Taming CSS Variables with Web Inspector

CSS Custom Properties, better known as CSS variables, have been widely adopted by web designers to build reusable and configurable design systems. One common approach is to define most CSS variables in a CSS rule with a selector for a root element such as html or :root.

While this has the benefit of putting them all in one easy to find place, it has a side effect: because CSS variables are inheritable, all descendant elements effectively inherit all variables from ancestors. This behavior is what enables you to use a CSS variable defined at a higher level on the styles of an element that is deeply nested within the document.

Descendant elements inherit all CSS variables from their ancestor elements. This can result in very long lists of inherited properties in the Styles panel.

When an element inherits a large number of CSS variables, inspecting its styles can become overwhelming. Likewise, identifying a particular CSS variable to reuse becomes more difficult because you have to search through a large list of them.

Over the past few releases, Web Inspector in Safari Technology Preview has introduced some features to help you when working on projects that use large numbers of CSS variables.

Hiding Unused CSS Variables

Of all inherited CSS variables, only a few are actually used on the styles of any one element. To reduce visual clutter in the Styles panel, unused inherited CSS variables are automatically hidden. They’re replaced with a button that reveals them on click.

This helps focus your attention on just the styles that took effect on the inspected element.

Unused inherited CSS variables are automatically hidden behind a button that reveals them on click.

Searching for CSS Variables

The Computed panel in Web Inspector has a section that lists all CSS variables applicable to the inspected element. This list of properties can help you when searching for a CSS variable to reuse.

Use the filter input field to narrow down the list if you know roughly what you’re looking for, either part of the CSS variable name or part of the value.

Find all CSS variables applicable to the selected element in the Variables section of the Computed panel. Filter the list using the filter input field at the bottom of the panel.

Grouping CSS Variables

Safari Technology Preview 138 introduced the ability to view this list grouped by value type. This creates separate subsections for CSS variables with values such as colors, numbers, dimensions (numbers followed by CSS units), and so forth. Reduce clutter by collapsing the groups you’re not interested in.

The list of applicable CSS variables can be grouped by value type into collapsible subsections: colors, dimensions and other types.

Grouping this way can help you find a CSS variable when you know the type of value you’re looking for, a particular color, for example. Color swatches shown next to variable values together with the ability to group all variables with color values into one distinct section make it easier to visually scan for the desired value.

Jump to CSS Variable Definition

Here’s a tip: place the mouse cursor over any CSS variable in the Computed panel to reveal a go-to arrow. Click this to highlight the place in the Styles panel where the variable is defined. If the target CSS variable is hidden because it is unused, it will be automatically shown. This allows you to quickly jump in context to the place where a CSS variable is defined and edit it.

Use the go-to arrow next to CSS variables in the Computed panel to highlight where the variable is defined in the Styles panel.

You can also use the filter input field at the bottom of the Styles panel (as described above) and type the name of the variable, but using the go-to arrow to quickly jump to it is much more convenient.

Fuzzy Autocompletion of CSS Variable Names

Since its inception, Web Inspector has provided autocompletion for CSS properties and values in the Styles panel. More recently, it introduced the ability to provide completion suggestions for CSS variable names when typing within var() function values, as in var(--link-color).

Safari Technology Preview 138 made this even better with the introduction of fuzzy matching for CSS autocompletion. This is particularly useful for CSS variables when you might not remember the full name. With fuzzy matching, you can get results that match the query at any position, not just at the beginning.

For example, if you know that the CSS variable name you’re looking for, say --link-color, includes the substring “color”, you can type just var(color|) (the | character represents the position of the typing caret). You don’t even need to type the double dash prefix. If the CSS variable --link-color is defined on or inherited by the inspected element, it will be shown in the list of completion suggestions even if the query match occurs at the end of the variable name.

Enjoy the flexibility of fuzzy matching for CSS autocompletion to quickly find a variable by typing any part of its name.
For example, type just “color” to match --link-color.


CSS variables enable a growing number of uses, such as building configurable design systems, practical theming for light and dark modes, customizable styles for web components, among many others. But the proliferation of variables in large numbers within a project can also become a burden during development and debugging.

Web Inspector has introduced features to help keep you focused and productive. Hiding unused inherited CSS variables in the Styles panel reduces clutter. Collecting and grouping CSS variables in the Computed panel focuses your attention. Fuzzy matching in autocompletion of variable names and filter input fields help you quickly find and reuse variables.

We hope these improvements make your work easier when dealing with CSS variables.
As always, if you encounter any issues, please file a report at webkit.org/new-inspector-bug.
If you want to share feedback or ideas, please send them to us on Twitter: @webkit.

Note: Learn more about Web Inspector from the Web Inspector Reference documentation.