File Under: CSS, Web Standards

Exercise Better Web Typography With CSS Hyphens

Forget The Homer; look at those sweet, sweet hyphens. Image: Screenshot/Webmonkey.

Last night, while reading Craig Mod’s excellent article, Subcompact Publishing, I noticed something that only type-obsessed nerds probably notice: some really good-looking hyphenation. A quick right-click to “inspect element” revealed this gem: -moz-hyphens: auto;.

It’s true; while we were sleeping Firefox, IE 10 and Safari all implemented the CSS hyphenation spec. In fact, Firefox has had hyphenation support for over year (starting with version 6). Sadly, Chrome doesn’t support hyphens just yet, nor does Opera. Still, if you’d like to do something really simple that will vastly improve the readability of your text for Firefox, IE 10 and Safari users, add this to your site’s stylesheet:

p {
    -webkit-hyphens: auto;
    -moz-hyphens: auto;
    -ms-hyphens: auto;
    -o-hyphens: auto;
    hyphens: auto;
}

Right now the -o- prefix isn’t doing anything, but it future-proofs the code a bit for when Opera adds support. The only catch to hyphenation is that not only does the browser need to support it, it also needs to have a hyphenation dictionary for the language you’re using. The Mozilla Developer Network has a good rundown of which browsers support which languages.

There’s no real need for a fallback since the web has never had any hyphenation. Browsers that don’t support the CSS hyphens rule will simply render the page as they always have, but those that do will now be a bit more readable.

And, as a kind of footnote, if you have any interest in the future of publishing, Subcompact Publishing is well worth a read.

[Update: It looks like developer Peter Paul Koch just noticed hyphenation support as well. He's got a short post that notes one potential problem with hyphens that I missed: you need to explicitly declare a language, as in <html lang="en"> in order to trigger hyphenation. See Koch's post for more details.]