Constructable Stylesheets

Seamless reusable styles.

Jason Miller
Jason Miller

Constructable Stylesheets are a way to create and distribute reusable styles when using Shadow DOM.

Browser Support

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It has always been possible to create stylesheets using JavaScript. However, the process has historically been to create a <style> element using document.createElement('style'), and then access its sheet property to obtain a reference to the underlying CSSStyleSheet instance. This method can produce duplicate CSS code and its attendant bloat, and the act of attaching leads to a flash of unstyled content whether there is bloat or not. The CSSStyleSheet interface is the root of a collection of CSS representation interfaces referred to as the CSSOM, offering a programmatic way to manipulate stylesheets as well as eliminating the problems associated with the old method.

Diagram showing preparation and application of CSS.

Constructable Stylesheets make it possible to define and prepare shared CSS styles, and then apply those styles to multiple Shadow Roots or the Document easily and without duplication. Updates to a shared CSSStyleSheet are applied to all roots into which it has been adopted, and adopting a stylesheet is fast and synchronous once the sheet has been loaded.

The association set up by Constructable Stylesheets lends itself well to a number of different applications. It can be used to provide a centralized theme used by many components: the theme can be a CSSStyleSheet instance passed to components, with updates to the theme propagating out to components automatically. It can be used to distribute CSS Custom Property values to specific DOM subtrees without relying on the cascade. It can even be used as a direct interface to the browser's CSS parser, making it easy to preload stylesheets without injecting them into the DOM.

Constructing a stylesheet

Rather than introducing a new API to accomplish this, the Constructable StyleSheets specification makes it possible to create stylesheets imperatively by invoking the CSSStyleSheet() constructor. The resulting CSSStyleSheet object has two new methods that make it safer to add and update stylesheet rules without triggering Flash of Unstyled Content (FOUC). The replace() and replaceSync() methods both replace the stylesheet with a string of CSS, and replace() returns a Promise. In both cases, external stylesheet references are not supported—any @import rules are ignored and will produce a warning.

const sheet = new CSSStyleSheet();

// replace all styles synchronously:
sheet.replaceSync('a { color: red; }');

// replace all styles:
sheet.replace('a { color: blue; }')
  .then(() => {
    console.log('Styles replaced');
  .catch(err => {
    console.error('Failed to replace styles:', err);

// Any @import rules are ignored.
// Both of these still apply the a{} style:
sheet.replaceSync('@import url("styles.css"); a { color: red; }');
sheet.replace('@import url("styles.css"); a { color: red; }');
// Console warning: "@import rules are not allowed here..."

Using constructed stylesheets

The second new feature introduced by Constructable StyleSheets is an adoptedStyleSheets property available on Shadow Roots and Documents. This lets us explicitly apply the styles defined by a CSSStyleSheet to a given DOM subtree. To do so, we set the property to an array of one or more stylesheets to apply to that element.

// Create our shared stylesheet:
const sheet = new CSSStyleSheet();
sheet.replaceSync('a { color: red; }');

// Apply the stylesheet to a document:

// Apply the stylesheet to a Shadow Root:
const node = document.createElement('div');
const shadow = node.attachShadow({ mode: 'open' });

Putting it all together

With Constructable StyleSheets, web developers now have an explicit solution for creating CSS StyleSheets and applying them to DOM trees. We have a new Promise-based API for loading StyleSheets from a string of CSS source that uses the browser's built-in parser and loading semantics. Finally, we have a mechanism for applying stylesheet updates to all usages of a StyleSheet, simplifying things like theme changes and color preferences.

View Demo

Looking ahead

The initial version of Constructable Stylesheets shipped with the API described here, but there's work underway to make things easier to use. There's a proposal to extend the adoptedStyleSheets FrozenArray with dedicated methods for inserting and removing stylesheets, which would obviate the need for array cloning and avoid potential duplicate stylesheet references.

More information