JupyterLab Tutorial

CSS Patterns

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CSS Patterns

This document describes the patterns we are using to organize and write CSS for JupyterLab. JupyterLab is developed using a set of npm packages that are located in packages. Each of these packages has its own style, but depend on CSS variables dfined in a main theme package.

CSS checklist

  • CSS classnames are defined as all caps file-level consts and follow the CSS class naming convention described below.
  • CSS files for packages are located within the src/style subdirecotory and imported into the plugin’s index.css.
  • The JupyterLab default CSS variables in the default-theme package are used to style packages where ever possible. Individual packages should not depend on this package though, to allow the theme to be swaped out.
  • Additional public/private CSS variables are defined by plugins sparingly and in accordance with the conventions described below.

CSS variables

We are using native CSS variables in JupyterLab. This is to enable dynamic theming of built-in and third party plugins. As of Septmeber 2016, CSS variables are supported in the latest stable versions of all popular browsers, except for IE/Edge. If a JupyterLab deployment needs to support these browsers, a server side CSS preprocessor such as Myth or cssnext may be used.

Naming of CSS variables

We use the following convention for naming CSS variables:

  • Start all CSS variables with --jp-
  • Words in the variable name should be lowercase and separated with -
  • The final segment will typically be related to a CSS properties, such as color, font-size or background.
  • Intermediate segments should have refer to the component and subcomponent, such as --jp-notebook-cell-.


Some CSS variables in JupyterLab are considered part of our public API. Others are considered private and should not be used by third party plugins or themes. The difference between public and private variables is simple:

  • All private variables begin with --jp-private-
  • All variables without the private- prefix are public.
  • Public variables should be defined under the :root pseudo-selector. This ensures that public CSS variables can be inspected under the top-level <html> tag in the browser’s dev tools.
  • Where possible, private variables should be defined and scoped under an appropriate selector.

CSS variable usage

JupyterLab includes a default set of CSS variables in the file:


To ensure consistent design in JupyterLab, all built-in and third party extensions should use these variables in their styles if at all possible. Documentation about those variables can be found in the variables.css file itself.

Plugins are free to define additional public and private CSS variables in their own index.css file, but should do so sparingly.

Again, we consider the names of the public CSS variables in this package to be our public API for CSS.

File organization

We are organizing our CSS files in the following manner:

  • Each package in the top-level packages directory should contain any CSS files in a style subdirectory that are needed to style itself.
  • Multiple CSS files may be used and organized as needed, but they should be imported into a single index.css at the top-level of the plugin.
  • The index.css of each plugin should be imported inside packages/default-theme/style/index.css.

CSS class names

We have a fairly formal method for naming our CSS classes.

First, CSS class names are associated with TypeScript classes that extend phosphor.Widget:

The .node of each such widget should have a CSS class that matches the name of the TypeScript class, and those classnames should be defined as a file-level const:

const MYWIDGET_CLASS = 'jp-MyWidget';

class MyWidget extends Widget {

  constructor() {


Second, subclasses should have a CSS class for both the parent and child:

const MYWIDGET_SUBCLASS_CLASS = 'jp-MyWidgetSubclass';

class MyWidgetSubclass extends MyWidget {

  constructor() {
    super(); // Adds `jp-MyWidget`


In both of these cases, CSS class names with caps-case are reserved for situations where there is a named TypeScript Widget subclass. These classes are a way of a TypeScript class providing a public API for styling.

Third, children nodes of a Widget should have a third segment in the CSS class name that gives a semantic naming of the component, such as:

  • jp-MyWidget-toolbar
  • jp-MyWidget-button
  • jp-MyWidget-contentButton

In general, the parent MyWidget should add these classes to the children. This applies when the children are plain DOM nodes or Widget instances/subclasses themselves. Thus, the general naming of CSS classes is of the form jp-WidgetName-semanticChild. This allows the styling of these children in a manner that is independent of the children implementation or CSS classes they have themselves.

Fourth, some CSS classes are used to modify the state of a widget:

  • jp-mod-active: applied to elements in the active state
  • jp-mod-hover: applied to elements in the hover state
  • jp-mod-selected: applied to elements while selected

Fifth, some CSS classes are used to distinguish different types of a widget:

  • --jp-type-separator: applied to menu items that are separators
  • --jp-type-directory: applied to elements in the file browser that are directories

Edge cases

Over time, we have found that there are some edge cases that these rules don’t fully address. Here, we try to clarify those edge cases.

When should a parent add a class to children?

Above, we state that a parent (MyWidget), should add CSS classes to children that indicate the semantic function of the child. Thus, the MyWidget subclass of Widget should add jp-MyWidget to itself and jp-MyWidget-toolbar to a toolbar child.

What if the child itself is a Widget and already has a proper CSS class name itself, such as jp-Toolbar? Why not use selectors such as .jp-MyWidget .jp-Toolbar or .jp-MyWidget > .jp-Toolbar?

The reason is that these selectors are dependent on the implementation of the toolbar having the jp-Toolbar CSS class. When MyWidget adds the jp-MyWidget-toolbar class, it can style the child independent of its implementation. The other reason to add the jp-MyWidget-toolbar class is if the DOM stucture is highly recursive, the usual descendant selectors may not be specific to target only the desired children.

When in doubt, there is little harm done in parents adding selectors to children.