MAMA: CSS report

By Brian Wilson


Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) is one of the biggest success stories of the Web. It was first specified by the W3C in 1995, and was quickly embraced by browsers and authors. CSS offers much richer typographical control than the HTML-based solutions that were the norm before it came into being. Over a decade after the first documents started using CSS, the Web has clearly embraced it—it was detected in 2,821,141 of MAMA's URLs (80.4%). For a deeper look at the details of MAMA's CSS examination, the following MAMA article topics are also available this week:

CSS inclusion methods used in Web pages

CSS tracking in MAMA was accomplished via the following 3 sources:

The Style attribute was the most common method encountered, just barely exceeding the total for the external CSS construct (LINK element). The "times per page" values and other counters represent the number of occurrences for the specific syntax that is encountered for a URL. For example, the maximum number of LINKed style sheets discovered in any single page was 44; the maximum number of Style attributes found was 21,293. The average "per-page" numbers listed in the table below apply where that type of CSS was used and does not cover the total MAMA URL space.

Totals for different methods of CSS inclusion
CSS typeDescriptionTotal URLs
CSS type
% Total
CSS usage
per page
per page
Style attributeContents of all Style attributes1,898,513 67.3%121,29325.6
External CSSContent from all LINK/Href/Rel="Stylesheet" URLs1,836,260 65.1%1441.5
Embedded CSSContents of all STYLE elements1,321,006 46.8%17081.6

CSS usage source diagram

The most popular combination of CSS methods is external CSS (the LINK element) in conjunction with inline CSS (the Style attribute). The least popular mixing is external CSS paired with embedded CSS (the STYLE element). To get a clearer view of the uses and intersections of the different CSS methods, the following diagram is helpful:

Venn diagram for CSS usage types

Note: Region sizes are not to scale.

CSS properties

The most popular CSS properties are the replacements for standard "old school" HTML presentational markup. The top 3 properties replicate the functionality of the FONT element, and the next 2 in popularity take over from the U, S, STRIKE and B elements. For CSS Box Model properties ('border', 'margin', and 'padding'), the shorthand versions are more popular than their separate component forms, but the reverse is true for the 'font' and 'background' properties. The most popular component properties for the CSS Box Model are the top side for 'margin', and the bottom side for 'border'/'padding'.

Top CSS properties
CSS propertyFrequency% Total
CSS usage
 CSS propertyFrequency% Total
CSS usage

Special CSS features: inherit and !important

Two keywords in CSS have special meaning—they are not selectors and they are not properties. The "inherit" keyword is a special global property value used to explicitly pass on a particular value from a parent to a child. Just under 10% of all URLs using CSS (278,743 URLs) use this keyword at least once. The other special keyword is "!important", which specifies a shift in the bias of a document's cascade order toward a specific CSS rule. It was found in 155,449 of MAMA's URLs (over 5% of all cases using CSS). These numbers seem significant, but if one frames the numbers in perspective with the CSS property frequency table, optimism is quickly deflated. For instance, there are almost 75 CSS properties that are more popular than the "!important" keyword, including the non-standard 'filter' and most of the scrollbar properties.


MAMA tracked 3 types of CSS at-rule syntax: @import, @media, and @charset. For @charset, only the existence of the at-rule is tracked. In the case of @media, the existence is tracked, along with the stated media type values. Lastly, @import statements were dissected and analyzed for their file names and media types.

Popularity of CSS At-rules
At-rule typeFrequency% Total
CSS usage

Media types

There were 404,212 pages that specified at least one CSS media type. Media types were detected by looking at the Media attribute of all LINK and STYLE elements, as well as the CSS @media at-rule syntax. The resulting list of media types were then matched against the following regular expression:


Any media type that was not recognized fell into a catch-all category termed "other". What were some of the "other" media types? The 3 main types that were noticeable in significant quantities are all from CSS2: "braille", "embossed", and "tty".

Popular CSS media types
Media typeFrequency% Total
media usage
 Media typeFrequency% Total
media usage
screen252,94862.6% other7,1191.8%
print171,32842.4% tv5,7701.4%
all130,22732.2% aural2,5330.6%
projection31,6517.8% speech3010.1%

Pseudo-classes and pseudo-elements

There are a number of these constructs defined in CSS2, and many more are listed in CSS3. Only a subset of pseudo-classes and pseudo-elements were chosen for tracking in MAMA for this report. Some obvious/important pseudo-classes were ignored this time, specifically ":active", ":link" , and ":visited".

The pseudo-class :hover is used in two-thirds of all pages that use CSS. The pseudo-element :after is (strangely) 3 times more popular than :before. The psuedo-class :first-child is more than 4 times as frequent as :last-child (although that can probably be attributed to :first-child being in CSS2, while :last-child was not added until CSS3). The typography distinctions that are :first-letter and :first-line are not that widely used, although authors preferred to control the initial letter of a block more often than the initial line (by more than a 3:1 ratio).

Popular CSS Pseudo-classes and Pseudo-elements
Pseudo-class/elementFrequency% Total
CSS usage
 Pseudo-class/elementFrequency% Total
CSS usage


Although this overview covers many interesting points of MAMA's CSS examination, the reader is encouraged to also dig deeper into the main MAMA articles on CSS (see the links at the beginning of this document). These documents add more detail to the topics already mentioned and discuss additional interesting topics such as MIME types and file names for external CSS, detailed usage of @import, and CSS browser vendor extensions.

Stay tuned for next week's topics, when we will start looking at what MAMA discovered about script usage.

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