Layered mountains.

Meet the top layer: a solution to z-index:10000

Published on

The top layer sits above its related document in the browser viewport, and each document has one associated top layer. This means that elements promoted to the top layer needn't worry about z-index or DOM hierarchy. They also get a neat ::backdrop pseudo-element to play with. The Fullscreen API spec goes into more details as Fullscreen was a great example of the top layer in use before dialog support came along.

The top layer helps solve the problem of rendering content above the rest of the document.

The important things to remember:

  • Top layer is outside of the document flow.
  • z-index has no effect in the top layer.
  • Each element in the top layer has a styleable ::backdrop pseudo-element.
  • Each element and ::backdrop generates a new stacking context.
  • Elements in the top layer are stacked in the order they appear in the set. The last one in, appears on top. If you want to promote an element, remove it, and add it again.

How have we mimicked the top layer until now? Well, it's not uncommon to see developers dropping an empty container element at the end of the body. And then this will get used as a "faux" top layer. The idea is that this container gets positioned above everything else in the stack. When you want to promote something above everything else, you append it to that container. We can see this in popular packages like SweetAlert, reactjs-popup, Magnific Popup, and others.

With new built-in components and APIs like <dialog> and "Pop-up", you won't need to resort to these workarounds. You can promote content to the top layer.

UI frameworks allow us to co-locate promoted elements with their component counterparts. But, they often get separated in the DOM when it comes to rendering.

By using the top layer, promoted elements are where you put them in your source code (for example, a <dialog>). It doesn't matter how many layers down in the DOM the element is. It will get promoted to the top layer and you can inspect it where you expect it to be, co-located with your component HTML. This makes it easier to inspect both the trigger element and the promoted element in the DOM at the same time. Particularly useful if your trigger element is making attribute updates, for example. This also has an added benefit for accessibility now that the elements are co-located.

To illustrate the top layer versus high z-index, consider this demo.

In this demo, you can open a SweetAlert popup and also open a top layer <dialog>. Open the <dialog>, and then try opening the SweetAlert popup. You'll see that it appears underneath our top layer element. And the root of our SweetAlert popup is using a z-index of 10000 with position: fixed.

.swal-overlay {
z-index: 10000;
position: fixed;
}

You don't need to apply any styles to the <dialog> to make it appear above all other content.

DevTools

And that brings us onto DevTools support. Chrome DevTools are adding support for top layer elements so you can inspect the top layer. This makes it easier to debug and visualize how things are stacking up in the top layer or what even is in the top layer.

GIF of DevTools top layer support being demonstrated

Alina Varkki has a great article that goes in-depth on using these tools. They're currently available as a preview feature in Chrome Canary version 105.

That’s it!

A brief intro to the top layer. Making it possible to say "Bye!" to things like:

.popup-container {
z-index: 10000;
}

What would you push into the Top Layer? Have you tried out dialog? Or checked out the OpenUI Pop-up API? Let us know!

Last updated: Improve article

We serve cookies on this site to analyze traffic, remember your preferences, and optimize your experience.