# css – What’s the difference between display:inline-flex and display:flex?

## The Question :

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I am trying to vertically align elements within an ID wrapper. I gave the property display:inline-flex; to this ID as the ID wrapper is the flex container.

But there is no difference in presentation. I expected that everything in the wrapper ID would be displayed inline. Why isn’t it?

#wrapper {
display: inline-flex;
/*no difference to display:flex; */
}

<body>
<div id="wrapper">
<nav>nav</nav>
<aside>aside</aside>
<main>main</main>
<footer>footer</footer>
</div>
</body>


459 people think this answer is useful

display: inline-flex does not make flex items display inline. It makes the flex container display inline. That is the only difference between display: inline-flex and display: flex. A similar comparison can be made between display: inline-block and display: block, and pretty much any other display type that has an inline counterpart.1

There is absolutely no difference in the effect on flex items; flex layout is identical whether the flex container is block-level or inline-level. In particular, the flex items themselves always behave like block-level boxes (although they do have some properties of inline-blocks). You cannot display flex items inline; otherwise you don’t actually have a flex layout.

It is not clear what exactly you mean by “vertically align” or why exactly you want to display the contents inline, but I suspect that flexbox is not the right tool for whatever you are trying to accomplish. Chances are what you’re looking for is just plain old inline layout (display: inline and/or display: inline-block), for which flexbox is not a replacement; flexbox is not the universal layout solution that everyone claims it is (I’m stating this because the misconception is probably why you’re considering flexbox in the first place).

1 The differences between block layout and inline layout are outside the scope of this question, but the one that stands out the most is auto width: block-level boxes stretch horizontally to fill their containing block, whereas inline-level boxes shrink to fit their contents. In fact, it is for this reason alone you will almost never use display: inline-flex unless you have a very good reason to display your flex container inline.

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OK, I know at first might be a bit confusing, but display is talking about the parent element, so means when we say: display: flex;, it’s about the element and when we say display:inline-flex;, is also making the element itself inline

It’s like make a div inline or block, run the snippet below and you can see how display flex breaks down to next line:

.inline-flex {
display: inline-flex;
}

.flex {
display: flex;
}

p {
color: red;
}

<body>
<p>Display Inline Flex</p>
<div class="inline-flex">
<nav>nav</nav>
<aside>aside</aside>
<main>main</main>
<footer>footer</footer>
</div>

<div class="inline-flex">
<nav>nav</nav>
<aside>aside</aside>
<main>main</main>
<footer>footer</footer>
</div>

<p>Display Flex</p>
<div class="flex">
<nav>nav</nav>
<aside>aside</aside>
<main>main</main>
<footer>footer</footer>
</div>

<div class="flex">
<nav>nav</nav>
<aside>aside</aside>
<main>main</main>
<footer>footer</footer>
</div>
</body>


Also quickly create the image below to show the difference at a glance:

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flex and inline-flex both apply flex layout to children of the container. Container with display:flex behaves like a block-level element itself, while display:inline-flex makes the container behaves like an inline element.

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The Difference between “flex” and “inline-flex”

One is inline and the other basically responds like a block element(but has some of it’s own differences).

Inline-Flex – The inline version of flex allows the element, and it’s children, to have flex properties while still remaining in the regular flow of the document/webpage. Basically, you can place two inline flex containers in the same row, if the widths were small enough, without any excess styling to allow them to exist in the same row. This is pretty similar to “inline-block.”

Flex – The container and it’s children have flex properties but the container reserves the row, as it is taken out of the normal flow of the document. It responds like a block element, in terms of document flow. Two flexbox containers could not exist on the same row without excess styling.

The problem you may be having

Due to the elements you listed in your example, though I am guessing, I think you want to use flex to display the elements listed in an even row-by-row fashion but continue to see the elements side-by-side.

The reason you are likely having issues is because flex and inline-flex have the default “flex-direction” property set to “row.” This will display the children side-by side. Changing this property to “column” will allow your elements to stack and reserve space(width) equal to the width of its parent.

Below are some examples to show how flex vs inline-flex works and also a quick demo of how inline vs block elements work…

display: inline-flex; flex-direction: row;



Fiddle

display: flex; flex-direction: row;



Fiddle

display: inline-flex; flex-direction: column;



Fiddle

display: flex; flex-direction: column;



Fiddle

display: inline;



Fiddle

display: block



Fiddle

Also, a great reference doc: A Complete Guide to Flexbox – css tricks

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Display:flex apply flex layout to the flex items or children of the container only. So, the container itself stays a block level element and thus takes up the entire width of the screen.

This causes every flex container to move to a new line on the screen.

Display:inline-flex apply flex layout to the flex items or children as well as to the container itself. As a result the container behaves as an inline flex element just like the children do and thus takes up the width required by its items/children only and not the entire width of the screen.

This causes two or more flex containers one after another, displayed as inline-flex, align themselves side by side on the screen until the whole width of the screen is taken.

3 people think this answer is useful

# Using two-value display syntax instead, for clarity

The display CSS property in fact sets two things at once: the outer display type, and the inner display type. The outer display type affects how the element (which acts as a container) is displayed in its context. The inner display type affects how the children of the element (or the children of the container) are laid out.

If you use the two-value display syntax, which is only supported in some browsers like Firefox, the difference between the two is much more obvious:

• display: block is equivalent to display: block flow
• display: inline is equivalent to display: inline flow
• display: flex is equivalent to display: block flex
• display: inline-flex is equivalent to display: inline flex
• display: grid is equivalent to display: block grid
• display: inline-grid is equivalent to display: inline grid

## Outer display type: block or inline:

An element with the outer display type of block will take up the whole width available to it, like <div> does. An element with the outer display type of inline will only take up the width that it needs, with wrapping, like <span> does.

## Inner display type: flow, flex or grid:

The inner display type flow is the default inner display type when flex or grid is not specified. It is the way of laying out children elements that we are used to in a <p> for instance. flex and grid are new ways of laying out children that each deserve their own post.

### Conclusion:

The difference between display: flex and display: inline-flex is the outer display type, the first’s outer display type is block, and the second’s outer display type is inline. Both of them have the inner display type of flex.

### References:

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You need a bit more information so that the browser knows what you want. For instance, the children of the container need to be told “how” to flex.

Updated Fiddle

I’ve added #wrapper > * { flex: 1; margin: auto; } to your CSS and changed inline-flex to flex, and you can see how the elements now space themselves out evenly on the page.

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Open in Full page for better understanding

.item {
width : 100px;
height : 100px;
margin: 20px;
border: 1px solid blue;
background-color: yellow;
text-align: center;
line-height: 99px;
}

.flex-con {
flex-wrap: wrap;
/* <A>    */
display: flex;
/* 1. uncomment below 2 lines by commenting above 1 line */
/* <B>   */
/*   display: inline-flex; */

}

.label {
}
.flex-inline-play {
border: 1px dashed green;
/*  <C> */
width: 1000px;
/*   <D> */
display: flex;
}

<figure>
<blockquote>
<h1>Flex vs inline-flex</h1>
<cite>This pen is understand difference between
flex and inline-flex. Follow along to understand this basic property of css</cite>
<ul>
<ul>
<li>Comment <code>display: flex</code></li>
<li>Un-comment <code>display: inline-flex</code></li>
</ul>
</li>
<li>
Hope you would have understood till now. This is very similar to situation of inline-block vs block. Lets go beyond and understand usecase to apply learning. Now lets play with combinations of A, B, C &amp; D by un-commenting only as instructed:
<ul>
<li>A with D -- does this do same job as <code>display: inline-flex</code>. Umm, you may be right, but not its doesnt do always, keep going !</li>
<li>A with C</li>
<li>A with C &amp; D -- Something wrong ? Keep going !</li>
<li>B with C</li>
<li>B with C &amp; D -- Still same ? Did you learn something ? inline-flex is useful if you have space to occupy in parent of 2 flexboxes <code>.flex-con</code>. That's the only usecase</li>
</ul>
</li>
</ul>
</blockquote>

</figure>
<br/>
<div class="label">Playground:</div>
<div class="flex-inline-play">
<div class="flex-con">
<div class="item">1</div>
<div class="item">2</div>
<div class="item">3</div>
<div class="item">4</div>
</div>
<div class="flex-con">
<div class="item">X</div>
<div class="item">Y</div>
<div class="item">Z</div>
<div class="item">V</div>
<div class="item">W</div>
</div>
</div>

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