Which characters are valid in CSS class names/selectors? – Dev

The best answers to the question “Which characters are valid in CSS class names/selectors?” in the category Dev.

QUESTION:

What characters/symbols are allowed within the CSS class selectors?
I know that the following characters are invalid, but what characters are valid?

~ ! @ $ % ^ & * ( ) + = , . / ' ; : " ? > < [ ] \ { } | ` #

ANSWER:

To my surprise most answers here are wrong. It turns out that:

Any character except NUL is allowed in CSS class names in CSS. (If CSS contains NUL (escaped or not), the result is undefined. [CSS-characters])

Mathias Bynens’ answer links to explanation and demos showing how to use these names. Written down in CSS code, a class name may need escaping, but that doesn’t change the class name. E.g. an unnecessarily over-escaped representation will look different from other representations of that name, but it still refers to the same class name.

Most other (programming) languages don’t have that concept of escaping variable names (“identifiers”), so all representations of a variable have to look the same. This is not the case in CSS.

Note that in HTML there is no way to include space characters (space, tab, line feed, form feed and carriage return) in a class name attribute, because they already separate classes from each other.

So, if you need to turn a random string into a CSS class name: take care of NUL and space, and escape (accordingly for CSS or HTML). Done.

ANSWER:

You can check directly at the CSS grammar.

Basically1, a name must begin with an underscore (_), a hyphen (-), or a letter(az), followed by any number of hyphens, underscores, letters, or numbers. There is a catch: if the first character is a hyphen, the second character must2 be a letter or underscore, and the name must be at least 2 characters long.

-?[_a-zA-Z]+[_a-zA-Z0-9-]*

In short, the previous rule translates to the following, extracted from the W3C spec.:

In CSS, identifiers (including element names, classes, and IDs in
selectors) can contain only the characters [a-z0-9] and ISO 10646
characters U+00A0 and higher, plus the hyphen (-) and the underscore
(_); they cannot start with a digit, or a hyphen followed by a digit.
Identifiers can also contain escaped characters and any ISO 10646
character as a numeric code (see next item). For instance, the
identifier “B&W?” may be written as “B&W?” or “B\26 W\3F”.

Identifiers beginning with a hyphen or underscore are typically reserved for browser-specific extensions, as in -moz-opacity.

1 It’s all made a bit more complicated by the inclusion of escaped unicode characters (that no one really uses).

2 Note that, according to the grammar I linked, a rule starting with TWO hyphens, e.g. --indent1, is invalid. However, I’m pretty sure I’ve seen this in practice.

ANSWER:

Read the W3C spec. (this is CSS 2.1, find the appropriate version for your assumption of browsers)

edit: relevant paragraph follows:

In CSS, identifiers (including
element names, classes, and IDs in
selectors) can contain only the
characters [a-z0-9] and ISO 10646
characters U+00A1 and higher, plus the
hyphen (-) and the underscore (_);
they cannot start with a digit, or a
hyphen followed by a digit.
Identifiers can also contain escaped
characters and any ISO 10646 character
as a numeric code (see next item). For
instance, the identifier “B&W?” may be
written as “B\&W\?” or “B\26 W\3F”.

edit 2: as @mipadi points out in Triptych’s answer, there’s this caveat, also in the same webpage:

In CSS, identifiers may begin with ‘-‘
(dash) or ‘_’ (underscore). Keywords
and property names beginning with ‘-‘
or ‘_’ are reserved for
vendor-specific extensions. Such
vendor-specific extensions should have
one of the following formats:

'-' + vendor identifier + '-' + meaningful name 
'_' + vendor identifier + '-' + meaningful name

Example(s):

For example, if XYZ organization added
a property to describe the color of
the border on the East side of the
display, they might call it
-xyz-border-east-color.

Other known examples:

 -moz-box-sizing
 -moz-border-radius
 -wap-accesskey

An initial dash or underscore is
guaranteed never to be used in a
property or keyword by any current or
future level of CSS. Thus typical CSS
implementations may not recognize such
properties and may ignore them
according to the rules for handling
parsing errors. However, because the
initial dash or underscore is part of
the grammar, CSS 2.1 implementers
should always be able to use a
CSS-conforming parser, whether or not
they support any vendor-specific
extensions.

Authors should avoid vendor-specific
extensions

ANSWER:

I’ve answered your question in-depth here: http://mathiasbynens.be/notes/css-escapes

The article also explains how to escape any character in CSS (and JavaScript), and I made a handy tool for this as well. From that page:

If you were to give an element an ID value of [email protected]$%^&*()_+-=,./';:"?><[]{}|`#, the selector would look like this:

CSS:

<style>
  #\~\!\@\$\%\^\&\*\(\)\_\+-\=\,\.\/\'\;\:\"\?\>\<\[\]\\\{\}\|\`\#
  {
    background: hotpink;
  }
</style>

JavaScript:

<script>
  // document.getElementById or similar
  document.getElementById('[email protected]$%^&*()_+-=,./\';:"?><[]\\{}|`#');
  // document.querySelector or similar
  $('#\\~\\!\\@\\$\\%\\^\\&\\*\\(\\)\\_\\+-\\=\\,\\.\\/\\\'\\;\\:\\"\\?\\>\\<\\[\\]\\\\\\{\\}\\|\\`\\#');
</script>