Inherit, Initial and Unset Values for CSS Properties

Published on December 10, 2016


Inherit, Initial and Unset Values for CSS Properties

All CSS properties have 3 basic values in common: inherit, initial and unset. Inherit and initial have been around for a long time, but unset is a new addition. What the values will do can at times get confusing, so here’s a breakdown:

  • inherit: Get the property from the parent element.
  • initial: The default value for the property (the browser default).
  • unset: Acts as either inherit or initial. It’ll act as inherit if the parent has a value that matches, or else it will act as initial.

Here’s an example to make is clear. Here’s our markup:

<div class="wrapper">
  <p class="one">Snake<p>
  <p class="two">Lizard<p>
  <p class="three">Alligator</p>
  <p>Komodo Dragon</p>

And here’s our CSS:

.wrapper { color: orange; }

.wrapper p { color: purple; }

p.one { color: inherit; }

p.two { color: initial; }

p.three { color: unset; }
  • Snake is orange, it inherits from the wrapper div.
  • Lizard is black, it takes the initial browser default value.
  • Alligator is orange, in this case unset acts as inherit because there is a parent with a matching value.
  • Komodo Dragon is purple, the only paragraph that takes its value from the .wrapper p selector.

👉 A neat trick with unset is when combined with the all shorthand, which automatically affects all properties of a selector. The following unsets every properties of the selected p elements:

article p {
  all: unset;

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I always see these values in editor’s auto-suggestion but never understood what they meant and also I never had to use them. But this is enlightening to know that they have a meaningful function. 👏🏻

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