Creating Tabs with HTML, CSS & jQuery


In this tutorial, we’re going to look at how to create tabs in HTML, CSS and jQuery. If you get stuck, don’t hesitate to ask me a question.

Tabs are a great way of grouping lots of content into a very small space. Think of tabs like the TARDIS…bigger on the inside. They can be incredibly handy when you have a lot of content that would simply fill up your page with too much information in one go.

You might also like: Creating an Accordion with HTML, CSS & jQuery.

Table of Contents

  1. Skip to the HTML
  2. Skip to the CSS
  3. Skip to the jQuery

1.) The HTML

Completed Code (HTML)

I go into detail on the specifics of the HTML layout below.

Tab Links

Starting off there’s a div with class="tabs". Inside there’s an unordered list, (or an ordered one if you like, it makes no real difference), with class="tab-links". Inside the list items there are anchor links. The first list item is marked as class="active". This indicates where to start the tabs.

Note: When the CSS is all done, the tab link parent with class="active" will be the highlighted one on page load.

Tab Content

There’s a div with class="tab-content". Inside of that, we have 4 divs, each with class="tab", (this number corresponds to how many tab links there are). The currently visible tab will also need an active class, e.g. class="tab active".

2 The CSS

I’m going to keep it simple with basic CSS (as opposed to an SCSS pre-processor like Sass, Less or Stylus). The bulk of this tutorial is aimed at beginners, so I’m taking that into account.

Completed Code (CSS)

I go into detail on the specifics of the CSS styling below.

Tabs Container

The display:inline-block; adds a type of clearfix while also making it more ‘stable’ than if we used display:block;.

The reason we use a clearfix above yet not here is as follows: display:inline-block; sometimes adds 7px-ish of margin below the affected element with no way of removing it. Sometimes using a minus bottom margin works, but it depends heavily on how your HTML is structured. In this instance it’s fine.

Tab Link Wrappers

We declare no list-style to stop it appearing as a default list. Then the margin so the links are spaced evenly apart, (using margin:0px 5px; is the same as using margin:0px 5px 0px 5px;).

Tab Links

These are all basic styles which you should understand if you’re attempting this tutorial. If you don’t, please find the proper values and the definitions for each on the CSS-Tricks Almanac.

You may be wondering why I’ve used transition:all linear 0.15s; instead of transition:background linear 0.15s;. The reason is simple, in my experience, you have to think ahead. If you don’t then nasty, (sometimes hard to fix), bugs pop-up seemingly out of nowhere. By using background instead of all, we’d be limiting what can be transitioned on the :hover effect. Since this is a tutorial, many of you may want to change the text colour on hover. By using all instead of background that makes it possible.

Tab Content

This is the background of the tab content section.

Non-Active/Active Tab Content

We set all tabs to display:none; which hides them. Then we set the active tab to display:block; so only that one will show up. It’s a simple case of using CSS the way it was designed, which was to cascade down. Hence the name, Cascading Stylesheets.

You might also like: Creating a Dropdown Menu with HTML & CSS

3 The jQuery

Below you can see the completed jQuery code. Keep scrolling for a good explanation of how it all works and what it all means.

Let me clarify something before we start: Everyone has their own way of coding, with jQuery this is mine. Writing it out like this makes it easier for a beginner to grasp, it’s also efficient.

Completed Code (jQuery)

Basic Setup

You have to start by checking if the document is ready, for this we use:

Next is to check if the user has clicked on a tab, to do that we simply reference every link that happens to be a tab link with .tab-links a.

Dynamic Variable

Next, we create a variable called currentAttrValue, (current attribute value), which grabs the href="" of the clicked anchor link.

Match Anchor Link to Div #ID

We need a way of matching up the .tab-link anchors with .tab sections. We start off by referring to the entire tabs component, with .tabs, then we say “If .tabs has a child with an #id that then matches a .tab-link href="", then they should be linked up”.

Then we say “Show the element with the referenced #id, such as #tab2, then find the other tabs, which are siblings of #tab2, and hide them”.

Giving The Tab Link an Active State

Changing the active state of the tab link is relatively the same as showing/hiding the tab content.

First, we look for jQuery(this), which is the current anchor link being clicked. Then we find it’s parent list item with .parent('li') tag. After that, we give that parent list item a class of .active by using .addClass('active'). Lastly, we find all siblings of that parent list item and remove, if any, classes of .active by using .siblings().removeClass('active').

Prevent Default Anchor Link Behaviour

You may notice that when you click an anchor link with an #id specified instead of an actual URL, it tends to add the #id into the address bar. E.G. http://sebkay.com becomes http://sebkay.com/#id. This can be a massive pain-point for users when trying to click the back button.

To get past that UX problem we use:

This handy little function stops the default action of the clicked element from happening.

Remember when we put that function(e)at the start of our click event? Well, this is where that ties in.

Extra Credit: jQuery Animations

You may not like the way it just jumps to the new tab content without any nice animation of any kind, well here’s some extra credit.

To apply these changes simply replace the below snippet with the other code snippets that follow.



Slide 1

Slide 2


If you’re reading this conclusion, (most people, including me, tend to leave after they’ve got the code they were after), then please leave a comment below with any problems or bugs regarding this tutorial. I’m writing this to help people learn and become the best they can be.

You might also like: 21 Must-Have Front End Development Tools.


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