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An official website of the United States government

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An official website of the United States government

Here's how you know


CSS normalization

The design system includes a set of global CSS rules that aim to normalize (remove the differences in) browser defaults. By making CSS normalization part of the design system, teams don't need to bring their own, and the design system CSS doesn't need to include extra defensive CSS to anticipate differences in normalization code across different products. Our global normalization rules do not completely reset element styles but instead set elements' base styles to sensible defaults, following current best practices.

Our reset CSS is bundled with the rest of the design system's styles, so to use it all you need to do is import the design system's CSS using your preferred method. Even if you haven't imported one of our components, your application should visually align with the design system.


Why do we need to normalize CSS?

Each browser has default styles that it applies to various HTML elements. Not all browsers have the same default styles (called user-agent styles), which means that websites without custom CSS will look different when viewed from different browsers. Even when creating custom CSS, web developers must take those different default styles into account and make sure they are overridden appropriately. This can be tedious and error-prone, so a common practice among developers is to either remove or normalize (remove the differences in) those user-agent styles with a collection of base CSS rules before applying any CSS that controls the look-and-feel of the site.

Global defaults

Our normalization rules include some globally-defined defaults that will impact the entire application once the CSS has been imported. These defaults include (but aren't limited to):

  • box-sizing: border-box is set on every element — including *::before and *::after. This ensures that the declared width of element is never exceeded due to padding or border.
    • While this was a common CSS reset that teams were already applying, this may produce unexpected results for some teams. If an element suddenly has different spacing around it, it may need to explicitly be set to box-sizing: content-box (browser default) to restore its former behavior.
  • The <html> element has scroll-behavior: smooth set on :focus-within. This is a CSS-only solution that provides smooth anchor scrolling.
  • The <body> element effectively replaces the .ds-base class, defining font-family, font-size, line-height, and color.
    • In addition, <body> now sets background-color to a theme's specified background.
  • The outline is removed on elements with the tabindex="-1" declared. This removes focus rings for non-interactive elements, e.g., when activating a skip link will then send focus to a <main> or heading element.
  • For users who have prefers-reduced-motion enabled, animations, transitions, and smooth scroll are removed on all elements - including *::before and *::after to respect their preferences.



All heading elements will receive the font styles defined by their parent element using the font: inherit rule.

font is a shorthand property that encompasses several font styles, but the key thing to note is a heading will now inherit the font-family and font-size of its parent or <body> element. This rule ensures the semantics of a heading element are distinct from its appearance. If you need to style a heading, refer to our headings or utility class documentation.

Links behave as they previously did, with one exception—the text-decoration-color is now set to currentColor. This change was made under the assumption that all link underlines will have the same color as its text, regardless of that text's state.


The <ol> and <ul> elements have been styled to match their .ds-c-list counterpart, with one key difference - they use flex to better control list item spacing and assist with commonly used inline list patterns. If you find yourself in need of an inline list, you can add flex-direction: row locally to your project. Likewise, if the spacing between list elements isn't to your liking, gap can be changed to the value that fits your project best. Overall, using flexbox to control spacing in lists should provide greater flexibility than the browser defaults could.

If you want a particular list to be unstyled, add a role="list" attribute. Applying this attribute will both avoid the default normalization styles that come with the design system and apply additional CSS to strip it of browser default styling. You can read more about the accessibility concern of unstyled lists here and how adding the list role will help.


My inline list is broken!

If you had a ul and ol element prior to v7 that used flexbox to lay items out horizontally and it's suddenly stacking its list items vertically, you have two options:

  1. Add a role="list" attribute, which will disable the default normalization rules. (See list guidance)
  2. Add flex-direction: row to override its new flex-direction: column behavior. You may also need to adjust the gap property and override the new default.

Form elements

Various form elements have been rebooted for simpler base styles. Here are some of the most notable changes:

  • The <input>, <button>, <textarea>, and <select> elements receive the font styles defined by their parent element using the font: inherit rule.
  • All :disabled fields have cursor: not-allowed to prevent user confusion.
  • Checkboxes and radio buttons use accent-color (set to a theme's defined "checked" color). This makes sure the :checked state of these inputs matches the theme of your site, even if you aren't using our Choice component.
  • <fieldset> has no border, margin, or padding so they can be easily used as wrappers for individual inputs or groups of inputs.