These are excerpts from section 9 (Visual formatting model). Wading through spec links always leads to learning new stuff. Give it a try!

9.1 Introduction to the visual formatting model

This chapter and the next describe the visual formatting model: how user agents process the document tree for visual media.

In the visual formatting model, each element in the document tree generates zero or more boxes according to the box model. The layout of these boxes is governed by:

9.1.1 The viewport

User agents for continuous media generally offer users a viewport (a window or other viewing area on the screen) through which users consult a document. User agents may change the document’s layout when the viewport is resized (see the initial containing block).

When the viewport is smaller than the area of the canvas on which the document is rendered, the user agent should offer a scrolling mechanism. There is at most one viewport per canvas, but user agents may render to more than one canvas (i.e., provide different views of the same document).

9.3 Positioning schemes

In CSS 2.1, a box may be laid out according to three positioning schemes:

  1. Normal flow. In CSS 2.1, normal flow includes block formatting of block boxes, inline formatting of inline boxes, relative positioning of block or inline boxes, and positioning of run-in boxes.
  2. Floats. In the float model, a box is first laid out according to the normal flow, then taken out of the flow and shifted to the left or right as far as possible. Content may flow along the side of a float.
  3. Absolute positioning. In the absolute positioning model, a box is removed from the normal flow entirely (it has no impact on later siblings) and assigned a position with respect to a containing block.

9.7 Relationships between ‘display’, ‘position’, and ‘float’

The three properties that affect box generation and layout — ‘display‘, ‘position‘, and ‘float‘ — interact as follows:

  1. If ‘display‘ has the value ‘none’, then ‘position‘ and ‘float‘ do not apply. In this case, the element generates no box.
  2. Otherwise, if ‘position’ has the value ‘absolute’ or ‘fixed’, the box is absolutely positioned, the computed value of ‘float‘ is ‘none’, and display is set according to the table below. The position of the box will be determined by the ‘top’, ‘right’, ‘bottom’ and ‘left’ properties and the box’s containing block.
  3. Otherwise, if ‘float’ has a value other than ‘none’, the box is floated and ‘display’ is set according to the table below.
  4. Otherwise, if the element is the root element, ‘display’ is set according to the table below.
  5. Otherwise, the remaining ‘display‘ property values apply as specified.
Specified value Computed value
inline-table table
inline, run-in, table-row-group, table-column, table-column-group, table-header-group, table-footer-group, table-row, table-cell, table-caption, inline-block block
others same as specified