Flexbox - Align Items vs Align Content.

February 04, 2019

Flexbox is awesome. If you have worked with modern CSS, whether you are rolling your own or using a frameworks like Bootstrap & Foundation, chances are you are using Flexbox for layout and alignment.

To align or to justify..that is the question

For a very long time, I have been trying to figure out what is the difference between align-items, align-content & justify-content and how they work or more importantly when they work.


  • If you have set your flex-direction to row, then justify-content works on the horizontal axis and align-* properties work on the vertical axis.
  • If you have set your flex-direction to column, then align-* properties work on the horizontal axis and justify-content works on the vertical axis.

What separates align-items and align-content?

  • align-items effect the alignment of items on the current line.
  • align-content effects the alignment accross lines of a flex-container. This means that this property has no effect on single-line containers.

The rest of the article is just a brain dump of everything I learned while trying to figure out the above.


  • Flex Container: An element on which the display value is set to flex.
  • Flex Items: Direct children of the flex containers are called flex items.
  • Main Axis: The axis defined by the flex-direction property.

    flex-direction:row means that elements inside the flex container are aligned next to each other. Technically, these elements are aligned along the inline-axis (just like inline elements).

    flex-direction:column means that elements are aligned along the vertical axis i.e. below each other. Technically called the block-axis (just like block elements)

  • Cross Axis: The axis perpendicular to the main axis is called the cross axis.
  • Single-line Container: Flex containers whose flex-wrap property is set to nowrap. By default every flex container is a single-line container.
  • Multi-line Containers: Flex containers whose flex-wrap property is set to wrap

TL;DR with Nomenclature

Now that we know the jargon, we can rewrite the TL;DR as-

  • justify-content works on the Main Axis and align-* properties work on the Cross Axis.
  • justify-content and align-items are similar in their behviour, the difference being that justify-content works on the the main axis while align-items works on the cross axis.
  • align-content works only on multi-line containers and has no effect on single line containers.


  1. w3.org documentation on Flexbox is pretty comprehensive and a good read.
  2. MDN Flexbox documentation.

Written by Anirudh Varma. Loves to code, currently practicing the dark arts of programming at SpotDraft.
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