Making our Media Query Mixins More Flexible

Media Queries are how we all make our sites responsive. Simple sites may only require a few but on large projects we find ourselves writing them dozens of times in order to wrangle in the content. Though relatively small, writing a query over and over can get tedious which is why most people choose to use a mixin to minimize the typing. There are a ton of mixins out there ranging from simple to complex. Many of them opted to name the breakpoints with the idea that the names would be more intuitive than a numeric em value. The mixin may look something like this:

@mixin breakpoint($point) {
  @if $point == small {
    @media (min-width: 24em) { @content; }
  @else if $point == medium {
    @media (min-width: 46.8em) { @content; }
  @else if $point == large {
    @media (min-width: 50em)  { @content; }

You would then call it and pass in the name of the breakpoint.

.element {
  @include breakpoint(medium) {

Although I have used this mixin myself, there are a few reasons it may not be the best approach.

What the Hell does 35em Look Like

There are some pretty good arguments (here and here) on why we should be using ems over pixels in our media queries but the problem is we are still seeing window size in pixels.

Whether its a browser plugin, the element inspector or the new resize bubble on, we are constantly given window width information in pixel units. It is no wonder then that when we think of window size it is in pixels as well. When writing media queries we must do a conversion in order to use ems. Whether you do the calculations in your head or you use a calculator, it is still one more action to complete. This adds up over the course of a project and will slow you down.

So, we create mixins like the one above, that provide named breakpoints. We assign em values to them and have a vague idea of what that value is(in pixels). This sort of takes away our pixel conversion but what happens when you need a breakpoint that is not defined? Or, what if you want to have max-width or height?

Content Should Determine Breakpoints

Our content should determine what the breakpoints are. We start with the small screen first, and then expand it till the content no longer looks good. We then add a breakpoint. Wash, rinse, repeat. Any mixin that we use should be flexible enough to add them when and where they need be. In that light, having arbitrary preset sizes may not be the best way to go.

One Solution

I have gotten away from naming my breakpoints and from creating them at “small”, “medium” and “large” sizes. The mixin below is a versatile solution that allows for the creation of breakpoints as the content dictates. It defaults to min-width: for a terse include but arguments can be passed for min, max, height or width. This added flexibility means we can use this mixin for most of our query needs.

Since we are getting fed pixels by our tools this mixin is built to take it right back. Let the computer do the math. The mixin takes the pixel input and divides it by the base font size, giving us our em units.

//base font
$bf: 16;

@mixin bp($bp, $min-max: min-width) {
  $em: $bp/$bf;
  @media(#{$min-max}: #{$em}em) { @content; }

//including the mixin
.element {
  @include bp(600) {

Final Thoughts

This mixin is small, versatile, takes care of the px to em conversion and gives a bump to my productivity. You can still add predefined, named breakpoints with a variable if needed so it is still compatible with that school of thought.

We all have our own style of code, so much of this is just preference. The true test is which mixin helps you be more productive. If you have a media query mixin that helps you please share in the comments.

Related Articles: Getting Back to our @at-roots | The Double Ampersand Mixin | CSS Blend Modes with Sass

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