The CSS Podcast - 044: Transitions

When interacting with a website, you might notice that many elements have state. For example, dropdowns can be in opened or closed states. Buttons might change color when focused or hovered. Modals appear and disappear.

By default, CSS switches the style of these states instantly.

Using CSS transitions, we can interpolate between the initial state and the target state of the element. The transition between the two enhances the user experience by providing visual direction, support, and hints about the cause and effect of the interaction.

Transition properties

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To use transitions in CSS, you can use the various transition properties or the transition shorthand property.


The transition-property property specifies which style(s) to transition.

.my-element {
  transition-property: background-color;

The transition-property accepts one or more CSS property names in a comma-separated list.

Optionally, you may use transition-property: all to indicate that every property should transition.


The transition-duration property is used to define the length of time that a transition will take to complete.

transition-duration accepts time units, either in seconds (s) or milliseconds (ms) and defaults to 0s.


Use the transition-timing-function property to vary the speed of a CSS transition over the course of the transition-duration.

By default, CSS will transition your elements at a constant speed (transition-timing-function: linear). Linear transitions can end up looking somewhat artificial, though: in real life, objects have weight and can't stop and start instantly. Easing into or out of a transition can make your transitions more lively and natural.

Our module on CSS Animation has a good overview of timing functions.

You can use DevTools to experiment with different timing functions in real-time.

Chrome DevTools visual transition timing editor.


Use the transition-delay property to specify the time at which a transition will start. If transition-duration is not specified, transitions will start instantly because the default value is 0s. This property accepts a time unit, for example seconds (s) or milliseconds (ms).

This property is useful for staggering transitions, achieved by setting a longer transition-delay for each subsequent element in a group.

transition-delay is also useful for debugging. Setting the delay to a negative value can start a transition further into the timeline.

shorthand: transition

Like most CSS properties, there is a shorthand version. transition combines transition-property, transition-duration, transition-timing-function, and transition-delay.

.longhand {
  transition-property: transform;
  transition-duration: 300ms;
  transition-timing-function: ease-in-out;
  transition-delay: 0s;

.shorthand {
  transition: transform 300ms ease-in-out 0s;

What can and can't transition?

When writing CSS, you can specify which properties should have animated transitions. See this MDN list of animatable CSS properties.

In general, it's only possible to transition elements that can have a "middle state" between their start and final states. For example, it's impossible to add transitions for font-family, because it's unclear what the "middle state" between serif and monospace should look like. On the other hand, it is possible to add transitions for font-size because its unit is a length that can be interpolated between.

Diagram of shapes transitioning smoothly from one state to another, and two lines of text in different fonts that cannot be transitioned smoothly.

Here are some common properties you can transition.


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The transform CSS property is commonly transitioned because it is a GPU-accelerated property that results in smoother animation that also consumes less battery. This property lets you arbitrarily scale, rotate, translate, or skew an element.

Check out the section on transforms in our Functions module.


Before, during, and after interaction, color can be a great indicator of state. For example, a button might change color if it's being hovered. This color change can provide feedback to the user that the button is clickable.

The color, background-color, and border-color properties are just a few places where color can be transitioned upon interaction.

Check out our module on color.


Shadows are often transitioned to indicate elevation change, like from user focus.

Check out our module on shadows.


filter is a powerful CSS property that lets you add graphic effects on the fly. Transitioning between different filter states can create some pretty impressive results.

Check out our module on filters.

Transition triggers

Your CSS must include a change of state and an event that triggers that state change for CSS transitions to activate. A typical example of such a trigger is the :hover pseudo-class. This pseudo-class matches when the user hovers over an element with their cursor.

Below is a list of some pseudo-classes and events that can trigger state changes in your elements.

  • :hover: matches if the cursor is over the element.
  • :focus: matches if the element is focused.
  • :focus-within : matches if the element or any of its descendants are focused.
  • :target: matches when the current URL's fragment matches the element's id.
  • :active: matches when the element is being activated (typically when the mouse is pressed over it).
  • class change from JavaScript: when an element's CSS class changes via JavaScript, CSS will transition eligible properties that have changed.

Different transitions for enter or exit

By setting different transition properties on hover/focus, it's possible to create some interesting effects.

.my-element {
  background: red;

  /* This transition is applied on the "exit" transition */
  transition: background 2000ms ease-in;

.my-element:hover {
  background: blue;

  /* This transition is applied on the "enter" transition */
  transition: background 150ms ease;

Accessibility considerations

CSS transitions are not for everyone. For some people, transitions and animations can cause motion sickness or discomfort. Thankfully, CSS has a media feature called prefers-reduced-motion that detects if a user has indicated a preference for less motion from their device.

  If the user has expressed their preference for
  reduced motion, then don't use transitions.
@media (prefers-reduced-motion: reduce) {
  .my-element {
    transition: none;

  If the browser understands the media query and the user
  explicitly hasn't set a preference, then use transitions.
@media (prefers-reduced-motion: no-preference) {
  .my-element {
    transition: transform 250ms ease;

Check out our blog post prefers-reduced-motion: Sometimes less movement is more for more information on this media feature.

Performance considerations

When working with CSS transitions, you may encounter performance issues if you add transitions for certain CSS properties. For example, when properties such as width or height change, they push content around on the rest of the page. This forces CSS to calculate new positions for every affected element for each frame of the transition. When possible, we recommend using properties like transform and opacity instead.

Check out our guide on high-performance CSS animations for a deep-dive on this topic.

Check your understanding

Test your knowledge of transitions

Which transition property is for specifying easing?

Try again.
Not a real CSS property.
Not a real CSS property.
Not a real CSS property.

It's best practice to use transition-property: all

Try again. Specifying all can lead to performance issues and unintended transitions.
Correct. Best practice is to specify each property individually. Finer control will lead to better performance and more predictable outcomes.

All properties can be transitioned.

Try again. Properties like font-family cannot transition.
Correct. A transition can be specified for incompatible properties, but they will transition discretely.