either client-side or server-side, so style rules are assigned with a class selector instead of the id selector.

If the three menu levels partially overlap, then managing stacking could become a problem.

The first-level menu is only relatively positioned, so no stacking context is created.

The second-level menu is absolutely positioned inside the parent element. In order to put it above all first-level menus, the z-index property is used. The problem is that for each second-level menu, a stacking context is created and each third-level menu belongs to the context of its parent.

So a third-level menu will be stacked under the following second-level menus, because all second-level menus share the same z-index value and the default stacking rules apply.

To better understand the situation, here is the stacking context hierarchy (the three dots "..." represent multiple repetition of the previous line):

  • Root stacking context
    • LEVEL #1
      • LEVEL #2 (z-index: 1)
        • LEVEL #3
        • LEVEL #3
      • LEVEL #2 (z-index: 1)
      • LEVEL #2 (z-index: 1)
    • LEVEL #1
    • LEVEL #1

This problem can be avoided by removing overlapping between different level menus, or by using individual (and different) z-index values assigned through the id selector instead of class selector, or by flattening the HTML hierarchy.

Note: In the source code you will see that second-level and third level menus are made of several div elements contained in an absolutely positioned container. This is useful to group and position all of them at once.

Example

HTML

<div class="lev1">
  <span class="bold">LEVEL #1</span>

  <div id="container1">
    <div class="lev2">
      <br /><span class="bold">LEVEL #2</span> <br />z-index: 1;

      <div id="container2">
        <div class="lev3"><span class="bold">LEVEL #3</span></div>
        <div class="lev3"><span class="bold">LEVEL #3</span></div>
        <div class="lev3"><span class="bold">LEVEL #3</span></div>
        <div class="lev3"><span class="bold">LEVEL #3</span></div>
        <div class="lev3"><span class="bold">LEVEL #3</span></div>
        <div class="lev3"><span class="bold">LEVEL #3</span></div>
        <div class="lev3"><span class="bold">LEVEL #3</span></div>
        <div class="lev3"><span class="bold">LEVEL #3</span></div>
        <div class="lev3"><span class="bold">LEVEL #3</span></div>
        <div class="lev3"><span class="bold">LEVEL #3</span></div>
        <div class="lev3"><span class="bold">LEVEL #3</span></div>
      </div>
    </div>

    <div class="lev2">
      <br /><span class="bold">LEVEL #2</span> <br />z-index: 1;
    </div>
    <div class="lev2">
      <br /><span class="bold">LEVEL #2</span> <br />z-index: 1;
    </div>
    <div class="lev2">
      <br /><span class="bold">LEVEL #2</span> <br />z-index: 1;
    </div>
  </div>
</div>

<div class="lev1">
  <span class="bold">LEVEL #1</span>
</div>

<div class="lev1">
  <span class="bold">LEVEL #1</span>
</div>

<div class="lev1">
  <span class="bold">LEVEL #1</span>
</div>

CSS

div {
  font: 12px Arial;
}

span.bold {
  font-weight: bold;
}

div.lev1 {
  width: 250px;
  height: 70px;
  position: relative;
  border: 2px outset #669966;
  background-color: #ccffcc;
  padding-left: 5px;
}

#container1 {
  z-index: 1;
  position: absolute;
  top: 30px;
  left: 75px;
}

div.lev2 {
  opacity: 0.9;
  width: 200px;
  height: 60px;
  position: relative;
  border: 2px outset #990000;
  background-color: #ffdddd;
  padding-left: 5px;
}

#container2 {
  z-index: 1;
  position: absolute;
  top: 20px;
  left: 110px;
}

div.lev3 {
  z-index: 10;
  width: 100px;
  position: relative;
  border: 2px outset #000099;
  background-color: #ddddff;
  padding-left: 5px;
}

Result

See also

Note: the reason the sample image looks wrong - with the second level 2 overlapping the level 3 menus - is because level 2 has opacity, which creates a new stacking context. Basically, this whole sample page is incorrect and misleading.