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The visibility property in CSS has two different functions. It hides rows and columns of a table, and it also hides an element *without changing the layout*.

p {
  visibility: hidden;
}
tr {
  visibility: collapse;
}

visibility has four valid values: visible, hidden, collapse, and inherit. We’ll go through each of them to learn more.

visible

Just like it sounds, visible makes things visible. Nothing is hidden by default, so this value does nothing unless you have set hidden on this or a parent of this element.

hidden

The hidden value hides things. This is different than using display: none, because hiddenonly visually hides elements. The element is still there, and still takes up space on the page, but you can’t see it anymore (kind of like turning the opacity to 0). Interestingly, this property does not inherit by default. That means that, unlike the display or opacity properties, you can make an element hidden, and still have one of its children as visible, like this:

<div class="hidden">
  Hi, I'm hidden. Notice that all of my styling is hidden as well, and that I still take up space, even though you can't see me.
  <div class="visible">
    Howdy, my parent element is hidden, but I'm still visible. <br>Hover over me to make my parent visible.
  </div>
</div>
.hidden {
  visibility: hidden;
  background: pink;
  border: 10px dotted teal;
  padding: 10px;
  &:hover {
    visibility: visible;
  }
}
.visible {
  border: 1px solid black;
  visibility: visible;
}

Notice that, while hidden, the parent element doesn’t trigger the :hover.

collapse

This one only effects table rows (<tr>), row groups (like <tbody>), columns (<col>), column groups (<colgroup>), or elements made to be that way via display). Unlike hidden, this value hides the table sub element, without leaving the space where it was. If used anywhere but on a table sub element, it acts like visibility: hidden.

There are so many quirks with this it’s hard to know where to begin. Just as an appetizer:

  • Chrome/Safari will collapse a row, but the space it occupied will remain. And if the table cells inside had a border, that will collapse into a single border along the top edge.
  • Chrome/Safari will not collapse a column or column group.
  • Safari collapse a table cell (wrong) but Chrome will not (right).
  • In any browser, if a cell is in a column that is collapsed (whether or not it actually collapses) the text in that cell will not be displayed.
  • Opera (pre WebKit) will collapse the crap out of everything, except a table cell (which is correct).

There is more, but basically: don’t use this ever.

inherit

The default value. This simply causes the element to inherit the value of its parent.

Flexbox

visibility: collapse; is used in Flexbox as well, and more well definied (and presumably implemented but I haven’t tested yet).

Related Properties

Browser Support

The basics, not considering all the quirks with collapse:

Chrome Safari Firefox Opera IE Android iOS
Any Any Any 4+ 4+ Any Any

IE 7- doesn’t support collapse or inherit.