Two Column Div Layout (with a left nav)

My first website was built in the 90s as a Starcraft fan site. Like most 15-year old’s websites, it didn’t go anywhere. I remember building the entire layout using HTML tables though.

The world has changed since then, and I still struggle to remember exactly what I need to do in order to build a basic, two-column layout. I gut tells me to go back to tables. The rest of the world says to use divs. So, here is how you do it with divs. This is very rough and probably doesn’t work in all browsers. I’m mainly putting this in here for my benefit.

The three main components you need here are:

  • A container div that holds the two columns
  • A left column
  • A right column

Here is some example code:

<div id="container">
  <div id="leftColumn">Here is some content</div>
  <div id="rightColumn">Here is more content</div>

The styles that make this work look like this:

html, body {
  height: 100%;
  margin: 0px;
  padding: 0px;

div#container {
  width: 100%;
  height: 100%;
  overflow-y: scroll;

div#leftColumn {
  float: left;
  width: 300px;
  background-color: #000000;
  height: 100%;
  overflow-y: scroll;

div#rightColumn {
  margin-left: 300px;
  background-color: #ff0000

The key things to know are:

  • float: left on the leftContainer makes that div hug the left side.
  • Setting the width of the leftContainer determines how wide your left column will be.
  • If you don’t set a margin-left inside of your rightColumn, the rightColumn div’s background will actually extend behind the leftColumn div.
  • overflow-y: scroll in the leftColumn div makes it so that the left column has a scroll bar. You must also have height set to 100% in that div for it to work.



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